Dispiriting

The attraction of Waldorf Steiner education is absolutely understandable – it is definitely something I would have seriously considered for our children.  I was very much aware of it as an option as a good friend sent her two daughters to the local kindergarten and I loved some aspects of the lifestyle she led, the apparent creativity, and connection with nature.

An inherent suspicion of such close groups and the availability of good alternatives within walking distance of our house meant we didn’t end up joining. Also I knew the schools were fee-paying, and that seemed a big commitment for the long-term.

How long  would it have been I wonder before the spiritual aspects of Steiner started to manifest themselves and get on our nerves – because for us that would definitely have been a negative, and probably enough to be a deal-breaker.

I know in this respect I differ from probably most people, and just to emphasise, it is not my main objection to Steiner.

Spirituality is certainly not a negative for a lot of people, indeed it is seen as a “good thing” by many. It is strange, however, that this word means such different things to different people. Really it is such an imprecise concept, it defies definition. Of course for Steiner and his devotees it has very a specific meaning; with its links to the cosmos and the sun god, the angels and the epochs. It is all set out, in what appears to them presumably, to be a rational, methodical manner.

But what about those who just go along with Steiner’s ideas on the incarnation of the soul, the threefold dynamic, the references to karma and reverence, without having any notion of the detail of anthroposophy, just thinking it all sounds kind of cool and anyway harmless?

What does spirituality mean to you?

Since many people accept the concept of spirituality (usually without being able to define it) the suspicion is that for them anyone who does not accept it is somehow lacking in understanding or insight. The emperor’s new clothes comes to mind – better to agree that there is a spiritual dimension to human life than to dismiss the possibility and risk being labelled as shallow, reductionist or materialist.

A book,  “Dispirited” by David Webster, who is Principal Lecturer in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Gloucestershire examines spirituality from a different viewpoint – subtitled “How contemporary spirituality makes us stupid, selfish and unhappy”, it pulls no punches in questioning the claim of “spiritual but not religious”.

It argues for a “post spiritual response to the existential realities of life”.

I don’t agree with everything in the book, by any means, but perhaps spirituality is something that should be examined more since it seems often to be a part of modern life – certainly in our area, anyway.

Never having been a Waldorf or kindergarten parent, but knowing they are usually not very familiar with the nitty- gritty of anthroposophy, I wonder whether for those not used to this dimension in their lives, the spiritualspeak evident in the lesson plans and festivals etc is sufficiently subtle to be under the parental radar or whether it is something they just get used to and tolerate.

If you look at the Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers or the Curriculum for Steiner schools, the spirituality is very evident – startlingly so, in my view. But rarely is the word anthroposophy mentioned. Without the “A” word, the spiritual references sound even more odd.

To be honest, it is like someone started writing an episode of Dr Who then veered seamlessly off in to an education manual. The handbook should be required reading for those considering Steiner education, I would say. Otherwise problems arising from the way anthroposophy is used will be a bolt from the blue.

Spirituality is harmless? Certainly not; in the case of anthroposophy, it is potentially devastating for unsuspecting families; in short, dispiriting.

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6 comments

  1. Helen

    Actually we have been members of a couple of fairly close groups, so something must have made us suspicious of this one.

  2. Jim

    To paraphrase Hermann Goering – “whenever I hear the word spirituality I reach for my Browning!” In case you’re in any doubt the Browning in question was the pistol, not the poet.

    I’ve noticed that people who were brought up with a religion which they simply accept and don’t force on anyone rarely talk about spirituality whereas the empty headed seekers after some sort of meaning never stop banging on about it. They are summed up for me by the woman who once said to me “I’m a very spiritual person. I have a dream catcher by my bedside”.

    I prefer a book. Browning perhaps

    • Helen

      That paraphrase is similar to the second sentence of David Webster’s book.
      He then goes on to say that violence is probably wrong.
      Spirituality seems to stop people thinking, so a book is a much more worthwhile choice for your bedside.

  3. Jim

    only “probably wrong”?

    Whilst I would not gratuitously challenge someone with quiet beliefs which give them comfort and which they do not press on others I have no hesitation in confronting those who spout spiritual blather or aggressively push their particular creed. But definitely no violence. Apart from any other consideration they just love being martyrs.

    • Helen

      The worst thing most atheists can be accused of is “stridency”. If only the same could be said of religious zealots.

  4. Helen

    The issue of acceptance or rejection of the notion of spirituality may seem like a diversion from the subject of the proposed Steiner Free School, but it is one which sits at the heart of the matter.
    I think we are all talking about the same thing but in different terms. A “spiritual experience” for some may just be a deep appreciation or enjoyment of something for others.
    The way anthroposophy (not always identified by that name) is sometimes accepted by the mainstream as “spirituality” in a general sense is a result of the way the Steiner organisations present it, without the occultism which is central to it.
    The angels, the elemental beings, the belief in reincarnation, Lucifer and Ahriman, Michael and the dragon, the specific guidance for education (eg delayed reading and no black paint) all these are not part of most people’s idea of spirituality.

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