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Steiner schools

Unity has posted up one of those very, very long posts which have become his blogging trademark. Today's sermon is on the subject of Steiner schools, which Unity opposes. Wholeheartedly. The Steiner movement, and its underlying philosophical movement, Anthroposophy, are, he says, "cultish".

I don't know very much about Steiner schools but the use of the term "cultish" is a strong one, implying to most readers a degree of brainwashing and coercion of the kind that is popularly associated with, say, scientology or the Branch Davidians. In fact, Unity makes this link explicit when he say that

there are marked similarities between approaches of the Anthroposophical movement and Scientology

However, he doesn't present any actual evidence for this statement, beyond  a vague statement that Steiner schools don't teach Anthroposophy explicitly but that what they do teach is designed to prepare children to receive those beliefs. Perhaps there is more to it than that, but on the face of it this is no different to most other forms of schooling. One might equally argue that state schooling doesn't explicitly teach statism but that everything it teaches is designed to prepare children for a belief in the beneficence of the state.

Much of Unity's piece is an eye-opening exposition of the eccentric beliefs of anthroposophists - take this quote for example:

[A]ngels – the spirits closest to human beings – are seeking to create images in human astral bodies. These images are given with the intention of bringing about ‘definite conditions in the social life of the future’ related to brotherhood, religious freedom, and conscious spirituality…

Far out, man.

But so what? Is this any more eccentric than the whole water-into-wine malarkey that informs mainstream christianity, or for that matter the weirdness of any of the other mainstream religions? Many, many people have deeply irrational beliefs, and want children to be brought up in those beliefs. In a world without state education they would be able to do so.

The advent of state education has put the whip in the hands of the state and its acolytes. With the purse strings now held by the bureaucracy rather than the individual the opportunity has arisen to crush dissenting belief systems. Funding will be withdrawn from those that do not toe the line. In the case of the Steiner schools, the argument is being put forward not on the grounds that the education provided is inadequate or any other rational basis, but simply because these people are marginal and unacceptable - "cultish", in Unity's terms.

I've said it before, but I think it is worth repeating. The mindset of most of the writers at Liberal Conspiracy is not that of the liberal. It is that of the conservative. These are people who hate diversity, who despise people who don't think like they do.  They are Tories of the left.


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Reader Comments (16)

Those beliefs are not really much further "off the wall" than the current greenwash to which school kids are subjected at state emporia.

Nov 10, 2009 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterPogo

The only problem I have with Steiner schools is that they are to put it mildly not really up front about being religious. A lot of people think it's just an educational philosophy, they've never even heard of Anthroposophy. I agree that the Christian stuff is just as weird but at least you KNOW what you're getting into if you send your child to a Catholic school, they don't pretend to be secular.

Nov 10, 2009 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterFirebird

Unity's approach isn't any different from the Left's hatred of education that isn't secularist and doesn't eschew white British heterosexual culture.

Nov 10, 2009 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrugal Dougal


Yes, I think that is probably valid criticism. It's a public awareness issue.

Nov 10, 2009 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBishop Hill

I fully agree. The most intolerant people to engage with in debate are the so called "progressives", and their progressive ideals are very often proven failures. "Family planning" condom freaks come to mind. Left wing tories with blinkers on.

Nov 10, 2009 at 11:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterAyrdale

I agree with what you write except for the last three sentences.

I tend to conservative in my politics and was a member of the "Conservative" Party until Michael Howard embraced ID cards: I should add that the Cameron Conservative party is not a conservative party in any known meaning of the word except that it has the legal personality of the "Conservative Party". Cameron's party is analogous to the Liberal Democratic party of Russia which, although Russian, is the antithesis of liberal or democratic.

As you note "liberal conspiracy" is not liberal (except in the US sense). However, to imply that "conservatives" are authoritarian fanatics identical to those posting on liberal conspiracy who "hate diversity [and] ...... despise people who don't think like they do" but from the right is just plain wrong. On the contrary, it's the conservative tendency in British politics which has given us the democracy we enjoyed until this century. The slow accretion of liberty under law - evolution not revolution - and the peaceful resolution of political disagreement in a hitherto universally accepted political settlement is a testament to the conservative nature of the British. Few conservatives hate diversity purely on the grounds that, for instance, non-indigenous immigrants are of a different race or nationality. What the conservative hates is multi-culti diversity where the "diverse" and their sponsors seek to remake this country in the image of an alien culture.

By all means treat "liberal conspiracy" with contempt if you must - that's all it deserves - but don't tar others undeserving of such contempt with the same brush.

Nov 12, 2009 at 2:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterUmbongo

In the case of the Steiner schools, the argument is being put forward not on the grounds that the education provided is inadequate or any other rational basis, but simply because these people are marginal and unacceptable - "cultish", in Unity's terms.

BH - have you actually read both of my posts at LC on the subject of Steiner Schools? - the first is linked from the current article.

I have to ask because my argument against funding Steiner schools is that the education provided, in the sciences in particular, is manifestly inadequate at every level, hence Stockholm University's decision to axe its degree in Steiner education on the grounds that its teaches 'too much myth and not enough fact'.

This, for example, is from a guide for Steiner 'science' teachers working with GCSE age students (15-16) an forms part of the introduction to a lesson supposedly on marine biology.

"In Lemuria we were 'giants', as many legends drawn from the mists of folk memory attest. Our fellow travellers in evolution were giants too; an enjoyable segment of this lesson is asking the students to research the biggest of in terms of Marine Biology. Yet again the Guinness Book of Records is helpful here; but to start the quest, how about: Blue Whale, largest animal ever on earth; Whale Shark, largest fish; Sun Fish, largest boned fish; King Crab heaviest crustacean; Giant Kelp, longest plant; Giant Squid, largest invertebrate - and so on! All these giants are denizens of Australian Waters; hence are Lemurian relics."

Lemuria FFS!

A lost continent dreamed up by a Victorian scientist in an effort to explain why there are lemur fossils in India the existence of which has been disproved by geological surveys of the Indian Ocean and, of course, Plate Tectonic theory and, other than in Steiner textbooks, survives today only in SF and Horror fiction.

You do realise that Blavatsky's wholly made-up stories about Lemuria and root-races, which are still a core part of anthroposophical beliefs, are where David Icke's Lizard Overlords originated?

That's my objection to the Steinerista's - they teach fairy tales as 'scientific' fact.

So yes, I am intolerant - bullshit intolerant

BTW, Is 'Frugal Dougal' a regular here or just a passing ignorant [snip]?

BH adds: Snipped for language.

Nov 12, 2009 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterUnity

If the education is as woeful as you suggest then why do the HMIEs allow them to stay open? I think the answer must be that they are not in fact as bad as you paint them. We also observe that parents continue to send their children to these schools voluntarily and that there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the children are not receiving an education.

Nov 12, 2009 at 7:04 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

"But so what? Is this any more eccentric than the whole water-into-wine malarkey that informs mainstream christianity, or for that matter the weirdness of any of the other mainstream religions? "

Yer Grace! I never expected to find heresy here!. Quickly, summon the Dominicans... Oh. I was trained by Dominicans. I guess I'll have to do. [rolls up sleeves, tosses back cowl...]

No one likes to admit that, fundamentally, his view of what is real and not real essentially rest on asumptions that can not be empirically demonstrated. (Science-oriented people are especially uncomfortable with this line of reasoning.) I begin each semester with this challenge: "Can you prove that the world, in its entirety, was not created six and a half minute ago?" Only a fool insists that he can.

The discussion is about ultimate reality. The discussion veers off to talk about the nature of God: can our God stoop to deception? Some answer "Yes! God tests our faith... are you going to believe His revealed Word or your own lying eyes?" The other approach is that God reveals Himself through His creation, the approach of Albertus the Great and Aquinas. Which is true? Both require a leap of faith.

So, too, however, is the belief in a prosaic, disenchanted world. Water-into-wine? We weren't there. We have no evidence that the amphorae full of the finest grape were smuggled in the back door as a wedding giift nor that they were not. We simply have the written record. The skeptic, like Doubting Thomas, insists on "proof", evidence to overwhelm his skepticism. Even the Catholic Church has adopted this approach: miracles are subjected to the most rigorous analysis that can be mounted before being accepted. Totally conclusive? No. But can anyone "prove" otherwise? Again, No. Not at our present stage of technology.

This kind of leads us into a discussion of what religion is. Certainly in the modern era it is often regarded as "irrational superstition", but what is "irrational" kind of depends upin your underlying assumptions about the nature of reality. Keep in mind that those assumptions cannot be "proved". The universe is either six and a half minutes old or it is not. Can't be "proved" either way. Great thinkers like the briliant Scot William Robertson Smith and one of the sociological "greats", Emile Dirkheim... offered a different view of the nature of religion: it was a celebration of group life, a differentiation of reality into the "profane", the things of everyday reality, and the "sacred" the objects and beliefs that were treated with respect and set apart from everyday usage. The sacred most often defines who people are, their place in the tapestry of reality.

Whether skeptic, agnostic, athiest, dissident or True Believer, we all have a religion.

Nov 14, 2009 at 5:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert E. Phelan

While I don't accept your analysis, your conclusions are much the same as mine. Liberalism requires that we accept the beliefs of others, no matter how eccentric.

Nov 14, 2009 at 7:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterBishop Hill

Liberalism requires that we accept the beliefs of others, no matter how eccentric

No it doesn't - liberalism requires that we tolerate the beliefs of others provided that these cause no harm and/or do not impinge on the natural rights of others. Toleration does no necessitate acceptance nor does it mandate the funding of those beliefs from the public purse.

Nov 14, 2009 at 3:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterUnity

Robert Phelan's reminder of certain fundamental epistemological questions is certainly very timely, because I am having trouble believing my eyes.

Over the years of intermittently reading Bishop Hill's words I thought I had gained a pretty unambiguous impression that he lived in ideological territory clearly marked out with flags embroidered "small state", "don't trust the Government", etc.

And yet here he is attempting to deflect Unity's broadside against state support of Steiner schools with an observation that equates to: "the man from the Government says they are all right, so that's all right"

Anyone got the phone number for Moorfields?

Nov 16, 2009 at 6:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterSquirrel Nutkin

The truly liberal stance here is surely that the educations funded by the state (and therefore of course the public by coercion) are always going to be crippled by ideological and methodological whims, and only when education is provided by many different privately interested organisations will we get somewhere towards figuring out what good and bad educations really look like.

Nov 16, 2009 at 11:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterNB.


Yes, OK, the not harming others bit goes without saying. I think you are wrong on the public purse bit though. If we didn't have a state education system, people would be free to choose the education they wanted for their children. The fact that people are forced to pay taxes to fund state education should not take that freedom away from people.

Nov 17, 2009 at 5:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterBishop Hill

My daughter attends a Rudolf Steiner school in Scotland and is now preparing for her GCSE/Intermediate exams.

I do not recognise in Unity's analysis anything that matches anything she has been taught in her time at that school. She has also attended a state comprehensive school in Scotland. All I can say is that the teaching in the Steiner school is of a markedly higher standard and is provided by teachers who wish to impart knowledge and love of subject rather than just draw a salary cheque.


Nov 21, 2009 at 6:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterEuan Gray

This is a Steiner experience song.

hope you like it
Ms steinerite

Jan 17, 2010 at 9:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMs Steinerite

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