Science

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.

 

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20 comments

  1. Husq Jons

    Darwinism is so old hat. Maybe you should read Steve Jones’ book. Almost Like A Whale: The Origin Of Species Updated .
    He’s a Darwinist. his conclusion at the end is quite interesting. The thing about mainstream science is that it is being challenged by itself quite rapidly theses days, which is a good thing.Biochemistry wasn’t around in Darwins’ time.

    There’s lots around. Here’s just one of many:
    http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2014/140102_1.html

    • Husq Jons

      Here’s something else that I find interesting. they could be wrong of course.

      Swedish researchers have presented evidence to support their new theory about the structure of the earth’s core. “We found that the body-centered cubic structure of iron is the only structure that could correspond to the experimental observations,” says Börje Johansson, professor of condensed-matter theory at Uppsala University.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080208091314.htm

      In a lecture about the causes of earthly volcanism, Steiner indicated that on the basis of his spiritual scientific researches, the earth in its foundational form was not a sphere but rather had at its basis a “kind of tetrahedron”

      http://www.frankchester.com/2010/the-mysterious-heart-das-goetheanum-article/

      Evolution…interesting eh?

      • Helen

        Is that the same Frank Chester who sold some sculptures to Aonghus Gordon from Ruskin Mill and claims a great discovery in his “Chestahedron”?
        My husband says he could make a seven-sided model without making such a fuss about it.

        • Husq Jons

          So, do you agree with the scientists theory of Uppsala University., that the earths core is not we thought it was?

          • MarkH

            I don’t know – and that is a perfectly acceptable answer, I hope :-)

            All I can do is look at their original paper, try to read it (it’s not my field but I get the gist of what they’re saying), look up some of the papers written by other scientists who’ve come along later, who’ve checked their work and I’ll see whether or not they agree. I just did that. And yes, it looks like a reasonable explanation for what’s observed about the way waves travel through the inner core. But I can’t be sure and neither can anybody else. We might observe something else about it in the future that means we have to throw out this model and try something else.

            And that’s how science works, not by clairvoyant revelation.

            • Husq Jons

              Of course it’s a perfectly acceptable answer. But to dismiss Steiner, you would have to use the same method of investigation that he used, yes? So tell me, how did he come to the conclusion that the earths core at its foundation was a geometric shape? I know for a fact there are somethings that I cannot do but it doesn’t mean that nobody else cannot do either.

    • mah74

      Husq: “But to dismiss Steiner, you would have to use the same method of investigation that he used, yes?”

      No, I don’t think so. Instead, the best approach is to look at the claims he made and see if there is any independent evidence for them. Roger Rawlings is quite good on this: https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/steiners-blunders

      “So tell me, how did he come to the conclusion that the earths core at its foundation was a geometric shape?”

      Good question. I understand that in general, he was quite keen on meditation. I’m also not sure that the pictures I’ve seen of a ‘chestahedron’ superimposed on the earth bear any resemblance at all to the crystal lattice structure proposed by the people at Uppsala.

      Back to the general subject of Helen’s post, my favourite resource on science teaching in Steiner schools is this collection of articles from the SWSF journal ‘Child and Man’: http://www.waldorfresearchinstitute.org/download/e-books/Science-Curriculum.pdf With chapter titles like ‘Michael’s Sword of Iron’ and ‘Evolution as a Descent from the Spirit’ the whole thing is suffused with Anthroposophy. Anybody who cares about science and has an interest in Steiner education should read it.

  2. Jim

    Readers who are aware of Goethe as poet and playwright may wonder why he seems to hold such a fascination for Steiner followers – the various institutes bearing his name, the Goetheanum and Goethean Science. But Goethe was a writer – which of us has not spent a delightful afternoon chuckling to ourselves over Faust II whilst sipping an Urtziger Wurtzgarten Spatlese?
    In German culture Goethe is much more than a “just” a writer – he’s an iconic figure spanning the whole field of thought including philosophy, politics and science. The English still like to think of poets as dying young and in poverty, preferably of TB. Goethe lived long and comfortably including a spell of minister of state in Weimar with responsibility for both artistic and scientific institutions. He appears to have seen himself, and was seen by others, as an Olympian figure whose insights ranged across disciplines other than those ( eg literature ) for which he was qualified. You may detect a certain resemblance to one Rudolf Steiner at this point.
    And so to Goethean Science. It would be unfair to say that Goethe had no insight but he lacked anything we would recognise as scientific method. He was a very acute and disciplined observer. You might expect this in a poet but he was particularly systematic about his observations and his recording of them. So although few give any credence to his theory of colours ( which he set up in opposition to Newton’s ) few question his observations, which are in any case mostly consistent with Newton’s. The problem is that Goethe’s theory is not really a scientific theory at all in the sense that Newton’s is. It is more like a poetic interpretation of colour in line with a pre-existing spiritual perspective. Goethe believed coloured arose from the interplay of light and darkness – darkness being not an absence of light but the polar opposite of light. ( Again this sort of polarity of natural forces may sound familiar in the Steiner context ).
    Another area of interest for Goethe was what he called morphology, the study of the varying forms of plants. Again his observations in this area were meticulous but his interpretation of them was coloured by his metaphysical view of an underlying unity in nature, in the form of an archetypal plant of which all actual plants are manifestations driven by the inherent life force. So he correctly notes the commonality of plant structures but offers no explanation of causality or anything of predictive ability, one of the tests of a scientific theory.
    Goethe’s method rejected analysis in favour of the accumulation of observations as if somehow an holistic understanding would spontaneously arise through insight and imagination. This resembles the preferred teaching method in Steiner schools where pupils are encouraged to observe nature without formal theory, though always being guided as to the correct way these observations should be understood. Add to that the general reverence for Goethe in German culture in Steiner’s time and his importance to the so called “Spiritual Science” is easy to understand.

  3. Jim

    Oh no – not Darwin v Steiner again!
    Surely for all the clarifications, revisions etc that can be made the central point of Darwinian evolution stands – evolution occurs through the survival advantages conferred by random mutations. Not through some mythical life force or the ‘soul of man’ striving towards some destiny.

      • Jim

        As I said, the mutations are random. Which ones go on to prosper is not random since it depends on whether they confer any advantage on the organism concerned.
        There is a big difference between saying “the whole process is non random” and saying “not all parts of the process are random”. Which do you mean?

  4. fungalspore

    That was an excellent explanation of Goethe! This debate is fascinating and important. I hope more people get to read it and join in. The unscientific approach to argument is to make appeal to authority. “Here is someone with authority. You can’t disagree with him, because he is bigger than you.” It seems to me that scientific knowledge does not work that way: even highly respected scientists have fallible theories that can be overturned by researchers lower down the authority tree. Good scientists dont reify Science either: it is not a religion with articles of faith, but a way of investigating propositions about the world in an attempt to arrive at a true understanding of how things work.

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