Steiner teachers addressed by “senior anthroposophists”

One of the serious defects of Steiner education, according to distressed families, is the way bullying is (not) dealt with. Teachers not only fail to intervene, but have punished the victims, rather than the perpetrators; some teachers seem to believe that some children can “deserve” to be victims because of “karma”. Victims have been expelled or prescribed extra “therapies” such as eurythmy.

A commenter here mentioned that

“…few months ago the SWSF had a workshop for all the schools who wished to attend about how to properly deal with bullying: to seriously eradicate the notion that children are meeting their karma when bullied.”

The former Steiner school student also stated that it is not that he is associated with Steiner but that he likes to read and research before he has a serious discussion. And that he had friends in Steiner schools.

The SWSF is the organisation that oversees and monitors all the schools in this country that have the words “Steiner” or “Waldorf” in their name; the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship.

According to the commenter, “Little Thoughts”,

“…senior members of the Anthroposophical Society addressed the attendees around the myths about “karma” and why any link with bullying is nonsense.”

Several aspects of this information strike me as significant;

  1. A group of teachers in Steiner schools was addressed by “senior anthroposophists”. This is despite the fact that defenders of Steiner education always try to deny links with anthroposophy.

The Anthroposophical Society page on Wiki gives this information about the “classes” of Spiritual Science;

The Anthroposophical Society sees the School of Spiritual Science in Dornach as a centre for its activity. The School will be composed of three classes. Members of the Society will be admitted to the School on their own application after a period of membership to be determined by the leadership at the Goetheanum. They enter in this way the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science. Admission to the Second or Third Classes takes place when the person requesting this is deemed eligible by the leadership at the Goetheanum

I don’t know which “class” you have to be a member of before you become “senior” and thereby qualified to instruct Steiner teachers.

  1. The “myths about karma”.  For most of us the idea of karma is a myth anyway. Which are the myths for the senior anthroposphists?  It is hard to see how they can claim now to say Steiner’s version of reincarnation is wrong, without renouncing anthroposophy entirely. There are many books and articles about how to use karma in schools.

“The study of karma is an important chapter of spiritual science and an important chapter for the teacher.”

…says Roy Wilkinson on page 83 of his book The Spiritual Basis of Steiner Education.

There is also a whole chapter in the book on “Destiny and Karma: Education for Eternity”.

If it is a myth that karma is used in Steiner schools, why was the advice from senior anthroposophists thought to be necessary?

3. “..any link with bullying is nonsense”.

Nonsense how?  Nonsense to say that Steiner teachers have allowed bullying to go unchecked because of their belief in karma? This is often the response from Steiner defenders who say it is ridiculous to imagine a teacher would do such a thing.

If so, why this meeting?

Perhaps though we could read this sentence as

“Although we believe in karma and that it affects our lives including our health, (See Anthromed articles), our relationships with others, and the choices we make daily, this should not extend into allowing vulnerable children to be victimised.”

Perhaps the SWSF worry that some teachers have got the wrong end of the stick about karma – how odd, considering they have mostly been specially trained and instructed to read Steiner’s books.

With Karma, if the teachers are “doing it wrong”, what is the correct way to interpret it? I would love to have been at the meeting – perhaps there is a transcript or a recording somewhere? I know Steiner people are good at filming events, despite their express disapproval of technology.


Why are senior anthroposophists going to the trouble of addressing Steiner teachers in the UK on this matter –  probably travelling all the way from Switzerland to do so? Because the reputation of Steiner schools is being seriously damaged by survivors who do not keep quiet about their experiences.

Before the internet there was no way for people to share their accounts of bullying, and the way the consequences are were dealt with by Steiner schools. More accounts are appearing all the time on forums and websites as a warning to parents considering this type of education, and it seems the SWSF, or perhaps Dornach, have decided the time has come to do some damage limitation.
This workshop (assuming it did take place) was not trumpeted loudly for the information of the public, because it is an admission that there is a problem with systematic unchecked bullying in Steiner schools. This admission has never been made before, as far as I know.

The claim that there are just as many cases of bullying in any other type of school is often made, thereby totally sidestepping the issue of how it is dealt with by teachers.

Where bullying is dealt with effectively in a school the result is that everyone knows it is totally unacceptable. But when it is allowed to continue not only do victims suffer, but a bullying culture develops, where children absorb the idea that it is ok to victimise others.

As Little Thoughts says, this workshop could be viewed as a “positive start”, but look at the starting position; it is well behind every school that doesn’t have a belief in Karma in its “guiding philosophy”.

How long will Steiner education take to catch up – assuming they want to change their ways –  and why should we allow a system where teachers have to be “told” not to allow bullying because of a belief in karma?

The Department for Education need to look at the implications of this SWSF workshop taking place. It is an admission that there is an endemic problem with Steiner schools.



  1. Jim

    I followed the discussion between Little Thoughts and Steve with interest but kept out of it because they have personal experience which I do not, and that is what makes it so interesting. This is probably the first time on this site that a Steiner supporter has so openly engaged in debate and also condemned many of the things most of us find objectionable, albeit whilst claiming that they do not reflect the reality of most Steiner schools.

    This is welcome but I do wonder what, if you reject Steiner’s main teachings, you are left with to find special about Steiner education? Rather than say Montessori, which doesn’t seem to attract the same level of criticism.

    And like Helen I do find it hard to accept your view that Steiners writings do not underpin the practice in schools. Yes, individual schools and teachers will vary in how rigorously they apply them, and quite possibly this will also vary between individual pupils according to how receptive they are thought to be. But you only have to read some of the arguments offered on this site by Steiner educators to see how seriously some of these ideas are taken.

    So, given you appear to reject so much of Steiner why do you stick with it?

      • Helen

        I assumed Jim put it here because the comments on the other thread have got so muddled ! I did not anticipate this many comments when I decided to allow “nested” replies, and I can’t change the setting now.

        • Steve

          Nested replies sound like a good idea to keep the thread organised, but it never works that say when a lively conversation gets going, especially since there’s a limit to the nest, after which, if you want to reply, you have to create a whole new comment, breaking the chain. :(

          Plus it becomes impossible to find the latest replies as they could be anywhere on the page :(

    • Steve

      Well, a chap called David Mollett tried to do exactly that: extract anthroposophy out of the Steiner pedagogy and create learning modules for pupils. He stayed with us for a few weeks back in 2010 I believe, and his ideas were very interesting although admittedly, we didn’t know nearly enough about Steiner and Anthroposophy then to properly question him about this, but in any case, the modules exist and our eldest did find them interesting at the time.

  2. Jim

    On the question of misinterpreting karma I would say that from a Buddhist perspective Steiner gets it totally wrong. The idea had been around before but the early Buddhist teaching is concerned less with the causes of current conditions than with the consequences of present thoughts and actions. In particular it is concerned with what you might call “micro-karma” – the way in which mental states are linked through a chain of causes moment by moment. There is nothing particular superstitious about this and it doesn’t necessarily presuppose reincarnation ( though that was also accepted ). The meditation technique now packaged up and sold in the west as “mindfulness” was designed to understand and control this flow of mental states and to dispel the illusion of a persistent self or soul.

    So Steiner got it wrong in pretty much every respect. But then again, so do most Buddhists. It’s easier to blame the past than to take responsibility for the future.

    • Helen

      “In particular it is concerned with what you might call “micro-karma” – the way in which mental states are linked through a chain of causes moment by moment.”
      We’re not going to get into “free will” are we?
      Steiner’s version of Karma I find repellent – beats me how it supposed to be “spiritual” to say children’s suffering is caused by a previous incarnation.

      • Jim

        Free will is implicit in Buddhism. Karma is described as “conditioning” successive states, not determining them. Though free doesn’t mean entirely without constraints.

        Sorry, don’t mean to come over all mystico/philosophical on you. Buddhism is the one religion for which I have any respect, though you have to first strip away the accretions of 2500 years. If you strip down other religions in the same way all you’re left with is superstition and/or platitudes. And if you strip away all the nonsense from Steiner what are you left with?

        • Steve

          Although Steiner’s karma is no doubt inspired by Buddhism, it is indeed its own incarnation of it. Any relation to the original is purely coincidental. ;)

  3. Steve

    “This workshop (assuming it did take place) was not trumpeted loudly for the information of the public, because it is an admission that there is a problem with systematic unchecked bullying in Steiner schools. This admission has never been made before, as far as I know.”

    Excactly. We don’t know if this workshop happened or not and until I hear otherwise, I will put it in the “unlikely” pile.

    Helen, there has been an admission regarding unchecked bullying (although for from the whole movement, but still, there is one). In New Zealand. Through the Human Rights Commission. In the public statement, the school admitted that bullying took place, that the child’s account of it was honest, and that a meeting designed to discuss the bullying issue was abruptly cancelled (and the targeted child and their siblings expelled instead). Sounds like an admission that the school preferred to expelled a target of unchecked bullying and their family, rather than make the school the safe, peaceful, natural learning haven it advertises itself to be, don’t you think?

    • Helen

      Actually I did initially put in a paragraph under this one mentioning your case, but took it out because I thought it just related to the one school, and was not admitting that there was a problem throughout the movement. Please correct me if I am wrong.

      On whether the meeting really took place as described, I will retain an open mind. It could just be someone trying to put positive spin on the problem of karma. It wouldn’t be the first time.

      • Steve

        You’re right it’s a single school, but the staff member who signed it (and was pretty much responsible for the whole mess), is also the head of NZ’s Steiner Federation (and he still is). This widens the scope somewhat, imho.

        • Steve

          Just a quick addendum to myself: aside from the teacher who resigned the following year (when the unchecked bullying was getting worse – funny that, if it was all our fault, how could it have gotten worse with us gone? hmmm), the people responsible still work at the school, or work at the school *and* within the Steiner Federation of NZ. Since the school is the HQ, and the staff work for both institutions, you’d imagine that the school should be the beacon of what a Steiner school should represent, don’t you?

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