As regular readers will know, I have over the past few years been very concerned about the growing popularity of mysticism and racism within ‘alternative’ and ‘green’ political and social culture. Exemplified by Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy and spread by practitioners of all things ‘New Age’, the attitudes that might easily be termed ‘Blood and Soil’ have also crept into ideas of localism and various brands of social-anarchism and right-wing individualism.
I have been particularly concerned with the way in which our publicly funded broadcaster, The BBC, has often slipped positive and supportive pro-Anthroposophy messages into otherwise trustworthy programmes. On this blog, I have noted such messages in programmes such as Countryfile, and The Food Programme as well as open support from trusted BBC presenters such as Kate Humble. Of course these cases are just the examples I’ve noticed and have decided to explore. BBC’s Newsnight has also been guilty of giving credence to Anthroposophical thought by it’s extraordinary and inept piece about the crisis in the bee population and the neonicotinoids debate.
So it was with great pleasure that Robert Peston’s piece on Newsnight recently made clear that Anthroposophy is actually based upon a racist doctrine that also typifies and includes more ‘New Age’ spiritual nonsense that it would be possible to list here.
The Newsnight piece is now on i-player for the next few days.
Peston’s two guests, Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association and Francis Russell of the Greenwich Steiner Schools were both invited to comment on the accompanying film and while it was gratifying that the BBC invited a spokesperson for each side, it gave the slight impression that the Steiner nonsense being exposed was somehow of equal value to the critics perspective. But, overall, Mr. Peston was very much on the case and he did not shirk from stating that racist events at Steiner schools are directly linked to Steiner’s racist philosophy. In that regard, the piece was one of the very best that the BBC has produced on the subject along with Sam Smith’s report for BBC South West’s Inside Out. Ms Russell, for her part, simply rubbished all that was said in the report. Given that in our society racism is still sadly endemic, it would be utterly ridiculous not to acknowledge it’s existence in Steiner schools and to explain how and when the schools gave up encouraging formalised racism (as they claim to have done) and how they deal with endemic racism now, along with their spiritual eugenics and somatotypes. Had the piece been longer we might have heard Mr. Copson provide a robust reply.
In the Newsnight film there were, of course, the usual denials of any problems concerning racism. Sylvie Sklan, speaking for the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship says,
“…reincarnation through the races is a very controversial idea that is not part of our modern thinking in Steiner Schools at all. In fact I would find it quite outrageous and unacceptable…. …it does not exist, it is not what we believe.”
And while we all should be glad to hear Ms Sklan does not believe in racism she does not say Steiner was wrong or that Steiner was a racist or that the idea is unacceptable. Yes, she says that it would be unacceptable for those ideas to be taught because “…they don’t exist…” but as for the idea itself, she uses the description “controversial”. Quite what is controversial about an idea that is factually nonsense and disgusting is a mystery; to the rest of us, racist spiritual hierarchies are simply wrong in every respect. Only racists would say the idea of a racist hierarchy was controversial. Only racists would support organisations founded upon racist principles.
Many critics of Steiner education have come to treat these denials with the utmost skepticism. Questions concerning racism, bullying, eugenics, spiritualism and all things Steiner, have been put to Steiner advocates countless times for many years and the answers are always pretty much identical. If it’s a question regarding aspects of the pedagogy or teaching practice or philosophy that are particular to Steiner, the answer is that the schools teach according to Steiner’s views on education except the outmoded and unacceptable subject being criticised. So we are always left with the same questions that Anthroposophists always fail to answer; if you don’t believe in all these things then why call yourself a Steiner School? Why teach the teachers to use Anthroposophical values but ban them from telling the parents?
The fact is that if one takes out the Anthroposophy from Steiner schools one is left with nothing attributable to Steiner. Furthermore, if one believed in, for example, dance therapy or not teaching reading until a child is 7, or in painting not using line, or in many of the other aspects of education that Steiner schools also practice (but are not attributable to Steiner) then one could teach those in an entirely non-religious and rational setting without recourse to pseudo-science, mysticism, racism and the rest of it.
But the sad fact is that Steiner followers and practitioners still fly the Steiner banner and brand even though they know about the racist and mystical underpinning of the doctrine. It’s a bit like supporting a school run by the BNP or the EDL or the NF and pretending that the racist nature of their political position is irrelevant; and those organisations don’t even have written racist hierarchies – in that regard, Anthroposophical schools, farms, banks, homes for the disabled, Steiner-Christian Churches and NHS-funded medical practices are frighteningly different.