Educationally handicapped for life

On the rational scepticism website a father asked advice from readers about how to oppose Steiner Free schools. His daughter was attending a Steiner school against his wishes and he felt that as result she was educationally handicapped for life.

The subject of Steiner education causing splits between families because of the way they are viewed with such polarised opinions was touched on by MarkH in his “Brief Encounter” post.  In this case, due to separation, one parent, the father, had no choice but to watch his child enduring a “non-education” courtesy of Steiner Waldorf.

There are some interesting replies to his appeal, some funny, some sad, most reinforcing the citicisms to be found everywhere when you start researching Steiner education and anthroposophy.

One commenter on the forum said her parents had looked at Steiner education as a possibility until a visit where the father said “the head teacher gave him some guardian angel type woo and he walked straight outta there.”

…and as an example of what is taught, a former student said “they were taught that when you plant a flower seed the fairies come and push it up out of the ground and turn it into a flower. ”

Pseudoscience is just one of the unacceptable facets of Steiner. These schools make much of nature (their version  is explained clearly on Waldorfwatch) but they have an unusual view of it which does not fit in with the mainstream curriculum. Unsurpringly Steiner free schools do not offer science GCSEs as other schools do; their  “cute” attitude to the subject may appeal to  some parents out there who don’t mind their child being taught about fairies and gnomes as real – perhaps this is what they mean by” honouring  childhood” – but a child leaving school with this warped view of the world will not thank their parents later when they realise exactly how “unique” their education has been.

Parents may think the gnomes and fairies are a kind of joke, (understandably) but anthroposophist teachers are in earnest.

There should be no room at all in state-funded education for this type of non-education.

Most of the time Steiner teachers keep quiet on open days about guardian angels and the rest of the mystical, anti-science nonsense they espouse, so to get an accurate picture of how their child will be educated, parents need to do some research.






    • Helen

      I see you have linked to the local Steiner free school initiative – do you have a connection with it or with any other Steiner school? May be you went to a Steiner school yourself or sent children to one?

      There is a lot of pro Steiner material around and I am sure most people reading this blog will already have seen it. That’s why I started doing this – to try to inform people about the bits the schools and the Steiner movement in general don’t talk about, or talk about less than honestly.

      • Husq Jons

        Sorry about the re-posted links and thanks for letting them through. Yes , I have had a child go through the waldorf school system and not had any problems. This reply was a response to this statement of yours:

        >but a child leaving school with this warped view of the world will not thank their parents later when they realise exactly how “unique” their education has been.<

        Looking through the links I posted, your statement is not truthful….is it?

  1. Helen

    I am glad your child did not have any problems. Did you know all about anthroposophy before you sent him/her there?
    You say my statement is not truthful; what about the families who have suffered from bullying and those who have had to remove children to another school to keep up or pay for extra tutors?
    Have you read my post “What’s the harm?” or even better the Waldorfwatch accounts I linked to of how anthroposophy has been imposed on children to a degree where they do not know what is real and what is Steiner’s doctrine?

    What do you think of eurythmy by the way?

    • Husq Jons

      >Did you know all about anthroposophy before you sent him/her there?You say my statement is not truthful; what about the families who have suffered from bullying and those who have had to remove children to another school to keep up or pay for extra tutors?<

      Your statement is a blanket statement. The way you say it is if it applies to all children who have had a waldorf education.
      As for bullying that should be addressed whatever the school.

      Eurythmy. I never took to it actually..My son didn't like it that much but it has not damaged him.

        • Jim

          Hi Husq – Jim here. Helen is a bit busy this week so I’m helping out. I can’t see any missing post but maybe you can tell me more.
          I’m sure Helen will reply when she has a chance but I don’t think anyone would seriously contend that all who attend Steiner schools will be emotionally damaged. No education is 100% effective at what it sets out to do – no Catholic school turns out 100% devout Catholics and no soviet communist school produced 100% committed communists. Some Steiner educated children will shake it off and get on with their lives but some will be harmed. It appears that the principal harm comes from the sometimes vindictive way those who reject it are treated. I would also contend that those who stay with it and go on to spend the rest of their lives within the Steiner bubble have been harmed, but of course I understand they would see it differently.

            • Jim

              Have you never heard that before? The bubble is the closed world some Steiner followers inhabit – only associating with other followers, working only in Steiner institutions, looking at everything through Steiner’s eyes. There are other bubbles of course – the Westminster bubble is another, politicians who know only other politicians and the political world.

            • Helen

              I first heard the term when used by a Steiner student who wrote about leaving school and “falling flat on her face” at college due to not being used to exams, and a lack of academic preparation.

        • Husq Jons

          I’ll try again.

          Helen: Did you know all about anthroposophy before you sent him/her there?

          I first came across Anthroposophy in a Camphill community. I did not take to it at all at first to be honest as I was getting it all second hand. It was not until I decided to investigate it further for myself did I take further interest in it. Came across some dogmatic people as you do anywhere. For instance, I organised a game of football with some other co workers and teenagers. A long term co worker remarked, “Steiner says that playing football is kicking the earth”. I challenged the person to show me where Steiner said this and she couldn’t. I could not find anything either. he did say some things about football but not that.

          Your statement is a blanket statement. The way you say it is if it applies to all children who have had a waldorf education.
          As for bullying that should be addressed whatever the school. I agree!

          Helen: those who have had to remove children to another school to keep up or pay for extra tutors?
          Have you read my post “What’s the harm?” or even better the Waldorfwatch accounts I linked to of how anthroposophy has been imposed on children to a degree where they do not know what is real and what is Steiner’s doctrine?

          I’m sure that parents in lots of schools sometimes have had to resort to extra tuition for their children
          and removed their children from the school.
          As for knowing what is real…well like I said how do you explain ex waldorf pupils becoming doctors, airline pilots and such? I have not witnessed any of the “pulling” away from reality that is mentioned
          in your post What’s the Harm. The ex pupils that I have had contact with are very down to earth and responsible.

          Eurythmy. Never took to it myself, neither did my son. Not damaged him at all.

          • Jim

            The pulling away from reality referred to is the Steiner bubble. We do see it a lot in Stroud though of course not all who have come into contact with Steiner education fall into it.

          • Helen

            I think the blanket term you are objecting to is this one near the end of the post
            “a child leaving school with this warped view of the world will not thank their parents later when they realise exactly how “unique” their education has been”
            If it had been a blanket term I suppose I could have said “no child…” Anyway, that’s splitting hairs.
            My point that children (and their parents) do not realise until they leave school that much of what they have learned at Steiner school is at variance with mainstream science (also history, philosophy, geography…) was very well illustrated by Nicole in her comment just above yours on “anthroposophy”.
            Leaving school unprepared and with a strangely whimsical set of beliefs implanted by anthroposophists can be a huge disadvantage as many have found. I take it you did read Roger Rawlings on this?

            The fact that you had worked at Camphill and were familiar with anthroposophy when you sent your son to a Steiner school means of course you were much more likely to be happy with his schooling and the outcomes – it would be surprising if you were not.
            Interesting you dismiss the bullying problem and say simply it should be “addressed” – have you not read any accounts of how bullying is NOT dealt with by Steiner schools, that is the problem? Their solution has been to expel the bullied child, after prescribing curative eurythmy.
            You are proud of your airline pilot – they do need 2 A levels, so that is quite a big ask, but if the Steiner system couldn’t muster a few graduates with 2 A levels then I guess there would be even more dissatisfaction. Especially since until now in this country parents have been paying for Steiner education and any extra tutoring required.

            • Husq Jons

              My son was bullied at the waldorf school. When I found out I had a talk with him on how to deal with it. He dealt with it and the bullying stopped. The bully also stopped bullying other kids.Funny thing is they are really close friends now.

              What I can’t understand is why aren’t ALL Steiner school pupils failing if the education is that bad because they are not…are they?

              I have just googled education failed me uk. It looks dire doesn’t it?

              AS for the pilot..well not everyone who goes into pilot training passes the rigorous training, no matter how many educational qualifications you might have. Funny thing is, quite a few RAF pilots go into commercial pilot training and fail.

  2. Helen

    So what are you saying – Steiner school made this person pass the rigorous training or that they passed despite their Steiner education? Or maybe their schooling was irrelevant.

    Whether or not you paid for your child’s schooling (I know Camphill families get free Steiner education) I guess you decided a state education wasn’t good enough, and you are happy with your choice despite the bullying.
    Of course the bullying should have been dealt with by the school.
    Steiner schools claim academic success but the figures don’t add up when comparisons are made with other schools, especially other private schools. I repeat myself but there will always be individual success stories, from families where good academic performance is highly valued, no matter what school they go to, and it is not uncommon for Steiner children who are not keeping up with their peers in other schools to be taken out and placed elsewhere.

    • Husq Jons

      Maybe their schooling was irrelevant. There were people with better academic quals than him and they failed the training.
      Like I said there were ex Raf pilots who failed. Beats me!
      As regarding my son, I had no worries of him ‘keeping up with his peers’. He’s an individual as far as I’m concerned and he’s doing very well. As for the school dealing with the bullying, I decided that my son should deal with and he did. Other people would have done it differently and that’s their choice.

  3. Helen

    to Husq
    Evidently there a is a profound difference in expectations between people like yourself who are fully conversant with anthroposophy and the way it is used in Steiner schools, and those who go into Steiner with little or no awareness.
    Your son (and others at the school) experienced bullying which was not dealt with by the school, and you have also stated that you are not bothered about differing attainment levels between Steiner and other schools. You have lived in a Camphill Community where anthroposophy is the entire basis of their activities, and you are happy to put forward the theories of a clairvoyant in opposition to science. So basically, you are immersed in the whole Steiner lifestyle, and will never see anything wrong with it, no matter what.
    The contrast between your expectations and those of parents in ignorance of anthroposophy could hardly be greater.
    Steiner schools have been guilty of appalling dishonesty in my view, in the way they deny their use of anthroposophy, or fail to mention it at all, and entice innocent families in.
    Once it is explained, some families may think anthroposophical education is ok for their child, and that is legally their choice at present. But others will walk away, and save themselves much trouble and disappointment.
    You have illustrated something of the mindset of the ideal Steiner parent, fully buying into the ethos, but anyone who does not recognise in you their own hopes for what an education should be will do well to avoid Steiner.

    • Husq Jons


      The school did not know about the bullying. I decided to let my son deal with and after having a conversation with him. he dealt with it. The bullying stopped. Had a friend who went to Eton. He was bullied> He let the bully have one on his chin with a rifle butt. A bit to severe for my liking…but again it worked.

  4. Helen

    “the school did not know about the bullying” – yes, well, maybe.
    It seems that the more anthroposophical Steiner teachers choose not to notice bullying; they really do believe in karma, as you must know, and consider it important to allow children to act accordingly.

  5. Helen

    Hello Sarah, it would be nice if Husq answered your question.
    Do you have experience of a Waldorf school?

    • Helen

      Thanks, and it’s sad to hear what has happened in your case.
      It seems parents are often reassured by Steiner schools saying that despite the delayed teaching, children will soon be on a par with their peers, but this turns out not to be the case. It’s just one of the ways parents feel let down.
      Gregoire Perra wrote about how difficult it can be to make the transition out of the Steiner system, and I wrote about his post in Assessment and Reports.
      A lack of progress is one of the common reasons for leaving the Seiner system – after all what is a school for if not to teach?.

  6. Helen

    Sometimes Waldorf Steiner students do achieve well, especially if they have extra tutoring or manage to transfer fairly easily to a different school, so with support maybe there will be a happy conclusion.
    Leaving Steiner school at 14 leaves a bit of time for catching up at a different school, which is a positive factor – and also means the Steiner school don’t have to deal with exams so they are not answerable in that way.

  7. Helen

    Understandably it doesn’t occur to most people that there is something to investigate. The ridiculous ideas you mention that are being taught in Steiner schools are not made clear at the beginning. At least anthroposophy is now mentioned on the websites of some of the schools (thanks to the fact it has been highlighted by critics) but still not in a way which makes parents think it is something they should find out about. Even when asked direct questions about it they make out it was just something Steiner wrote about a long time ago and which has no relevance today, whereas it is in reality the whole foundation of Steiner education and features in every part of the curriculum, not to mention the festivals etc.
    As you see I have written a lot about it, but each time someone in your position takes the time to relate their experiences it makes a huge difference to how the information is regarded, so thank you.

  8. Helen

    Thank you Sarah for the update. I wonder if Steiner schools sometimes rely on the fact that parents who can afford school fees will also be able to afford extra tutoring – or at least will not resent paying out for it so much.
    I don’t know about the surrounding schools in your area, but a teacher I know in the states told me it is a regular occurrence for children leaving Steiner schools to need a lot of extra support on transferring, and I also know of a case here where a child was removed due to lack of reading and writing skills and placed in a mainstream school to catch up.
    As you say parents can’t be aware of this at the start, they believe the line the schools give – that children catch up with their peers.
    And if the children knew, I am sure they would not want to have to do hours of tutoring over the summer.

  9. Nick Nakorn

    Sarah, just to say I’m moved by your difficult situation – it’s especially difficult dealing with disagreements with people who base their lives and decisions on faith/rhetoric/sprituality rather than evidence and rational discourse. I really hope you manage to resolve things..

    • Rain17

      Hi Sarah, you and I are in a related boat.

      I think the cruelest Steinerite gaslighting of all is on the one hand giving parents and students the idea they are getting some kind of superior education (implying they will also turn out to be superior persons.)

      Meanwhile, child after child after child gets sent to tutor after tutor after tutor, on top of exorbitant tuition, just to get to the baseline educational levels of the so-called ‘culture of mediocrity’ supposedly instilled by public school.

      In my experience, this deeply confused, almost enraged contempt for the public and its children is matched only by the tea partiers, and the Amish.

  10. Helen

    Hi Sarah, thanks for coming back with an update. I am sure your step-daughter will be grateful one day.
    You make an important point about the way Steiner Waldorf make out all other schools are inferior as a way of keeping families in the fold. It really works, even on kindergarten mothers I have spoken to who aspire to send their children to Steiner school based on what they have been told by Steiner people. The indoctrination starts early.
    Steiner say their system is “child-centred” and educates the “whole child”. These thing have a slightly different meaning in Steinerspeak, with the whole child referring to the “fourfold human being”. Child centred – well, what system isn’t? We have excellent state schools in our area where interests and talents are nurtured alongside academic achievement. The criticism is based on a myth.

  11. Rain17

    Steiner sez:

    The later the power of critical judgment is aroused in a child, the better.

    At the Gates of Spiritual Science, Lecture VI: The Upbringing of Children. Karma., 1906

  12. Helen

    “I believe it’s a cult like situation”. Yes, Gregoire Perra would agree with you there. His accounts of life during and after anthroposophy are compelling, and illustrate well the extent to which such a creed takes over your life.
    Translations are available on his blog.

  13. Helen

    I have just removed several comments on this thread at the request of the writer for legal reasons, so the comments remaining will not make sense when read alone.
    Maybe one day I will be able to reinstate them.

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