Shhh – It’s a Secret.

Ruskin Mill is a prime example of how an organisation can be based on anthroposophy and yet neglect to provide this information for anyone who wishes to find out about it.

“We value relating with openness…” they say.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? But it is window dressing. There is no openness. There is secrecy.

Search for the word anthroposophy on their site – no results. And yet the whole shebang reeks of it.

The college provides education for young people;

“…through training in the areas of arts, crafts, agriculture and environmental sciences, with particular reference being given to the indications and insights of Rudolf Steiner in these areas”.

It is up to parents to work out that the “indications and insights” were provided by a mystic who fantasised about an imaginary spiritual world with demons, gnomes, and reincarnation, and dreamt up the idea of  stuffing cow horns with manure to make veggies grow better.

The history of Ruskin Mill is described from its inception with the Gordon family in the 1960s, and the courses subsequently developed;

“…what was soon to become the Living Earth Training course. The Living Earth Course combined biodynamic agriculture in a market garden with the craft curriculum sourced from the Arts and Crafts movement, the insights into human development provided by Rudolf Steiner….

“This curriculum, the so-called Descent into Matter, accessed the four elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire through the three Kingdoms of Nature…

“…This vision has remained at the heart of the Trust’s work ever since”.

The concepts used are out-dated; the four elements correspond in modern science to the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma; and modern biology textbooks use 5 or 6 kingdoms rather than three. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_(biology)#Summary

Not since Haeckel, (a German Biologist and contemporary of Steiner) have there been 3 kingdoms.

Descent into matter? Well, for most people that means absolutely nothing, but for the anthroposophists, (and the Theosophists and the Rosicrucians) it is to do with descending from the spirit world. (Here’s another take on it).

The founder of Ruskin Mill college is clearly immersed in anthroposophy himself, and travels to lecture on the subject, and works alongside others equally devoted to Steiner

Why this reluctance to explain or even mention anthroposophy? It makes people suspicious – at least people who know it exists.

The founder of the college describes his intentions, these are not on the front page of the website, but hidden away – and still no “A” word.

“Aonghus Gordon’s spiritual intention is the opportunity of re-creation of culture from the inside out for young people who are in need of specialist educational re-integration. This intention is particularly informed by John Ruskin’s visionary picture of the renewal of culture through arts and Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual picture of human development.”

On this website the crafts are described as “anthroposophically inspired”. Why not on the Ruskin Mill website? It may be that this college do not think the information is important – shouldn’t it be for parents (and the local authorities who usually foot the bill) to decide this for themselves? We know students are involved in the biodynamic rituals which take place at Ruskin Mill (from comments here on the blog) and we are also told the students are treated using anthroposophical medicine.

If there was transparency here there would be a description of anthroposophy on the front page of the website and an explanation of how and why it is used on young people.

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10 comments

  1. BJ

    Considering the vulnerable nature of Ruskin Mill students – ie. they have learning difficulties, some severe, and other disabilities – I find it alarming, as surely any parent would, that apparently Arnica is a magical cure-all for everything from a fractured foot to a headache. That’s the “anthroposophical” medicine you mention. Arnica does have its uses, but if that is the sum total of an institutions first aid kit, you have to worry! And accidents do happen – a lot, partly due to a complacent lack of awareness of the need for procedures to be in place to protect life and limb. Mention Risk Assessment to these guys and it is as if it is of no consequence. Likewise, most places of this type are required to keep an Accident or Incident Book for reporting of injuries / near misses. While I worked at Ruskin Mill I never saw one of these or was made aware of its presence, and a few times would have had cause to make an entry. Undoubtedly, therefore, it seems no-one is made aware of the incompetence that lies behind each incident and perhaps parents assume each accident was caused by their own child’s behaviour / clumsiness… Perhaps the authorities never get to hear of it at all. Very irresponsible. Of course, there is a nurse, but she is not on-site every day or every hour that the place is operating, and trained in what I don’t know! I had a friend who was epileptic and I can tell you what a “grande mal” seizure looks like and what to do about it. This nurse couldn’t tell the difference between the real thing and a student feigning. I know that you have to be careful around drawing conclusions about this kind of thing but a trained nurse would KNOW. Again, the anthroposophical approach raises issues of competency and risk. Worrying stuff for any parent, in my opinion.

  2. Helen

    It is always interesting to hear from you about how this place operates BJ.
    Such a contrast to where I work – almost continual training programmes run to ensure the safety of residents and the protection of staff, and everything done by the book.
    Reading about the way anthroposophical doctors look at medicine is quite simply unbelievable sometimes. They are all supposed to be trained in conventional medicine too so it is even more startling when you read about their beliefs in areas like childbirth and embryology, for example.
    Presumably nurses who work alongside anthro doctors have to be trained too, but again, their beliefs must affect the treatment they give.

  3. Jim

    I do find Ruskin Mill a rather curious place. In some respects it actually is rather open, not in terms of its anthroposophical underpinnings of course – Helen is quite right about that. But if you wander around the gardens and woodlands it feels very friendly and the people you meet will smile and chat. Even if you are dressed head to toe in black. Apart from a few rather kitsch bits of sculpture it is all rather lovely. And unlike some other Steiner owned land there are no keep out signs and barbed wire fences.

    But the fact remains that behind it all is the cult of Steiner and his childish belief system. I guess supporters would say the good things you can see are the manifestation of those beliefs. You certainly can’t deny their energy. But actually I just find myself wondering how people who are not fundamentally bad or stupid can believe this stuff. It is rather difficult to discuss this with them since most will say they are not particularly aware of the anthroposophy, their interest is in the education or the biodynamic horticulture and they don’t necessarily go along with all of the ideas. But even restricting discussion to those areas I just don’t see how they can take it seriously. Do they really think burying a ram’s horn full of cow manure “energises the soil”? Maybe they rationalise it to themselves as a bit of harmless symbolism but if so what is it supposed to symbolise?

    As for the hard core defenders – well, as we have seen on this site when they do come out of the woodwork with some spurious pseudo-scientific or philosophical arguments and find themselves meeting serious counter arguments they rapidly drop out of sight again.

    • Helen

      I am going to walk around that valley – you are not the first person to say recently how beautiful it is. There is a map on the RM website showing the extent of the Steiner empire there; it is criss-crossed with public footpaths though, so I suppose it would be difficult to fence off even if they wanted to.

  4. BJ

    Jim – so that’s where I was going wrong! I do wear a lot of black.
    Helen – it really is quite beautiful and interesting. A lovely veneer.

  5. Alastair McIntosh

    I find some of the Steiner stuff wacky, and yet, I’ve been to many of their places, and all of them have had a lovely spirit. When I visited Ruskin a few years ago to give a talk as a guest of Aonghus Gordon there was no secret about the Steiner influence, and no offence taken when I made reference to some of the wacky side of biodynamic gardening principles. The bottom line seemed to be that some very disadvantaged people were managing to live manifestly happy lives. “By their fruits you shall know them”. I’m puzzled. Why this website dedicated to stopping Steiner in Stroud?

    • Helen

      Well the short answer to your question is…because they are trying to open a free school without telling people why or how their belief system will be used on the children.

      But I think you are being disingenuous, Alastair. Looking at (what I think is) your website and your wife’s it would be startling if you did not know all about Steiner beliefs and practices – you say yourself you have “visited many of their places”, and you have written about “the spirituality of community” and your wife talks of “head, heart and hand pedagogy”.
      Ruskin Mill had an inspection last year and was judged inadequate because of concerns over safeguarding and bullying. See also comments here on “anthroposophy” from employees. Surprising what lurks behind the “lovely spirit” you describe.
      I assume the racial hierarchy and the higher beings are ok in your book. Trouble is, 99 – 100% of the parents of the young people at Ruskin Mill will not know about Steiner’s teachings as used at the college, and that is clearly unacceptable.

      Read “A Steiner experience” above to find out what can happen when people sign up without being fully informed. And Steiner people make no attempt to inform – in fact they take care to hide the truth.

    • Nick Nakorn

      Alistair, having read part of one of your books, I too am astonished that you don’t know why so many people object to Steiner’s Anthroposophical fantasies. I hope you’ll reply to Helen’s comment as to why Steiner’s racial hierarchy is not a deal breaker for you.

  6. Jim

    I think you have put your finger on one of the paradoxes of Steinerism. On the whole those who are very critical of it nevertheless accept that it may do good for some. But should that exempt it from criticism, particularly for its more extreme aspects such as the inherent racism and anti enlightenment views? No.

    Critics have varying motives. Some have been personally hurt by it – for example those who have encountered bullying or prejudice in Waldorf schools and subsequently endured legal threats, defamation and ostracism. For others, myself included, it is less personal and more a matter of objecting to the peddling of nonsense to children and the vulnerable. Some of this nonsense being potentially harmful such as the anti vaccination stance on diseases which may cause permanent damage.

    The particular issue in Stroud is the sheer weight of the Steiner presence and its contemptuous attitude to the wider community, as evidenced by its insistence on a Steiner free school regardless of the lack of need and by its repeated disregard of local planning constraints. So even many who know or care little about its beliefs regard it as a bad neighbour.

    The occasional incidental good that may arise is not enough to override these concerns. It seems to me that the disadvantaged you mention are viewed by the Steiner groups as a resource to be exploited for the benefit of the movement. It reminds me of the sainted Mother Theresa who had no wish to see poverty eradicated because without them how would she demonstrate her devotion to her god?

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