Science in Steiner schools is a strange mix. A look at the website for Hereford Steiner Academy, the first state-funded Steiner school in the UK reveals that it is not a subject on offer at GCSE level. There is a Btec in Countryside and Natural environment which, the school assures us, is worth 2 GCSE passes.
The Richter and Rawson curriculum book for Steiner schools includes “Life sciences”. The description of life sciences is a mixture of Rudolf Steiner’s alternative view of animals, plants and humans and the way they evolve, and a view of Darwinian evolution as Victorian and reductionist as noted by the British Humanist Association.
Life sciences features the following; “whole nature of disease”, “the limitations of the germ theory”. vaccinations, “can some illnesses actually be necessary?”. Paragraph 24A.
Given what we know about attitudes to vaccination and childhood disease in Anthroposophical communities it is worrying to see this in the Steiner science classroom.
Richter and Rawson (used by Hereford Steiner Academy) describes all subjects including science.
Biology in Class 3 features creation stories. p165
“Creation stories give an holistic image of the origins of the earth, plants, animals and human beings”
Nothing wrong with studying creation stories in Religious Education of course, but in Biology…?
The same page has this, perhaps by way of justification:
“Stories, fairy tales, verses and artistic activities develop the imaginative faculties, without which the foundations of scientific method are barren…” – This even more worrying! (Paragraph 24A.)
Chemistry in Class 11 is used as an opportunity to introduce homeopathy to the science curriculum.
Homeopathy is cited “as a good example of an effect that cannot be explained by the dominant [atomic] model” p93
Teaching content for physics includes Goethean science;p195
“The basic phenomena of chromatography according to Goethe; the Goethean method in science. Polarity of light and darkness according to Goethe and its significance for the creation of colours through darkening (Rayleigh scattering).”
The Steiner method has been described as “phenomenological”, and this describes the teaching of Goethean spiritual science, which features significantly in Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy.
As mentioned previously the teaching of creationism as a valid alternative to evolution has been banned by the government, and there are concerns from secular and humanist groups that Steiner schools are indeed teaching children in this way.
Ask a Steiner teacher or principal whether they regard Steiner’s teachings on scientific matters as equally valid with mainstream science.
Ask whether there are any of Steiner’s clairvoyant visions they disagree with and should not be taught to children.
Steiner teachers learn about anthroposophy in their training – almost all Steiner teachers have undergone this training – so it is not as if they are unfamiliar with the ideas – for example that humans originated on Atlantis. The Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers (widely used in Steiner schools in the UK and recently re-printed) talks about Atlantis casually in passing as if there is nothing untoward about this notion featuring in a British classroom.
The Handbook also details the morning lesson on Zoology for classes 4 and 5; children learn about the “soul characteristics and qualities of humans and animals” and about the “temperamental qualities of animal types e.g. the choleric wolverine, phlegmatic sloth, melancholic camel and sanguine prairie dog”.
(I wonder if a child put into the phlegmatic temperament group in the classroom views himself as a sloth – or is this label kept secret from the child?)
A Btec in Countryside and natural environment may well be useful to some children, but as a foundation for future study where science subjects are required it will not be adequate.
Steiner schools are “all-through” so a parent enrolling their child as an infant will not necessarily be thinking ahead to GCSEs, and by the time the child reaches the age to choose their GCSEs it may well be too late to opt for another school – the damage could already have been done in terms of a lack of a solid foundation in learning science.
A local Comprehensive school says this about their science curriculum; In Year 9 the more able Scientists will begin studying the three Separate Sciences (three year course). All other pupils will complete a course about sustainability which has been designed to prepare them for studying Core and Additional Science GCSE, whilst enabling them to look at what is happening in the world around us and deciding how we can live more sustainably.
No such provision appears to be made in Steiner free schools for more able scientists. They offer 5 GCSEs as standard – the minimum accepted as a benchmark for achievement at 16. Practical skills taught in preference to academic subjects will no doubt be considered useful to some, but parents of children wanting further education may wish to reconsider a Steiner education.