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.