Weird Science At Steiner School

© Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 16 (Fall 1991), page 23, reproduced by permission

When Dan Dugan attended an open house at the San Francisco Waldorf School, he thought he’d found the most beautiful school in the world. The teachers were the most dedicated he’d met since the nuns he remembered from Catholic school. The teaching methods seemed very progressive. The children studied subjects in two-week blocks, and wrote and illustrated their own books, with art woven into every subject.

A few glimpses of the strange writings of the school’s founder, Rudolf Steiner, raised some questions for Dugan, but the teachers assured him that Steiner’s philosophy did not appear in the curriculum. They said they used only his teaching methods.

He enrolled his son in sixth grade, and everything went well for a year.

Trouble began when Dugan picked up one of Steiner’s books, on sale at the school. Steiner lectured (Germany, 1922): “If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense if men do not arrive at a form of intelligence that is independent of blondness.” How could apparently intelligent and sensitive people be publishing this stuff in the 1980’s? They would have to be wearing the blinders of cult indoctrination.

Then his son complained “they’re teaching us baby science.” A specialist science teacher had told the sixth grade “the elements are earth, air, fire, and water.” Dugan looked at several science lesson books, and found more bad news. “Planetary influences” were said to affect the growth of plants. In physiology, the body was said to be made up of “the nerve-sense system, the metabolic-muscular system, and the rhythmic system.”

Worse than the occasional items of cult pseudoscience was what was left out. The science curriculum was based entirely on observation, and the theories which form the backbone of scientific knowledge were almost completely omitted. The children were not to be “prejudiced” by “materialistic dogma,” but were to make up their own minds about how the world worked from direct observation.

Dugan proposed a parents committee to reform the science teaching. No other parents were interested.

He requested a hearing with the “college of teachers” which runs the school. He was refused, and a delegation of teachers informed him that the family would be expelled unless he stopped making trouble.

Beaten, they withdrew from the school. Did all the other parents share Steiner’s worldview? Belief in pseudoscience wasn’t mentioned as a requirement when they were recruited.

Dugan sent a survey to all 270 parents in the school, asking their positions on a selection of religious, new-age, scientific, and Steiner beliefs. Thirty-two responded. Most of these parents agreed with New Age beliefs like reincarnation that Steiner followers also hold, but almost none knew about or agreed with the pseudoscientific statements taken from Steiner literature. It appears that their children were being indoctrinated in weird science without their knowledge.