Ways to get thrown out…

Another link from the Waldorf Review facebook page – a great way to keep up with the latest Steiner Waldorf news stories from around the world. This time it’s a list of 10 ways to get thrown out of a Steiner school parent teacher class.

The list illustrates the Steiner (Waldorf in the States) horror of all things modern, electronic, or  just generally not Steiner enough – for example Disney characters, convenience foods, and hand-held devices.

I agree with a commenter that number 8 would be the swiftest way out of the class;

  1. Every day, after they chant the morning verse, raise your hand and ask, “Are you sure this isn’t a cult?”

The list will no doubt raise a smile, and is meant to be amusing, but at the heart of this controlling attitude on the part of anthroposophists is a sinister purpose. A cult strengthens itself by imposing rules on members, and these rules are not randomly agreed upon within the schools, but originate with Steiner’s ‘indications’ based on his communication with the spirit world.

For example the Steiner thing about hats is to do with spiritual  ‘warmth‘ which Steiner followers believe is one of the ‘four ethers’. The objection to electronic devices, on the other hand, is due to the influence of the Steiner demon ‘Ahriman‘ who inhabits them.

Food, of course, is especially significant, and ideally will be biodynamic, purchased from a nearby Steiner supplier. A tin of soup (number 6) would not be acceptable. Students at Wynstones Steiner school, for instance, are offered (unpaid) placements on a local biodynamic farm in Stroud.

I share the Steiner distaste for many of the complicated distractions children are sometimes exposed to at a young age, but for entirely different reasons, and this is surely a matter of individual parental choice. We all make decisions about what is best for our children and we don’t need a school to lay down the law on these matters.

Families who display tastes and habits at variance with the Steiner version of normal can be made to feel like outsiders and start to feel unwelcome in the Steiner community they have joined. Time and again former Steiner families have described the division between the priviledged who buy in wholeheartedly to Steiner ways, and those on the perifery. Steiner is a way of life, one based on a specific set of beliefs, and with rules to follow that extend way beyond the school day.

That is why number 8 is a deal-breaker – the suggestion that a cult is in action in Steiner schools is too close to the bone.

The Steiner teachers who try to influence how families eat, dress, and spend their time at home are overstepping the mark. It strikes me as ironic that parents opt for Steiner as an alternative to mainstream schooling, only to find themselves participating in a lifestyle where they comply to a whole new set of rules.

 

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9 comments

  1. John Davies.

    In classic social science, the position of members of an organisation is often analysed under three headings; loyalty, voice and exit. Loyalty is when you are happy to follow the leadership. Voice is when you have some reservations and wish to argue for them while remaining a member of the organisation. This is the area where most democratic politics and other negotiations which go on in a free society take place. Exit is when your reservations become so strong that you decide it is no longer worth staying. Steiner schools allow only the first and the last; loyalty and exit. You are not supposed to be a thinking, rational, being. You are supposed to swallow the system uncritically or there is no place for you. I hardly need point out that this flies in the face of all sorts of important values. But I will emphasise one thing. Parents are not supposed to have their own independent opinions about the upbringing and education of their children. That is outrageous.

    Some years back we had a brief run-in with a Steiner school. Never mind where it was. As we grew increasingly unhappy with the way things we were being done, I, as a one-time bureaucrat with some training in documents, procedures, etc, began to look into their own rules covering such cases. It appeared that an organisation called the “College of Teachers”, which consisted of the teachers at the school, sat as judge and jury on complaints about how they were doing things. That was it. There was no procedure for appeal if you did not like the way your complaint was handled.

    Now in a state school, if you make a complaint and you don’t like the way the school has handled it, you have various avenues you can follow up. The Board of Governors, the Local Education Authority, your local Councillor, even DFE and your MP. It may be exhausting and bureaucratic to pursue them, but avenues of redress do exist, and the knowledge that they do makes people at every level a bit cautious. But not in a Steiner school. There, only one opinion matters. Their own. If you don’t like it, you can get out. Your choices are Loyalty (pretty blind loyalty, actually, there’s a lot you are not told and are expected to take on trust), or exit. That’s all.

    This is not just a cult. It is alarmingly authoritarian. They may look all nice and caring and so on, but the fact is the only opinions they care about are their own. Everybody else’s get ruled out. That is totally opposed to the values of a free society, in which everyone has the right to their own opinion, and, if they wish, to argue for it as strongly as reason and evidence will allow them to.

    • John Davies.

      Just as an afterthought (and you might not approve of me because of this), I am a pagan. I have been an initiated and practising Witch for the last thirty-two years. We do many of the same things Anthroposophy does. We work in a circle with the four elements, use the pentagram as one of our symbols, etc. This is not to say our beliefs are the same. They are not. We do not, for instance, have Anthroposophy’s desire to escape from the physical into the spiritual. That strikes us as unhealthy. Living in a body which can be a source of great delight in a very beautiful physical world is the basis of our religion.

      However, there is one huge difference. We have an absolute prohibition on seeking converts or on preaching our “message”. People have to come to us as a free choice of their own if they want to join us. If someone comes to us we may answer questions fully and openly, but that is all. If they seek to join us, they have first to prove this is their real desire. It is pretty standard practise for a Priestess to begin by discouraging them. They have to prove they really want it. Some priestesses will even insist they must study a different spiritual path as well as ours, in order to “compare and contrast”, rather than to have nothing to measure what they are being taught in the Craft against. Sometimes people decide on one path or another. Sometimes they are mixed, so you may, for instance, get a Pagan Buddhist.

      There is a very good reason for this rule. Many religious and magical practises do not especially appeal to the reason. They also use symbolism, which appeals directly to the subconscious, the emotions and the motivations. This can be very powerful stuff that can really shake a person up. Then there is working with the body as well as the mind. That can have very powerful effects. Then there are tricks like that lowered lighting and candle-light can make a person more suggestible. The most evocative sense is that of smell, so incense can have definite effects .Then there is the appeal of learning “secrets” Everyone loves secrets. Then there is the idea of the leadership being the “guardians of the secrets”. This all adds up to a powerful combination which has to be used with care and with some real awareness of the ethical issues involved, because if you know how to manipulate what I have described, and if you have few scruples, you can enslave people. History is littered with examples.

      In general, to use these techniques on yourself, or to have somebody else help and do so to your advantage, with your full knowledge and consent, can be considered white magic. (You can use magical techniques to increase your confidence, for instance. They basically come down to manipulating psychology rather than just analysing it). For someone to use them on you for their advantage, not yours, without your knowledge or consent, can be considered black magic. To use black magic on children is utterly, utterly, wrong. For anthroposophists to try to implant the message in children without saying what they are doing, by calling it “child centred education” or some such, is an abomination in our eyes.

      It is a keynote of Steiner’s followers today that they are almost never up-front and open about what they believe in. You have to delve into some pretty obscure writings to find it. It is not exactly kept secret, but it is not open either.

      Case in point: One of my interests is Celtic legend. (I’m a Welshman). Some years ago I came across a book which was quite unlike any other Celtic legend I had ever seen, but insisted it was the “true and only real” interpretation. In passing, the idea that there is “one true myth”, a “hidden wisdom” of which various known myths are manifestations or distortions, is an idea that pops up in various places in the early 20th century. It enabled all sorts of charlatans to say they possessed the real wisdom and everybody else’s opinions were second-rate. Today, Steiner teachers are very fond of taking about “universal legends. Some of their “universal legends” are pretty ugly, like the one about the witch who is forced to dance to death in red-hot boots. Suitable material for young minds? No!

      The book was published by Floris. They make no secret of publishing Steiner educational material, but nowhere do they say outright that they are an anthroposophical publisher. I had to read another of their publications before I twigged that. It was full of genuinely strange stuff about large devils living in nuclear reactors, not as an analogy for the forces contained, but as “fact”. There were other “facts” like that an electronic valve like radios used to run on would be “an ideal home for a small demon”. Since everything went solid-state there must be a lot of homeless demons. At that point it was easy to recognise where they were coming from.

      Anthroposophy is bad stuff. It has some seriously weird beliefs, and it is highly dishonest about the way it spreads them. All the more power to anyone who exposes it.

      • Helen

        Thanks John for the interesting comments.
        It is noticeable from reading the accounts of former Steiner school families, that often the point at which they begin to realise what kind of people they are dealing with is when they see the reaction to their concerns. No-one expects a school to behave in this way, and there is a feeling of shock,isolation, and even panic. It’s very sad. Some put up a fight, some feel they have no option but to stick with their choice of school, and some leave quietly, and try to forget.

        As for Paganism, that is all very interesting. One of the things I have enjoyed about this blog has been the different avenues we have explored, and yours is a worldview I didn’t know much about, despite knowing one very nice family who describe themselves as Pagans. The way Paganism compares with anthroposophy is informative. People who object to criticism of Steiner often cite other belief systems and ask why I am picking on anthroposophy rather than any other, so it is useful that you have pointed out precisely why it is so objectionable to use magic, as you call it, on children. It is being used on the parents too, of course, and also on people who get roped into biodynamics, and the unfortunate ‘clients’ in Steiner care homes.
        You could say it is used in other religious schools and organisations, but clearly this is with the informed consent of the participants.
        I had never heard the difference between white magic and black magic explained like that before either. I don’t particularly approve or disapprove of Paganism, it is just one more worldview to me.

        • John Davies.

          Helen,

          Thank you for being so accepting. Not everyone is.

          Paganism can be summed up under two headings; religious and operative. It has been called both the religion of ecology, because we see nature as sacred, or as the religion of feminism, because we worship a Goddess and our groups tend to be headed by Priestesses. The two come together in the common English phrase “Mother Nature”. Anthroposophy, in contrast, appears to teach the necessity for the earth to be destroyed, which I find weird and repellent.

          Operative, the working of magic and the casting of spells. This is what both gets us a bad reputation in some quarters, but also attracts a lot of “teen witches” and other newcomers. If a person wants to join us they are welcome to do so. They will be warmly welcomed. But it has to be very much their own choice.

          (Though actually the whole “teen witch” phenomenon has caused some debate in the community. Some feel they should not be encouraged, because the rule of thumb has always been that a person needs to be of the years of mature judgement before being admitted. Others take the view that without guidance, some will just go and do it for themselves anyway, and maybe scare themselves badly, so some guidance is appropriate. This debate is not yet resolved. But that is a digression)

          I have never heard of an authentic example of “action at a distance”, somebody being able to point a finger, go “Pow Zap” and cause their enemy’s ears to fall off, or something. (Or even to magically heal a friend’s illness, for that matter). Lots of spurious claims, though. What you can do is to affect a person’s psychology. In a circle with lowered lighting, candles, incense, symbolism, dancing and chanting, etc, people become very suggestible and they can be manipulated at well below the conscious, aware, critical, level. “Raising power” consists of bringing people to a state of exhilarated excitement. By definition, nobody in this state is especially critical. This is where changes can be made. Do this once and its effects, while powerful, wear off after a bit. Do it repeatedly over a period of a year or so and the changes it can bring about can be drastic. I am not giving away any secrets here. There are lots of books.

          If an individual does this for themselves, then as a system of personal and spiritual development it can definitely work. But it has its bad side, like everything does. If it is done with the aim of domination, that can work too. Look at some of the stunts politicians get up to in order to improve their image, make themselves look big, powerful and benevolent, and that is before I even begin to look at what religion has done through the ages. The techniques they use are not identical, but they definitely come out of the same toolbox. For instance, there are many points of similarity between political speeches and magical incantations. When religion and political power are intertwined, it can get extremely powerful.

          My own view is that the “powers that be” see the various techniques of making those they dominate become more suggestible as their own private property. They really do not like it when people begin using them on a DIY basis. That is why witches have such a bad press; because we believe people ought not to be dominated, but that everyone has the potential to be wise and beautiful and free, and we don’t just say it, we try (to the best of our ability) to live it. If a person reaches the point where they feel happy enough in themselves and in the world to confidently say “I do not need your permission”, they become a threat to all kinds of people and groups who are addicted to dominating others.

          It is vitally important to use these “magical” techniques with knowledge and ethically. They are powerful, in exactly the same way as mains electricity is powerful. That is why I very much dislike the anthroposophical tradition. I know these techniques. I know they work. By my lights they are misusing them appallingly.

          As for using the techniques of operative magic to manipulate children….. YUKKK! Utterly, utterly, wrong.

          If any of the insights I have offered are of any use at all, I will be extremely happy. Take and use anything you like.

          Wise and blessed be,

          John

          • Helen

            Blessed by what/whom?

            You may like this post called ‘Seduction‘ where Gregoire Perra writes about how Steiner teachers use their powers of manipulation as a form of hypnosis to maintain power over the children in their class so it becomes a kind of tribe, where any replacement teacher will have problems because “the immune system of the group rejects the alien presence in its lifestream”. That quote is from the Handbook for waldorf class teachers by Kevin Avison, btw.

            I think there is as much likelihood of a spell working remotely as there is of God answering prayers – zero. But I agree that it is possible to affect a person’s psychology as you say, by creating a certain atmosphere, and the Steiner schools are adept at this, at the Advent Spiral, for example.

            • John Davies.

              The “Advent Spiral” ritual stinks to high heaven to me. They just should not work on children like that, not, no, never, because what they are doing will strike chords well below the conscious level. Deliberately and knowingly doing that before a child’s personality is fully formed ought to be grounds for something drastic to be done to them in return. I am not sure what, off-hand. “Seduction” does not look too good either. Deliberately creating an in-group that is designed to out-group others is bad stuff. But when it is done with this sort of covert psychological technique it is doubly bad. When it is done to children it is a nasty abuse of their trust. Dreadful practises and dreadful attitudes. If a person is to take part in something that is designed to affect their psychology (which is as good a description of “ritual” as any, I guess), it is extremely important that they do so with full and informed consent freely given in advance, which of course it is difficult for a child to give, because there is a lot they do not know yet, so they can’t really know what it is they are being asked to go into.

              Among adults? It is important to be careful and respectful there, too. In our tradition, there is a full planning discussion before any ceremony and if anybody does not like anything that is proposed, they can veto it, outright. The convention is the veto is absolute and there are no attempts to make them change their mind or even explain why they chose to use their veto. All they have say is “no, I do not want to do that” and the subject is closed. In fact the veto is surprisingly seldom used, either because the knowledge they can use it makes people feel more confident, or because the knowledge that they can use it makes for much more sensitive planning. or maybe a bit of both. Anyway, it works.

              I have done ritual work with a group of young children on one occasion only, but with the full prior discussion and consent of their parents, who were also present, helped with the planning, and involved their kids in the discussions of every detail of what was going to happen. It was at midwinter. We have a tradition in which the old King of winter is vanquished by the young King of the coming year, because of course it is after midwinter that the light begins to come back. This gets acted out as “ritual drama”. One year was agreed that I should play the winter king and ALL the young kids present would be the summer king, jointly and collectively. The ceremony was deliberately kept very simple, partly so they could understand it (making something hard to understand so it looks “solemn” and therefore “special” is not something we have any time for) and partly so they could get to the good bit quickly. I was joyously mobbed, dragged to the floor and went down under a heap of about twenty happily yelling kids who all piled in exuberantly. Luckily I survived with nothing worse than a few bruises and we all sat down to cakes and fruit juice. On the whole I am glad the parents were there to keep their offspring in check. But it was a good one.

              Blessed by who or what? Good question, and you know I have never thought much about it. It’s a conventional greeting which I have never really bothered to analyse. Certainly not by some mysterious otherworldly entity, anyway. Possibly by the Goddess… but since She represents nature, and we are a part of nature (the plants make the air we breathe and after i die my body will make more plants), perhaps you are even being blessed by yourself. I always liked the old slogan from 1968: “be your own leader, you deserve it”. If you think the “rationalist” side of me sometimes sits a bit oddly with the “witch” side of me, well I sometimes have trouble with that too.

  2. Steve

    Funny but in reality all you have to do to get thrown out is care for the welfare of your child.

    There’s an ever growing list of this happening worldwide such as

    Princeton, USA
    http://www.steinermentary.com/SM/USA-Princeton.html

    Norwich, UK
    http://www.steinermentary.com/SM/UK-NISS-Threatened.html

    Titirangi, New Zealand
    http://www.titirangisteinermessenger.com

    Norwich, again
    http://www.steinermentary.com/SM/UK.html

    And notice how in each example, the parents are vilified. This of course makes it easy for others to stick the knife in, furthering the damage on a caring family, and colluding with the school by saying “look, the blameless school says it was all the parents’ fault”.

    • John Davies.

      Ugly stories and striking examples. Thank you for sharing them.

      I am afraid that where the only authority is a “College of Teachers” who sit as judge and jury on complaints against themselves, and where there is no higher authority to appeal to, that sort of thing is apt to happen. Things like appeal tribunals exist for a definite reason. They may sometimes be a bit toothless. Their procedures may be a bureaucratic nightmare to use. But the mere fact that they exist makes the people they supervise a bit cautious, and can act to prevent the very worst abuses.

      It is an extremely bad sign when people sit in judgement on themselves and no higher appeal is allowed. Any organisation which does this is to be avoided. All Steiner schools do it. Very few of them are open about the fact that this is how they do it.

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