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This is part 2 of a critique of Steiner Waldorf schools. Part 1 was The true nature of Steiner (Waldorf) education. Mystical barmpottery at taxpayers’ expense. Part 1

The part 3 is Steiner Waldorf Schools Part 3. The problem of racism.

This essay is largely devoted to the methods used by the Steiner movement in the hope of getting state funding. That involves concealing from ministers and inspectors some of the less desirable aspects of the cult. That is sadly easy to do, because ministers and inspectors usually use a tick box approach that can easily be corrupted (just have a look, for example, at what goes on at the University of Wales). It is a classical case of bait and switch, a method that was used by chiropractors and acupuncturists to pervert the normally high standards of NICE. The technique is standard in alternative medicine, as described by the excellent Yale neurologist Steven Novella, in The Bait and Switch of Unscientific Medicine..

Steiner 1905
Steiner’s bible of the cult, 1905

The involvement of a few universities with Steiner training is every bit as disgraceful as their involvement with quack medicine, In fact Anthroposophical medicine is among the barmier forms of quackery.

Here is part 2 of the essay by two of the most knowledgeable people on the topic. They are known on Twitter as @thetismercurio and @lovelyhorse_.


Steiner Waldorf Free Schools – ‘Do we have to mention Steiner, or Anthroposophy?’

At the time of writing we are aware of 16 Steiner Waldorf schools and new initiatives in the UK applying for or publicly expressing interest in Free School Funding. The established schools are:

Initiatives & kindergartens:

The umbrella organisation for Steiner Waldorf schools in the UK is the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. The Chief Executive Director of the SWSF is Christopher Clouder but another prominent figure is Development Director Sylvie Sklan. As representatives of the SWSF they have been the plausible public face of Anthroposophy, working for many years within the establishment to create the conditions for wholesale public funding of Steiner Waldorf schools in the UK. As pragmatists they see Michael Gove’s Free Schools Initiative as the Movement’s big chance.

We will take you into the woods to show how the Steiner edifice of nonsense has been obscured by smoke and mirrors. A government report indicates the truth, but the schools themselves are reluctant to share their Special Knowledge.

Into the Woods. A government report, and a very special inspection service

There is no independent evidence to support the pedagogy of Steiner Waldorf education. But supporting the funding of the Steiner Academy Hereford, the only state funded Steiner school to date (created under New Labour), is a government report from 2005, The Woods Report ‘Steiner Schools in England’. Mike Collins of UK Anthroposophy, home to some meticulous investigative work, demonstrates how the Woods Report describes Steiner Waldorf as Anthroposophical education.

In fact the Report’s authors are unusually candid about the occult nature of Steiner schools. They also, elsewhere, make no secret of their own immersion in the ‘spiritual’ assuming a common understanding of that ambiguous word, a word which is rarely defined. But whether or not they are themselves to any degree adherents of Anthroposophy, they clearly believe that education would benefit from Steiner’s spiritual vision, stating in the Forum Journal in 2006:

"The point is that Steiner education offers a distinctive process of opening and nurturing children and educating the whole child in the twenty-first century."

There is, in the Woods Report, an elaboration of the pivotal role of karma and reincarnation [p93] a description of the use of ‘temperaments’ to classify children [p89] and of the variance in the precise nature of allegiance to Anthroposophy amongst teachers [p94] (as observed in our first post: reflecting the nature of an esoteric religion). But ‘Steiner says’ is nevertheless the dominant code:

"Steiner’s lectures are referred to and teachers constantly update themselves on the pedagogical principles outlined by Steiner, testing these in the practice of collegial discussion.” [p105]"

This should be no surprise:

“Steiner education takes a particular perspective and entails a set of practices which relate to each other in order to give Steiner schools their character. These include the role of the teacher understood as a sacred task in helping each child’s soul and spirit grow, which underpins the commitment to each pupil and is the basis of sustaining the class teacher-pupil relationship over eight years” [p120]

This may strike the reader as rather an unusual educational aim, especially if a school is not formally classed as a ‘faith’ or religious school. Would it not take sophistry to maintain that this is not an essentially religious impulse? (It does. p97/125/129) But we must remember that we are handicapped by our ignorance of Spiritual Science. The clue is given by one of the Steiner teachers quoted, who suggests what is needed is to:

“communicate to [the] wider educational community that in essence Steiner education is a spiritual approach beyond religion” [p116]

To do them justice, in other published work the Woods are cautious, although this problem strikes us as inevitable:

“None of this should be taken to mean that Steiner schools achieve their ideals or are entirely without their flaws. Many teachers, in our view, are too dependent on following the guidance and ideas of Steiner as if they were ‘sacred’ directions.” ‘In Harmony with the child’: Philip A Woods & Glenys J Woods: Forum 48/3 2006

The Woods Report ignores the consequences for children of teachers’ adherence to the anthroposophical belief in karma and reincarnation. It is obvious that the potential for harm has not been recognised, nor taken seriously by those who should have read the Report. Instead it has been accepted that because the pedagogy is ‘spiritual’ it must be good: and the Hereford Academy has been handed funds, allowed exemptions (including the freedom to teach Steiner’s ‘Goethean science’) and stands as the precedent for further expansion of Steiner Waldorf into the State sector.

What kind of barmpottery would be too extreme for the Woods? The fact that Glenys Woods maintains she is a Reiki Healer (Angelic and Atlantaen) suggests that her beliefs about what is real would seem extravagant to those working within even the most complex and nuanced concepts of modern neuroscience.

The Woods Report suggests that Anthroposophy should be better understood by educationalists and parents; the writers clearly believe that, as a spiritual entity, it is of value. But they also attempt to diffuse the presence of Anthroposophy by stating that the “curriculum is not designed to guide and encourage young people into becoming adherents of anthroposophy…” [p120] which may appear to lessen the obligation to know what it is. When we are told the disingenuous line: ‘Anthroposophy is not taught to the children”, we should not forget that it is not explained to prospective parents either, even if there may be a few (ill-attended & bewildering) study groups for parents who have already joined. It isn’t explained to the government officials who anyway appear so incurious, or to taxpayers. We have none of us earned the right to the Movement’s Special Knowledge.

But Ofsted understands this. It knows it is not qualified.

As of September 2009 Steiner schools in the UK have been inspected not by Ofsted, who used to do so but by the Schools Inspection Service. The SIS inspects only two types of schools: those run by the Exclusive Brethren and now Steiner Waldorf.

The lay Inspectors in each case are expected to understand the distinct character of the schools. In the case of Steiner Waldorf, they have all been connected in some way with Steiner schools or with the Anthroposophical Movement.

Ofsted, which we believe feels unqualified to understand the pedagogy, has effectively allowed Steiner Waldorf schools greater powers to inspect themselves.

Free school funding relies on these inspections: the results of which are rather more positive under the new regime.

The Hereford Steiner Academy – the Academy nobody wanted.

The only state funded Steiner school in the UK has already caused controversy. Francis Beckett wrote in the Guardian in 2008 that former director of education Eddie Oram had turned down initial plans submitted on his watch because “he did not think the Steiner staff had the right expertise to deal with pupils with individual needs.”

Oram’s proof of evidence: to the Public Inquiry for the original applications by the DCSF to build a new school for the Steiner Academy, is comprehensive. There is no need, no desire and no justification for such a school in Herefordshire, especially in the village of Much Dewchurch. The Project Lead for the DCSF, sponsoring the Academy, was the Rev. Mark Evans, a church of England priest on secondment to the Department. His proof of evidence glowed with praise for Dr. Steiner:

“The outcomes of this education can be seen in the quiet confidence of its pupils, their balanced approach to life and their capacity for innovative thinking.”

But the Rev. Evans produced no evidence for this assertion, nor did he mention karma, or reincarnation. This seems a significant omission; he was in all probability unaware of the nature of the pedagogy he was selling.

The Hereford Steiner Academy site does mentions Anthroposophy, although to find it involves a little searching. The assertion that “Anthroposophy is a developing body of research”, as stated here by Hereford, should rightly be disputed. Essentially Anthroposophy is dogma; gained through ‘clairvoyance’, inherited by studying Steiner’s words, comprehended by those ascending the ladder of esoteric Knowledge. But something has to be said about it, now the Movement is forced to do so.

The Steiner Academy followed one of the recommendations of the Woods Report: unusually for a Steiner school it has a Principal, Trevor Mepham. In a long exposition to ‘Herefordshire Life’ on the nature of Steiner Waldorf education, Mepham misses the chance to satisfy another of the Woods Report’s suggestions: he doesn’t explain, by name, the system’s fundamental credo.

Free School Hopefuls

The current group of Steiner Free School hopefuls vary in their willingness to discuss Anthroposophy. As an example, on the website of the Norwich Steiner School Anthroposophy is not mentioned, although in reality it is never absent. The Norwich curriculum policy describes the pedagogy without mentioning its essence but we catch stray glimpses of angelic forms. So, a moral aim is to cultivate ‘reverence’ for nature, the children stand not in a doorway but on a ‘threshold’ and ‘The narrative thread for Ancient civilisations often begins with the fall of Atlantis’.

In the March 2010 newsletter from Norwich (‘Talking Trees’) there is an observation by a class teacher which exemplifies the Steiner Waldorf attitude to less spiritual forms of education: 

“I look at the children in Oak Class and see a luminosity that cannot be measured. When we do measure children, we diminish that luminosity. The world seems to be full of children whose inner light has been subdued, if not entirely extinguished.”

There is at the time of writing no mention of Anthroposophy on the website of the Rudolf Steiner School South Devon, except towards the end of the parents’ handbook. Although this is hard for outsiders to find, the handbook’s author still neglects to describe karma and reincarnation and includes the unusual proviso that this is ‘not a cult’. South Devon has stated on its site:

“The department [DofE] appears to be impressed by our application, in particular what they call our "strong educational vision". But before they can proceed to the next step they have asked to see stronger evidence of demand for Steiner education in the area, including from those outside the school community. They would prefer this to be in the form of a petition.”

Many of those who have agreed to sign the South Devon petition have done so in ignorance of even the name of the ‘philosophy’ that is so vital to the school, imagining that their plausible description of Steiner Waldorf is sufficient.  

In a ‘circle meeting’ held at the South Devon School in 2008, found on the web, someone even asks the question: “Do we need to mention Steiner, or Anthroposophy?” It’s hard to lose the guru’s name without changing all the signs. But surely local people might be put off if they understood how the education at this school is intimately informed by the clairvoyant visions of the Mystic Barmpot. We’ve screenshot the site, in case there are any alterations.

This concern about mentioning Anthroposophy is driven by a fear that an undercurrent of critical analysis will become mainstream.


We trust we presented in our previous post a description of Steiner Waldorf Education that identifies the intrinsic role of Anthroposophy, making the system and its flaws intelligible, but we are not suggesting that our observations are original.

Not only have there been comprehensive posts about Steiner schools on the popular political blog Liberal Conspiracy (with much additional material from Unity, including the 5 Big Ideas of science that Steiner education can’t handle); there has been in the last few years an international stream of criticism from those who have experienced Waldorf pedagogy and its effects on families. Ex-parents, students and teachers of Steiner Waldorf schools have appeared on-line, seeking answers; making sense of their own distressing experiences, expressing bewilderment and anger and frequently offering support to others.

Their words appear on blogs, on internet forums and in the press in some countries, although no UK journalist has so far grasped the significance of their warnings. What should be reiterated is that it is difficult to make sense of an esoteric (hidden) philosophy in action, even if you have chosen to be involved at its aesthetically  pleasing outer edges. For many parents, Waldorf is a form of bait and switch.

mumsnet: “You don’t expect a school to lie,”

In the New Schools Network document cited in our previous post, Free School hopefuls are advised how to advertise their projects: “Post something on mumsnet, netmums, or facebook.” If the NSN had done their homework, they would know that mumsnet Steiner threads have been so controversial (and incomprehensible to those not involved) that in 2008 parents were asked by mumsnet’s co-founder Justine Roberts not to post about Steiner education at all. Indeed the forum was threatened with legal action by Sune Nordwall, (also known as Thebee, Tizian, Excalibur, Mycroft etc) a Swedish anthroposophist; since discovered to be in the employment of the Swedish Waldorf School Federation. Blogger Alicia Hamberg aka zooey quotes (in translation):

“In England, the attacks on [waldorf] pedagogy have led to parents withdrawing their children from the waldorf schools. The [Swedish Waldorf School] Federation has employed Sune on a part-time basis to monitor the debate.”

We do not suggest on this blog that the Swedish Waldorf School Federation are responsible for or complicit in Nordwall’s activities on mumsnet or elsewhere, although as Alicia Hamberg points out, they have not sought to distance themselves from his behaviour. What is notable though is that representatives of Waldorf education in Sweden were concerned to monitor a UK debate held not in the press but in the relative obscurity of the supposedly safe, supportive world of mothers‘ chatrooms. The Steiner Waldorf movement understands the importance of a positive profile on the UK’s most influential meeting place for parents; the very people who form their customer base. But their tactics are counterintuitive. In anthro-speak everywhere, critics, the majority of whom are parents who have had children in Steiner schools, become attackers.

Even the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship’s Communications Officer Jeremy Smith felt drawn to issue a call-to-arms to rebuff those who dared to question Waldorf’s ‘good intentions’:

“I would be very grateful if teachers and parents who share these concerns would be willing to join me in posting replies to anti-Waldorf threads in an attempt to give a more accurate picture to the outside world of what Steiner education is all about. We are also co-ordinating this internationally through the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education. Please contact me at smithj@rsskl.org if you are interested in becoming involved.”

We invite them to answer us here, instead.

Stockholm University: “scientifically unacceptable… simply untrue”

There are other interesting comparisons with Sweden. A recent announcement that UK Free Schools will not be required to employ qualified teachers indicates that the UK is traveling in the opposite direction to Sweden which, in an attempt to raise standards has just introduced more stringent teacher training requirements for all its schools, including Waldorf (the state funding of which pre-dates Sweden’s own Free Schools experiment). Swedish Waldorf schools will have to apply for exemptions from these guidelines (as well as from new requirements regarding early years literacy and numeracy), since there are no university accredited Waldorf teacher training courses in Sweden.

Indeed the aspirations of Swedish anthroposophists suffered a blow in 2008 when Stockholm University closed the Waldorf teacher training courses in the Institute of Education it had recently taken over. The VC of Stockholm, Kåre Bremer, agreed with his Education Faculty that the Waldorf literature did not satisfy the University’s standards of “scientific validity” and that “Some of the content is not only scientifically unacceptable, it is simply untrue.”

Alicia Hamberg described the ensuing outcry from the Waldorf community; quoting the dean of the faculty of natural sciences and professor of bio-chemistry, Stefan Nordlund, who stated in a Swedish newspaper article:

“In parts, the students’ course literature is not simply unscientific. It is in fact dangerous, and it conveys misconceptions which are worse than muddled. We are supported by the department of natural sciences as well as the department of humanities in taking this position.”

A relaxation of teaching qualifications here in the UK is essential if Steiner Free Schools are to be given the green-light, since the UK’s only Steiner BA and the Foundation Course in Steiner Early Years education at the University of Plymouth are also closing. Plymouth’s new VC, Prof Wendy Purcell, herself a scientist, can claim credit for ejecting the Mystic Barmpot from her faculty of education.  It is certainly true that the course didn’t attract sufficient numbers to be viable, even though it appears that Steiner trainee teachers were supported by the beneficence of a ‘godparents anthroposophical training fund.’

Mike Collins posted a fascinating investigative report into the Plymouth closures in November last year. At the time of writing this, a representative of the University told us that they have no plans to reintroduce Steiner teacher training. 

However: in a plot twist which links both countries, it is not Stockholm University (which had rejected their Steiner courses for being unscientific) but the University of Plymouth which is accrediting a European Masters Programme in Eurythmy, described as an anthroposophical ‘dance form’: in  collaboration with Rudolf Steiner University College Järna, 50 km South of Stockholm. Except that Rudolf Steiner College, Järna is not regarded as a university college by the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, nor can it issue formally recognized degrees. We do not imagine that anyone at Plymouth outside the dwindling Steiner BA is familiar with eurythmy, or its therapeutic arm, curative eurythmy.

One of the aims of the European Masters course is: “to place Eurythmy in the context of modern education,” but this can only apply to Waldorf.

Eurythmy is a physical expression of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical image of the relationship between the ‘spirit’ and the physical worlds. It is steeped in the supernatural. Of course what is happening in reality as participants sway and dash is not exactly what eurythmists imagine is happening, as anyone familiar with CAM will understand. But an intention clearly exists. Once again, in Steiner Waldorf schools, there is that anthroposophical concern for the ‘incarnating’ child.  As Steiner told his teachers:

“You cannot teach anthroposophy directly to children but they can do eurythmy. And they will face life in quite a different way than if they didn’t do eurythmy.”

From “Times of Expectation: New Forms of Ancient Beauty out of the World of the Spirit.” Lecture, Dornach, 7th October 1914 (final section). Steiner introduces eurythmy to the anthroposophists

Where are the teachers to come from for these new UK Steiner Free Schools? More to the point: will taxpayers have any access to the content of their courses?

Waldorf Critics: criticism and scandal

Steiner Waldorf causes scandals across the world. In Norway earlier this year, Kristín Sandberg and Trond Kristoffersen, both former Steiner Waldorf teachers, published their book:  "What They Don’t Tell Us = The Occult Foundation of the Steiner School." They have been part of a fierce debate, subject to threats from certain elements of the Steiner community, but Kristin is positive. What really matters to her, she says, are the many messages of support:

“…The young people, former pupils who twitter and blog – and send us sms´s and e-mails from all over Norway supporting the debate and reminding us that this is a really, really important thing to do.”

What they don't tell you
What They Don’t Tell Us. The Occult Foundation of the Steiner School

In Germany too, Steiner Waldorf has many critics. It’s interesting to reflect on the German Waldorf demographic, which suggests that their appeal lies in their status as ‘elite’ (although not academically elite) institutions.
In Australia, the introduction of ‘Steiner’ streams into public schools in the State of Victoria: ‘The Steiner Cult’s Grab for Schools’ has caused great controversy (see The delusional world of Rudolf Steiner). A document by the Australian Rationalist Society mirrors our initial post. After serious concerns were raised in a government report as long ago as 2000, and ignored; great division has been caused between parents in the schools involved and academic standards have proved to be low. Australian newspaper reports rehearse what will be in the news in the UK if Free School funding goes ahead for Steiner Waldorf. To quote from The Age:

“One parent, who did not wish to be named, said she moved her son out of the school after a Steiner teacher recommended he repeat prep "because his soul had not been reincarnated yet".

"I just don’t believe it is educationally sound," she said.”

Humanists are not the only Waldorf critics in Australia: some worry that Anthroposophy doesn’t sit happily with their Christian beliefs. Plus, independent Steiner schools have been accused of misappropriating Federal grants designed for new classrooms and libraries. It’s tempting to ask what use anthroposophists have for books.

In New Zealand, flaws in the accountability of independent schools compounds one family’s alarming treatment at the Titirangi Steiner School. Whether or not their experience is a direct consequence of Steiner pedagogy, the school’s reported ineptitude, delaying tactics and exclusion of children reflects behaviour familiar to many other Steiner Waldorf parents. 

But by far the most well-known site for analysis of Steiner Waldorf is the US based PLANS: People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools, an organization which opposes the presence of religious schools: Steiner Waldorf, informed by Anthroposophy, in American public education. It is difficult to imagine that any UK government intending to spend millions on funding a school system within Academy or Free Schools funding (and concerned with a responsibility to children regardless of the mantra ‘parent choice’) can have entirely overlooked the presence of such criticism, or of the existence of a Waldorf Survivors’ Group. Indeed, if they read the Woods Report, they will find PLANS featured there. (p35)

There are clues to the reasons for the generally positive Waldorf press in the US in a series of posts by artist and animation art director Carol Wyatt:

“The vast majority of parents at PWS [Pasadena Waldorf School] work in entertainment. Actors, producers, art directors, writers, and all others in TV, film and technology. Almost all tuitions are paid for by media. They could not function without our industry.”

The most comprehensive (and readable) critical guide to Anthroposophy’s relationship to Steiner Waldorf schools is at Roger Rawling’s ‘Waldorf Watch’. Rawlings was for many years a pupil at a New York Waldorf school, so he’s familiar with how it feels to be inside the system. His pages on Karma, central to Steiner’s doctrines, as well as those on the background to Waldorf’s distinct attitude to Special Educational Needs (including the use of Curative Eurythmy) are particularly instructive.

Eurythmy students 2008

Steiner Waldorf – “We must worm our way through”

Steiner Waldorf Schools all over the UK are applying for Free School funding. Millions could be diverted from local schools to support them. The decision to fund lies ultimately with the Secretary of State. We have every reason to believe that he is now personally aware of Anthroposophy, even of the critical role of karma and reincarnation within Steiner schools and the content of the course literature that forms a central part of Steiner Waldorf teacher training courses. We would like to ask him: who would be served by the funding of these schools? We do not believe it can be the children, or the families (many involved with hopeful, small initiatives) who do not understand what Steiner education really is. So, Mr Gove: cui bono?

“We must worm our way through…[I]n order to do what we want to do, at least, it is necessary to talk with the people, not because we want to, but because we have to, and inwardly make fools of them.”

Rudolf Steiner, Conferences with Teachers of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, vol.1, 1919 to 1920 Forest Row, East Sussex, England: Steiner schools Fellowship Publications, 1986 [pp. 125]


Very sorry to see that the University of Aberdeen is running what seems to be a very dubious Steiner course.

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103 Responses to The Steiner Waldorf cult uses bait and switch to get state funding. Part 2

  • Thank you for this series of essays.
    I manage a site dealing with Waldorf or Steiner schools: Waldorf Watch [ http://www.waldorfwatch.com/ ].
    My own focus is largely on Waldorf schools in the USA, but I find that the schools — and their problems — are much the same everywhere.

  • zooey says:

    Thanks for this amazing article by ThetisMercurio and Lovelyhorse_.

    From Sweden I can report that the waldorf folks have been trying to get back into the academic world after being thrown out from Stockholm Uni. They have been negotiating with university colleges, but as far as I know, these negotiations have yet not yielded any results. The new government requirements — that schools are obligated to hire only properly trained teachers — will be a problem for waldorf schools, and I predict they will be asking for exemptions.

    The Swedish waldorf federation still employs Sune Nordwall to run their errands (‘monitor’ which basically translates as ‘having people shut up by any means necessary’). I have asked them a number of questions, and I have asked them to officially clarify which position he has within their organisation and whether or not they stand behind him in the actions he takes against waldorf skeptics and critics. No serious organisation would allow it to continue in this manner without at least attempting to say something. They, however, appear to be utterly incapable of taking charge of the situation, which, I suppose, reveals to us how incompetent they are. As a former waldorf student myself, it appalls me that they have hired someome like him — I don’t think it’s fair of them to think former students and parents deserve to be subjected to his actions. Their priorities are screwed up.

    But it is a movement which does not accept to be criticized, and which does not want to accept any responsibility when things go wrong (which inevitably they do; nobody is perfect, least of all the Steiner/waldorf schools). This, in itself, should be a major cause for concern.

  • jimjim237 says:

    The whole concept of “Free schools” is baffling to me.

    It appears to say to any nutcases with an axe to grind “Here is a way to subvert our society to your ends. Please take our money and our children and do what you will”.

    Those already established in the indoctrination industry must be rubbing their hands with glee and countless others wetting themselves with anticipation at the influence they might eventually wield.

    I think it might be the stupidest idea I have ever heard.

    Here is what the government says:-


    “it will become much easier for charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and groups of parents to get involved and start new schools.”

    Ah! I see, said the blind man.

    No mention though of Creationists, Religions, Islamic Fundamentalists, Separatist groups, or indeed of Weiner schools or other cults.

    My concern is that while eventually I suppose the government’s proposed list of school founders will get going and found a few schools, there are already a large number of groups well established in education and related activities that are *already* organised and are ready to subvert our school systems even further to their own ends.

    These groups are not mentioned in the government’s list for some reason. They will for sure be first out of the blocks.

    This seems to me to be a recipe for the foundation of a separatist and isolationist society founded on gobbledegook.

    Firstly we have had and have more or less secret immigration at very high levels at least not discouraged by any government which in a period of 15 years has changed our society for ever and not necessarily for the better. Now we are handing the tools of separation to anyone who wants them.

    It is nothing less than the Balkanisation of Britain and it will surely end in warfare. It is Multiculturalism with knobs on. Great big ugly knobs.

    I suggest that anyone with the means to do so should leave Britain now. Investing your family in this self evident madhouse makes no sense to me at all.

  • […] what you like, isn’t it? Ok, technically this may not be fame, but at least it’s an international mention. Now, take a moment and revel in […]

  • DW says:

    Congratulations to thetismercurio and lovelyhorse_ for a really thorough and hard-hitting piece. They have really covered all the angles of the controversies around Steiner education both locally and internationally. I’d like to add a few of my observations based on a little less than 3 years’ experience working as an aide in Waldorf kindergartens, where my son was a student many years ago.

    Not only was the education unmistakably religious – fanatically, fervently religious – but also the environment created by adherence to Steiner dogma was quite unhealthy.

    The famous line, ‘Anthroposophy is not taught to the children,” which I heard Steiner teachers parrot many times to questioning parents, is indeed disingenuous because while the dogmas and creeds of anthroposophy may not be taught as words or concepts to children, that is not because Steiner educators don’t wish to convey anthroposophy. They refrain from teaching concepts mainly because they have a far more effective pedagogy. Steiner schools are like anthroposophical Sunday School. Anthroposophy is not so much “taught” as enacted and embodied. The life of the school is anthroposophy. The children live and breathe anthroposophical myths and legends, through storytelling, song, drama, rituals, poetry and puppetry, festivals and faires. Teachers recite the great myths of anthroposophy and the children copy these stories and verses into their “main lesson books.” The Norse myths, for example, are a focus of fourth grade in the US system; anthroposophists believe as Steiner taught that the Norse myths are “occult truths,” actual events in a distant spiritual era. Waldorf students venerate anthroposophical spiritual beings such as the archangel Michael, in song and verse. Watercolor painting in Waldorf kindergartens and early grades is based on the supposed spiritual properties of colors; thus the colors are introduced in a “spiritually correct” sequence to produce desired spiritual effects. The drawing of lines is discouraged as long as possible because lines do not exist in the spiritual world; likewise, the color black is thought to be unspiritual and thus unhealthy for young children, leading some Waldorf kindergarten teachers to take the black crayon out of the crayon boxes.

    Belief in karma and reincarnation makes a potent example of this effective pedagogy because while the children do not have to learn the definition of the word “karma” and repeat it on a test, this belief underpins teachers’ and students’ relationships in a Waldorf school, and it would be disingenuous to argue that students do not thereby learn the concept. They learn it *better* than if they were tested and drilled on the concept; that is the genius of Waldorf pedagogy.

    Steiner taught that our current relationships are carried over from previous lives in very specific, almost formulaic ways; for instance, people you meet at the end of one “incarnation,” i.e., toward the end of life, are people you meet again early in your next life. It isn’t hard to imagine the fantasies Waldorf teachers are spinning for themselves about their relationships with their students based on Steiner tidbits of this sort, which they consume by the lecture-full in teacher training and later in ongoing “Steiner study” (a weekly feature at faculty meeting in most Waldorf schools).

    Moreover, karma in Steiner’s scheme dictates that children “choose their parents.” The implications of this pernicious dictum for parent/teacher relationships are miserable. The child has “chosen” parents who choose the Waldorf school; the child is destined to the school rather than to his or her actual family. The child has actually chosen parents who will guide him or her to the school regardless of the parents’ own beliefs. This is an excuse for the school and the teachers to fancy themselves more important in the child’s life and development than the parents themselves, and the source of many conflicts.

    Children are thought to arrive via two “streams of heredity”: one physical and one spiritual. The physical parents are, well, the physical parents, i.e., not nearly as important as the spiritual stream of heredity, represented by – you guessed it – the school, specifically the teacher. The child is thought to come to a particular teacher’s class via karma. Their relationship is cosmic, and thus weightier in an unhealthy way compared with normal student/teacher relationships. Gone out the door are normal aspects of a healthy student/teacher relationship such as respect, role modeling, mentoring, communication skills, etc.; that’s boring compared to karma.

    These teachers often have a rather inflated notion of themselves. Karma and reincarnation in the classroom is a mess; the best that can be said for these delusional beliefs is that they screw with normal family relationships and healthy boundaries. At worst, encouraging teachers in grandiose and narcissistic beliefs inflating their importance in their students’ live – combined with the insistence in Waldorf that students “reverence” their teacher – is a recipe for abuse.

    Karma also suggests that we “choose” the events and circumstances of our upcoming life before birth. The implications of this belief in terms of how the teachers view children with disabilities, illnesses or injuries, or undergoing any type of misfortune are unpleasant.

    The belief also implies that ongoing conflicts between children, such as bullying, are karmic. A child who is victimized by his classmates, or even by the teacher, may have been the victimizer in a past life, and now simply the tables are turned. If the conflict is interrupted, its resolution may be postponed until another lifetime.

    This puts bullying outside the normal realm of teachers’ interventions in another school, with their unspiritual focus on things like conflict resolution, nonviolent communication, and classroom management. It seems to often prevent Steiner teachers from trying to teach simple things like kindness or saying sorry when you hurt someone.

  • 5raphs says:

    By the way JimJim237- there has been immigration in this country since the Bronze age Beaker, Picts, Romans, Vikings, Angles, Jutes, etc etc who “changed our society for ever ” too. It’s what shapes the UK.

    Strangely enough, Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual racism, which sees dark skin as inferior because it can’t absorb the spirit, predicted a huge war against “coloured and white mankind”. He viewed races other than pure aryan types as an evolutionary throwback, a “mistake”. Just another facet of Steiner’s ever more credulous mind. I suppose those who follow your advice and leave Britain wouldn’t then be immigrants in another country? Oh.

    Another winning article from Thetismercurio and Lovelyhorse.
    It’s frightening that the Wood’s Report clearly hasn’t been studied or read by the people handing out money and care of our children to anthroposophists. Or perhaps like many others, no one can quite believe there are people who would seriously use things like karma and clairvoyance with children, let alone consult angels and look at head shapes etc to classify them and decide where to go from there.

    But at Steiner schools they do, it’s true. And someone needs to stop them.

  • @jimjim237
    I’m pretty much with you until your last three paragraphs. 5raphs has already answered them in fine style.

  • Thetis says:

    Some great comments.

    DW – you’ve said a great deal that needed to be added to these posts. Thank you for explaining so clearly what is happening to children in these classrooms, when Steiner Waldorf pedagogy is played out. I hope your words are taken as seriously as they deserve to be.

  • DW says:

    I’d just like to weigh in on this immigration thing. This has nothing to do with the controversy around Steiner schools. The negative experiences many families report from Steiner/Waldorf schools have no connection to any government’s policy on immigration. Unrelated issues.

  • […] DC’s Improbable Science, ThetisMercurio and Lovelyhorse promise to take you into the woods. (To meet the gnomes, presumably. And a reiki healer.) The waldorf […]

  • tokalosh says:

    Very fine pair of articles on Anthropsophical education. I’m glad someone has gone to the trouble of finding out what the deal really is with Anthroposophy – I’ve found it quite tricky to find anything sensible on it, despite having a Waldorf parent.

    @ Roger Rawlings. Great resource! But I wish it were laid out better – I suspect that improving the website design would make it more widely read.

  • LizDitz says:

    Dear ThetisHorse & LovelyHorse,

    Thanks for the fine and detailed investigation.

    In the US, there is a similar movement afoot to have “Waldorf inspired”, publicly funded schools. The US phrase is “charter school”.

    I’ve written about my objections here:


  • Thetis says:

    I recommend Liz Ditz’s excellent post re US charters.

    tokalosh, thanks very much. Roger Rawlings’ site keeps improving, his ‘news’ section updates regularly – latest:


  • […] read Steiner’s own words about karma this morning, and came to think about this recent comment over at DC’s Improbable […]

  • Tetenterre says:

    Pretty pathetic, really. What you say about Steiner-Waldorf is essentially true, but…

    * You entirely fail to mention any objective study of how the “products” of the education fare in later life; i.e. how the education benefits (or otherwise) the pupils who go through it. (Clue: better than what the State offers)

    * You pick on a pretty weak target and entirely avoid the deserving targets: Christian, Jewish or Muslim education. The beliefs of the Christian cult are no less bizarre than those of the Steiner-Waldorf lot: try human parthenogenesis, rising from the dead, or transubstantiation for starters — then proceed to the inherent misogyny. Not only does the state fund Christian education already, to a far greater extent than that of any other cult in this (the UK) country, it also affords reserved seats for clerics in its legislature; the only other country to do so is Iran. This cult pervades every aspect of civic life in this country, and you prefer to pick on a relatively benign cult with a few thousand adherents at most in Britain. Go figure!

  • @Tetenterre
    Oh dear, “pathetic”? That level of anger and discourteousness ii usually restricted to homoeopaths and astrologers, and judging by your web site, you are neither.

    I didn’t write this post, and no doubt its authors can speak for themselves. Here is my own reaction.

    I couldn’t agree more that it would be nice if there were good evidence for the effect that Steiner schools have on children, As far as I know there is no such evidence, but if you know of some, please send the references, It is hard to imagine how a randomised could be done to probably there can be know way to disentangle the parental influence. Parents who choose Steiner schools are hardly likely to be representative of parents as a whole.

    One thing one can say is the Steiner parents are mostly opposed to vaccination, like the movement itself. That not only endangers their own children. It endangers all children who live near Steiner schools.

    I couldn’t agree more about religious schools. I used to have a whole web site that opposed them -see the Education and religion page.

    It has always struck me as bizarre that it has been illegal ever since the Universities Test Act 1871 for a university to have any sort of religious discrimination in who it accepts (and UCL was far ahead with that, ever since it was founded in 1826). Yet it is legal, indeed encouraged, for schools to use religious discrimination in selection of pupils, and to indoctrinate kids with whatever cult they subscribe to, Christian, Islam or Anthroposophical.

    What makes this a good moment to take a close look at Steiner is that they are now in the process of trying to get state funding, whereas religious schools have had state funding for a long time.

  • Tetenterre says:

    @ David Cloquhoun: Discourteousness, I will admit — but will not apologise for it, but anger? Oh dear, please don’t tell me that you are one of these buffoons that pretends that he can read “tone” into the written word!

    Of course you can’t randomise a study on educational outcomes when the cohort you are evaluating is such an incredibly tiny proportion. There was some German study done a few decades ago re outcomes of Steiner-Waldorf ed — I’m sure you could find it if you are genuinely interested.

    However, you contrive to miss my main thrust, i.e. that your target is a pretty insignificant player. The point is not that *some* of these religiously-bent schools are trying to get funding (most in the UK aren’t), but that HMG *already* funds, to a far greater extent than the SteinDorf schools will ever achieve, schools of possibly the most invidious cult in the western world. Surely a more worthy target is to remove that funding (and the other privileges that cult enjoys)? To my mind, targeting a pretty insignificant bit-player in favour of a major offender is indeed pathetic. I stand by it.

    I’ve had a skim-read of your Jurassic Theology page; sorry, but I don’t see where it challenges the dominion of the established cult.

  • Tetenterre says:

    Apologies for the double post, but I really cannot let this nonsense go unchallenged: “Steiner parents are mostly opposed to vaccination”

    Where on earth did you get that idea? Evidence? Or just a throwaway slur that you hope will stick in what passes for the minds of the inanely credulous?

    In my experience, you get a small minority (10-15%) of “hardliners” who swallow the anti-vaccine line, but mostly they do vaccinate their kids.

  • MarkH says:

    @Tetenterre I suspect that many of us reading DC’s blog will be in violent agreement about the undesirability of state funding for faith schools.

    The main problem I have with Steiner schools is their lack of openness with prospective parents as to the spiritual motivation behind their teaching methods. Of course, I can only be sure of this with the school I’ve been looking at, which is one of those seeking state funding.

    As few in number as Steiner schools may be, compared to more conventional faith schools, I do think they’re worth highlighting as they’re so poorly understood by outsiders.

  • Thetis says:

    That’s certainly true, MarkH.

    It isn’t our aim in these posts to discuss state funding for religious schools generally, there’s a great deal of debate on that subject elsewhere. How can Steiner Waldorf be the ‘fastest growing school movement in the world’ AND enter the state funded sector without comment? Its proponents must submit to analysis.

    In my experience as a parent at a Steiner Waldorf school there were significant pressures not to vaccinate. As you’re probably aware Tetenterre, relatively small drops in the proportion of children vaccinated can lead to outbreaks.

    We discussed vaccination in our previous post here & provided a link to some of the available evidence linking Steiner Waldorf schools to outbreaks:


  • DW says:

    What is your connection to anthroposophy or Steiner education, tetenterre?

  • zooey says:

    Even parents who aren’t anthroposophists choose to not vaccinate. There’s a virtual cult of non-vaccination in waldorf schools. I had to get some of my shots as an adult — and my parents were definitely not hardcore anthroposophists! (They weren’t anthroposophists at all.) Not long ago I read an allergy study that compared two waldorf schools with two adjacent municipal schools. The municipal schools had almost a 100% vaccinated children (above 95%). In the waldorf schools, about or close to 85% were unvaccinated. (This was the reason they were seeing epidemics hitting almost all students in those schools.) My conclusion is that waldorf steiner schools have between 50 and 90% unvaccinated kids, probably depending on how extreme a lifestyle the parents follow in general. (No tv, ‘natural’ food, no anti-biotics, et c.)

    Interestingly, Tetenterre’s thinly veiled anger — yes, it is what it looks like, despite the fact I cannot look inside your head, Tetenterre — is quite representative for the (often passive) aggression displayed by a surprising number of anthroposophists who engage in discussion. Most of them never do at all. That’s a pity.

  • zooey says:

    I wrote a comment about vaccination. It disappeared when I pressed submit, and I hadn’t saved it first (I never learn!). Now I don’t have time to rewrite it, unfortunately. However, Tetenterre is plain wrong. One study I read recently (and it was written by anthros!) said about or close to 85% of waldorf students were unvaccinated. This was before non-vaccination became popular.

    I was partly unvaccinated myself, and my parents weren’t anthroposophists, much less hardcore anthroposophists.

    Also, the thinly-veiled anger displayed by Tetenterre (yes, it’s what it looks like, and no, I cannot look into your head, but this doesn’t prevent me from saying I spot anger) is quite typical for the (often passive) aggression of anthroposophists who engage in discussion. Most of them don’t.

  • Nick Nakorn says:

    @tetenterre: “* You pick on a pretty weak target and entirely avoid the deserving targets: Christian, Jewish or Muslim education. The beliefs of the Christian cult are no less bizarre than those of the Steiner-Waldorf lot: try human parthenogenesis, rising from the dead, or transubstantiation for starters.”

    First, this post is about Steiner/Waldorf/Anthroposophy not about other religions.

    Second, I do not think a £ multimillion organisation is weak (£ multi-billion if you count the control that Anthros have over the Soil Association and Biodynamics markets).

    Third, Whenever I have asked Christians, Jews, Muslims or Budhists which bits of their written texts they agree with, they have been happy to tell me and thus I know if I wish to work with them or be associated with them. In contrast, supporters of the Steiner machine simply refuse to say. So I have no idea if they believe in their racist ideologies, their Karmic progressions, their anti-evolutionary position, their anti-science position or any of the nonsense Steiner claims to have gleaned through his mystical experiences.

    If, for example, Steiner believers are anti-racist (many claim they are) why are they not prepared to say they specifically disagree with specific racists doctrines spouted by Steiner? The reason is, of course, that Steiner is supposed to be infallible.

    It is not enough to issue platitudes that are contrary to the written texts unless those texts are openly criticised and denounced by those who would otherwise be assumed to support them. By all means celebrate one’s freedom to follow the religion of one’s choice in a secular society but to sell a creed as a cozy, caring, touchy-feely and kind set of values when the texts are utterly vile is simply dishonest and makes all work with Steiner supporters impossible because non-believers will never know if they are being treated fairly; particularly if they are not white, believe in the scientific method and evidential medicine.

  • DW says:

    Nick wrote:
    “Whenever I have asked Christians, Jews, Muslims or Budhists which bits of their written texts they agree with, they have been happy to tell me and thus I know if I wish to work with them or be associated with them. In contrast, supporters of the Steiner machine simply refuse to say.”

    Kind of like Tetenterre. There is an institutional connection there. Not mentioned in his posts.

  • Nick Nakorn says:

    DW, do you mean that you think I have an institutional connection (to Steiner? or another – which?) or that Tetenterre has an institutional connection or both of us? I’m a bit confused by your comment. For the record, I’m curently unemployed due to illness and don’t currently represent any institution. My mini-bio is on my blog if for some reason you want to check out my history; not sure what you’re saying.

  • DW says:

    No, Nick, sorry for my unclearness, I meant tetenterre.

  • Tetenterre says:

    @zooey: I’d be interested to see the evidence for the 85% unvaccinated — is this a UK school? (Your reference to “municipal” schools suggests not.)

    As for your ability to “spot anger”, you are quite wrong. I’m frustrated, perhaps, that essentially sensible-minded people waste their efforts on bit-players whilst ignoring the superstitions on which much of UK society is based — I reserve my anger for tyrants like Mugabe.

    “typical for the (often passive) aggression of anthroposophists ”

    I am not an anthroposophist.

    @ Nik Nakorn: “First, this post is about Steiner/Waldorf/Anthroposophy not about other religions.”

    Please accept my apologies for assuming that this was part of a wider context of educational funding in the UK — you know, free school status, etc. Odd that the article mentioned academy status if the wider context doesn’t exist. Ho hum.

    “Second, I do not think a £ multimillion organisation is weak (£ multi-billion if you count the control that Anthros have over the Soil Association and Biodynamics markets).”

    I didn’t know about control over Soil Association (Biodynamics is a no-brainer, given that it’s a Steiner invention) — have you a reference?

    When I said “weak” and “a pretty insignificant bit-player” this was relative to e.g. the CofE.

    @DW: Hmm, the /argumentum ad hominem/ seems to be gaining momentum, eh? Any imminent danger that you’ll address what I write instead of what you think I am?

    * As far as funding goes, my view is that Steiner-Waldorf schools (and all other non-state schools) in the UK should not receive state funding unless *all* schools receive state funding.
    * It is my view that no UK schools should enjoy charitable status.
    * Of course all schools — that obviously includes Steiner-Waldorf schools — should be up front about the beliefs that underlie the pedagogy. That so many aren’t is quite simply unacceptable.

    At the risk of leaving /ad-hom/ ammo for the likes of DW, and with the aim of laying to rest his insinuation that I am somehow being deceptive here:
    * I work (for an entirely secular organisation) with youngsters that this country dismisses (if the funding it targets towards them is anything to go by) as “NEETs”. If you don’t know what it means, Google it.
    *I have friends who teach and who have taught in S-W schools, and whose children go, or have been (as mine did), to S-W schools.
    *I have, in the past, taught in S-W schools. Not exactly popular when I dismissed stuff like “Saturn’s rings are an optical illusion”, or “motor neurones do not exist” or other such anthropopobabble for what it is. 🙂

    (So, yes, I do know a bit about them from first hand experience. However, that is as much as I am prepared to say about it to strangers on this blog.)

  • Tetenterre says:


    “…my view is that Steiner-Waldorf schools (and all other non-state schools _and_all_religious_schools_) in the UK should not receive state funding…”

    Sorry, being sloppy…

  • DW says:

    I’m afraid we aren’t all strangers, tetenterre, and if we were, your blog link would identify you.

    I’m not addressing so much “what I think you are” as the fact of your minimizing the importance of the story you’re commenting on without mentioning your connection to the story. I think if you’re going to say “Why pick on Steiner?” mentioning that you’ve been a Steiner teacher is relevant.

    And no, your tone isn’t hard to read.

  • 5raphs says:

    DW & Nick Nakorn- agree with your comments- excellent points.
    Tetenterre, Steiner schools are after state funding, Camphill already has it, Tridios bank, biodynamic businesses are apparently flourishing, and yet the anthroposophical movement is more than coy about their beliefs and goals. It is in my view morally abhorrent. Their “customer base” are children and vulnerable adults.
    Whether a teacher or director of Steiner Waldorf fellowship is an anthroposophist or not, the movement has goals and tasks, anthroposophic belief and “laws” of karma & reincarnation, for instance, are practised and there should be disclosure.
    Here is a piece from an anthroposophical publisher
    “Without the primary community of those who recognize the vital, future-oriented value of Rudolf Steiner’s contribution to human evolution — we would be unable to carry Rudolf Steiner’s message to
    the wider public and nurture the fragile seed of Anthroposophy as the ferment necessary to spiritualize world culture.
    We feel that publishing the Collected Works of Rudolf Steiner in English is the single most necessary task if Anthroposophy is to have a chance of fulfilling its healing role in human evolution. It is a task for the future. We have no illusions that Anthroposophy will be completely accepted and practiced overnight. But if we make the vessel available, as Rudolf Steiner repeatedly told us, the spiritual world will undoubtedly respond in ways we can hardly imagine.”
    If only the schools a were as frank.

  • Tetenterre says:

    @DW: \I’m afraid we aren’t all strangers, tetenterre,\

    I don’t know you; ergo, to me you are strangers. The end.

    \ your blog link would identify you.\

    Blog link? I haven’t posted one here. If you are perhaps confusing that with the web site link from clicking on my handle, all I have to say is : No sh;t, Sherlock! (Clue for the clueless: I included a website link so people could see who I am. Unlike you. Duh!)

    \fact of your minimizing the importance of the story you’re commenting on without mentioning your connection to the story.\

    You really need to hone your reading and comprehension skills. I was not minimising it (Clue: in several posts here I have agreed with its fundamental points.) I was making the point, by which I stand, that there are *far* more important issues in the funding of UK education. Picking on S-W schools is like shooting ducks in a barrel and distracts from *far* more important issues.

    \I think if you’re going to say “Why pick on Steiner?” \

    You are misrepresenting me; I did not say that. (But then, you already knew that.)

    \mentioning that you’ve been a Steiner teacher is relevant.\

    #1. Curious how you don’t impose a similar need to disclose your relationship with S-W education. But hey, equality was never a priority of the zealous, was it?

    #2. Curious how you don’t find it equally relevant that I am having a pop against CofE schools but did not mention that I have taught in them and have been a communicant of the CofE. But hey, consistency isn’t the strong point of the zealous either, is it?

    \And no, your tone isn’t hard to read.\

    ROTFLMAO! So how come you’ve managed to misread it? Like many so-called \normal\ people, you appear to choose to confuse Asperger’s syndrome with anger.

  • DW says:

    \I don’t know you; ergo, to me you are strangers. The end.\

    Sorry. I’m Diana Winters from the Waldorf critics list. I figured you remembered me.

    \Blog link? I haven’t posted one here. If you are perhaps confusing that with the web site link from clicking on my handle, all I have to say is : No sh;t, Sherlock! (Clue for the clueless: I included a website link so people could see who I am. Unlike you. Duh!)\

    Again, sorry, I thought you knew who I was. So, you’ve posted your identity and I’ve posted mine, so however clueless I am, that’s settled.
    If you don’t want to talk about these things with “strangers,” it doesn’t make a lot of sense to post on the Internet.

    \ act of your minimizing the importance of the story you’re commenting on without mentioning your connection to the story.\

    \You really need to hone your reading and comprehension skills. I was not minimising it (Clue: in several posts here I have agreed with its fundamental points.) I was making the point, by which I stand, that there are *far* more important issues in the funding of UK education. Picking on S-W schools is like shooting ducks in a barrel and distracts from *far* more important issues.\

    That’s minimizing, trying to downplay the importance of the story by pointing to – in your opinion – larger ones, and questioning the value of talking about this one.

    \I think if you’re going to say “Why pick on Steiner?” \n
    \You are misrepresenting me; I did not say that. (But then, you already knew that.)\

    I am not misrepresenting you. You wrote a “why pick on Steiner\ post in response to the article. In effect there are other cults out there and other religions getting funding for schools. Why pick on Steiner was your point. Getting state funding, everyone’s doing it, and compared to other problems this is inconsequential. Gosh, what could you have said if you *had* intended to minimize the problem?

    \mentioning that you’ve been a Steiner teacher is relevant.\

    \#1. Curious how you don’t impose a similar need to disclose your relationship with S-W education. But hey, equality was never a priority of the zealous, was it?\

    My first post disclosed that I was a Waldorf parent years ago and an aide in the kindergarten. I don’t have a personal web site so I have no URL to disclose.

    \#2. Curious how you don’t find it equally relevant that I am having a pop against CofE schools but did not mention that I have taught in them and have been a communicant of the CofE. But hey, consistency isn’t the strong point of the zealous either, is it?\

    That wouldn’t be particularly relevant because it isn’t the subject here.

    \And no, your tone isn’t hard to read.\

    \ROTFLMAO! So how come you’ve managed to misread it? Like many so-called
    ormal people, you appear to choose to confuse Asperger’s syndrome with anger.\

    If you have Asperger’s, maybe you’re unaware tone often comes across pretty well online. Yours is very hostile.

  • Nick Nakorn says:

    Thanks DW, I read your comment completely the wrong way!

  • zooey says:

    Tetenterre — re the vaccinations — no, these were Swedish schools. I’ve seen similar numbers for German schools though. And I believe numbers for American schools have been available too. But if you want to contest that the numbers are better in the UK, present some information about it. In general, I’d say the UK numbers are probably worse than the numbers in Sweden. Swedish waldorf schools are publically funded — thus they attract lots of parents who aren’t attracted to waldorf and/or anthroposophy to the extent they’d pay for it (like in the UK). I would guess Swedish waldorf parents are somewhat closer to ‘average’ values among Swedish parents. And: there has been no anti-vaccination movement in Sweden, unlike the UK. Basically, the only segment of population opposing vaccinations is the anthroposophically inclined. Vaccination coverage is very good in Sweden. I believe it’s higher than in the UK.

    Just today an article appeared in Swedish media. It detailed the vaccination numbers among the patients attending an anthroposophic clinic. This is a tax funded clinic. Half the children were NOT vaccinated against polio, diphteria and tetanus. 75% were NOT vaccinated against MMR. But, take note, half the children didn’t have POLIO vaccination! Polio! Why do you think this is?

  • Tetenterre says:

    @zooey: Not sure how I’d get solid UK info on that; my figure was anecdotal and was at best an informed guess, from the time when I was working in a S-W school and during the MMR/autism scare (turn of the millennium); not quite sure how one would separate the Wakefield effect from anthro effect.

    Re your polio story: Again, this is anecdotal, but I have heard it said that some suggest that it is safer to rely on herd immunity from majority of vaccinated individuals than to subject children to the “risk” of polio vac. Scientifically and morally suspect attitude, IMNSVHO.

    @DW: Yes, I vaguely recall your name. Long time ago, moved on a bit (euphemism alert!) since then.

    Other things:

    * Minimising: You may have inferred it; I neither stated nor implied it. When I worked in S-W, it did seem pretty important (delusional self-aggriandisement?); since I moved on it seems peculiarly insignificant to me.

    *Misrepresentation: You falsely attributed a quote to me. The end.

    *CofE: No, it wasn’t what the OP was about, but it is part of the context of ed funding in UK. A tad more important part of the context than my (mis)perceived “tone” (which wasn’t what the OP was about either, but it hasn’t prevented several wannabe ad-hom merchants banging on about it.

    *Strangers/internet: You seemed to miss the meaning of my last sentence in #28. (Clue: “as much”)

    Anyway, I think the CofE issue is extremely important, and I will continue gathering info about it. You disagree — adults often do that — live with it. I’ll look elsewhere for support with that one.


  • MrFred says:


    ‘that is as much as I am prepared to say about it to strangers on this blog’


  • DW says:

    Yeah, thanks, tetenterre, I think I can “live with” the disagreement; I’m not sure why it’s so extremely touchy for you to do so. All of this “end of story” and repeated goodbyes aren’t necessary to dialogue.

    I did not misattribute any quotes to you.

  • Thetis says:

    Here is a new post from the ‘Titirangi Three’ in New Zealand, who are mentioned in our post above:

    ‘If David Cameron and Michael Gove’s plans for Free Schools in the UK do involve, as they are proposing, schools which are “so unregulated, that no-one will ever know what goes on in them”, then they could learn a lot about the folly of that course of action from the Titirangi Rudolf Steiner School.

    In fact, the school’s actions are such a fantastic example of why that’s a shockingly bad idea, that it would be a further crime if the information wasn’t made more widely available.’

    Please read further here.

    I want to reiterate how painful it is for parents (and of course for children) when a school appears to be unaccountable. The writers of the Titirangi blog are absolutely right to urge caution.

  • zooey says:


    ‘I have heard it said that some suggest that it is safer to rely on herd immunity from majority of vaccinated individuals than to subject children to the “risk” of polio vac.’

    In other words, to be a parasite.

    There is no herd immunity if not enough people vaccinate. That’s the point. The only people who are morally allowed to remain unvaccinated and rely on on herd immunity are the ones who for medical reasons cannot take the vaccine.

    That said, may I suggest you listen less to what you hear about risks and go for the facts before you pass stuff on as information?

  • Tetenterre says:

    @zooey: “That said, may I suggest you listen less to what you hear about risks and go for the facts before you pass stuff on as information?”

    What are you on about?

    By your selective editing/quoting you have contrived to entirely reverse the meaning of what I wrote. You appear to have entirely ignored my statement: “Scientifically and morally suspect attitude, IMNSVHO.” — which makes it clear that I agree entirely with your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs.

    I won’t hold my breath for an apology.

  • zooey says:

    It’s nice that you agree it’s a not a very good policy; I missed that, and for this I apologize. Why wouldn’t I? I actually didn’t see it. My eyes jumped to the ‘IMNSVHO’, I thought ‘what’s that’ and disregarded the sentence. (Yeah, I have the ‘IMNSVHO’ figured out now. But lots of these abbreviations are just distracting clutter to me, unfortunately.)

  • More reason to believe that the Steiner movement promotes quackery (while trying to conceal that fact) is revealed in a recent article, “Anthroposophical doctor prescribed quack medicine to Camphill clients

  • […] from this blog. DC’s Improbable Science recently carried two Steiner-critical articles (here and here), Nick Nakorn has a few similar such articles but nothing more recent than this one giving scary […]

  • Thetis says:

    there’s a really interesting blog here from the US:
    click on the comments under ‘reply’ to get the full picture.
    Smart Mama makes the best reply I think I’ve ever seen to the question:
    ‘spiritual science, what does it mean?’
    ‘It means nothing at all. There’s no such thing.’

  • […] Part 2 was The Steiner Waldorf cult uses bait and switch to get state funding. Part 2 […]

  • John Stumbles says:

    A rather frustratingly partisan discussion, but given the provocative title I suppose it’s to be expected.

    I suppose I should nail my colours to the mast so the partisans know what side I’m on:

    a) I’m an atheist, anti-religious, anti-woo skeptic (and founder of a local SiTP group).

    b) Both my kids have been/are at our local Steiner school

    DC: I note you start out by using the word ‘cult’. This would seem to be a pejorative use of the term. Can any stretch of the rational imagination accommodate anything to do with Steiner Waldorf education that’s akin to Scientology, the Peoples Temple (Jonestown), Church Davidian (Waco) or any of that lot?

    The non-pejorative modern term “new religious movement” would seem to be appropriate for Anthroposophy. However I don’t think even that term would be appropriate to apply to Steiner Waldorf *education*, any more than it would be to call, say, Catholic school or Islamic school educations “religions” in themselves, even though they’re tied up with the religions of Catholicism and Islam.

    I’m also a bit disquieted that you say the bulk of the essay is by “two of the most knowledgeable people on the topic”. Now I don’t really care who it’s by if what they say makes sense, but to ascribe to them credentials of knowledgeableness but not to tell us who they are (only their twitter pseudonyms) strikes me as a bit like woo books puffing up authors no-one’s ever heard about with some superlative assertions about them. Come on David: either they’re nobodies like me, or tell us what justifies calling them knowledgeable!

    As for the bulk of the essays (this and the first part) they remind me of Wikipedia’s article and discussions on Waldorf education (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education). The article itself is now quite neutral and *very* thoroughly referenced, but the discussion page hints at the bloody battles between fervent pro- and anti-Waldorf factions that have been raging there over the years. I have to say these essays sound like the work of ‘anti’ factionalists, out to marshall all the bad things they can find about SWE including personal opinions and anecdotal evidence into a rhetorical attack. Which is not to say there aren’t valid criticisms that can be made of SWE but, as the article title announces quite clearly, this is a hatchet job and I don’t think that’s very helpful to a genuine open discussion of the pros and cons of Steiner – or other alternative – models of education.

    And let’s be clear here: “alternative” education is not analogous to alternative medicine. Medicine’s evidence criteria – like improvement in survival rates for people with AIDS or a particular type of cancer, or even reduction in blood pressure levels – are relatively sraightforward. But in education I’m sure we’re all aware that our current measures of reading improvement, exam results, truancy rates and so give only crude indications of how well education brings out children’s understanding of the world, their ingenuity and creativity, how self-motivated, resourceful, cooperative and socially skilled they are, and – dammit – how fulfilled and happy they turn out!

    (I think we could – and should – do better at measuring such outcomes; I’m sure educational psychology would have a field day, given the resources. And I think one benefit to society of Steiner, Montessori, Summerhill, home schooling and other alternative forms of education is opening up our awareness of such outcomes and getting them onto the educational agenda, so that one day we might get the tools to measure the outcomes we want.)

    For what it’s worth my (anecdotal-evidence-based, personal) two-penn’orth on Steiner Education is:

    1) the esoteric theories (Anthroposophy etc) behind it are total barmpotty bollocks, but it seems to be integral to their education system that none of this is part of the curriculum (at least at the school, and amongst the S-W alumni, I know). Steiner teachers seem to vary in how seriously and literally they take this stuff too.

    2) the practical theories behind SWE seem to make quite a bit of sense e.g.
    * the (relatively uncontentious) later start to schooling (in line with many better-performing European countries)
    * assessment of individual children’s readiness for starting school based on their physical and emotional development rather than simply on their age as in conventional schools
    * breadth of curriculum (typically writing/reading, ‘rithmetic, 2 foreign languages taught orally, music, painting, modelling and handcrafts, rhythmical movement (what they call “eurythmy”) and generally lots of exercise and movement
    * emphasis on socialisation of children, developing children’s confidence and resolving conflicts between them
    * emphasis on doing things well/beautifully to each person’s own abilities, and co-operating rather than competing with others.
    * integration of parts of the curriculum e.g. teaching times-tables whilst skipping and clapping a rhythm (in a lower class), or building and firing a wattle-and-daub lime-kiln
    as part of chemistry lessons (in a higher class) which also brings in learning in craft and industrial history

    3) Some Steiner schools – and some Steiner teachers – have particular strengths and weaknesses, and suit some children better than others. At our own school for example there have been 2 or 3 teachers whose teaching was poor, resulting in parents withdrawing children from the school. On the other hand many of our children are refugees from mainstream schools which had failed them. This gives plenty of opportunity for partisans of either side to cherry pick evidence to suit their arguments.

    Personally I think Steiner schools present a valuable alternative to the relatively one-size-fits-all model of the conventional system (private/independent as well as state), and would love to see non-Steiner schools adopting not just some of the surface features of S-W schools but the more deeply-rooted approach to education they practice, but with a rationalist evidence-based approach

    Here’s a piece I wrote about Steiner education in general and our school in particular, with some clips from Jonathan Stedall’s ‘Time To Learn’ documentary which, I think, gives a feel for some of the qualities of SWE:

  • @John Stumbles

    Your credentials are certainly intriguing. And we agree when you say that

    “the esoteric theories (Anthroposophy etc) behind it are total barmpotty bollocks, but it seems to be integral to their education system that none of this is part of the curriculum”

    The extent to which the barmpotty ideas are taught to, or rub off on, children and parents seems to be quite variable. As I explain in comments on part 3, the effects of the school near me seem to be worse than you suggest. I notice for example that the St Paul’s Steiner School News recommended parents to use homeopathic treatment of norovirus infections, and trotted out the well known myths about how effective homeopathy is for treatment of cholera. Advice like this is not just barmy. It’s dangerous,

    I’ll leave it to the authors to explain their credentials, but I will defend their anonymity. It’s easy to use your real name at my age, but there are lots of examples of people suffering at the hands of their employers for expressing their views. I find it entirely understandable that many people, especially younger people, want to remain anonymous. It is what people say rather than who they are that matters. A few journals now insist that the names of authors are concealed from referees, and that’s not a bad idea. As long as people use only one pseudonym. it’s quite possible to generate a consistent track record with a pseudonym as with your real name. Unless you know the writer personally, the name doesn’t really matter

  • Thetis says:

    @John Stumbles:

    It’s true that Steiner Waldorf has been compared to Scientology – for example in this Australian newspaper article: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/questions-about-steiners-classroom/story-e6frg6nf-1111114056265

    As an aside, I note this extraordinarily candid quote:

    “I want to co-work with the angels,” Mr Martin said. “These individuals are very advanced … Our job is to co-work with the spiritual beings.”

    It’s apparent that you have a great deal invested in your version of Steiner Waldorf education, perhaps you would feel a little foolish were you to realise that you hadn’t really understood what it is. I honestly sympathise, you wouldn’t be the first to have wandered down Steiner’s faerie path still taking yourself for a rationalist. You’d be in good company.

    You have been very insulting here, but we’re used to it. @Lovelyhorse_ and I are not famous. Knowing our real names wouldn’t add much, what is important is that we know a very great deal about Steiner Waldorf education, as well as having experienced it first-hand. We would prefer to protect our families from the attentions of the movement’s nastier supporters. But we’ve done our research, however uncomfortable that makes our conclusions.

    I hope you will read the third related post here.

    I’m sure you realise it would be very silly to take the wiki article on Steiner ed seriously. It is regularly ‘cleansed’ by Steiner supporters. The most fervent of these threatened mumsnet with libel if they didn’t remove posts by mothers critical of Steiner education. That’s no joke.

  • John Stumbles says:


    Fair point about pseudonymity. Jack of Kent’s reputation didn’t rest on his real name. But you “leave it to the authors to explain their credentials” and Thetis merely claims that he/she and Lovelyhorse “know a very great deal about Steiner Waldorf education, as well as having experienced it first-hand” and “to have done [their] research” – this could mean anything from having spent decades teaching in Steiner schools worldwide, to being disgruntled ex-pupils engaging in internet flame wars on the subject.


    You say “it’s true that Steiner Waldorf has been compared to Scientology” referencing a newspaper article which itself quotes anonymous “critics” who even “compar[e] it to Scientology”. Finding someone, somewhere who will compare your favourite bete noir with Nazism, Scientology or whatever is not too hard and doesn’t substantiate the comparison.

    I’m sorry if you found what I wrote insulting. I tried to be neutral and to be clear and to address what you wrote, rather than you yourselves. I’ve re-read what I wrote and I’m puzzled: what specifically did you find insulting?

    I have to complain that I find your comment about my having “a great deal invested in [my] version of Steiner Waldorf education…” rather patronising. I have tried to avoid suggesting that you might have the same investment in your version of SWE because I realise that I can only speak of what I know about based on my personal experience and evidence I can trust. For all I know the rest of SWE outside my experience is the sinister cult-like world-wide conspiracy you seem to be describing. But I have been around our local Steiner school and community for a decade and a half and know the teachers and other parents quite well and I’m pretty damn’ sure it’s not a hive of brainwashed/brainwashing culties.

    Certainly – as I pointed out in my first post – there’s a certain amount of mystical bollocks. (I’ve only come across one who took it really seriously – he did all the homeopathic gardening at full moon stuff – but he was a parent, not a teacher.) But Steiner communities don’t exactly have a monopoly on people believing supernatural bollocks: they just have an unusual variety of supernatural bollocks. And there are plenty of parents and teachers in the school who believe in CAM. Well *there’s* a rarity .

    And – and this is the point that I’m most bothered about – for all the supernatural bollocks and CAM nonsense, I think Steiner schools (OK, *some* Steiner schools) offer a vastly richer education to children than those following conventional models; and whilst we should certainly criticise the ludicrous and sometimes dangerous aspects of the former we are doing all our children and our society a disservice by disregarding the latter.

  • Thetis says:

    @John Stumbles –

    We did not say that Steiner Waldorf is a ‘sinister cult-like world-wide conspiracy’, or ‘a hive of brainwashed/brainwashing culties’ – those are entirely your own words. It is actually a rather ridiculous movement which takes itself very seriously, causing a great deal of harm to individuals as it does so. Our aim is to discourage public funding of Steiner schools, which we believe would be entirely inappropriate.

    It wasn’t an anonymous critic who made the comparison with Scientology, I quote from the Australian article:

    “Dr Aron, who is the director of Cult Counselling Australia, said schools varied greatly in their adherence to Steiner’s anthroposophy beliefs because of the decentralised nature of the system in Australia.

    He said there was a lack of transparency in the schools and often parents were not told about what Steiner believed, making it not dissimilar to Scientology.

    “We have been contacted by a few people who have come out of the Steiner system and say they are damaged and are seeking help,” Dr Aron said.”

    You may not like Dr Aron. He will not share your particular experience at a Steiner school near Reading. But he is not alone in comparing Steiner Waldorf to Scientology, though his comparison is simple and helpful, not as florid as the work of anthroposophists themselves: http://uncletaz.com/hubbstein.html

    If you want to defend Steiner education, you will need to familiarise yourself with anthroposophy and its defenders. The ‘unusual variety of supernatural bollocks’ as you describe it can’t be swept away because it doesn’t suit what you want to believe about Steiner education. To comment usefully about Steiner and anthroposophy, there is no substitute for reading. I wish there were.

    I’m glad your children were OK at their school. Between us, the writers of these first 2 posts have several children in state education, which is very good in every case. I can’t agree that Steiner education offers anything better, certainly nothing that offsets the presence of the Mystic Barmpot. I’m an advocate of democratic education, btw, which Steiner most certainly is not, so my ideas about education generally are not conventional. But I’m a pragmatist, and I’m grateful to the teachers who work so hard to educate my children.

    I’m not sure what it is you’re saying is ludicrous and sometimes dangerous, your last paragraph is a little confusing. I don’t think we disagree in the essentials though – you’re already rightly sceptical. We’re just further down the faerie road and out of the woods on the other side.

  • 5raphs says:

    @John Stumbles

    There can be all the things you say are good at Steiner schools, but better, in other schools. Anthroposophy doesn’t have to guide this sort of education, unfortunately, Steiner spin means they think they have cornered this market.
    Huh? You think anthroposophy is “barmpotty bollocks”, most of the stuff you cite as being good about Steiner ed is based on anthroposophical spiritual woo- late reading, eurythmy etc.
    Speak to children who had overt racist treatment (and those who were affected by that which was more subtle, but equally insidious)
    Speak to any Steiner educated child I know, and they’ll say they learnt very little German and French at Steiner, even though they’d been singing songs since they were 7. Speak to secondary schools who take on the fall out from Steiner schools and they will say they spend resources and time helping them “catch up’ (particularly in maths and science, or those who were left not reading properly at 10 or 11).
    Speak to all those children who have been bullied at Steiner schools where the teacher’s “turn a blind eye’ and let them sort out their own pecking order (apparently bullying is seen as an unresolved issue from a previous incarnation)
    Speak to parents whose left handed children have had to knit right handed (to strengthen their karma according to Steiner) and been ridiculed for their bad handiwork.
    And speak to the parents of children who have died because they weren’t vaccinated.
    And then say this is a good model on which to base education.

  • John Stumbles says:


    I think if you read about Scientology (see e.g. http://www.xenutv.com/) you will find many corroborated instances of people who have been drawn into the organisation being pressured into paying ever increasing amounts for training, being pressured into drawing friends and family into the organisation and to cut themselves off from those outsiders (including their families) who do not join, of people who criticise the organisation being harassed through lawsuits and quite sophisticated psychological tactics (c.f. Panorama reporter John Sweeney’s notoriously being reduced to shouting at Scientologists), and documentation leaked from within the movement showing that these are deliberate tactics.

    “The Australian” article is ambiguous about whether “parents were not told about what Steiner believed” means that the schools deliberately refused to tell parents who asked or simply that the information was not volunteered (in the same way that mainstream schools generally don’t tell parents about the theories of education which inform their teachers’ practice). I think on these grounds to compare Steiner education with Scientology is, frankly, ludicrous.

    My choice of words: ‘sinister cult-like world-wide conspiracy’ and: ‘a hive of brainwashed/brainwashing culties’ was based on the impression I get from your articles, including your choice of words ‘cult’ and ‘bait and switch’ in the second article. I get the impression that you are implacably anti-Steiner-education and see no good in it at all; in the same way that there are implacable pro-Steiner apologists who see no bad in it. Me? I’m an “I think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that” person* and that SWE has good and bad aspects, which I attempted to summarise in my last paragraph: evidently I didn’t do a good job of that since you found it confusing so let me try again:
    1) the anthoposophical spiritual stuff is nonsense (but pretty harmless)
    2) to the extent that Steiner schools, teachers and communities promote CAM they are harmful, even dangerous
    3) the breadth, depth and richness of the education is valuable and could benefit children, and society in general

    * (c) Ben Goldacre

    You say “I’m glad your children were OK at their school”. Thank you. I’m glad yours were OK at state school. I’ve known several children who have come to our Steiner school after unhappy and unsatisfactory experiences in state schools, and some who have not been happy (or their parents unhappy about them) at the Steiner school and have gone elsewhere. I don’t know any children who have been actually harmed by either Steiner or State education, in the way that some private boarding-school educated people (of an older generation) have been. My older son (now 17) went into state school at 12 (when his Steiner class finished: ours doesn’t have an upper school). I think his education at the comprehensive, especially in his first few years there, left a lot to be desired with some pretty bad teachers and poor communication from the school, though he has had some fine, dedicated teachers there too.

    I have no wish to familiarise myself with anthroposophy or to comment about Steiner and anthroposophy. I am simply applying an evidence-based approach: what does it do for my kids (and their peers who I have contact with)? It seems to produce pleasant, well-adjusted (and witty!) young people with confidence and competence in a range of social, practical and academic, artistic and scientific endeavours. And it seems to do as as well, and better in some (particularly social) respects, as conventional education does.

    Aside: I notice you say you have first-hand experience of Steiner education, but in your third article you only say you are ex-Steiner parents. As a Steiner parent I only have second-hand experience of the education, through my children and their teachers. Where do you get your first-hand experience from?

  • John Stumbles says:


    It sounds as if you’re talking about some quite crappy school(s) – whether they’re Steiner or otherwise. I think you’ll find Steiner education doesn’t have a monopoly on that part of the market either!

    I don’t think any of our school’s ex-pupils have any great difficulty when they moved to mainstream education, any more than children moving from mainstream primaries do.

    As for bullying, I know of some that’s happened at our school. I think that where teachers have been aware of it they’ve dealt with it quite sensitively and reconciled the kids, though I also know of one case which was unresolved (and as far as I’m aware carried on when the kids moved on to another school). Though the 2 boys in question seem genuinely friendly with each other now.

    I think you may be right about the left handed thing. Seems a bit of an antiquated approach to me. I’ll inquire more.

    As for children who have died because they weren’t vaccinated, I can’t say because I don’t know of any. (I know of one former pupil who tragically died of Sudden Cardiac Death – http://www.c-r-y.org.uk/ – but I don’t think there’s any connection with this and whether or not he was vaccinated.)

  • Valerie Walsh says:


    I just spoke to my son, who has been a student at a Waldorf School in the States for the past 13 years. He can speak Spanish and German:


    He’s benefited from working out his own pecking order, and having to do his handiwork over until perfect. He is left-handed and learned to knit left-handed in a WS. I have never heard of it being otherwise or of Steiner commenting that knitting by the left-handed should be otherwise. Perhaps you can direct me to a school that practices right-handed knitting exclusively? Although, he has not died yet from not being vaccinated he has suffered through whooping cough (resulting in 2 years of asthma) and a serious (resulting in hospitalization) reaction to the typhoid vaccine. He says it’s been so far, for him, an excellent education and I concur.

  • Thetis says:

    @John Stumbles

    You write:

    “I have no wish to familiarise myself with anthroposophy or to comment about Steiner and anthroposophy.”

    John, you haven’t understood anything we’ve written here. I advise you to go back and read it again.

    I don’t think Steiner Waldorf is at all as dangerous or organised as Scientology. But there are similarities which are made quite frequently. Since you mentioned Scientology in your first comment, I believed it was worth noting that such a comparison wouldn’t be original. In fact it’s well-trodden ground. The comment in the Australian article notes a similarity in the lack of honesty between the two. This is serious, and you would do well to take it seriously instead of concentrating on point-scoring. But no one thinks Steiner Waldorf is exactly like Scientology. It is all much more complicated than that.

    Meanwhile, because you don’t know anything about anthroposophy or Rudolf Steiner, and say you have no interest in finding out about either, it’s hard to see how we could have a sensible conversation with you about Steiner Waldorf education.

    When you are ready to read about Steiner Waldorf education, I would be happy to enter into a discussion with you. Until then, you are simply airing your opinion which, considering your view that a parent of children at a Steiner school has had no first hand experience of Steiner education, is merely that of an interested observer.

  • John Stumbles says:

    I have to say I find it difficult to express myself courteously: I find myself getting irritated with what I perceive to be your rather patronising attitude (e.g. your comment “you haven’t understood anything we’ve written here. I advise you to go back and read it again” and your implication that I, as a current Steiner parent, am simply an observer whereas your former Steiner-parenthood qualifies as “first-hand experience”). I daresay you do not intend to come across in this way and maybe it’s just me being touchy. (Does anyone else following this discussion have an opinion they’d like to volunteer?) But it makes it even harder for me to express myself clearly. (Which is my problem: I’m not blaming you for it, just saying what’s going on for me.)

    In any case I think I’ve said as much about the subject as I’m prepared to expend the mental energy trying to express. I hope it has been of use, interest or entertainment to others.

  • Thetis says:

    thank you John. I was reflecting on your determination not to read anything about anthroposophy or Rudolf Steiner. It was your choice to comment here, after a post which is in very large part about anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner. It seemed an odd statement for you to make in the circumstances. Sadly it is not uncommon for supporters of Steiner Waldorf education to know very little about anthroposophy or Rudolf Steiner. This leads to a great deal of confusion.

    You mistake me. It’s you who stated that someone who’s been a Steiner parent has no first-hand experience of Steiner education. We’re equal in that respect – by that token neither of us is anything but an interested observer. Of course I disagree. You know as well as I do that parents at Steiner schools are often very involved with these schools. And of course we both have intimate experience of what is for most people an obscure form of education, because we’ve been Steiner parents.

    What’s different in our case, here on this blog, is that we’ve investigated and researched the Steiner Waldorf movement, including the content of teacher training courses, so that we are better informed than most parents and sadly, some of the teachers. We haven’t done this because we have a personal vendetta against any school or individual. There is a great deal of public money involved in the possible funding of Steiner Waldorf schools in England through the Free Schools policy, money which will be diverted from local schools already starved of funds. There are really serious concerns about the anthroposophical beliefs which underpin the Steiner pedagogy. These are good reason for sceptics to ask questions. I think we had a responsibility to make our observations public.

  • 5raphs says:

    @Valerie Walsh

    I’m glad your children are doing well, I believe previously you’ve written that they’ve had their ups and downs.

    I think it’s important to point out to people who might not know that you’re apparently an active anthroposophist who is a regular contributor to Anthroposophy Tomorrow http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anthroposophy_tomorrow/
    and the strange group of not many, set up to “observe” those who criticise Steiner waldorf education
    WC observer
    and have a vested interest in protecting the image of Steiner Waldorf; I don’t say this as any sort of attack, but that it is relevant and I hope you understand that.

    One of the good things that has come from blog posts and articles like this, is that the call for openness is occasionally answered. It is so important that the schools define themselves, what and why they teach, and give an honest portrayal of their spiritual background.

    While I’m aware that Steiner waldorf home base is the Goetheanum, and that the schools worldwide are alarmingly similar, these blog posts are concerned with UK Steiner schools.

    I know quite a few children who didn’t learn much at Steiner schools, (my own included) and whose parents paid for out of school coaching when they realised they needed to pass exams. The several children whose books were shown as examples of good work in German had at least one parent who was.. German…..often, the children could sing songs and recite poems but had no idea what they meant.

    Sorry, I can’t answer your question as to which schools “practices right-handed knitting exclusively” but I do know that children are led to change from being left handed as recently as a few months ago at at least one Steiner school; I know this has happened to my child, and to at least two others. The teachers were dumb and uncomfortable when asked about it.

    I do know a child who wasn’t vaccinated who died; it was one of the most devastating occurrences as you can imagine, and no parent should ever ever have to go through it, (particularly if the reason for non vaccination is to do with the law of anthroposophical karma.) Those who survive these childhood illnesses are fortunate, (although I believe they should be protected from the suffering in the first place if possible) I’m sorry your son reacted to the typhoid vaccination- we’re lucky here that children don’t routinely have that unless they travel to an infectious area. It’s one of the vaccines that in the UK there are warnings of reactions for some people. When I had it I had flu like symptoms I remember.

    @John Stumbles

    It’s astounding that you can hold these views about Steiner education and haven’t read anything about anthroposophy!


    a great last post. It’s essential that your findings are made public.

  • John Stumbles says:


    Re: the left-handed thing. A former practicing state primary school teacher (who left her job to bring her children to our local Steiner school where she considered, based on her previous experience, and investigation of SWE, they would receive a better education) commented: “if a child is cross-dominant (right-eared, left-eyed, right-footed, left handed) it can be beneficial to encourage right-handedness as being right-handed is far easier on a very practical level (you don’t smudge your work as you are writing and any pair of scissors are accessable) But it is not forced. If a child is generally left-dominant throughout the body, then trying to make them right-handed will be damaging, therefore it is not done! It has nothing to do with Anthroposophy”.

  • John Stumbles says:


    Re: your (and Thetis’) comments that I haven’t read anything about anthroposophy:

    I have actually read a little: enough to form the opinion that it’s spiritualist mumbo-jumbo. I haven’t immersed myself in it, as Thetis seems to have done, enough to argue anthroposophical theology with her or anyone else. Frankly I’ve got things to do which I find much more interesting and worthwhile. As Thetis herself points out, she probably knows more about it than some Steiner teachers. But I daresay many conventional-school teachers are a bit shaky on their Piaget etc.

    I think it’s very useful to have critics outside the Steiner movement who are as well-read on the subject as Thetis. However, Thetis, you do seem to adopt a confrontational, polemic stance which does not seem to allow for the possibility of there being any merits to Steiner education. I imagine the dispassionate reader is left to assume that all Steiner parents are followers of some mystic cult who sacrifice their children’s education to some irrational observance; and this simply does not fit my experience (at our school, at least) that most parents are their for the quality of education the school offers rather than for any Anthroposophical basis.

    On the political side I don’t approve of the way state school funding is being diverted to the “free schools” programme, but that issue is quite separate from whether, if there is a free schools programme, Steiner schools should benefit from it. It seems an excellent opportunity to raise the issue of whether public funds should go to *any* education that’s based on spiritual or religious beliefs, which could be a useful starting point for detaching state funding from Christian, Islamic and Jewish faith schools (which to me seem more pernicious, offering nothing in the way of better education, just foisting religious indoctrination and in some cases creationism on standard-model education). But of course there we should be questioning not only Steiner but also Buddhist and other minority faith-based schools.

    Personally I don’t find Steiner schools particularly obnoxious on the religion side. At my older son’s kindergarten they had a verse they said before meals blessing the sun and earth for their food. I liked that they foster that sort of reverence for our planet and the star that gives us life. Later, at school, they had some verses that referred to the “Lord” which I wasn’t keen on, but the general atmosphere was never religiose (or I wouldn’t have kept my kids there!). And their teaching of the various god/gods myths – Egyptian, Norse, Indian, Greek etc – I think helps children decide whether to give any more credence to the current dominant religious myth in our culture (in my older son’s case: no!).

  • Valerie Walsh says:


    I have a long-term interest in anthroposophy due to my children being enrolled in a WS-personally I was unable to commit my children to an educational system that I did not understand. I may very well not yet have a proper understanding but I have certainly made the effort. I have a vested interest in protecting my children. When someone implies that Waldorf Educated children can’t speak foreign languages and are forced to knit with their right hands I feel that may reflect negatively on my own Waldorf-educated children. This is my Waldorf-educated son at 7:00:

    He has his weaknesses, absolutely, but speaking foreign languages and knitting comfortably with the hand of his own choosing are not among them.

    Certainly he has had his ups and downs over the years-I believe I have been consistent over the years about saying that I see Waldorf Education as a good fit and a good education for my children.

    If you would please let me know the name of a school that is requiring children to switch their knitting from left-handed to right-handed I will personally contact them. As I am an avid knitter myself I am very much interested in hearing what purpose this could possibly serve. If there is a lesson to be learned here-either for myself or for the teachers involved let’s have it!!! While I do understand that this blog is concerned with UK Steiner schools I believe I am familiar with and conversant enough in both American and European knitting methods to hold my own with a UK handwork instructior. Hopefully, John Stumbles will also inquire into the knitting methodology at his local school as he mentioned.

    All vaccinations, in the U.S.,carry warnings of possible adverse reactions. My son has had typhoid, malaria, and hepatitis vaccinations because he has traveled and plans to travel, in future, to areas with high incidence of these diseases. One of my friends children passed away after having a routine vaccination as an infant-it was ruled SIDS by the coroner. One of my employee’s infant suffered brain damage in an adverse reaction to the pertussis vaccine. While I don’t know of any non-vaccinated children who have died I do not doubt that they can and do die.

  • Valerie Walsh says:

    @John Stumbles

    Thanks for the information on cross-dominance:

    “if a child is cross-dominant (right-eared, left-eyed, right-footed, left handed) it can be beneficial to encourage right-handedness as being right-handed is far easier on a very practical level (you don’t smudge your work as you are writing and any pair of scissors are accessable)


    Please note this would not hold for knitting as knitting is truly a two-handed activity and the implements used (needles) are interchangeable.

  • 5raphs says:

    @John Stumbles

    From my reading of Steiner he believed left handedness is a sign of “karmic weakness” from a “past life”, and that on the whole children need to be encouraged to use their right hand in order to ameliorate their forthcoming reincarnations. But I’m sure the teachers at your Steiner school will nod and concur that it’s nothing to do with anthroposophy.
    Actually there seems evidence to suggest changing handedness is damaging
    Where did this teacher get her evidence from ?

    What is your view on classifying children by their temperament, their head size, body shape etc? Does this teacher have a non anthroposophical interpretation for this practice too?

    To me it’s fairly alarming that you’re happy for your children to be taught by teachers who are trained often with little more than this “spiritual mumbo jumbo” ( by the way- what is “the star that gives us life”?
    As far as I’m concerned – these are religious schools. What is the point of anthroposophy in these schools do you think? Why are the teachers trained in it? Why are the schools based on it? Why do you think the children learn Egyptian, Norse, Indian and Greek myths ) (as history) oh- and Atlantis don’t forget, in the order that they learn it? These lessons are meant to recapitulate the stages of anthroposophical cosmic evolution- it mirrors Steiner’s theory of racial and ethnic evolution, in which spiritual progress is carried forward in “epochs” by a particular racial-ethnic community.
    But to be fair, I used to think it seemed a broad curriculum, until I read why it was taught, it’s just Steiner’s clairvoyant version of the world. And what missed opportunities creatively! To do the Egyptians and all the visual stimulation used is a teacher’s chalk drawing and some fat wax crayons! ( they can’t even draw the black hair of the Pharaohs because they aren’t allowed black…)

    As to your confrontational statement that Thetis’ style is polemic, I think she’s been restrained to a degree. Her piece is exceedingly well researched, she has obviously read copiously and made certain she understood the subject before writing about it.
    You seem exceptionally naive, oblivious to what anthroposophy is really all about, and are expecting people to indulge your ignorance.
    Thetis hasn’t said “all Steiner parents are followers of some mystic cult” – those are your words; her posts are far more nuanced and subtle than that. She has actually frequently said how many parents are unaware of the significance of anthroposophic implementation within schools, and you illustrate this marvelously. She is doing you a huge favour- I’d accept it and start asking a few more questions.

  • 5raphs says:

    @Valerie Walsh

    Your son looks charming, generous of you to post his video; in the circumstances I have no intention of naming schools, the Steiner movement has shown itself to be less than generous in it’s critic chasing.
    All I am doing is wring what has happened to my and other people’s children at UK Steiner school, if it reflects badly on anthroposophic institutions then perhaps we will be one step closer to a long awaited self examination and reassessment of this education system rather than the superior, spiritual, self aggrandising head in the sand posturing seen so often.
    In what capacity would you contact a Steiner school about their anthroposophical practices? I think you know as well as I do that you aren’t being entirely candid- changing handedness is to do with karma as far as Steiner was concerned.
    My child uses a non smudge pen, there are plenty of helpful tools in this modern world luckily (the wax Stockmar crayons at steiner school did smudge though, you’re right)
    I read somewhere that knitting is important in Steiner schools in order for the children to be exposed to the healing powers of leminscates. The fingers make leminscates with the wool around the needles. In anthroposophy a leminscate is a sign like a figure 8 which means eternity and is a holy symbol. Steiner drew a leminscate to show how the astral body travels at night in the cosmos. Most of the steiner curriculum has some anthroposohical meaning I realise, and even if we are led to believe it is benign, I don’t personally think any sort of subtle indoctrination like that is; and imo it is in order to expose the children to these anthroposophical constructs. The least the schools should do is be honest.

  • Thetis says:

    thank you 5Raphs, and certainly the schools are not honest.

    @JohnStumbles –

    Steiner education is clearly religious, as you describe. So as not to repeat myself, I’ll direct you to my third post here:

    Steiner Waldorf Schools Part 3. The problem of racism

    “Steiner Waldorf education, far from being progressive or democratic, is dogmatic, autocratic and anti-intellectual. The persuasive lobby for state funded Steiner schools in my opinion misrepresents Anthroposophy, there are no exceptional applications. It is this lack of honesty that causes most concern. Steiner schools have failed a particular responsibility to their clients, not shared by Church of England or Catholic schools, to explain at the beginning what is for most parents an unfamiliar world-view.”

    Certainly they have failed in your case. But if ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.

    @Val – you have every right to comment here. But I would prefer you to be honest. It is true, as 5Raphs says, that you’re an active member of two anthroposophical forums – she links to these. You are an anthroposophist, not just a parent wanting to support your children’s education. And you have appeared on too many threads to pretend otherwise.

    But I’m happy to see how accomplished your children are, I’d expect nothing less, wherever they went to school.

  • Valerie Walsh says:


    “All I am doing is wring what has happened to my and other people’s children at UK Steiner school”

    You have stated that “left handed children have had to knit right handed” and seem to think this in inappropriate and I agree.

    If it reflects badly on anthroposophic institutions, and/or indirectly my children then perhaps I could contact the offending institution and have the situation corrected in the capacity of a mother of Waldorf-educated children. As I mentioned previously, I am not aware of any statements of Steiner’s regarding left-handed knitting. I have made no statements regarding writing implements. As lemniscates are symmetrical in nature I don’t understand how this information could bolster an argument for right-handed knitting being in any way superior to left-handed knitting.

    I resent your statement that I am not being entirely candid as I am simply requesting that you substantiate your statement regarding knitting. If you feel that doing so publicly would somehow endanger a school or a teacher that you would name then please contact me directly. Thanks!

  • Valerie Walsh says:

    Okay-in all honesty I would contact the school/teacher as an avid knitter as well, though I believe I already said that-as someone who is honestly interested in learning something about knitting here if it is to be learned! I do not presently maintain a fuduciary relationship with any anthroposophical endeavor/institution nor have I ever defined myself as an anthroposophist. I therefore, could and would only contact other parties as a concerned Waldorf mom-which I am-absolutely!

  • Graham says:

    @John Stumbles

    “I’m an atheist, anti-religious, anti-woo skeptic (and founder of a local SiTP group).”

    Interesting- an anti-woo skeptic with a website that promotes Steiner schools. I’ve never heard the like…

    Not just interesting John- incredible, as in, just not credible. You say:

    “the anthoposophical spiritual stuff is nonsense (but pretty harmless)”

    Skeptics dont say things like that, John, especially on a Skeptics website like DC’s(!!)- which is dedicated to exposing woo and challenging it- precisely because it is not harmless.

    Granted some woo may be worse than other woo but no skeptic is actually going to bother defending it on such grounds- plenty of woo-merchants to do that for us.

    “I have no wish to familiarize myself with anthroposophy or to comment about Steiner and anthroposophy.”

    -which does rather disqualify you from the discussion- especially as a skeptic-

    “I am simply applying an evidence-based approach: what does it do for my kids (and their peers who I have contact with)? It seems to produce pleasant, well-adjusted (and witty!) young people with confidence and competence in a range of social, practical and academic, artistic and scientific endeavours. And it seems to do as as well, and better in some (particularly social) respects, as conventional education does.”

    Right. “It seems to produce…” is anecdotal;

    From your website:

    “(At Alder Bridge the only computers are in the school office: in the Steiner model they’re only appropriate for children at later, more intellectual stages of their development.)”

    Right. And what is the Steiner model John? Based on empirical research I’ll bet! Not- it’s actually based on mystical spiritual beliefs of Steiners’ to do with leaving time for the soul to incarnate before being sullied by this base material world. Something about Ahriman maybe? (I’m not an expert).

    But your an atheist, right?

    “Me? I’m an “I think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that” person*”

    No your not, John, you’re an “I think promoting an education system based on a whole load of unbelievable woo is a good thing to do” sort of person.

    The Ben Goldacre quote is misplaced- he’s talking about science mate. The converse is more relevant here- there is another skeptical saying that covers that . You know- the one about the duck?

    By the way I’ll link to my own blog, partly so you know who I am, (no skeptic would start as you did challenging the identity of the OP either by the way- that’s a tactic used by woo merchants)-

    and just to mention that Steinerism/Anthroposophy is about a lot more than just education, but also responsible for phenomenon such as Biodynamics- a kind of Homeopathy for organic gardeners and farmers, and as such casts a very broad net in terms of the extensive promoting of woo. No skeptic would want to be seen promoting that.


  • Thetis says:

    Indeed. And as well as Graham’s blog there’s the excellent ‘biodynamics is a hoax’ – http://biodynamicshoax.wordpress.com/

    Stuart writes:

    “.. after reading Steiner, I conclude that Rudolf Steiner was a complete nutcase, a flimflam man with a tremendous imagination, a combination if you will, of an LSD-dropping Timothy Leary with the showmanship of a P.T. Barnum. His books, writings and lectures should be catalogued under “science fiction” because there is not a scintilla of truth in any of his writings.”

  • zooey says:

    John: ‘I have actually read a little: enough to form the opinion that it’s spiritualist mumbo-jumbo. I haven’t immersed myself in it, as Thetis seems to have done, enough to argue anthroposophical theology with her or anyone else. Frankly I’ve got things to do which I find much more interesting and worthwhile.’

    Then it seems rather odd to me that you send your children to a waldorf (steiner) school. I know this is really very common — parents don’t inform themselves, they don’t think there’s a need to, they think anthroposophy is not of huge importance anyway (and the schools are more than happy to offer reassurance that it isn’t). As a former waldorf student I would say it’s a pity parents don’t bother to really learn *everything* they possibly can about anthroposophy before entrusting their children and their children’s education to anthroposophists.

    Lots of people end up being very angry and disappointed with themselves for not informing themselves first. And some children end up rather angry with their parents for making uninformed choices.

    It seems to me you really want to believe in waldorf. But to continue to believe it, you can’t inform yourself about it. You don’t really dare to do it, I would guess. I do understand it’s much more comfortable to believe in the PR-material handed out by the school. In my opinion, though, it is the children who pay the price for this voluntary ignorance and this wish to live the illusion.

  • Valerie Walsh says:


    I checked in with the good people at my local yarnshop yesterday:


    They said what I more or less suspected, that it doesn’t matter which hand is dominate in knitting. Either hand may hold the thread and be dominate in yarn manipulation. WIN!!!

    Then they went on to say that it does matter that the knitting is performed in a left to right manner rather than the reverse as this is how patterns are written. DRAT!! This could count as a practical reason which I’m sure could be overcome to some extent with special patterns for lefties but it does point to a legitimate educational reason for knitting left to right as a pre-reading skill, IMO. So now, I am left wondering which correction the children you speak of suffered?

    BTW, Happy New Year!

  • John Stumbles says:

    @zooey #71
    I know of a small minority of parents of children at our Steiner school who’ve been unhappy with their children’s education but I think that was generally a result of poor teaching or personality clashes between parents and teachers than due to parents not being informed about Anthroposophy.

    And the ex-pupils I’m still in touch with, some many years on, seem generally happy with their education and look back at their time at the school with affection as happy times.

  • John Stumbles says:

    @Graham #69

    I am obviously deficient in my skepticism. I should allow myself to be instructed in how to think skeptically by following your opinions rather than attempting to think for myself.

  • tomdehavas says:

    Dear John,
    I agree with your observations entirely but personally I hated Steiner school from 6 to 16 but even that doesn’t qualify me according to these people to say that the schools can do a lot less damage than the damage I have seen my daughters dealing with in the state system. Personally I think schools have got it wrong for people like me, steiner schools included. That’s why I want to see more variety and I know Steiner schools worked well for many.

    If your kids don’t like school PUT THEM IN A DIFFERENT ONE. But with this lot struggling to gut down choice I can’t find a free school I want my kids to attend. Sad isn’t it.

    Any body want to talk about it call me on medway 893494 but not after 9pm

  • John Stumbles says:

    Earlier this evening I talked to my son and 3 of his friends, all of whom were at the same local Steiner school together. I asked whether, if they’d not been to their local primary schools rather than Steiner[1], what they thought would have been better and what would have been worse. The first reply was “I would have known more but I’d be a worse person”. I asked him to explain further and gathered that he (and some of the others) had struggled to catch up in maths when they moved from Steiner to mainstream, but that he (and the others concurred) had developed better friendships and social skills at Steiner school. They also appreciated some of the curricular activities at Steiner.

    One of my son’s friends has an older brother who had been to the same Steiner school (but with a different teacher to any of them) and he (younger bro’) said older bro’ didn’t like it. Though he didn’t like the school he went to afterwards, or the one after that, either.

    I also asked them how much they’d learned about Anthroposophy and had to explain what the word meant. I said it involved reincarnation and karma and spirit worlds and they said they’d had none of that, although one teacher had been a bit keen on bible stories and prayers (though they didn’t seem to have shared her enthusiasm for that!).

    [1] allowing that, not actually having been to other schools they couldn’t know directly, but drawing on what they knew from other kids at their current/later schools

  • 5raphs says:


    All I know is that the 8yr old in question was very distressed at having her knitting frequently unravelled in front of the class because she found it hard to knit left handed. One would have expected a teacher to find a way to give confidence, not precipitate anguish. But if the philosophy of the school is guided by things like karma, it’s explainable.

    This isn’t a point scoring exercise, “win” or “lose”. It’s about real children, having experiments in spiritual science and karma practiced on them.

    What is your view on changing handedness for writing and painting, as also was fostered?

  • Valerie Walsh says:

    Yes, I agree that it it is very distressing to have to unravel rows and rows of stitches to remove an error in knitting. This has been my unfortunate experience as well and this is, afaik, the case for all knitters-regardless of hand-dominance.

    It’s distressing and it’s a necessary skill to learn-how to remove stitches both one by one (as in DRAT) and row by row (as in DOUBLE DRAT) until an error is reached.

    The bad news is that mistakes are inevitable in knitting, especially when learning new skills/methods. The good news is that whatever goes wrong in knitting there is always a solution, correction, way to make it whole, or WIN-sorry!

    If the true cause of a particular child’s difficulty lay in her knitting left-handed perhaps she should have tried knitting right-handed. I myself am right-handed and knit left-handed. My view on handedness is essentially that-if handedness is a problem-it’s causing inordinate difficulty for the child somehow-then other approaches should be offered.

  • DW says:

    Perhaps Val is a relatively new knitter. If not she would probably know that there are about as many different ways to hold the yarn and throw the yarn as there are individual knitters. (Check out ravelry.com some time, and search the forums there. Literally, there are many more ways to hold the yarn and maneuver the yarn than you have probably ever imagined. There is not just English versus continental, there’s Eastern and Western, crossed and uncrossed, and many other variants.)

    A good knitting teacher knows this because her expertise is KNITTING and not anthroposophy. A good knitting teacher for children also likes children and understands children and doesn’t impose a particular method on an individual child but works to figure out what is comfortable for the child and what comes naturally to the child. No one will continue knitting (or any other craft) if it is painful or uncomfortable or impossible to understand.

    Not every knitting teacher can teach every method, obviously, because knitting teachers vary in their level of expertise at both knitting and at teaching. Also, some teachers simply can’t teach methods they aren’t comfortable with themselves (physically). In this case the competent teacher will know how to find resources that will help THAT CHILD. The Waldorf handwork teacher frequently lacks such resources and will instead either torment the child or send the child to eurythmy.

    In a Steiner school, it’s entirely possible to come across a thoroughly competent and kindhearted knitting teacher. Our school had one, a lovely individual who was always kind to the children. However, these qualities are not the first requirements for a handwork teacher in a Steiner school. As always in a Steiner school, the first requirement is that she/he is an anthroposophist. So you’re very likely to get a lot of mystical crap mixed up with your knitting – cuckoo notions mixing up left and right and “spirituality” (google the associations with left-handedness sometime, and you’ll get where these superstitions come from, warmed over by Steiner); rescuing children from Ahriman; past life karma determining handedness etc. The odds, I would say, are a good bit higher than elsewhere in encountering a knitting teacher who, sorry to say, doesn’t know WTF she is talking about and is really teaching anthroposophy and not “knitting.”

    Knitting and Waldorf: I could write a book …

    Elsewhere, I’ve discussed this at length, but I guess it’s off topic here. If any Waldorf parents are listening here whose children are having trouble learning to knit, because the handwork teacher is a zealous Steinerista, I have one piece of important advice: the answer is on youtube. (Val, who practically lives on youtube, ought to know this.)

    Seriously: the answer is on youtube. There are hundreds if not thousands of youtube videos that can help your child learn to knit – in the way that *works for her/him*, though it may not be anthroposophically correct.

    The Waldorf handwork teacher is not going to advise this, may be aghast if you try it, because your child of course should not be on the Internet!! Ahriman lives in the Internet. But if you want your child to actually learn to knit, and avoid the pain and misery that can be inflicted by a rigid and unkind handwork teacher, youtube is your answer.

  • DW says:

    Val, 5raphs didn’t describe a child having to frog her knitting, which, as you note, is a specific skill that every knitter needs to learn. She described a child having her knitting unraveled in front of the class.
    Get the difference? Far from the first report I’ve heard of this from Steiner schools.

    One thing that heartily handicaps competent handwork instruction in Steiner schools is the requirement that everyone do it exactly the same way. Everyone is supposed to be knitting the same thing at the same time and using the same methods and motions, because to do otherwise lets children be “self-conscious,” in anthro-speak. Of course, having your work held up in front of the class for its mistakes, and seeing it unraveled in front of the class, might also make a child “self-conscious,” I would think. I believe it is done more as a punishment for non-conformity. Knit our way or the highway. (In anthrospeak, the class is a karmic entity; in practice, do it our way or the highway.)

    Furthermore everyone is supposed to *learn* the same way. There is no accommodating different learning styles. There is usually a requirement that the children NOT SEE PRINT (in first grade they are under 7, and it is best if children not see print until age 7, or so zealous anthroposophists believe). The teacher of first graders (which is when knitting is taught) will not let the children see the pattern – often she won’t even let them see HER looking at the pattern. The pattern will literally be hidden – not on view anywhere in the classroom. So a child who is verbal or print-oriented is not likely allowed to learn in a way that works with their strengths. Many first graders already read and can easily learn to follow a knitting pattern. But everyone is supposed to learn from watching and imitating the teacher. This works just fine for some children and terribly for others.

  • Valerie Walsh says:

    Yeah Diana-I do get it-I have assisted in handwork as has my daughter in summer camp-neither of us took the children aside-or out to the cubbyroom to address their errors.

  • Thetis says:

    Of course knitting is good for the teeth, according to Steiner:

    “[Why knitting is good for the teeth.] “Go into our needlework classes
    and handicraft classes at the Waldorf School,
    and you will find the boys knit and crochet as well as the girls …
    This is not the result of any fad or whim …
    [T]o drive the soul into the fingers means to promote all the forces that go to build up sound teeth.”

  • DW says:

    Wow, thetis, I must admit I thought I knew the anthro-knitting lore, but I never heard that one. Knitting drives the soul into the fingers …

    My main point with the probably too long knitting posts is that, regarding state funding of Steiner schools, parents need to be clear that anthroposophy, for good or bad, is definitely in the classroom and heavily influencing the students’ education. The role of anthroposophy seems to me a big concern regarding state funding.

    Whether the founder’s doctrines are racist is of course of huge concern to the taxpayers. But the defenders of this schooling will try to downplay this by insisting that “anthroposophy isn’t taught” anyway and/or teachers aren’t really working from these doctrines. This is simply disingenuous. The teachers are most certainly working very directly from many Steiner doctrines – why not the racial ones? Knowing what we know of the intertwinedness of the life of the classroom with the doctrines, why would we think the racial doctrines are not there also?

    Anthroposophical doctrines aren’t taught *literally* to the children, but the worldview of anthroposophy influences life in the classroom minute by minute. Even the way knitting is taught is a direct manifestation of basic anthroposophical principles; the knitting instruction reflects, for instance, the bedrock anthroposophical notion that children under age 7 are not completely “incarnated” yet (not fully “in their bodies”), hence cannot be treated as individuals, and the notions of the class as a karmic entity, both of which work against individualized instruction and in favor of rote instruction, enforcement of conformity, inability to talk through problems etc. The children are imbibing this world view. They may not be copying the precepts off the blackboard into their notebooks, but they are living it and surely being heavily influenced by it.

    Personally I think such views are of a piece with the racial doctrines, if nothing else because they display rigid thinking – the kind of place where racial views often find a home.

  • Valerie Walsh says:

    In long bones at least, (per my last visit to the ER with youngest having a break in a growth plate) physical activity strengthens bone tissue during the growth period. I don’t know why teeth would be any different.

  • tomdehavas says:

    Sorry to hear about the knitting I never saw anything like that. Throw that nutter out. Very soul destroying.

    Quote ‘As always in a Steiner school, the first requirement is that she/he is an anthroposophist.’ Not true at Wynstones from 1966 to 1978 this was certainly not the case. Hence not always.

    ‘One thing that heartily handicaps competent handwork instruction in Steiner schools is the requirement that everyone do it exactly the same way.’ Not true at Wynstones from 1966 to 1978

    Humiliating children in front of the class is against Steiner principles. This was an ignorant ass of a teacher.

    Thetis “Of course knitting is good for the teeth, according to Steiner” I never heard that! But I believe you. Ha ha. Those types should be chucked out.

    ‘Whether the founder’s doctrines are racist is of course of huge concern to the taxpayers.’ yes especially the racist tax payers. Ah I shunna ah said tha. Sorry we are going around a bit.

    Quote ‘The teachers are most certainly working very directly from many Steiner doctrines – why not the racial ones? Knowing what we know of the intertwinedness of the life of the classroom with the doctrines, why would we think the racial doctrines are not there also?’

    Knowing what we know. I do think there is a big argument going on here and that making generalisations is the main problem.

    (1) The readers here are reading all the books and assuming that most anthroposophists believe them and most Steiner teachers apply them.
    (2) Parents are assuming that there experience is again extendable to all other Steiner schools, teachers etc.
    (3) Former pupils, of which I am one, are also extending there experience. Mine of course is Wynstones from 1966 to 1978.

    During this time 30 years ago there were pluses and minuses and clearly I can definitively refute many other peoples general allegations such as ‘teaching in all Steiner schools is racist.’ and similarly my broad hypotheses can be refuted. But clearly we cannot refute less broad hypotheses such as that there is a racist Steiner school in Calafornia. Or that Zooey had a lousy time that set her back, by the way I love the knitwear.

    So my conclusion is that Steiner schools should not be dismissed on mass but that the school inspectors should do there job and if the school is full of people who confuse knitting and dentistry it should not be funded. (Mmm a tooth warmer for a tooth ache. I wonder if there is a patent on that?)

  • 5raphs says:

    What is the point of anthroposophy in Steiner schools?
    Why is it essential that the teachers have a sound knowledge and grounding in anthroposophy (and seemingly precious little other training)?
    Why do people like Jeremy Smith, who is/was the communications officer of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship think there should be more anthroposophists teaching in the schools?
    If it’s ridiculous and benign, why not ditch it, have a curriculum of art, drama, languages, craft and gardening?

  • Valerie Walsh says:


    To knit their hearts with an unslipping knot.

  • Valerie Walsh says:


    That’s my answer for 1, 2, and 3 above though I do quote the Bard, who was, politically incorrect in his own time. As to 4 (IMO):

    There is a crucial difference between an association and a tribe. Just as a proper society is ruled by laws, not by men, so a proper association is united by ideas, not by men, and it’s members are loyal to the ideas, not to the group. It is eminently reasonable that men should seek to associate with those who share their convictions and values. It is impossible to deal or even communicate with men whose ideas are fundamentally opposed to one’s own (and one should be free not to deal with them). All proper associations are formed or joined by individual choice and on conscious, intellectual grounds (philosophical, political, professional, etc.)-not by the physiological or geographical accident of birth, and not on the ground of tradition. When men are united by ideas, i.e. explicit principles, there is no room for favors, whims, or arbitrary power: the principles serve as an objective criterion for judging men. whether leaders or members.

    Ayn Rand , 1973

  • DW says:

    Wow seriously, Ayn Rand? That would explain a few things about your expressed opinions over a few years now. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Valerie Walsh says:

    You’re welcome.

  • tomdehavas says:

    Valerie Walsh // Jan 3, 2011 at 16:45
    I Quote ‘Just as a proper society is ruled by laws, not by men, so a proper association is united by ideas, not by men, and it’s members are loyal to the ideas, not to the group.’
    In reply;
    (1) laws are made by humans.
    (2) loyalty to ideas what ever happened to truth or do let others worry about that for you?
    (3) And you even said that you try not to communicate with people that don’t agree with you. Wow you are one bad person.

    It the people that don’t agree with me that taught me so much. The people who agree with me just make me feel good about myself. But I guess you have one big ego right.

    (1) If you don’t agree with what I am saying about you lets not communicate, right?
    (2) If I’m wrong about you then I should still be loyal to the wrong ideas what ever you say, right?

    It is eminently reasonable that men should seek to associate with those who share their convictions and values. It is impossible to deal or even communicate with men whose ideas are fundamentally opposed to one’s own (and one should be free not to deal with them).

  • PeteK says:

    Message #85: “Humiliating children in front of the class is against Steiner principles. This was an ignorant ass of a teacher.”

    My own kids experienced exactly this type of humiliation and worse – many times by many different Waldorf teachers.

    Steiner absolutely humiliated children… sorry Tom. Here he assesses a child with “special needs”. Ya think maybe Waldorf teachers read this?

    “And now, if you will begin to observe the child for yourselves — [to the boy]
    Come here a minute! — you will find many things to notice. Let me draw your
    attention, first of all, to the strongly developed lower half of the face. Look
    at the shape of the nose and the mouth. The mouth is always a little open, which
    has an effect on dental development. It is important to note these things, for they are unquestionably bound up with the whole soul-and-spirit constitution of the child… The formation you see here in the jaws — the jaws belong, of course, to the limb system — is wholly part of the head system … (Look, he’s amused! I think Fraulein B. was asking him why he keeps his mouth open, and his reply was: ‘To let the flies come in.’ This is a firmly fixed opinion of his.)

    “… Here (in the front) as we remarked, the head is pressed together. In all probability this points back to a purely mechanical injury, either at birth or during pregnancy, a mechanical injury in which we can see nothing else than a working of karma …

    “[T]he whole breathing system … is very little under control … Hence the symptom that is so conspicuous in a child of this kind … What ought to happen is that gradually, in the course of life, the whole system of movement in man should become a servant of the intellectual system. [To the boy] Stand still a minute! And now come here to me and do this! (Dr. Steiner makes a movement with his arm as if to take hold of something; the boy does not make the movement.)

    Never mind! We mustn’t force him. Do you see? It is difficult for him to do anything; he has not the power to exercise the right control over his metabolism-and-limbs system….” [Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS
    (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), pp. 106-110.]


  • Thetis says:

    Roger Rawlings of Waldorf Watch makes a great comment about events here:

    “To summarize briefly: The government of the United Kingdom is contemplating giving state funds to schools that minimize actual intelligence while seeking to promote an occult system based on a wholly fallacious psychic power. Perhaps some second thoughts are in order.”

    The comment in in ‘news’ – so a link won’t take readers to that quote after today, but here’s a link, once again, to the news section of his site:

    Of course education is devolved, and the Free Schools policy applies to England.

  • Thetis says:

    Another example of bait and switch from the James Randi Educational foundation: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/1179-the-motheringcom-bait-and-switch.html

    Related to this post, mothers have had a difficult time opposing Steiner Waldorf on certain parents’ forums moderated by Waldorf sympathisers (though not UK’s mumsnet, which it appears reacted to harassment).

    David Gorski at Science-based Medicine also discusses mothers’ discussion forums, suggesting why certain kinds of propagandists would take such trouble to colonise these sites.

  • lovelyhorse says:

    It would appear the Department of Education are actively helping Steiner Waldorf schools progress with their applications to become Free Schools. From the Waldorf (Steiner) School, South West London newsletter dated November 5th 2010:

    “Free School Update
    In July we submitted an’ expression of interest’ to become a Free School. Last week we received a letter for the Department of Education outlining areas that we need to ‘strengthen’ in order for us to progress to the next stage.

    We’ve been advised that if we decide to become a Free School and want it to happen for September 2011, we need to re-submit our application form and return it by the 26th of November.

    There is currently a group of parents and staff working on updating and our application and we need everyone’s support. One of the areas we need to improve is ‘Evidence of demand’. We need to show that there’s strong demand for our type of education in Lambeth/Croydon/Southwark (or whereever we are located).

    We have created a survey that Sheila will be sending out to you all (if it hasn’t already been done) in the next couple of days. All you need to do it is fill it out and hit ‘submit’ and then forward it on to at least 3 people you know who are interested or not interested (yet) in coming to our school and ask if they could do the same. It will only take a couple of minutes and will really help strengthen our application.”


  • I think the time has come to close the comments on all three Steiner posts. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the total of 442 comments

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