Non-denominational?

In an article entitled Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education: Do the Festivals Have a Future? for a website offering a “digital media resource”, Eugene Schwartz, a prominent anthroposophist, discusses how Steiner schools attempt to make themselves attractive to all, given that

“it is impossible to work with the Waldorf method without understanding its anthroposophical basis”.

He laments what he sees as the “dilution” of the basic principles of Steiner education, chief among these being the festivals.

Roger Rawlings has explained how these festivals,  Michaelmas and advent etc are celebrated because they are anthoposophical, not because they are “seasonal” as the schools would have us believe. Steiner schools advertise themselves as “non-denominational” – this can mean different things to different people, but signifies an adherence to no particular creed.

Along with other Steiner schools, the Stroud Steiner free school group claim they are “remaining neutral and inclusive on all matters of religion and spirituality”.

Parents are deceived into thinking their children will be somehow at one with nature in these schools, and that this manifests in the festivals; but in fact they are being introduced to acceptance of the spiritual world as “indicated” by Rudolf Steiner.(See “neutered nature” on Waldorfwatch.)

This is demonstrated in the way the festivals are celebrated in the same months of the year throughout the world, whether it is summer or winter, spring or autumn.

Schwartz calls them the “Christian festivals”, and criticises one school for referring to them as “pre-Christian” in an effort to seem inclusive to non-Christian families.

Of course, anyone who really thinks of themselves as a Christian would be astounded to discover the real beliefs of anthroposophists; according to this creed there are two Jesuses, and there are many other completely incompatible notions to explain; karma does not feature in Christianity.

So how do Steiner schools make themselves appear acceptable to parents who will not like some of the features of anthoposophy? With difficulty, it seems, for some of the more fervent anthroposophists such as Eugene Schwartz.

One way is to simply exclude families who do not wish to participate;

“In situations where it is not possible to soften or eliminate the “Christian message,” e.g. a performance of the Shepherds’ Play, parents may keep children home on the day of its performance.”

Where is the neutrality and inclusiveness?

He goes on to describe how Jewish families may suffer particular isolation;

“The Waldorf school in which I taught for many years was distinguished by significant populations of observant Jewish families, and the seemingly endless weeks of Advent preceding Christmas, that is, Winter Break, not to speak of the Three Kings’ celebration following the break, were often agonizing for them.”

So what did he do? Did he try to make sure parents knew before they signed up that there would be significant periods of “agony”? He doesn’t say.

Schwartz acknowledges that Steiner schools need to appeal to everyone in order to survive, but he warns that this goes against Steiner’s teachings;

“In regard to the Christian Festivals, however, we have Rudolf Steiner’s admonitions that the very relationship of the earth to the heavens is in the balance and that this relationship depends on the Festivals being rightly understood and rightly celebrated. “

Schwartz thinks the passion for anthroposophy is fading, but we know Steiner teachers study anthroposophy and feel passionately about it (see comments on Any anthroposophical Tom Dick or Harry may apply).

What a shame that Steiner schools are so desperate to carry on their mission of leading children along a  spiritual path using anthroposophy that they still refuse to tell parents at the start exactly what they will be doing with children and why.

Families are still being disappointed and getting hurt. What do Steiner followers think will happen if they are open about their intentions – will no-one want Steiner education? What an interesting question.

 

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18 comments

  1. we escaped!

    We questioned the school when we were made aware that our child was made to chant and pray to god for almost an hour during main lesson. We were told that we were mistaken and they were in fact a deeply religious school. According to their website (and all of the other steiner websites) they state they are all non denominational and impart no particular doctrine. We are still confused?

    As a result of our complaint, the school excluded our child from the classroom and he was made to stand on his own in a corridor next to an unlocked door, that is open to general public (strangers) and next to a busy main road.

    There is no alternative option if you dont agree with your child being brainwashed or indoctrinated. They made him feel different, they excluded him and seriously put his wellbeing at risk.

    • tash

      I worked for a non-denominational Christian charity. It was still Christian. If you send your child to a Steiner school you should do your ‘due diligence’ and read a little bit about who Steiner was and what he represented before sending your kid/s there. He was a very ‘inclusive’ Christian, helping to bring spiritual ideas from the East to a very ‘calcified’ western Christianity in Europe. He was a renowned spiritualist. Surely you knew that!? He loves Christ and Mary/Sophia. If you don’t like that, take your kids out of that school. I know lots of agnostics who send their kids to Steiner schools and the kids thrive there after being bullied and outcast at normal schools. Perhaps your attitude and negativity has a lot to do with your child’s experience at the school. My suggestion, if you don’t like it, don’t send him/her there. Simple!

      • Helen

        Sometimes I wonder what the anthros in Germany and Switzerland and elsewhere who read this blog make of replies like this from Steiner supporters. It doesn’t make the Steiner movement look good does it?
        So much for the inclusive, caring, child-centred education we are led to believe in. The parents Tash speaks to with such contempt (read their story here) chose Steiner education with confidence that their child would be nurtured as an individual, and thought the Steiner school would provide the caring environment they wanted for their small son. Instead he was subjected to experimental eurythmy techniques without their knowledge, singled out because of his refusal to swallow teaching about god and gnomes, and excluded from class lessons when he didn’t want to pray.
        Non-denominational? maybe. Nonsensical and inhumane I would call it.
        Getting out of a Steiner school is not so simple either.

      • We escaped

        Tash, we believed them when they told us that they followed no particular religious stance, they also told us Anthroposophy played no part in day to day school life.

        I’m a straight up front honest person. My negativity (as you perceive it) is a result of being lied to and mislead.

        Hypothetically speaking- how would you respond/feel if you stipulated that your child was vegan… To then learn that they had been asked to shoot and kill an animal, cook and eat it (behind your back and without consent)? Is that ok and acceptable?

        Being that you are knowledgeable and believe steiners stance on religion, then you surely must support and acknowledge Anthroposophy and all that it entails?

        Parents-please do read up on steiner before you enroll…

        BTW we are atheist not agnostic.

  2. Nick Nakorn

    As an Atheist, I had often had to wait on my own in a separate room during ‘scripture’ lessons in the 1960s at a private Prep School – not because I didn’t want to attend the class but because the teacher only wanted to teach Christians. According to the whims of the teacher I could sometimes stay and sometimes not. There was a Jewish boy who sometimes had to wait with me. Conversation with him was difficult as he was somewhat wary of Atheists too. So Steiner Schools are at least 50 years behind the times in terms of their understanding of equality and inclusivity and how such exclusions massively undermine the feelings of worth that the excluded pupils have to live with. By the way, the Scripture teacher refused to record my religion (what business of the school was is anyway?) as Atheist and so I was at the school ‘officially’ as a C of E follower and excluded for not being one.

    Steiner’s Anthroposophy, like the ideas of Church and (lost) Empire that I grew up with, is so rooted in ideas of tribe and exclusivity that I think it’s impossible for them to accept modernity; that most Steiner advocates refuse even to see the problem just shows how entrenched their attitudes have become.

  3. Jim

    I probably fared better than you Nick at my state grammar school also in the 1960s. I declined to attend the religious part of morning assembly, which did indeed mean waiting in the corridor with the other “oddballs”. However I did make a point of attending the RE class to reinforce the point that it was supposed to be teaching about religions rather than indoctrinating one particular religious perspective. And to be fair to the school ( if only in this one respect ) some quite interesting arguments did follow.

    But the big difference with Steiner mis-education would be that the religious element was restricted to the 10 minutes or so of morning assembly and the weekly 40 minutes of RE. It was never allowed to creep into maths, English, French, Latin, physics, chemistry , biology etc. So even if you opted out of assembly and RE you were in no way excluded from the mainstream of school activity. That would be unthinkable in a Steiner school, and for that matter in other fundamentalist religious schools. Actually I think that point sums it up – Steiner schools should be regarded as fundamentalist religious in character despite their protestations to the contrary.

    • Helen

      We crossed!
      You and Nick seem to have asserted yourselves well at school. I don’t think many young people are capable of doing that. Most children just want to fit in, I think. That’s why faith groups are so keen to target them, I suppose.

  4. Helen

    My comprehensive in the 70s made no enquiries at all about our faith and RE lessons were about different religions, and no-one had to sit out. There were assemblies where we said the “lord’s prayer” but that was it for Christianity. It would be nice to think all the exclusivity Nick mentions is a thing of the past, but with more faith schools opening each year in this country, that is clearly not the case.
    What is different about Steiner is that not only are they not telling parents about how the belief system affects the education of their children, in just about every subject and every activity, they are deceiving people by calling themselves “neutral” and “inclusive.”
    As “we escaped” said, there is no room in Steiner for any family who does not wish to participate in the rituals and ceremonies.
    Part of the reason people choose Steiner is for the sense of community among families who share a similar outlook, so to isolate oneself from that would be really hard, and defeat the whole idea of a Steiner education.

  5. we escaped!

    The school repeatedly told us that they did not do it, can you imagine how upset we were when we found out the truth. They do not have the right to do this. They then told us we had misunderstood?

    I am happy for our son to have RE lessons, its important that he makes his own decisions regarding his religious stance and that he has an understanding and respect for other religions. It is offensive and wrong that steiner teachers feel its OK to lie to parents regarding the prayers and chants etc.. It is not OK for steiner schools to lie and hide what they are doing. Its called brainwashing and indoctrination.

  6. we escaped!

    This letter is stomach turning and extremely pompous. Obviously, its because they feel they are so much better than us? Its beyond comprehension! ISIS and the Catholic Church etc, are honest in their beliefs (that does not mean we agree with or condone their motives, but they are up front at least). You will only receive a letter of this nature when you have been blindsided by the school, they would never dare send such a letter to a new unsuspecting parent/s. Its almost like the school expect you to know about this tosh, because we pay fees and have been daft enough to trust them, and therefore should put up with the dribble. You think the Trojan horse is bad, just wait for the fall out of steiner! Flying under the radar is an understatement, but the people that have truly suffered know the facts.

  7. we escaped!

    The only reason the churches and other religious establishments are honest in their intentions, is because they have been busted or forced to tell the truth. Its only a matter of time before the anrhros have to do the same.

  8. Helen

    People of Stroud; are you ready for a school like this…?
    “Steiner schools’ true purpose – to “save humanity” with guidance from Angels of the Seventh Realm”

  9. Steve

    Hi “we escaped!”

    as we stated in the article, we were very surprised to receive that letter, and because they had told us ‘steiner isn’t a religion’, it made no sense to us at all at the time. Then we went into the meeting, events escalated, and forgot about the letter for a while.

    But I’m very curious… you said “You will only receive a letter of this nature when you have been blindsided by the school”. Do you know of other messages such as this one sent to parents?

  10. we escaped!

    Hi Steve

    Apologies for delayed reply, I have only just read your comment.

    From our experience messages of this nature are kept between the believers and normal folk hear of them through the usual gossip, or messages are put up on walls, but removed as soon as too many questions are asked! I think they dip their toes in to test reactions. Many tend to overlook, but there those who will question. If the school feel they can get away with it without too much being said, then they will. They sneak this sort of stuff in very carefully into everything, they all seem to use a careful collection of words and language.

    • Helen

      As I understand it there is often conflict in a Steiner school “faculty” between those staff who are true believers and see no reason to conceal anthroposophy (it is the “truth” after all) and those more pragmatic individuals who understand how anthroposophy looks to those on the outside and are anxious not to attract too much attention to it in the schools.
      Steiner schools always say it is up to individual teachers how they interpret the belief system and so you do get a mixture of zealots and fairly mild followers. Trouble is the true believers are often in the powerful positions, it seems, and the ones who would write letters like the one Steve received do not see any reason to hold back.
      I wish I had asked more questions during my brief stint, instead of just assuming there were a few nutcases running that particular school.

  11. Helen

    Reblogged this on Stop Steiner in Stroud and commented:

    Here is a post from last December about how Steiner groups celebrate the “christian festivals” and how this can result in exclusion for people of different faiths.
    It’s not just the schools, colleges and kindergartens – even the biodynamic people do the Three Kings celebration, by spreading gold on the fields. It’s true.

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