British Values

Steiner schools have an agenda; that much is clear from their promotional material. You may read the phrases “child-centred” “holistic” and “creative” as harmless, even positively beneficial, or perhaps you look deeper and realise they are important in an entirely different way to staff and families who *know* about how anthroposophy works. Either way there is also the admission now on websites that anthroposophy is the framework for Steiner schools, despite the claims that it is “not taught to the children”.

Steiner school brochures often claim that they protect children “from the harmful influences of broader society” – these include television, computers, certain sports, foods and even some clothing.

Is this compatible with promoting British values? Is the Steiner idea of what is harmful in line with the rest of our society?

In June the Department for Education (DfE) launched a consultation on “strengthening powers to intervene in schools which are failing to actively promote British values”. It is a response to the Trojan Horse affair where schools in Birmingham were found not to be sufficiently preparing children for life in this country.

The values under consideration are;

  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual respect
  • tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs

The list is designed to contain what is considered desirable in education; a reiteration of what is important in our society.

The last three are of concern when we consider the way Steiner schools seek to establish the superiority of their own lifestyle choices over those of the rest of us; this is illustrated by the comments here and letters to the local press from people who have been convinced that only Steiner education is good enough for their child, and the idea that the outside world is wicked, degenerate and full of people unaware of the “true wisdom” of Steiner values; a myth perpetuated in the Steiner community.

So much for mutual respect.

Individual liberty is something Grégoire Perra has written about at length in terms of the way anthroposophy affects those who come under its influence; its cult-like behaviour has a way of closing the minds of followers and turning them into different people, incapable of making decisions and asking questions; he should know, as a member of the cult from his youth, and now on the outside.

Tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.

Well this is an easy one to make claims about on paper. On their websites Steiner schools say they welcome families of all faiths, that they are “non-denominational”. They sometimes speak about a Christian ethos, and indeed the teacher’s handbook includes details of specific bible stories, especially creation stories, to include at each age level. These are included because they are helpful in anthroposophy in introducing young children to the idea of a god and that humans are not animals, but separate and evolving according to Steiner’s dogma.

Families who leave often cite the copious amounts of religious chanting, apparently Christian festivals, and references to god and Christ as a reason for the feelings of isolation. Families with religious beliefs at variance with anthroposophy have particular problems.

Lyra referred to the Steiner curriculum book in a comment; “The Educational Tasks of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, (2000) …The book is edited by Tobias Richter and Martyn Rawson with contributions from Trevor Mepham, John Burnett and Christoper Clouder – all First Class members of the School of Spiritual Science.”

This book does not contain references to any of the British values, and indeed the references used, the works recommended for study, the plays performed, and the theories held up as examples, are mainly German, as recommended by Rudolf Steiner (I recommend a look at this curriculum book).

The DfE is clearly concerned about religious extremism, and yet there are calls (according to a blogpost on the Local Schools Network this morning) for more religion to be included in education, and the Spiritual Moral Social and Cultural standard I mentioned in a previous post is also brought into the discussion.

The reaction to the events in Birmingham, an attempt to strengthen British values, could be seen as having an unspoken aim to bring the historical religious faith of this country back to prominence, by insisting it is included in education. The last thing we need, in my opinion, is a return to religious indoctrination in schools, where currently there is in general a happy situation where religion and its divisive outlook is dying out among young people, with fewer and fewer regarding it as relevant to their lives.

The Government consultation ends on Monday morning, 18th August, and it is possible to submit comments until then.

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16 comments

  1. we escaped!

    We need to protect children and families from the harmful influences of Steiner education.

    Our experience of Steiner education is that they do not respect anything other than anthroposophy, if you do not believe and do not conform then you are considered outcasts.

    The people we dealt with at the steiner school our son attended did not know the meaning of basic manners, respect, individuality, accountability, safeguarding of children, morals, record keeping, progress reports, confidentiality, data protection law etc…

    Thankfully, our son does have his own mind and would question nonsense such as the existence of gnomes, fairies, god etc…

    We have raised him to be respectful of others beliefs and cultures. Just because we do not believe, does not mean he doesn’t have to. If he decides to be a priest when he is older, we will support him all the way. We as patents provide him with knowledge of all beliefs and cultures and when he is old enough to make an informed choice, he will do so armed with as much knowledge as possible. That is our right as patents, however steiner schools feel that it is their right to interfere and slyly push their beliefs onto innocent children and unsuspecting parents.

    It is not ok for any school to push any sort of beliefs onto their pupils-but the school we were at, did (well tried to). We were assured by the school that they would embrace his individuality and respect him. When they realised he would not go along with it and would not be easily brainwashed and would question them-he was labelled as being ADHD! They commented that he was obsessed with using a black crayon and we do have access to notes from kindergarten commenting on the size of his head, the brightness of his eyes and that he was right handed. Of course at the time, we didn’t understand the relevance of this, but we do now… we demanded all of his progress reports (they didn’t have any ) they gave us copies of the notes (when I say notes, I actually mean bits of scribbled information on tatty paper) from his KG teacher and the anthroposophy doctor, silly them eh. I think they must have been in panic mode and gave them to us to shut us up, I don’t think they twigged that the info they gave us is pretty shocking stuff, on their part.

    Thank god they did label him, otherwise it would have taken much longer for us to realise the true nature of their intentions.

    I would like to point out that if our son did have ADHD, we would embrace and support him. The fact is, he doesn’t have it. It was a convenient excuse to make us leave because we asked too many questions and complained. Thankfully he is thriving in mainstream and has caught up, only because we got him out in time and he was at an age that he was able to catch up.

    There are elements of mainstream that we don’t like (hence why we chose steiner) however we now understand that mainstream is at least safe, respects and protects children and they are regulated and qualified! Mainstream do not strap weights around his legs because he has no skin, they do not leave him alone in a corridor next to an unlocked door by a main road, they do not label him, they do not exclude him and make him feel inferior or different or that he is bad, they do not demand that we spend lots of money on anthroposophy and their questionable treatments because his astral being keeps him awake. Mainstream do embrace and find joy in him and respect him as an individual.

  2. Helen

    You express what your family went through at the hands of anthroposophists very well. How could any parents guess this is what awaits them if they do not buy into the lifestyle of Steiner?
    It is so difficult to explain, but here we have the details, in technicolour.

  3. Nick Nakorn

    I think Anthroposophical ideas sit rather well with what the neo-cons would think of as British Values. With everything shifting to the right, calls to nationalism are being made by virtually every main party and the very idea that there is such a thing as ‘British Values’ is essentially a call to exceptionalism. It’s true that many people think of the values listed as ‘British’ yet, at different times in History, those values have existed and do exist, to a greater or lesser extent, in a great many other places. Moreover, they are countered by a lamentable historical record of quite the reverse; the barbarity of the Empire and the terror of the way it was maintained and dismantled – within living memory there are accounts of British forces beheading ‘rebels’ in various outposts such as Indonesia, Malaya, Burma and India – the victim’s families say it was done as a means of execution while the British have always claimed it was simply cheaper to transport a head rather than a whole body back to base for the relatives and authorities to identify (so even the British version admits killing people without knowing who the heck they are or even if they are ‘the enemy’ ). Think of the 1 million dead due to the partition of India and another million Indians killed on railway construction projects – think of the genocides in Australasia and the plight of the children that were left behind; many still trying to get proper compensation. So British values as ‘ethical’ are a fiction, just as Anthroposophical hierarchies and woo are fictions. Note the use by major politicians of the term ‘tolerance’ – that means putting up with something you don’t like – and yet whenever racism is mentioned, the likes of Farage say they are not racists because they are tolerant – gee, thanks a bunch – it’s Steiner to a T.

    • Jim

      I recall an image from a childhood comic – it would have been the late 1950s. It was a story of plucky Brits in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising and was illustrated with a picture of a leopard-skin clad ‘savage’ menacing a white woman whilst a pith helmeted white man takes aim. It’s only in recent years that the truth has come out, that only 30 something Europeans were killed against tens of thousands of Kikuyu killed and tortured. British values included castration and burning alive.

      So by all means stick up for certain values but drop the British label.

      • Nick Nakorn

        I agree 100% Jim. One of my childhood ‘moments’ was hearing Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech a year or two after having had to read aloud in class about Biggles chasing those ‘slitty-eyed devils’.

    • Rain17

      I think Anthroposophical ideas sit rather well with what the neo-cons would think of as British Values.

      Nick, as you probably know, we here in the states have a parallel problem with a certain type of conservative consituency. I see it playing out like this:

      -> Deep contempt for public schools, check

      -> “No child of mine will ever..” disdain for public school children, check

      -> Hatred for the very concept of “the public”, check

      -> Conspiratorial fear of government agencies, especially the Food and Drug Administration and US Department of Agriculture, check

      -> Related: Purity paranoia disguised as “healthy choices”, especially when it comes to food purchases, check

      -> Frothing hatred of universal healthcare, check

      -> Hatred and distrust of certain aspects of the medical establishment, check

      -> Drawn to religiously-informed homeschooling methods and homeopathic remedies, check

      -> No intent of giving up their plush insurance plans, though, check

      -> Conspicuous shows of affluence or prosperity, via any or all of the above

      Lol if they think of themselves as having “prosperity”, they’re probably a values-voting tea partier, and if they refer to themselves as “affluent” they’re bound to be a Steinerite :)

      There is one major difference, though. I have told my SO many times, I would rather spend a whole month with the tea party relatives than spend 5 minutes at a Waldorf function. At least the tea partiers are honest about what they think, and how they intend to live. Not so with Steinerites, who, in my experience, too often share the selfsame “values”.

  4. Helen

    The values listed in the post are unquestioned by most of us, but with religion included in state education they come under threat.
    There is an easy answer to this problem; just take out the religion – all of it.

  5. Nick Nakorn

    Helen, indeed that might be the case. But where; most of us on this site, most of us in the UK, most of us in the world? – The very idea of calling any ‘good’ value British is, in itself, a pro-British (and thus anti-non-British) position. Of course, Steiner people would prefer Aryan Anthroposophical values I’m sure; but can you not see the similarities? And because vast numbers of people are involved in treating others badly, one can’t even call ‘good’ values universal even if we’d like them to be, that’s a fiction I often find myself believing until I catch up with the news.

    • Jim

      I think one of the biggest conundrums is how people who would espouse the values we think should be upheld ( British or otherwise ) can be seduced into behaving in a way which totally contradicts them. They can be equally seduced by religious or secular cults – in either case it seems that their own will is subordinated to “something greater”. And I say “they” but maybe given the right seduction none of us is totally immune.

    • Helen

      My last comment wasn’t meant as a reply to you Nick, I was just reflecting on the mess we are in because of religion in schools here.
      The “British” adjective is just a way of saying “in this country” the same as the British weather.
      Those values are what we aim for, as do many other countries.

      • Nick Nakorn

        Ah, I see. But I didn’t read it that way and I’m sure many other readers will have assumed British values meant values particular to Britain. I’m not sure the analogy with the weather works because weather happens because of geography and climate so is somewhat site-specific. The ‘Trojan Horse’ issue and the use of ‘British Values’ by many critics of multiculturalism are making distinctions between British and non-British. It’s part of a general Islamophobia (as opposed to Atheism or Secularism) that is designed to increase Christian nationalism. By titling the piece British Values and by referencing the ‘Trojan Horse’ issue, it was not at all clear that you simply meant ‘values’. The Department of Education under the current Government is very keen on the jingoistic version of British Values so are you comparing Steiner to jingoism or to a lack of it?

        • Helen

          The British weather analogy works for me because, whether we agree or not, what we have in terms of government (democracy), law, freedom, respect and tolerance is also site-specific, as you put it. Those are our values, and I don’t know how else you describe our values – the word “British” like the flag of St George, is regarded by some as a symbol of jingoism – but why?
          I don’t think it is jingoism or “judging one’s own country as superior to others” – as I said in the post it is just a way of setting out what is important, and making clear that any teaching against these values is unacceptable.
          An example is the treatment of women; what has changed here in the last 50 years we all accept as progress, and I certainly support any attempt to prevent a regression caused by religious beliefs operating counter to this.

          That said there is in my opinion a very worrying attempt by some to increase Christian nationalism as a response to the kind of teaching investigated in Birmingham. The strategy of calling this a Christian country to counter the rising profile of Islam is quite shocking but seems to have considerable support in high places. Even the Pope’s visit a few years ago was welcomed in unexpected quarters as a response to Islam – “Let’s show them we have traditions too” was a view I heard expressed.
          The best way to stand up to religious propaganda is not with opposing religious propaganda but with rationalism and a strengthening of secularism.
          As for Steiner schools the values of tolerance, respect and freedom drown there in a sea of cultic veneration of the “genius” Steiner, any deviation from this veneration is not tolerated. I couldn’t help pointing out in the post the amount of German culture in the Steiner curriculum book, especially since Steiner schools often make out their festivals are based on “British traditions” whereas they are nothing of the kind, just anthroposophical.
          I am not criticising Steiner for jingoism or a lack of it, since that is not what the post was meant to be about. But I am saying the schools are not educating children to be good citizens; their values are unique to their creed and do not tally with the values under discussion here any more than those of the Trojan Horse schools.

          • Jim

            Aren’t we really talking about a set of values which those of us who hold them like to think are universal but which unfortunately aren’t? We might label them British or liberal or Christian or whatever but that is secondary. It is just trying to link one thing we hold dear with another when in reality there is no connection.
            I’ve always found “British” to be particularly meaningless as a label. English has some resonance as does European but even they are just broad characterisations as opposed to definite categorisations.

            • Nick Nakorn

              I’m pretty convinced that many people believe that British values actually exist; not just as set of values that are resident geographically but resident in the British people themselves. The language we choose to define our ethics is important because of how it can be interpreted by those who would promote the idea that not to be British, or not to be born British and white, makes one incapable of ethical discourse or action. The arguments around education and British values is really all about ridding the state system of any hint of internationalism and inclusion (traditionally the semiotics of the left) and replacing it with British exceptionalism after the American model, a model that is itself based upon the European empires that came before it. So while I would agree that Steiner education is unethical and does not in any way meet the values I would like to see – particularly their rejection of rationalism and materialism and their love of racism – I still think their danger is that they are appealing to those who feel there is such a thing as a mystical connection between the land and it’s people; in that respect they are completely in tune with the idea of nationhood.

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