Controversy Over Racial Stereotypes in Waldorf School Curriculum

By our reporter Robert Sikkes. Zutphen. De Volkskrant 4 Feb. 1995

[This translation of a Dutch newspaper article was sent to PLANS for posting on our web page by SIMPOS (Stichting voor Informatie over Maatschappelijke Problemen rond Occulte Stromingen (Foundation for Information on Social Problems in connection with Occult Movements)). SIMPOS can be contacted through Jan Willem de Groot <>. -dD-]

On the table lies the blue racial ethnography exercise book. It frightened Angelique Oprinsen when she saw what her daughter had to note for this subject as part of the curriculum at the Waldorf School De Berkel in Zutphen. Stereotypes about the “black race” are written neatly below one another. Negroes “have a sense of rhythm” and of course “thick lips.” For “yellow” fellow humans the exercise book notes: “the permanent smile hides emotions.”

Daughter Juliette in her exercise book of racial ethnography has noted neatly the classification based on phases of development which the teacher told her to: the black race belongs to the night, the yellow one to the morning, the whites to the day. Her other daughter came home with a comparable table: Negroes are at the baby stage as development is concerned, Asians are more a kind of adolescents, and only the whites are adults.

“The word racial ethnography is very unfortunate,” the teacher of the Berkel, E. Kloppers, says. He himself teaches the subject as ethnography and avoids the stereotypes. “Of course, every teacher has his own way of doing things, but I do not judge colleagues. Steiner did develop the subject as racial ethnography, but now it is not policy any longer to call it like this in the curriculum or teach it this way.”

“It is not Waldorf policy to be racist. Quite the contrary. We as a school also participate in anti-racist actions, as when people protested against burning the Turks’ house in Solingen [in Germany by neo-nazis; millions of people in the Netherlands protested].”

However, Angelique Oprinsen considers her daughter’s exercise book “pure racism.” Next, she began to study thoroughly the ideas of the founder of anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Though she supports biological dynamical agriculture and is enthusiastic about aspects of the Waldorf curriculum, she is not an anthroposophist by religion.

“So, for instance, I have my children vaccinated, even though then, letters will arrive from school that I’d better not. I also allowed them to learn how to read before they were seven years old, though the school complained that, according to the anthroposophical viewpoint, they were not ready for that yet.” The things which she found during her inquiry into Steiner’s works only confirmed her conclusion about racist aspects of anthroposophy.

The Akasha chronicle – a sort of creation story which Steiner derived gladly from occult theosophical groups in the beginning of this century – is the basis of this racial doctrine.

From the disappearing Atlantis, the various races spread across the world. From the “primordial Semites” the most gifted ones were selected, the white race, which finally came to Europe.

In other writings and speeches, Steiner in the 1920s in Germany developed this theory further. For the whites are not simply lucky to be so gifted, this also brings with it an important mission to help humanity ahead. “The white race is the race of the future, the race that is working creatively with the spirit.”

The accusation of racial pseudo-science against the anthroposophists is not new. In the mid-1980s, Steiner was already criticized by the radical Left because of his somewhat questionable racial theories. However, ten years after this sharp debate, H. van Renesse of the Waldorf Schools Association reacts very amazedly to Oprinsen’s complaint.

“Racial ethnography? This word is indeed misleading; people rightly associate nasty things to it.” Van Renesse swears that not only the name, but also the contents of this subject have changed since that earlier controversy. “In the eighth grade [for about twelve year old children], we pay attention to ethnography, but we do this with the intention to teach interest and warmth for the diversity of nations.”

According to Van Renesse, within anthroposophy people have slowly but surely dissociated themselves from, as he calls it, Steiner’s “odd ideas” about the development of the different races and the whites’ leading role. “One should see his ideas as within their period,” he says. “And they certainly are not viewpoints which one discusses with children of that age, this should not happen at school. If it does happen, I feel really annoyed.”

Oprinsen has talked at the school about her objections to the subject and the use of stereotypes like “sense of rhythm” and “thick lips” repeatedly. “For, really, not only the name of a subject is the problem, but its contents as well.”

She did not get any result. “I was invited to a discussion, and they reproached me that I had not understood correctly. I really do not understand that people at this school do not look at Steiner more critically. And just dissociate themselves from this subject.”