Education for Eternity

A final look at the book The Spiritual basis of Steiner Education by Roy Wilkinson; A chapter entitled “Destiny and Karma: Education for Eternity”

Yes, a whole chapter on destiny and karma, in a book about education. If nothing else has, this should firmly establish that Steiner schools are not aiming to teach children in a way most people would recognise.

Explaining the concepts, Roy Wilkinson asserts on page 81; “Rudolf Steiner expresses it thus ‘activity that has become destiny is karma…the spirit that reincarnates finds within the physical world the results of its deeds as destiny’”.

Don’t forget according to this author, Rudolf Steiner is “an authority” within Steiner education. The teachers in Steiner schools are endeavouring to carry out Steiner’s edicts regarding child development and education, and to put his indications into practise.

Roy Wilkinson clearly has no doubts in his mind about reincarnation. He helpfully explains how it works; “…when we die we relinquish a physical body for a while, during which time we refresh ourselves – restore or rebuild ourselves might be better expressions – and then return to inhabit our new body”. (He is assuming it will be a human body…)

To some people this may all sound quite reasonable – even quite attractive as a kind of alternative to ideas in other religions about an afterlife.

Anthroposophists work so hard on their karma because they are worried about what kind of existence they will have to endure next time around. In their belief system, any uncomfortable circumstances in which we find ourselves – illness, poverty, are due to misdeeds in previous existences.

Similarly they regard it as their duty to assist the children in their class in this respect. It’s very kind of them in a way, except it would help if they checked it was ok with the parents beforehand – preferably at the point where they give out leaflets in the High street and collect signatures for free schools.

I sometimes speculate about the kind of responses they would have received (even in Stroud where people are famously open-minded), if before they signed up, parents were told “by the way, it’s ok if we work on your child’s karma as a first priority isn’t it? We do provide a kind of education too of course, but it has to be secondary to the spiritual development – our Austrian guru Rudolf Steiner insists on this, and we are bound by the Steiner Waldorf schools fellowship to follow his teachings.”

Yeah, right. Here’s your leaflet back.

Anyway I digress.

“Karma teaches us that we have willed what happens to us. We have brought it with us from previous existences and it is incorporated in our being.”p83

All this is important when considering how a Steiner teacher regards her role when it comes to influencing children’s behaviour. It has been reported that instances of bullying in Steiner schools go apparently unnoticed or unchecked, due to some teachers’ reluctance to interfere in what they see as necessary behaviour in a child’s present incarnation..

The subject comes up regularly in Mumsnet discussions on Steiner education.

When recruiting, all Steiner schools prefer to employ teachers who have undergone Steiner teacher training- usually this is the first requirement, above qualified teacher status; the students on these courses study Steiner’s books and lectures, discuss his “indications” and the best way to implement them, and generally familiarise themselves with anthroposophical rituals, so it is highly unlikely a teacher will not be fully aware of the importance of karma in Steiner education – indeed Roy Wilkinson states; ”The study of karma is an important chapter of spiritual science and an important chapter for the teacher”.

On how a teacher should act in situations where “some children have a particular relationship with one another, maybe friendly, maybe otherwise” we are told “In the light of reincarnation, teachers have an almost overwhelmingly responsible task. They are influencing the child, or rather the individuality, not only for present existence, but for eternity”.p84

“In the case of personal difficulties among the children he might have a role in finding a solution.”p84

Oh he might. Or he might not…

Perhaps that is why the response to bullying in a local Steiner college was found by OFSTED to be “slow”. Perhaps staff were deliberating on what would be best for the “individuality’s” next incarnation, and whether the victim who had brought their vulnerability with them from a previous existence should be protected from abuse.

Anyone who thinks reincarnation in anthroposophy is the same as that in Buddhism needs to do some research; Steiner enthusiasts do not contemplate the possibility of their future existence as a dung beetle or a microbe; not for them to prepare for such degradation. When Steiner was a Theosophist he liked the idea of reincarnation and incorporated it into anthroposophy, but adapted it to suit his Western ideals.

Reincarnation has gained credibility in Western culture thanks in part to the endorsement of Buddhist teachings by celebrities. The decision to allow one’s child to be educated according to these tenets is a big step however, but one which some families take unwittingly.

Roy concludes this chapter by saying “in the case of reincarnation and karma, the implications for education are clear.”

Clear to those *in the know*, not so clear to uninitiated parents, children, the authorities, or anyone looking at Steiner education from the outside.



  1. Helen

    No doubt Trevor Mepham, principal at the recently opened Frome Steiner Academy had his reasons for denying that Steiner believed in reincarnation in the BBC documentary.
    As a member of the School of Spiritual Science, how could he possibly think that?

  2. Nick Nakorn

    Steiner told his followers to simply avoid telling people about his beliefs in the public arena to avoid criticism – a strategy that has worked rather well given the success of Anthroposophical organisations. But, as we know from the growth of corporatism, the financial sector and party politics, consumers are used to being told lies and, as producers, society has become fully used to telling them too.

    • Helen

      Yes, the strategy has worked well for nearly 100 years.
      When does bending the truth become lying? I would say “We don’t teach anthroposophy” is a lie when spoken by someone setting up a Steiner school in reply to a direct question about Steiner’s doctrine.
      It is the deception that seems to be one of the most upsetting factors when families decide to leave.

    • Jim

      So true Nick that we hardly notice anymore. But what still shocks, because relatively new, is the brazenness of the lies, the feeling that it is not necessary even to make them plausible. So a politician can proclaim his latest pet policy a resounding success. An independent report then proves it is late, grossly over budget and failing to meet any of its objectives. Is the politician abashed? No – he welcomes the report and proclaims that it fully endorses his policy!
      This is the same alternative reality, the dismissal of evidence that we are used to in Steiner but infecting the ‘real’ world.

  3. Jim

    It is not merely the Steiner notion of reincarnation but karma itself which differs from the Buddhist view. The word derives via Sanskrit from the original Pali word kamma, roughly meaning action, and only by implication the result. So the essence of the doctrine was “your actions, moral as well as physical, have consequences”. The emphasis was very much on guiding the choices we make now by understanding the consequences, not merely for some hypothetical future life but for the one we are actually living.
    This aspect seems to be virtually absent from Steiner’s thinking, and indeed from most other Western interpretations. Instead it’s all about explaining why things are as they are now and thus providing some sort of dubious diagnostic. Instead of teaching that you are responsible for your actions, and their effects, it suggests that you are not ( or at least not in this life ).

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