The view from within anthroposophy

In a comment yesterday on the Advent Spiral post “Arne” explained how

“…the anthroposophy is not taught to, but experienced by the children. It surrounds them in the form of ecologic and biodynamical made foods, the colourtheories of Goethe, emphasis on the seasonal changes and the nature that surrounds us and much more.”

It is very useful to have this explained from the point of view of someone who is clearly very familiar with this belief system and its applications. In his eyes it is perfectly acceptable to “surround” children with the nonsense dreamed up by a mystic from a century ago.

The festivals, especially the advent spiral, are very meaningful to all associated with Steiner schools, whether as students, parents, teachers or simply as “believers”. Arne says the festivals are of “profound beauty”.

An atmosphere of awe and wonder is deliberately cultivated, many writers have described this. Steiner followers continually stress the importance of “wonder” in education, as a way of engaging children and inspiring them to learn. I guess they know it sounds ok to most parents – the idea of children transfixed by a subject or an event is attractive in a way – it infers that they are absorbed in their learning and therefore taking something valuable from it.

But in the case of anthroposophy, this seems a questionable tactic, indeed, as has been pointed out by former students, a form of mind control.

It is not difficult to inspire awe and wonder in children, especially by way of festivals such as Advent; candles are lit, the room is darkened, all is quiet save for the voices of the children singing specially written verses to augment the occasion. How could such activities fail to gain the full attention of anyone involved – especially children?

Of course it is not just in anthroposophy where such rituals are used to create an atmosphere of reverence; all religions have their rituals; the christmas assembly at my children’s ostensibly non- religious, non-Church of England primary school did the trick too; merely the sound of children singing carols is enough to affect the emotions of even a profoundly irreligious parent. There was no need for candles or a darkened room.

But most parents who select Steiner schools and kindergartens do not know that their child will be subjected to the all-enveloping influence of anthroposophy; as Arne puts it,

“The festivals…have a much deeper significance in the evolvement of the children’s identities.”

The specific tenets of anthroposophy, the reincarnation, karma, the spiritual (through the races) “evolvement” Arne refers to, are not what any normal parent would want their child exposed to in such a profound way, given the choice.

Arne talks about choice in his comment;

“The idea is to enable the children to make their own decisions based on their own curiosity and experiences of their surroundings… A choice is not something you´re given it´s something you make, and you can learn a lot from being a bit silly from time to time :)”

Yes, everyone should have a choice when it comes to their beliefs. But this is not choice. Parents are not making an informed choice when they choose Steiner education, and children are not making a choice when they are immersed in anthroposophy without their knowledge at school. It is indoctrination, not choice.

A child who attends a Catholic school (for instance)  knows she is receiving an education based on that particular religion; the rejection of Catholicism by these children is reportedly fairly high, and parents choose such schools fully aware of the tenets of the religion.

I do not know anything about Arne; I think he is not British, and it seems he is associated in some way with Steiner education. However his comment provides a window onto the mindset of anthroposophists; they do not see the use of anthroposophy in schools as indoctrination, because they really believe Steiner’s teachings are true! How can it therefore be wrong, in their view, to “surround” children with these ideas?

Thank you Arne, for an eye-opening glimpse into the total devotion to Steiner that exists in the mileu of Steiner waldorf. It explains a lot.




  1. Jim

    Critics of Steiner and new age thinking in general are often accused of lacking a “sense of wonder” or any feeling of beauty. Whilst that may be true of some it is equally true of many adherents to religious belief – so it’s just a characteristic of some people, regardless of their view of supernaturalism.

    Isn’t it rather a lack of wonder at what the world really holds that leads some to project onto it their infantile fantasies of spirit worlds and magical forces? Such fantasies are perfectly natural in the young child but have no place in the adult mind and to seek to prolong them denies the child’s healthy development.

    • Helen

      Absolutely right, and it is sad to think of all the time wasted on these kinds of festivals (the Advent Fair post described how much effort is put in to these events) that could be better spent on teaching. Not only sad, but shocking when we realise the government is now paying for this…

      • arnebeck

        Yes, you are absolutely right… I´m not British.

        .. So I took a quick search to see if I could find some information about the British Steiner school, and the first thing that grabbed my attention was (.uk and all) Then, I want to be an informed parent, so naturally I want to look at the curriculum. And to my complete amazement, at the very top of the page, in the first line, I see this : “All Steiner schools follow the comprehensive and distinctive Steiner Curriculum”. Well; to me anyway, this is like hitting a BIG signpost in the middle of the road…. and I surely wouldn´t tell anyone that it wasn´t there when I crashed into it. So you can argue it wasn´t a warning post, you still hit it. I will pretend, (if pretending is not too nutty a faculty), that I didn´t hit the signpost, but drove by it and accidentally saw the sign…what was that again… comprehensive… and distinctive Steiner? I will stop pretending (for now); how can you possibly say you are not informed?
        Reading a few lines further (exhaustive all this reading), I find this :

        For a deeper understanding of the Steiner Curriculum, the teachers at the Brighton Steiner School have prepared two documents, available here as PDF downloads, which paint a fuller picture of the development of the Curriculum through a child’s years at school.

        Curriculum Information by Class – PDF document (72KB) explains how the Curriculum builds from Early Years through to the Upper School.

        Curriculum Information by Subject – PDF document (111KB) explains how each subject is taught and how it fits in with the Curriculum as a whole.

        Hmm… I sure hit that first signpost, but a second one? Just down the road? I must be building an affection for hitting signposts?
        It´s ALL there! No, not all of Steiners books and lectures (for that read you have to make a bit more effort, but it´s easily accessible by and for everyone).

        Sorry, didn´t catch your name.. “Yes, everyone should have a choice when it comes to their beliefs. But this is not choice. Parents are not making an informed choice when they choose Steiner education, and children are not making a choice when they are immersed in anthroposophy without their knowledge at school. It is indoctrination, not choice.”

        “Indoctrination”? “No choice”? You have all the information in the world laid out in front of you and still you say you are not informed and have no choice? What more do you ask? That the teachers come knocking at your door explaining everything to you? They can´t, because it would still be you that have to make the choice, how well informed you are before making that choice is completely up to you. I repeat, all the information is there, nothing secret, it´s all in the open.

        And thank you for taking my other posts in another thread calling this “a view from within” ? Are you really implying I´m an anthroposophist?
        I guess you do… “Thank you Arne, for an eye-opening glimpse into the total devotion to Steiner that exists in the mileu of Steiner waldorf. It explains a lot.”

        Actually, as you put it “I do not know anything about Arne; I think he is not British” You are correct, you don´t know me. You could have the decency to ask, instead you assume what you “think/believe” is correct. You are the true believers here, not me.

        I am not an anthroposophist, I do however consider Steiner and his anthroposophy one out of many treasures in this world..

        • Rain17

          “I am not an anthroposophist, I do however ” …hm, those are some famous last words. Speaking only for myself, I am a true dis-believer in Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy. I can’t help but notice, though, that it’s the non-professing anthroposophists who are the most defensive of anthroposophy and its dishonest practices utilizing other people’s unsuspecting children.

  2. we escaped!

    We don’t ask teachers to come knocking on doors to provide an explanation, but we do expect them to be honest and open regarding the role anthroposophy plays at school, especially when we repeatedly asked them to their faces. I don’t see anything that mentions the words anthroposophy in any school literature.

    We were told that anthroposophy played no part in school life. The literature provided by the school sounds great, the sales pitches are top class. That’s why we enrolled our child. Yes I admit we were very ignorant, we trusted and believed what the school said (we do have it documented and recorded). When we were told that no form of religious worship took place, we believed them. When they told us that anthroposophy wasn’t relevant, we believed them. When they told us that our child would be respected as an individual, we believed them.

    You seem to be missing the point we are making here. We take full responsibility for not researching it more and trusting these people. When we did realise something strange was happening, we did research and took it to the school and they laughed it off and told us, it did not happen and anthroposophy wasn’t relevant in school. What they did to our child and family was abuse.

    The school did not provide enough information fir us to make an informed choice.

    If the information was all in the open and nothing is secret, then why isn’t there any mention of anthroposophy and the role it plays at school? Why when we ask, do they deny it?

  3. Helen

    Arne – Thanks for the reply. I really did find it useful to have your comments on the other post, and yes, I really do think you are an anthroposophist.
    It is usual for people to deny they are anthroposophists, even in court, as Gregoire Perra recounted when he wrote about his trial. When pushed, however, people do admit the description is true.
    On the subject of “who is an anthroposophist”, my opinion is that anyone who knows quite a bit about it (as you clearly do) and consider “Steiner and his anthroposophy one out of many treasures in this world..” as you do, may be labelled so. Out of interest, what do you consider the necessary qualifications?

    Anyway, moving on from that, I strongly disagree that parents are given sufficient information. Anthroposophy is kept secret. Schools have only begun to mention the word itself since critics have been using it. Always Steiner people brush off the idea that anthroposophy is used on children in Steiner schools, as if nothing could be further from the truth. Many parents, if they have heard the criticism at all, are reassured by these denials – it’s what they want to hear, after all.
    I worked in a Steiner school for a few weeks a long time ago, and despite observing distinctly odd goings on such as children’s physical characteristics in relation to their behaviour discussed in the staff room, and the reading several times a day of Steiner prayers (I didn’t know what they were) had no idea there was a belief system at work, or that all the other staff were in on the secret. I just decided there were some very religious people running the school and that they had some strange ideas. It was all very unprofessional and not what I was used to in school; no problem, it was a temporary job for me anyway.
    But what about parents who enrol their children and do not have the privilege of being in the classroom and seeing what goes on? They invest considerably in the school community often building their lives around it.
    They have no idea at the start how their children are being “surrounded by anthroposophy” as you put it. The schools deny it enters the classroom, remember?
    When the penny does slowly drop how do parent react? it depends how they feel about the spiritual science they have become involved in. They may have become conditioned to accept it. They may decide they had better accept it whether they like it or not – their children are settled and they have friends in the “community”.
    For some families, the discovery of what has been going on is shocking and devastating; if their child is the one who is the victim of bullies “living out their karma” or with a large head, or who teachers have decided is not” incarnating properly” and needs “therapy” the realisation that all this is down to anthroposophy comes as a blow.
    Steiner schools – including the state-funded Hereford Steiner Academy say that teachers are free to interpret anthroposophy as they wish. Most of them have been on anthroposophical training courses – including the class teacher at Bristol. he has strong ideas about anthroposophy and written about them. How can parents prepare themselves for what part of Steiner’s doctrine a teacher may or may not think is appropriate to use in the classroom? Impossible.
    Even after reading ALL Steiner’s work (and you admit this is unlikely) a parent cannot know what wacko practices their child may be subjected to by Steiner-worshipping teachers.
    Best avoided altogether.

  4. MarkHayes

    I find it interesting to compare the public face of Steiner schools with the UK’s only Scientology school – Greenfields in Forest Row. The Greenfields website explains that they use the educational methods developed by L. Ron Hubbard, a “noted educator, humanitarian and philosopher”: uncannily similar to the descriptions of Rudolf Steiner we’re familiar with. The public materials explaining Hubbard’s Study Technology rarely mention Scientology, though it is used extensively in Scientology training courses as well as by the school. Greenfields itself is “completely non-denominational and welcome[s] children of all faiths.” and “it is not a requirement that staff be of any particular religion or culture when they join… the school.” Nevertheless, the school is run by Scientologists and the majority of families there identify as Scientologists.

    Now, while the people running Steiner schools are usually Anthroposophists, many Steiner families aren’t. The only reason I can think of for this is that Anthroposophy is nowhere near as widely understood as Scientology. When people see the name L. Ron Hubbard, they generally know what he’s about. Rudolf Steiner? Not so much. If and when they do find out, most people run away fast.

  5. Pam Nummela

    Steiner schools are not in the business of making children into anthroposophists. They are about the child growing to become adults who live a meaningful life. Steiner schools do have children participate in the seasonal traditions, but there is no expectation that this will continue in their lives. Public schools if they are financially able, offer music and art. The Steiner schools offer music, art and the traditions, however, if the child grows up to know themselves and lives the life they want and are capable of and never look at anything Steiner again, the Waldorf schools have done their job.

    • Helen

      Pam I am sorry but your argument that the traditions (ceremonies, as Gregoire Perra refers to them) are just “seasonal” just doesn’t wash. They are anthroposophical, and if they were not, the schools simply wouldn’t celebrate them. As we have pointed out before, advent is celebrated in Australia with the curtains drawn to simulate winter – I can’t remember – are we breathing out or breathing in at Advent? Whichever, it has spiritual significance for anthros and that is why you/they “have the children participate”.
      You and Arne and David clark who all commented last night totally miss the point of my criticism of Steiner; You can do whatever you like in your schools, but TELL the families BEFORE they sign up what you are doing and why.
      We have many brands of religion opening schools in this country, sadly, but Steiner is the only one to do so without informing parents, and THAT is what is so despicable.
      That is why I am writing these posts.

      • Rain17

        Anthroposophy euphemisms:

        “Not in the business of making children into anthroposophists”: forcing an anthroposophy environment on children, with or without parents’ knowledge, with or without their knowledge

        “Have children participate”: force it on them

        “Steiner schools offer _____ just like public education”: with the tacit understanding that for a fee, the magical thinking behind Steiner schools yield superior Übermensch children, as opposed to those mediocrity factories called public schools

        “I am not an anthroposophist”: “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

      • Rain17

        Hi Pam,

        I must take issue with something else said, which is that Steiner schools “are about the child growing to become adults who live a meaningful life.”

        You may hold this personal belief, which you have every right to. But this cannot possibly be true.

        I see kids who would love to be able to enter the world of basic literacy (i.e., “read”) but are restricted from it until a random physical development occurs.

        I see children who are shown how to play notes on ledger paper, but in a way that has no connection to actual musicianship, since their instruments are chosen for them according to arcane medieval concepts like “temperament”. A young Waldorf student close to me recently informed me that their sheet music, badly re-scored by the Waldorf music teacher, contains no melodies, since they are “a harmony person”.

        (To be clear, I am not a Waldorf parent by choice; my SO’s children are in Steiner ed.)

        I see young adults struggling to make sense of their place in a world full of Fergusons and ISIS while being propagandized with lies about Advent elves filling the calendars and wood fairies making the trees grow.

        Deny them actual knowledge; keep repeating the lies that Rudolf Steiner’s “clairvoyant” misanthropy accurately describes the way the world “really” works. Call this behavior whatever one will, but please do not call it “education”.

    • Helen

      Oh yes, and what is a “meaningful life”? To me it is not one where children are indoctrinated into accepting the false premise that there is a spiritual world all around us (a paradigm that I can’t see, in the words of Geoff, an early commenter here) and which we should all aspire to communicate with as Steiner claimed to do. That is not meaningful, it is just a waste of the valuable time we have on earth. Why spend a life talking to your angels and training children to copy you? Have a look at Jerry Coyne’s site, and see the wonder of the *real* world.

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