Inherent Racism in Steiner

Racism permeates Steiner’s view of human development and affects how children are taught in Steiner schools. Proponents  still rebut this routinely and casually. This blog has readers who may be unfamiliar with other critical forums and websites, so it is worth mentioning the issue here.

The whole foundation of the so-called “methodology” or  “pedagogy” of Steiner schools is inherently and incontrovertibly racist. Even in his time, Steiner’s worldview must have been considered racist by most Europeans.

Jim mentioned the subject in his letter to the Guardian, and as you see a proponent trotted out the familiar denials.

Jim was asked to explain the basis of his point about racism, which he did, before his letter was accepted.

The whole of Steiner’s teaching on human history is based on his idea of the origins of human life on Lemuria and Atlantis (mentioned in the teacher’s handbook) and the supposed development of the races since that time, which he set out in detail. He was very specific in his descriptions and all his other ideas about education stem from these bizarre notions.

Anyone who thinks these ideas are not used in schools should get a copy of the Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers which talks unashamedly of looking “towards the sixth epoch”. (Meaning sixth post Atlantean epoch)

The historian Peter Staudenmaier says on  Waldorf critics;

“It [hierarchical evolution through the races]  is a central strand in his [Steiner’s] teachings, and it runs throughout dozens of his published texts and lectures. It is one of the core ideas around which Steiner’s conception of spiritual advancement is built. It is crucial to his theory of reincarnation in successively higher forms, to his overarching framework of cosmic evolution, and to his essential contrast between spiritually progressing and spiritually stagnating souls.”

In his PHd on the subject of Anthroposophy from 1900 – 1945 in Italy and Germany, Staudenmaier translated Steiner’s words;

Ever since the Atlantean Race began slowly to disappear, the great Aryan Race has been the dominant one on earth.”

The Steiner defenders who claim there is no racism point out that the schools include children (and some teachers) from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, as if this proved their point. They also claim that Steiner’s worst statements can be simply cut out, as if removed with a surgical knife, leaving no trace of malignancy. Unfortunately the disease has spread throughout the body of anthroposophy.

In the case of parents on the fringes and less familiar with anthroposophy, they may really believe this defence .

But the anthroposophists and experienced teachers know that Steiner education follows Steiner’s own version of human history and that all his ideas about child development – used in schools, are based on it.

In denying complaints about the racist foundation of their practices, they do not say that Steiner was wrong about human development. They simply maintain that the particular racist statements Steiner made “will not be taught to children”.

Roger Rawlings includes examples on Waldorf watch of how racist theories are taught to children, and I have already written a post about the proof that anthroposophy is being taught in Steiner schools.

Of course the schools admit children from all so-called “races”, as must all schools. Similarly the Camphill Communities admit adults with all kinds of physical and mental conditions. As part of their belief in reincarnation, anthroposophists take on the challenge of the extra “help” they believe certain individuals are in need of, to prepare them for future “incarnations”.

Doing the spiritual work

The way anthropsophists view their “task”, whether it be in residential communities, kindergartens, schools or colleges, is that it is largely therapeutic. They believe that each individual needs “work” – specifically meditation – in order to develop spiritually, and thus travel along the “path” to the ultimate goal of heightened spiritual awareness. Time and again I have read how in the eyes of these believers, children benefit from the spiritual work of their teachers, and at the same time the teachers are benefiting themselves from these efforts.

This is from an article from the Waldorf Library in 2008 (aimed at Steiner teachers) on supporting the development of movement in children;

Through inner spiritual work [meditation] one can become sensitive to the hidden forces behind movement and tune into what wants to evolve as the child’s destiny. As Rudolf Steiner says, “To be a teacher and educator one must work with what is taking place in the depths of human nature” (Steiner, Study of Man, 67).

It then goes on

How does one educate the young child under three? Rudolf Steiner’s answer to this question is very clear. The child educates himself under the guidance of spiritual beings. The adults around the child contribute through their own self-education.

Parents are not informed about the kind of “inner spiritual work” teachers are doing with their children.

Consider also the effects all this meditation has on the individual.

An anthroposophist’s life is supposed to be one of meditation. This is how they spend their time; trying to improve spiritually. And their “task” as teachers is to introduce children to this path, subconsciously, and stealthily. We have proof of this.

An article this week by Gregoire Perra  called “The distancing of time and reality in Steiner Waldorf schools and in anthroposophy” describes compellingly the freedom he now feels to really live his life, now that he is no longer restricted by the constraints of anthroposophy. He feels he wasted the years spent meditating as an anthroposophist and Steiner teacher and that those years, in his 20s and 30s were not “lived” at all. That period of his life as an individual was stolen from him, he says.

I mention this to try to explain how the anthro way of life influences the way Steiner teachers see their role. They see themselves primarily as spiritual guides for the children, as Steiner decreed in his racist worldview.

In the case of races other than “Aryan” the amount of spiritual work required is greater. These unfortunates, according to the Steiner view of humanity, have more to do; further to go along the “spiritual path”.

This article provides an overview of “The problem of racism” in Steiner schools, and includes a drawing by Steiner of his take on the evolution of humankind, from “lower to higher forms”

steiner3-2

Steiner’s 1907 lecture refers to both apes and Indians as “decadent side branches” of evolution.
Rudolf Steiner, 1907. Menschheitsentwickelung und Christus-Erkenntnis (Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1981)

Here is a statement from the article;

Though adherence (and awareness) certainly differs amongst teachers, it is impossible to remove Anthroposophy from the Steiner school pedagogy, from the required reading on the teacher training courses, from the mission of the schools.”

Anthroposophy is not a creed that “contains racist elements” as some would claim, it is racist in its entirety, and should not be the basis for any kind of education in this country, especially state-funded education.

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16 comments

  1. Jim

    I think outsiders find it hard to believe that Anthroposophy is racist because the anthros they meet are “so nice”. I’m sure many of them are, and certainly don’t think of themselves as racist. But Steiner’s racism is not that of the BNP thug, or New Dawn in Greece or any of the similar groups worldwide. It is perhaps closer to that of the British imperialist or missionary ( the two go together ) who sees other races as fundamentally inferior and in need of some white christian improvement whether they want it or not. It may be well meant by some but it is also the perfect cover for exploitation.

    Come to think of it the more you look at it the more Steiner’s expansion into all areas of life and all parts of the world comes to look like imperialism at its worst.

    • Helen

      They seem nice? I don’t know about that. Maybe if you just meet one or two.
      Polite, certainly, in the way all missionaries are polite as they attempt to “carry their creed to their communities”.
      All the excessive hand-shaking and gazing into your eyes does not come across to me as nice to me, just slightly odd and rather off-putting.
      Yes, the racism in Steiner is not of the overt or aggressive kind depicted in the media. The discrimination is subtle but no less harmful, if a child is on the receiving end of constant reminders of the quasi – Christian Eurocentric doctrine which underpins Waldorf schools.

  2. mah74

    Jim alludes to an important distinction between active discrimination and the kind of racism inherent in Steiner’s ideas. It is the former that is usually denied by Steiner apologists and indeed, I think that acts of discrimination are no more likely in a Steiner school than any other school.

    It’s always interesting and revealing to look behind the public face of the Steiner movement and read the journal articles and books intended for internal consumption. Here’s Janni Nicol, one of the founders of the Cambridge Steiner School and the early years co-ordinator for the SWSF, on the subject of multi-culturalism: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4096634/steiner-multiculturalism.pdf

    There’s plenty of laudable advice here on how discrimination can be avoided and other cultures can be embraced and celebrated. But what is this? “Karmically we choose to be born into different races to have a specific environmental,
    cultural and racial experience.” That is a very Anthroposophical statement. What are these different experiences that are destined to happen by virtue of the colour of a child’s skin? Is this where additional “inner spiritual work” becomes necessary?

    Incidentally, according to Nicol, parents are to be advised that: “we will not compromise our essentially Christian Waldorf education” and the Sistine Madonna is mentioned. This refers to a very beautiful painting by Raphael that is often found on the wall in Steiner kindergartens. It has particular significance for Anthroposophists, as explained here: http://www.waldorflibrary.org/journals/15-gateways/104-fallwinter-2008-issue-55-reflections-on-the-sistine-madonna

    • Helen

      Thank you for those interesting links – revealing indeed.
      In the multiculturalism piece teachers are reminded of the need to be politically correct, and to make sure that families “understand our philosophy” Would this be before or after they join?
      Also “… they need to realize that we will not compromise our essentially Christian Waldorf education, but that they are free to partake in our festivals of their own free will.”
      I wonder how many families opt out of the festivals?

    • Helen

      As soon as I look at the Sistine Madonna painting, my heart sinks.
      I didn’t know it featured prominently in kindergartens. The sight of that would have sent me straight back out of the door, to be sure.
      Mark, I am intrigued that you find the painting beautiful – you are in good company with Richard Dawkins who also says he enjoys religious art and music, but I find nothing to enjoy in it at all. I am perhaps alone in this – I wonder what people find beautiful about it?
      I don’t like Dali, either, but I can see why people find his paintings interesting.
      The Sistine Madonna really makes me think of long Sundays as a child where many forms of amusement were curtailed because of religion. This song by Michael Marra says it well.

      Chain up the Swings.

      • mah74

        I’m not at all religious but yes, I do appreciate (some) religious art, music and architecture. I also enjoyed the Michael Marra song.

        I’m probably the least eloquent art critic you could possibly meet too, but there are a few specific things about the Sistine Madonna that I like: the Madonna and child look particularly vulnerable, ordinary and human compared to many similar paintings. But there they are walking on the clouds of heaven in their (understated) halos, proving their divine status. It’s a nice and theologically meaningful contrast (even if you don’t believe it). I like the many eerie faces in the background that might only jump out at you if look closely. What do they mean and why are they there? And the winged cherubim at the bottom – I can’t quite figure out their expressions. Are they looking longingly upwards or are they distinctly unimpressed? I’d like to think it’s the latter. :-)

        I think “beautiful” in this context means something that’s not so much just nice to look at (although I wouldn’t hang a copy on my own wall) but which makes you think and ask questions.

  3. Helen

    For any kindergarten parents not entirely clear on why the Sistine Madonna is on the wall, here’s the reincarnation lowdown according to the Waldorf Journal Mark linked to;
    “Lazarus was the first human being resurrected from death to new life. Thereafter, he had a new identity as John, the Evangelist, the writer of the most mystical and exalted gospel and the book of the Apocalypse.
    John the Baptist is the great personality who will become Raphael, the painter of the Sistine Madonna, and then later will become Novalis, the poet. Prior to the incarnation as John the Baptist, he was Elijah the prophet who foretold the coming of the Messiah…”

    • Jim

      I too find the Sistine Madonna rather sickly and unappealing, but that is the way I feel about the whole madonna cult. It just seems a rather creepy attitude to women, as if the only choice is whore or saint. It’s not just a catholic attitude either but runs throughout German romanticism from Goethe’s “ewig weibliche” to Novalis’s obsession with the 12 year old Sophie and his posthumous idealisation of her “still pure”.

      I can go along with Dawkins in separating the religiosity from the art – not in the case of visual art, which has little significance for me, but certainly for music. Music has no intrinsic meaning, it’s just patterns in sound which somehow seem to have significance for us. But that significance does not amount to a meaning. Maybe it’s because the idea of significance without meaning is strange that people are so desperate to find meaning in music. Obviously it’s harder if the music has words attached but I can still just regard the voice as another instrument.

      Your song clip reminds me of Benjamin Brittten’s description of the slow movement of Beethoven’s 9th as like a wet English Sunday in the 1950s.

      Nearly forgot to mention Steiner – they still claim not to be a “faith” school despite all this quasi ( queasy ) mariolatry?

  4. Helen

    In reply to Jim and Mark,
    True there is a difference between something interesting to look at and what you would hang on your wall.
    Even so I find that painting repulsive.
    As for religious architecture and music, I wonder if they would be preserved and celebrated if they had been created to celebrate some kind of atrocities in the past. I don’t go along with the idea that we can separate art, music and architecture from the reason for their design.
    The Waldorf Journal writer is concerned that parents object to the painting, and explains that some kindergarten teachers have felt they needed to remove the painting so that “it will not be there to offend those who may experience it that way [as a Christian icon].”

    • Jim

      We’re straying from the Steiner issue a bit but it’s interesting. What if you discovered that a piece of music which you loved was not what you imagined? Say a letter from the composer turned up revealing that instead of being the kind, rational person you had always believed he was in fact…….. horror of horrors – a raving anthro! Would that music sound different next day?

      However, your comment on the reason for a work’s design is true insofar as it determines the effect the work has. For example a cathedral such as Gloucester’s was presumably intended by its designers to demonstrate the greatness of their god in relation to puny man. And it works, but for me the effect is depressing and misanthropic rather than uplifting. As you cross the river towards Gloucester the cathedral sits there like some great parasite.

      I feel much the same way about the Lloyds, but substitute capitalism for god.

  5. Helen

    Yes, exactly, the cathedral is just a huge money pit – the Dean of Gloucester was on the radio complaining there was not enough money to maintain it, so I suggested they knock it down and build a homeless shelter on the church land, since it was just at the time the new Archbishop of Canterbury was holding forth about social justice. The Cathedral has no meaning whatsoever for many people. There are far more interesting old buildings to preserve in our cities.
    And about the music, no it wouldn’t sound different the next day, but yes it would make a difference to me – I recently took down a picture made by someone who has turned out to be less agreeable than I thought.
    It must be all to do with the images these works conjure up for us.

    In the Steiner ethos, race and religion are tied up, both part of the way anthroposophy operates in the schools, both profoundly important. Of course they are different issues but both are used by people to define themselves, and commentary on one can feel like commentary on the other, to the individual. Both should be kept out of education except as part of history.

  6. Jim

    I think you have to distinguish between the person and the work ( or teachings, policies etc ). Lets try reversing the argument and consider bad work of a seemingly good person.

    Enoch Powell is a good example. He was clearly educated, cultured, courteous etc. I have heard accounts from black constituents of his that he worked on their behalf without a hint of prejudice. It seems he treated actual living people well regardless of his pronouncements on race and immigration as abstract issues. But I’m sure we don’t see that as reason to treat those pronouncements as less odious. It just makes the man more of a puzzle.

    Suppose you found that Steiner was in every respect of his personality a thoroughly admirable man – loyal, generous, kind to all regardless of race, religion etc. That would not affect his teachings at all.

  7. Helen

    I don’t know much about Steiner’s personal qualities but I have read that in contrast to many cult leaders, and despite obvious deficiencies in rational thought, he seems to have behaved honourably and respectfully towards his followers.
    Whether he really thought he was clairvoyant or not, guess we’ll never know.

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