Play for today

Teacher – Welcome to our Steiner-free Steiner free school. This is a new school opened at tax-payers’ expense. It’s not an official Steiner school, but we have a mission to indoctrinate, the same as any other Steiner school. We teach our own Steiner curriculum. (Whispering) Between you and me,  it’s pretty off the wall, but no-one actually reads it.

Parent – Who is Steiner exactly, and why do you follow his doctrine?

Teacher – He was a charismatic mystic in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. He was also a clairvoyant, but we don’t usually talk about that in public – we prefer to refer to him as philosopher and a doctor.

Parent – A medical doctor?

Teacher – No, but he said a lot of stuff about medical matters, so it sounds good to call him a doctor.

Parent – It says here that Steiner schools concentrate on the education of the whole child – what do you mean by that?

Teacher – Steiner said there are three parts of each child to teach – the body, soul and spirit.

Parent – What is the difference between the soul and the spirit?

Teacher – er…well, that’s complicated. You would need to read some books on anthroposophy.

Parent – anthr –what?

Teacher – Anthroposophy. It is a religion made up by Steiner. It’s all his imaginings rolled up together and given a long name. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Parent – Well it sounds important – should we know about it?

Teacher – Oh no, it’s just the basis for this type of education. The teachers are trained in it, but probably the less you know about it the better – things get complicated when parents start asking questions and trying to make sense of all the higher beings and stuff. Maybe later on when you are hooked and it’s too late to change your mind we’ll explain some more. Anyway follow me…

Walking into a classroom…

Parent – Oh this is beautiful! Everything looks natural, and colourful. I think Angelina would like it here. Oh and look at all the paintings on the wall. Oh,that’s funny, all the children painted exactly the same swirly pattern with the same colour. Did they all happen to choose to paint the same picture?

Teacher – Oh no, we make them all do the same. It is a spiritual exercise, you see, rather than a creative one.

Parent – But it says here you treat each child as an individual…

Teacher – Yes, but we have to make sure they do the right exercises at the right time otherwise they may not incarnate properly.

Parent – ?????

Teacher – You see your child has had previous incarnations and has chosen you as her parents for this incarnation, but we have to be very careful not to do anything to interfere with her karma. It’s the most important aspect of what we do here. We do also teach them a bit of English and maths later on, but that’s very much a side line for us.

Parent – Oh karma. Yes, I heard something about that. It’s a kind of fatalistic approach to life, isn’t it? Everything is predestined according to what happened last time around.

Teacher – well sort of. By the way, has your child been vaccinated against childhood illnesses?

Parent – Oh yes, of course.

Teacher – I see. Never mind, I am sure we can find a way to work on her while she is in school so she can suffer in some other way instead of measles, whooping cough, meningitis…

Parent , looking around – Doesn’t this reception class have books? We think reading is important and have a lot of books at home.

Teacher – really? Well we have a slightly different approach here. Yes, this is a school, and we are paid to teach children, but we want to leave reading and writing and maths as late as possible. You see the children are still re-living their previous existence and are not ready to read at this age. It could harm the incarnation of their etheric body.

Parent – Their what?

Teacher – There are three bodies, you see – physical, etheric and astral.

Parent – Oh yeah? What makes you think that?

Teacher – Steiner said so. Follow me…

Walking off along the corridor.

Teacher – Ah here we are, this is what passes for PE in our school.

Parent –  Why are the children not in their PE kit?

Teacher – it’s not necessary – there’s no sweating. Bothmer gym is not really gym. It’s movement of a sort – we lift our arms up and down slowly and occasionally break into a jog around the room. It’s very good for spiritual development.

Parent – What about “eurythmy” – it mentions that in the leaflet?

Teacher  – Yes, we do that too. Trouble is we need a special teacher for that and she’s off sick with stress for the rest of the year so it’s Bothmer for now. Anyway it’s easier to teach. Do you have any questions?

Parent – Yes. I see it says here that you assess the children by doing “child Study”. What is that, exactly?

Teacher- Oh yes, that is very important. The child’s class teacher will be observing the child and making notes on her nose shape, ears, the way she walks, the look in her eyes, the size of her head. Then when the staff meet up we all discuss your child in detail and decide what temperament she is. We light candles too, and then do a bit of eurythmy. You see we work on our own spiritual development too. Otherwise our next incarnation might be less aryan than we hoped. We might even come back with Autism or some other learning difficulty.

Parent – What do you mean by “Temperament”?

Teacher – She may be choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic or melancholic .   It’s an ancient system to do with bodily fluids. Humours.

Parent – That sounds odd. Are those proper educational assessments? Is it scientific?

Teacher – No. All Steiner schools do them though. The SWSF insist on it. We are not in the SWSF, but we still do things the proper way. I mean, we still do what Rudolf Steiner said. Him being a genius. But that’s not all we do in child study. We also do astrological charts and take into account the child’s birth order.

Parent – So wait a minute, you are saying my child will be assessed according to her temperament – whatever you decide that may be – and her birthdate? Why do you take all this into account?

Teacher – So that we can classify the children according to their temperament and behave towards them in a certain way.

Parent – But I thought you valued each child as an individual?

Teacher – We say that because it sounds good.

Going outside….

Teacher – It’s playtime now and you see how the children are free to play without adult interference…

Parent – But don’t they have supervision? Where is the teacher on duty, by the way? Is that gate normally left open? What about if a child gets picked on – who will stop it?

Teacher – We give the children as much freedom as possible to act out their karma. It doesn’t do to influence children in their play – all the books say so.

Parent – What books?

Teacher – All the books on Steiner education written by anthroposophist experts. Besides, the children have their angels to look after them. Now, come into my office and you can sign up little Angelina. By the way, she won’t be wearing that t shirt to school will she? We don’t allow cartoon characters or sparkles, and also we prefer natural fabrics and if possible a woolly hat at all times.

Parent – Er well. I think we have some other schools to look at. The mainstream school nearer home with the proper safety precautions and the qualified teachers did say they may have a place.

Thanks anyway.







  1. we escaped!

    It made me chuckle reading this. It isn’t a laughing matter though. It would be funny, if it weren’t true!

    All of it is pretty much spot on except the school we were at didn’t tell us this info up front or at open events, otherwise we’d have never signed up. Unfortunately this information came far too late and by the time we realised, the damage was done. When we visited the school there was no mention of eurythmy, anthroposophy or clairvoyance etc…

    Wish the school’s were as honest as your post, I somehow doubt that will ever happen.

  2. Nick Nakorn

    Great, Helen! Not far from the truth at all; when visiting the Steiner School at Kings Langley I had a very odd conversation trying to get the teacher to explain what ‘natural’ materials were. It was Kafka-esque – plastic was bad for you but varnished wood (what was the varnish made of? – you’ve guessed it.) toys were wonderful. Metalwork was good but metal was bad. All angles were good except 90 degree angles and so on. As we were leaving, the teacher drove off in a new Audi – one of the Audis that grow on trees no doubt.

  3. Helen

    Nick – The natural/unnatural idea is interesting. There’s a chapter in a book called Unnatural by Philip Ball, where he discusses Art versus Nature and he questions the whole idea of what is natural. It is a book about the ‘artificial creation of people’, and as the blurb says, it forces us to rethink some of our preconceptions.

    And in reply to we escaped! – yes, it’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry sometimes.

    • Nick Nakorn

      I’ve been banging on about the uselessness of the word ‘natural’, except in very loose colloquial terms, for decades. I think if it exists it’s natural and everything else is super-natural. I’ve had loads of discussions and arguments with people who believe in ‘unprocessed’ food, ‘natural’ materials and so-on. I point out all the dangers of ‘natural’ products (list the herbal or mineral poison here), and the folly of ‘unprocessed’ (what exactly is ‘process’, and how can one not at least pick the damn fruit prior to eating it)… and there’s all sorts of mad counter arguments… ‘people are not designed to eat cooked food/make concrete/do science/have vaccinations/make anything in bulk/work in factories..’ etc.. It drives me nuts. What it comes down to is that those who love ‘natural’ actually like the style that accompanies the word and don’t care two hoots about the actual processes involved. When one is as critical of technology and capitalism as I am, it’s galling to be told I’m uncaring because I like a good curry and don’t want my daughter to contract polio… rant over… for now.

      • Helen

        Yes, absolutely agree with all that!
        The local apple juice for sale in the farmer’s market is pasteurised, and in the autumn they were selling it unpasteurised, but there weren’t many takers for a product that would need to be consumed within 2 days. We like our food ‘natural’ – but only up to a point.

        • Nick Nakorn

          Indeed, all apple juice is a processed product; the genetic engineering and/or breeding of the apple trees, their pruning and maintenance, the picking of the apples, the transport to farm or factory or kitchen, the washing, the pulping, the juicing, the straining, the pasteurising and the packaging, the storage and refrigeration, the shelf-stacking and so-on. Why pasteurisation is so unpopular is mysterious though it’s said that it destroys vitamins. It might well do, but so does exposure to air – best eat the whole apple perhaps? I think the benefits of food processing, whether simple or complicated, are vast and the fact that people in countries with ‘unnatural’ diets live so long means it’s better to have enough good food for everyone rather than the ‘best’ food for a few. In the days when all our staple foods were stored and distributed with insufficient processing, millions died of all sorts of food disasters that are now preventable.

          • Helen

            The natural-looking fibres, colours, materials, and the food in Steiner schools is initially appealing. I am pretty sure the schools would not attract so many people if it weren’t for the style of furnishings and surroundings. It appealed to me too. It is only when you realise what is behind it all that the attraction fades. The blackboard drawings the teachers put so much effort into are a good example – and they would get quite a different reaction in any other school.
            The natural look does not appeal to children, however, they will always go for bright and shiny given a choice.

      • Jim

        Yes Nick but you have to admit Mothers Pride is dreadful stuff. Its only conceivable use is to wrap round a pound of chips to make a proper chip butty. Real bread doesn’t bend or stretch enough.

        I don’t think the issue is really about natural v processed except for those who believe in some magical virtue in nature whilst being totally unable to say what natural means. For example, on the whole I prefer unpasteurised cheeses because they taste better. But they are still processed foods. Contrariwise I have had the misfortune to taste a couple of so called “natural” wines, currently fashionable but quite disgusting. A good dollop of sulphur dioxide and a bit of fining would do them a power of good.

        So what is the processing for? To make a good and safe product or to produce crap that looks good on the shelf but tastes of nothing? Which brings us back to Mothers Pride.

        • Nick Nakorn

          I agree that Mothers Pride was rubbish but, on the other hand, millions thought it good value. But that really has nothing to do with my point. All bread is processed using ingredients that are also processed. Otherwise we’d be getting our grains by eating grass seeds by biting them off their stems whilst they are still growing… does chewing count as a process? But what the ‘natural’, lovers like is food processed the way they like it. Factories are bad but kitchens are good, according to them, regardless of the outcomes. What is it for? Processing is clearly for whatever the owners of the processing endeavour wish; it’s a political rather than technical issue in my view.

  4. Jim

    If I remember correctly the earliest plastics were made from cow’s milk by precipitating out the proteins using rennet ( from cow’s stomachs ). Not very natural at all.

    Maybe if the buried the cow stomach in a cows horn for a year first………..

  5. Jim

    Nick – one valid objection to pasteurisation for some foods may be that it kills both beneficial and harmful bacteria and then leaves the food open to recolonisation by whatever bugs are around. So for all the warnings about the risk of listeria it remains true that most outbreaks related to cheese in fact arise from cheeses made from pasteurised milk.

    So I’m ambivalent about the natural v processed argument. It depends on the food and the process. But what I do dislike is the association of natural with some special virtue and the smug assumption that those of us who can afford the choice somehow care more than those who can’t.

  6. Rio

    Dear Helen,

    I think that anything can be demonised if you try, however, it is not something that is really beneficial to anyone. Promoting what you like is much more admirable than bashing on something you hate. As the attendee of a Steiner school, I find what you write on here detestable. I cannot, of course, prevent your freedom of speech, but I believe it could be better directed, for example, your research and blogging skills could be utilised towards preventing bullying nationwide, or encouraging education, rather than tearing apart a community in which many people are happy to reside.

    I love my school, and am grateful that I have access to such an amazing education. I realise there are bound to be ‘bad’ Steiner schools, just as there are ‘bad’ conventional schools, and there are bound to be some people not suited to the system (a sibling of mine decided to leave, I decided to stay, and we are each happy where we are). However, there are also very good Steiner schools, producing good students and excellent results. I challenge you to write at least one article where you look at the positive aspects, without instantly throwing them down again.

    I would like to clear up a common misconception for you: this whole Steiner business is not a religion. I know, and have known, people of various religions within the community, although I believe there are Christian roots. Anyway, even if it was a religion, surely straight out insulting and demeaning it is unreasonable and rude? I am sure you would never openly insult a popular religion such as Christianity and Islam. If some people wish to believe in spirituality, so be it. Personally, I do not, but what others believe is not my business to comment on. Also, you seem to have serious doubts about the general ‘treating each pupil/student as an individual’ business. You must realise that just because this is said, it is not implying that in every other school the children are treated as robots. That is not what it means at all. In terms of your mention of paintings above, I think you will find that often classes are asked to all complete the same task. It is how teaching works. I do understand your concern, I love art, but I feel your worry is misplaced. ‘Brainwashing’ seems to be another favourite word of yours, and is something I would like to quibble with. As I said, I am a Steiner student myself, and reading on the internet that I had been ‘brainwashed’ came as a hard blow. No, but I don’t think that is something that can even be said seriously. I am an open-minded, strong individual. Please stop insulting me and many others by demeaning us and our education system, as well as dragging down other Steiner associates.


  7. we escaped!

    This response is very typical of pro steiner. There must be some steiner hand book on how to respond to criticism? It always follows a consistent theme. I’m sure readers of this blog will see for themselves as they read through all of the comments.

    It usually starts by kind and gentle descriptions of how they have had a wonder experience etc, then it goes into very subtle, insults such as researching adequately, pointing out flaws in mainstream education, or redirecting towards other faiths and religions (who are at least OPEN and HONEST) and then redirecting issues towards the victims.

    Our worry is not at all misplaced -it is very real and we have experienced it first hand.

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