It must have been May, because I remember the sheets of bluebells and the children whooping as they tore through them, the heady sweet smell rising. I felt strongly this was how childhood should be, prolonged and carefree, and one reason we’d moved from London to the rural North was to give our children more freedom. The local primary school turned out to be run by a cabal of born again Christians, and was rife with bullying, testing and coloured in photocopies. We wanted more for our children.
Around that time, a woman in the local organic shop befriended me, going out her way to help with friendly advice and errands. It emerged her children went to a Steiner school at a camphill community 17 miles away. Her descriptions were radiant, and she invited me to come up with her one day to visit it. My vague recollections about Steiner schools were that they concentrated on creativity, music and the child as a whole. I talked to my husband about what seemed to be an interesting alternative to the rut we felt our children were in.
At a promotional morning in a local market town, we talked to parents from the school and community; I still have the flyer given out that day to attract people, which lists the small classes, the lack of tests, the art, music and craft and whole child education they offered; it doesn’t mention the spiritual once. We rang the school to make an appointment.
The staggering position of the village hits you as the road drops steeply into the valley from the high moors. Although strange, the figures that stoop in the fields, or move awkwardly through the lush lanes, add to the utopian image of these isolated communities. Strangers are stared at unremittingly; gazes linger and can be quite unnerving. This is their land; we are interlopers and not their people. To outsiders, it seems here that all are equal and working wholesomely and lovingly in a natural, meaningful and embracing society. Adults with learning difficulties live in family groups usually headed by a married couple, their children, and young co-workers from around the world who stay for varying periods. The villagers work on the biodynamic land, the bakery, creamery and craft workshops in this almost self-sufficient community.
We arranged an interview, having taken in the school’s attractive buildings wedged into the hillside, the well tended garden, free form waterfalls and trees to climb seducing us at each turn. Children singing drifted from the peach blossom classrooms into the early summer air. We were enchanted and captivated.
The administrator, a gentle handsome man with clear blue eyes answered our questions about the curriculum; the art, music, drama, craft, gardening; a whole morning to concentrate on myths, legends and history, in contrast to the photocopied snatches at primary school; the whole class participating in orchestra; integrating subjects like maths and stories to capture the child’s imagination; not reading until they’re ready, learning in much the same way they learn to speak or walk, without force.
I remember asking about the many reproductions of the Madonna, and being told emphatically that the school wasn’t religious, although religion was a lesson and taught through bible stories. The story element was crucial for us, and we were assured this was how it was presented.
We had two more meetings/interviews with class teachers, two with kindergarten teachers. Everyone was kind, gentle and welcoming. Although it was apparently inappropriate to view a class in session, at break we tried to engage with some of the children; they stared fixedly, suspiciously, no rapport, no smiles. We put this reticence down to a charming and old-fashioned shyness.
I asked for recommended books to read about Steiner education, and for the schools’ prospectus, which mentions “hidden gifts that given the chance to flourish can help transform the world”. How we wish that we had know then the duplicitous meaning of this phrase, the “hidden gifts” could mean clairvoyant ability in the anthroposophical view, and some believe the schools are in place to help children reincarnate, awaken their spirituality and enable them to communicate with the spirit world.
During our meetings with the school, and in the school’s and village’s promotional material, the word “anthroposophy” wasn’t mentioned once. Neither was reincarnation, soul, spirit world, clairvoyance, root race, occult science, temperaments, astral, etheric or cosmic forces. An arts based liberal education was peddled to us. We were sold an education based on a lie, and we fell for it.
Nervous, excited and relieved to be starting a school we thought we believed in, our children’s September skin glowing mahogany smooth and dark, we were welcomed at the beginning of term festival with stirring harmony singing. We were asked back to people’s houses, the warmth and welcome heartening.
It was only a week or two before we began to hear about the bullying; some lead by a merciless leader, who had a hold on adults and children alike, some a lord of the flies mob rule, the cruelty was shocking, and seemingly unmonitored by adults.
I kept correspondence from those early days, not wanting to sound pushy or interfering, my mild enquiries were dismissed or unchecked. We had ineffectual meetings, where talk about temperaments and star signs baffled us; a constant chant that our daughter was winding us up, not telling us as it was, that the children being bullied were attracting it. Finally, when faced with facts from other parents, the teacher seemed to get a grip on the situation, things briefly settled, and like pack animals, the children changed allegiance.
Not for long; our middle daughter was among a group of children who were subjected to remorseless constant bullying; their teacher was still in training, and it emerged had no other qualifications; she was obviously way out of her depth; the school left her to sink, with our children as her ballast.
While our children were there, they and others had bruises from stones thrown, were kicked while being held down, had clumps of hair pulled out, scarred hands from scratching and clawing, older, larger children against smaller, fights were common occurrences; they were taunted, had notes passed around class about them, votes in class about who should be allowed to go to parties, constant sneers, put downs and name calling. These weren’t one off events. This was how it was at the school. There were ringleaders and bystanders but no protectors. The adults didn’t “see”. Some children just gave up; you could see it in their eyes, in their expression of broken hopelessness. Some parents were overwhelmed by the way the teachers deflected and twisted the situations. Anthroposophical parents often had a sort of karmic acceptance of these horrors, or occasionally used archaic punishments. My children came home with tales of their friends being shut in the larder on bread and water, being hit, locked in rooms; these parents swung wildly between cruelty, neglect and idolisation.
The behaviour in the classroom and village was out of control; children were apparently manhandled out of classrooms by two male teachers, or dragged across the room by their neck. They were made to stand uncomfortably outside for what seemed like hours day after day; I often saw miserable children outside classrooms. Unsupervised at lunchtime, children climbed on roofs and jumped from bridges; on one occasion, some children climbed on a digger, released the brake, and let it roll down a hill as they jumped from it.
The teachers responded by shouting more and louder. Parent’s evenings were awkward occasions where teachers implied all was well, and parents rarely spoke up. I walked out in despair as I was shouted down, for being outraged by a parent washing their child’s mouth out with soap, for attempting to discuss bullying. The calm contained expressions of the most anthroposophical staff became twisted with incandescent rage. The general unspoken consensus seemed to be to feign the state of affairs, and karma would prevail.
Our many meetings with teachers were ineffectual; their self-delusion and deception extraordinary. We were stonewalled or given flustered garbled answers; it was like trying to catch snowflakes in a blizzard, any substantial question asked melted to nothing in their answers; a feeling that something was always just out of reach. Often I was reduced to tears of anger and frustration; rather than any sort of empathy, I always felt observed as they held fixed glassy gazes as they watched me weep. Risibly, I once received a letter reprimanding me for crying.
The pivotal moment in this chaos, when we were perceived as iconoclasts to their system, as we were in the process of removing our eldest daughter, was when the rehearsals began for the Norse Myth Saga.
During our time at the school we’d been on the receiving end of some oblique comments (my husband is Jewish /Asian; our children have dark eyes and olive skin). A camphill mother welcomed us on the first day by saying how glad her daughter was to have children darker than her in the school; another German camphill mother launched into a desultory story about her children asking if they were in the African jungle on a rare trip to London as they rarely saw dark skinned people. The same woman, a propos a class discussion, said my children were at the bottom of the pecking order, as an assumed fait accompli. The art teacher described her paintings as “Of course primitive, but quite good”. While they stung and surprised me, I never related these remarks to our non-Anglo Saxon / Aryan roots. Ironically, the international element had initially been one of the attractions of the school for us.
Looking back, thinking of the children talked about as bright, special, good, invariably the blond, blue eyed or German children fitted the description, (although there was a predominance of these children in the school.) The youngest boy in H’s class was badly bullied, struggled with his work, and spent a lot of the time crying; this was accepted and left, this was how he was. He was Jewish. Surely labelling, in this instance, and in the use of the temperaments, which uses body shape and disposition to classify children into one of the four temperaments and treat them according to Steiner’s interpretation of their personality types, must filter down and become a self-fulfilling prophesy? These clumsy tools of categorising children are used for many choices in Steiner schools.
The Norse play had been written by the teacher; my daughter was to be a dwarf or elf, apparently quite a big part; I hadn’t fully caught the gathering tensions, since this was fused with our eldest daughter settling into a new school where she was way behind academically.
Our middle daughter came home after the dress rehearsal so distraught, so desperate I knew something had deeply upset her. She sobbed uncontrollably as it emerged that during the dress rehearsal the other girls had been given swirling, colourful silky dresses to wear, they were queens, princesses, attendants. My daughter was to wear rough britches and a waistcoat, as the wicked dwarf. I rang the teacher to put this dilemma to her, and was met with a tirade of intense rage; I quietly put the phone down, saying I couldn’t continue. She rang five or more times, on one occasion a diatribe so fierce, she hadn’t realised my daughter had answered the phone.
My daughter was allowed to be a female dwarf and wear a dress. I found one in our dressing up cupboard that had been my mothers, shiny deep satin with appliquéd rich velvet. It swirled and rustled as she spun round and round and her sisters pinned and held together gathers of material. Her eyes shone. She looked beautiful.
During the performance I felt excruciatingly ill at ease and uncomfortable. My dark elf was taunted and mocked at one point with an insect on a stick; the princess, queen and attendants stood high above her laughing. Much of the dialogue was about golden hair and beauty, dark mines and shape shifters. I fought an instinct to whisk her away from that place.
One phrase in my daughter’s practise writing book haunts and stays with me. I asked her teacher and older mentor, why they thought this was the only thing she had managed to write on that page. They squirmed and shifted in their chairs. Neither of them looked me in the eye. She had written, “Elves are dark and ugly. They live underground and everybody hates them”
When we left the school soon after this, I asked several times in writing for all her books. That one never emerged.
Naturally, it hadn’t occurred to us that this had anything to do with race; it was the human element of this and so many incidents, which was unsettling. The thought that it could be related to Steiner’s hierarchical beliefs about race was repellent, but at the same time made sense. I’ve since heard about teachers writing stories for children who leave which involve dark princes not ready to play in the garden with fair children.
In our early days at the school I had come across the word anthroposophical. It was mentioned in magazines in the village coffee shop, there were shelves of books by Steiner in the camphill bookshop and library, whose ideas I gradually tried to grasp. The school newsletter mentioned anthroposophical meetings sometimes, the children visited the anthroposophical doctor for developmental reasons, and I was given the idea it was some form of homeopathy, of holistic alternative medicine. I had limited access to the internet then, but the books I was reading were beginning to ring alarm bells.
My questions were always evaded, because of either confusion or deception; many parents, even those immersed in anthroposophy within camphill communities, appear not to have much understanding of this spiritual occult science, and prefer not to. They bury themselves in toil and ritual, hoping somehow to climb their personal spiritual ladder. A prerequisite for Steiner teachers is to walk their own spiritual path; perhaps many are so far at the bottom, that they felt unable answer us. The grasp of anthroposophy by some teachers is clearly so tenuous it can only arouse pity, as they balance a precarious equilibrium between certainties of esoteric spiritual truth and not really knowing.
In telling our story, two strands are apparent; the deception and secrecy in recruiting parents to the Steiner movement, and the hierarchical racial belief system upon which the whole of anthroposophy is hinged.
Anthroposophy informed every decision in the classroom, from the ignoring of bullying, which is seen as a past life issue, and to interfere would disrupt the karmic path, to forcing our left handed seven-year-old to knit right handed, because left handedness is seen as a karmic weakness. Children’s safety is treated with an insouciance that would frighten the most carefree, because there is a belief that guardian angels watch over the children. Our questions were met with silence, obfuscation and distortion, even lies. There is a prejudicial conviction among anthroposophists, an irritating conceit, which can stun some people to silence, or attract others searching for spiritual certainty.
These communities pander to separation, with talk of outsiders, and by generating a fear of the world beyond theirs. This propagates a sense of cult, as does the fanatical fundraising and working towards a common goal for the community.
As far as I understand, anthroposophists believe that all humans can be directed towards clairvoyant vision, and can be taught to communicate with the spirit world, which they believe is scientifically real. The teacher’s “sacred” task is to help children incarnate into this world from the spirit world they have recently emerged, and to guide the children’s souls towards their next incarnation. Teachers direct children’s attention away from the apparent world to many concealed levels of truth in order to empower the human soul. The curriculum is specifically designed to set these tasks in motion--wet on wet painting for instance, is to remind children of the spirit world, where there are no lines and only certain colours. The myths taught at specific times are to echo the journey of the soul through various incarnations and epochs, perhaps reminding the child of previous lives. Academic work, intellectualism is seen as ahrimanic, a kind of devils work, not spiritual enough, too much in the head. The children are meant to absorb spirituality, not question the teacher’s word.
Man incarnates in successive lives, and a spiritually and racially advanced group progresses into the next era, while the majority of materialistic and evil races decline. There is a distinction between soul and race development, the body is a mantle, and anyone can reincarnate as any race. Individual souls are responsible for their own journey up or down the spiritual ladder, by immersing themselves in “occult science” or anthroposophy, and climbing the path to spiritual enlightenment.
The advanced group are those who have occult spiritual knowledge, and they will recognise themselves in future spiritual eras.
The importance of race in Steiner’s belief system is repeated time and time again…
“A race or nation stands so much the higher, the more perfectly its members express the pure, ideal human type.” [Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 149.]
“If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense...Blond hair actually bestows intelligence. In the case of fair people, less nourishment is driven into the eyes and hair; it remains instead in the brain and endows it with intelligence. Brown- and dark-haired people drive the substances into their eyes and hair that the fair people retain in their brains.” [Rudolf Steiner, HEALTH AND ILLNESS, Vol. 1, (Anthroposophic Press, 1981), pp. 85-86.]
“Upon the forehead and in the whole
physiognomy it will be written whether the person is good or evil. He will show
in his face what is contained in his inmost soul. What a man has developed
whether he has exercised good or evil impulses, will be written on his forehead. After the great War of All against All there will be two kinds of human beings. Those who had previously tried to follow the call to the spiritual life, who cultivated the spiritualizing and ennobling of their inner spiritual life, will show this inward life on their faces and express it in their gestures and the movements of their hands. And those who have turned away from the spiritual life, represented by the community of Laodicea, who were lukewarm, neither warm nor cold, will pass into the following epoch as those who retard human evolution, who preserve the
backward forces of evolution which have been left behind. They will show the evil passions, impulses and instincts hostile to the spiritual in an ugly, unintelligent, evil-looking countenance. In their gestures and hand-movements, in everything they do, they will present an outer image of
the ugliness in their soul. Just as humanity has separated into races and communities, in the future it will divide into two great streams, the good and the evil. And what is in their souls will be outwardly manifest, they will no longer be able to hide it."
Steiner, The Apocalypse of St. John p. 82)
”each person has the opportunity to
become caught up in the essence of one incarnation, to push away the leader of
humankind, or instead to undergo the transformation into higher races, toward
ever higher perfection. Races would never become decadent, never decline, if
there weren't souls that are unable to move up and unwilling to move up to a
higher racial form. Look at the races that have survived from earlier eras:
they only exist because some souls could not climb higher.' (Rudolf Steiner,
Hereinwirken geistiger Wesenheiten in den Menschen, 174)
"One can only understand history and all of social life, including today's social life, if one pays attention to people's racial characteristics. And one can only understand all that is spiritual in the correct sense if one first examines how this spiritual element operates within people precisely through the color of their skin.” “("Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde (GA 349), Dornach 1980, p. 52. 1923)
“The black or Negro race is substantially determined by these childhood characteristics.” [The Mission of the Folk Souls, p. 75.]
“the subsequent Negro population of Africa ... they deposited too many carbonic constituents in their skin and became black. This is why the Negroes are black. Thus both east of Atlantis in the black population and west of Atlantis in the red population we find survivors of the kind of people who had not developed their ego-feeling in a normal way. The human beings who had developed normally lent themselves best to progress.” [Rudolf Steiner, The Being of Man and his Future Evolution (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981), pp. 118-119.]
"..a black in Africa is a human
who absorbs and assimilates as
much light and heat from the cosmos as possible. As he does this, the
forces of the cosmos work throughout that human. Everywhere, he
absorbs light and heat, really everywhere. He assimilates them within
himself. There really must be something which helps him in this
assimilation. That something is mainly the cerebellum. This is why a
Negro has an especially well developed cerebellum. This is linked to
the spinal marrow; and they can assimilate all light and heat which a
human contains. As a consequence, especially the aspects which
pertain to the body and to metabolism are strongly developed in a
Negro. He has a strong sexual urge as people call it, strong
instincts. And as, with him, all which comes from the sun light and
heat really is at the skin?s surface, all of his metabolism works as
if the sun itself is boiling in his inside. This causes his passions.
Within a Negro, cooking is going on all the time; and the cerebellum
kindles the fire. ..."
Steiner, R. (1974). Die geistigen Hintergr?nde des Ersten
Weltkrieges. (Original work published 1915) Dornach: Rudolf Steiner
Verlag (GA 174b).
Steiner’s ideas, from evolution, reincarnation and the paranormal defy reasoned argument; the tenets of anthroposophy cling to an entrenched position, at whose core lies an abhorernt construction of belief, which forms the basis of the curriculum, and which teachers use to make decisions in the classroom. The anthroposophical apologists have a wilful insistence to be blind to Steiner’s racist beliefs, many discussions on the internet substantiate this.
It is disquieting that the schools manage to deceive so many with their specious propaganda. Ask any one who has questioned Steiner’s ideas to a teacher, and has received the answer ”Steiner is difficult”. I have read pieces written by disillusioned Steiner teachers, who say that during their training they are taught to divert parents attention away from the spiritual towards the creative and visceral aspects, and not to talk about anthroposophy. It is common to talk of the difficulty of “educating” parents about anthroposophy. This confirms the idea that the schools are promoted on a disengenious and false basis. Steiner made it clear that part of the task and goal of anthroposophists was to spread occult knowledge,
“There is no other means of bringing about a universal human brotherhood than the spreading of occult knowledge through the world.”
“ The aim of the sixth epoch of humanity will be to popularise occult truth in the widest circles; that is the mission of that epoch…..
…..the society which is united in spirit has the task of carrying this occult truth everywhere — right into life — and applying it practically.
….So you see, the Spiritual Movement has a quite definite goal, namely, to mould future humanity in advance. And the goal can be reached in no other way than through the acceptance of spiritual wisdom…….so have we now the task of working towards the great moment in the Sixth Age, when humanity will undertake a great spiritual ascent……..
….So a certain group of people must join together in order to prepare the future.”
Theosophy of the Rosocrucian XIII The Future of Man June 1907
Anthroposophists must see it as a task beyond all other, to fulfill the goal set by their guru. These people are not bad, they see what they are doing as giving the children a step onto an elite spiritual path, and by setting this in motion, they deceive, mislead and indoctrinate. Some go to great lengths to propogate their ossified ideas, or to muddy the waters by creating websites which purport to answer questions about Steiner and anthroposophy but in fact deflect from the core doctrines. They even spend inordinate energy trying to discredit eminent historians who study their beliefs. Personally, I have been stalked on the internet by anthroposophists so keen to gag free speech that they threaten discussion boards with law suits and try to have all critical discussion deleted.
Here in England, the first state funded Steiner school has been granted millions of government money. Certainly, there are good elements within Steiner schools which attract many people; if they weren’t led by anthroposophy, these schools could offer a wonderful alternative to a more conventional education. Unless they jettison their retrogressive belief system, and open up, it is only a matter of time before their cult-like pseudo religion is exposed. For us, that time cannot come too quickly.