Welcome to the fifth post in a series looking at Steiner Free School applications.
Racism is illegal in this country and government risks legal challenge if, in approving Steiner Free School applications, it can be shown state funding Steiner schools endorses and furthers a racist doctrine. Government has been made aware of the racism within Steiner belief and so when processing the Steiner Free School applicants Michael Gove’s Department for Education (DfE) must consider to what extent the demonstrable and well documented racist content of Steiner belief informs or structures Steiner school pedagogy.
No Steiner Free School applications succeeded in the first round of applications but they continue to apply and are lately joined by Steiner ‘flavoured’ schools such as Zelda and the Full Fledge Ecology School as applicants. This complicates, perhaps deliberately so, the Steiner racism issue in that it becomes less easy for public and government alike to ascertain just what exactly a Steiner school is and to what degree an individual school’s praxis accords with Steiner orthodoxy. This is particularly problematic in that critiques of Steiner having a focus on the racist content of Steiner/Anthroposophical belief are more generalised than they are specific as regards the racism inherent to orthodox Steiner pedagogy.
What this blog post will do is firstly set out what is and isn’t a recognised Steiner school and how such schools are formally recognised by Anthroposophists and by agencies and bodies external to the Anthroposophy movement. The post next isolates a distinguishing feature of UK Steiner recognised schools, their delivery of education in accordance with the Steiner pedagogical model of child development. The racist basis of the model is explained in the third part of the post. The attraction Steiner ideology has for the far right will be demonstrated in the final part of the post by examples of dialogue between Waldorf educators and Nazi officials in the past and by examples of the active involvement of Steiner educators in far right neo-Nazi groups of today. I provide online resources to substantiate anything posted.
Demonstrating Steiner’s pedagogy to be racist required my reading two key texts and unfortunately for you I quote from them several times. I say unfortunately because Steiner’s prose is, if anything, even more difficult to follow than my own so avoid part three of the post if you are Steiner-allergic.
It’d be a big ask of you to plod through the entire post in one sitting so I’m going to be jolly nice and publish the parts over the next week or so as Free Schools(5a), Free Schools(5b) and so on. When finished I’ll combine the set together into a single document and publish it in the Articles & Research area or provide it as a download. I’ll publish the other parts as and when I feel they pass muster, they all need various amounts of editing. Please note that the running order and focus of the posts is subject to change.
Steiner school recognition & accreditation
To begin with, readers will need to know how Steiner schools are formally accredited and recognised and how such schools can be distinguished from Steiner flavoured (non-recognised) schools.
Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) is the national umbrella organisation for UK Steiner schools. In an earlier Free Schools post we saw that SWSF holds what amounts to the legal ownership of the Steiner school ‘brand’ here in UK – no Steiner schools in UK can use the term Steiner or Waldorf in its name without formal SWSF permission. As will be shown later, similar national Steiner associations having similar functions and ‘brand’ rights exist for USA and Germany but the ultimate controller of the brand name lies in the hands of the chief body of the global Anthroposophy movement, the School of Spiritual Science at Dornach, Switzerland.
On its front page the SWSF website summarises its main activities, saying ‘we seek to safeguard the Steiner ethos and to serve the interests of our members, as well as to represent and further the relevance of Steiner education in the wider education debate.’ Take note of that somewhat ambiguous term ‘ethos’.
Tucked away elsewhere on its website SWSF has a document titled ‘From Newly Founded to Full Member School‘. It describes in detail how schools and kindergartens become accredited as Steiner schools by SWSF (for schools) and by a SWSF subgroup called Steiner Waldorf Early Years Group (SWEYG) for kindergartens. Membership proceeds in stages and according to the accreditation document an early requirement of budding Steiner schools is an immersion within Anthroposophy. Provisional Steiner school status, for example, is conferred only when
‘there has been adequate preparation including anthroposophical study’ and ‘an Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school, including the Waldorf curriculum’
The school’s originators must therefore be somehow committed to Anthroposophy. Presumably to prevent any backsliding, as part of ongoing reviews of a school en route to full membership the school has to comment on how it studies Anthroposophy. Accreditation is arrived at as and when a school formally becomes a full member of SWSF, the school is then a formally accredited and recognised Steiner school.
SWSF’s counterpart in the USA is the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America (AWSNA). Some detail about AWSNA accreditation can be found here. Like SWSF, AWSNA has information for budding Steiner schools and offers a similar membership programme but AWSNA provides slightly more information about Anthroposophy and its underpinning of Steiner (or Waldorf schools, as is the preferred ‘brand’ name in USA) schools than does SWSF. From its FAQ on starting a school AWNSA says ‘It should be understood by any school or institution seeking affiliation with AWSNA that Waldorf Education is based on Anthroposophy…‘ and, says the AWSNA FAQ, the Waldorf school’s
‘curriculum and philosophy proceed from the worldview and the insights into the nature of the child that Rudolf Steiner has given us in Anthroposophy’
Also, as with SWSF, AWSNA expects of a school’s originators some commitment to Anthroposophy, usually by their forming and participation in Waldorf study groups. Whatever other operational differences exist between SWSF and AWSNA schools (as a result of different national legislative frameworks for example) it is clear that a commonality between them is Anthroposophy.
As to what Anthroposophy is, well the SWSF website is less than forthcoming about that but it does at least mention Steiner’s Anthroposophy as underpinning the ethos (that vague term again) of Steiner schools. (edit January 2013: the recently changed wording of the FAQ pointed to now more accurately reflects how anthroposophy structures Steiner ed) Government commissioned research known as the Woods Report goes much further in informing of the extent and nature of the Anthroposophical underpinnings of SWSF member schools.
Some of the salient points from Woods have already been published on the blog but they’re worth restating here. Page 84 of the Woods Report is entirely in line with AWSNA, saying:
‘(An) understanding of child development according to the principles of anthroposophy is at the core and heart of Steiner education…’
Also on the same page we learn Steiner educators view the role of the teacher as being ‘a sacred task in helping each child’s soul and spirit incarnate in the world.’ Page 97 of Woods states ‘Steiner education is grounded in the principles of anthroposophy and Steiner’s educational philosophy. From these roots come the importance attached to a particular understanding of child development, concepts integral to Steiner schools’ pedagogy’. Also on page 97, ‘Anthroposophy is based on Rudolf Steiner’s direct insight into spiritual realities and ‘involves concepts, such as karma, the Divine, re-incarnation and the soul’ – so Steiner was a clairvoyant.
Woods researched only SWSF member schools, SWSF schools willingly participated in the study. SWSF and many of its schools’ websites point to the Woods Report as an endorsement of Anthroposophical education. State funding of Steiner education commenced after the study was published. It’s safe to presume that how Woods characterised UK’s Steiner schools and education is accepted by SWSF and by the governemnt of the day.
Now, implicit to accreditation is its assurance that a level of quality set by the accrediting body has been met by the party or individual accredited. Given that both SWSF and AWSNA work as guarantors of their member schools being Anthroposophic, is the thoroughly Anthroposophic nature of UK recognised schools matched by their American and other national associative counterparts? More importantly, how, if at all, are the various national Steiner education associative bodies themselves accredited by other Anthroposophical bodies and what Anthroposophic quality of them is required for accreditation?
Taking the last of those questions first, have a look at this document. It was written in late 2009 by the grand sounding Hague Circle, arguably the single most influential of a small group of Anthroposophical organisations devoted to the application of Anthroposophy via Steiner education. The Hague Circle is about to or already has changed its name to the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Schools. Anyway, the document linked to states quite baldly:
Within the Pedagogical Section there is an organ responsible for the recognition of schools as Waldorf Schools and, for kindergartens as Waldorf Kindergartens. The legal right to this name is granted after the school or kindergarten has been recognized as such. This task can also be delegated to national committees. The Waldorf Schools which have been recognized are listed in the International Waldorf School Directory, published by the German Association of Waldorf Schools.
If the above needs some decoding for you, the Pedagogical Section is one of several departments within the School of Spiritual Science, Dornach, Switzerland, the headquarters of the global Anthroposophy movement. Other Dornach Sections exist for each of the various applications of Anthroposophy such as biodynamics, Anthroposophical medicine and so on. The ‘Waldorf’ term in the Hague Circle doc can also refer to Steiner/Steiner Waldorf schools.
The German Association of Waldorf Schools (Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen) not only publishes the list of Dornach/Hague Circle recognised schools, it holds the legal rights to the Steiner/Waldorf school ‘brand’ name. This can be confirmed from a number of reports of Hague Circle meetings, this one for example mentions:
One session of our meetings was devoted to the continuing conversation about who exactly will have oversight of the Waldorf trademark. For this conversation, 3 members of the German Bund (the German Waldorf Association) which now holds the copyright, joined us.
Over in America a AWSNA document dated 2007 reported
The Bund carries the international service mark for Waldorf schools worldwide. AWSNA will manage the international service mark for North America on behalf of the Bund.
(Update January 2013: Since this post first appeared there has been continued discussion at Hague Circle meetings as to how to update the system of formally recognising Steiner/Waldorf schools. Right to use of the brand name seems set to be part of that process but it seems a new body/committee will be set up to replace the work currently undertaken by the Bund on behalf of Dornach)
So, currently, Steiner/Waldorf school recognition worldwide is controlled by the Anthroposophy movement via the Pedagogical Section within the movement’s headquarters at Dornach, Switzerland. Dornach is the ultimate controller of the Steiner/Waldorf school ‘brand’, the rights to which it can and has passed on to the German Association of Waldorf Schools which then in turn can pass the rights on to other national associations such as AWSNA. Dornach can also pass its right to the brand over to ‘national committees’. I would presume such committees to be Anthroposophical, usually national (Dornach recognised/affiliated) Anthroposophical societies, so as to ensure the Anthroposophic quality and nature of the recognised schools.
Interestingly, this Anthroposophical website says ‘the Hague Circle was founded as the ‘administrative college of the European Waldorf Schools’ and is an organ of the Educational Section at Dornach, Anthroposophy HQ. Anthroposophists love their organs – the chapter of one biography of an early UK Anthroposophist I read was titled ‘Rudolf Steiner grew an organ in my head’. But I digress, the aforementioned website’s first language is German and you might presume its use of the term ‘Educational Section’ instead of Pedagogical Section is some sort of translator glitch but at the time of writing its website link directing people to the Educational Section at Dornach actually takes one to the Pedagogical Section. It might be fruitful follow up the implications of Dornach administering our Anthroposophical schools.
The situation here in UK, then, is that SWSF is mandated by either the German association, or by the UK national Anthroposophical Society or, perhaps, by Dornach direct, to formally recognise SWSF’s Anthroposophical schools and permit them to operate under the Steiner/Waldorf ‘brand’. It doesn’t matter too much which ‘organ’ recognises our UK Anthroposophical schools, the main point to be aware of is that our schools are guaranteed to be Anthroposophic by a national or international Anthroposophical organisation of an entirely Anthroposophical nature.
Accreditation by SWSF obliges a school’s founders to commit to Anthroposophy and schools become SWSF accredited on becoming Full Members of SWSF. Note that names do not have to include Steiner/Waldorf within their names to become recognised or accredited – some SWSF member schools don’t have Steiner/Waldorf in their name – it is the ethos, as in their fundamental values, of SWSF schools that SWSF recognises. As the Woods Report makes clear, the ethos of Steiner schools is Anthroposophical to the extent that Steiner schools, as brands, can be more accurately described as Anthroposophical schools in that they operate according to Anthroposophical belief.
External to the Anthroposophy movement, SWSF – the accreditor of UK Anthroposophical schools – is recognised here in UK by government. Our first state funded Anthroposophical school commenced in the time of Blair’s ‘conviction politics’ and opened only after the Woods Report was published – pre-Woods, concerted attempts by Blair’s government to have an Anthroposophical school piloted within mainstream had come to nought and so government became proactive in having a SWSF school achieve academy status instead. Entirely against the wishes of the local community and their elected representatives the first state funded Anthroposophical school opened in Hereford, Gloucestershire in 2008. Blair’s conviction politics apart, should you need proof of any of the preceding read page 1 of this part of Hereford’s Academy application form, SWSF newsletters (pre and post Hereford achieving academy status) and, re opposition to the academy see this Guardian newspaper report.
As under the previous administration, government today appears to recognise SWSF as the sole body responsible for accrediting/recognising Anthroposophical schools and as the body representing them. SWSF describes itself as representing Steiner education to the media, academics, and governmental agencies and mentions it works with relevant authorities in connection with state funding for SWSF schools. Prior to the Hereford Academy SWSF described itself as lobbying government whereas these days SWSF works with government and relevant authorities– an example of this was the mention in an earlier post of the recent meeting between SWSF and DfE at which ‘issues relating to Steiner and Free Schools’ were discussed.
The global spread of the Anthroposophical school ‘brand’ (i.e. Steiner/Waldorf schools) since the Hague Circle’s inception has seen a corresponding diversity of representation at its meetings with, for example, representatives or reports from some 20 different nations at this recent Hague Circle meeting. Ease of administration may explain why a European sub-group of the Hague Circle calling itself the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE) was founded in 1991 by UK’s very own Christopher Clouder, chair of SWSF.
In addition to his SWSF role Clouder is currently Chief Executive Officer of ECSWE (the Hague Council sub-group he founded) and a director of the Alliance for Childhood(AFC), an international networking group he co-founded. A branch of the AFC network associated with ECSWE is Alliance for Childhood European Network (AFC-ENG). Whatever its function in the past, a perusal of ECSWE’s website and newsletters today shows activities consist of promoting and representing Anthroposophical schools and kindergartens and it also an effective lobbyist of the European Parliament. ECSWE, SWSF and the AFC all share the same UK address in Forest Row, East Sussex but ECSWE also has an office in Brussels, handy for the odd spot of lobbying. ECSWE and AFC-ENG are in fact heavily involved in a working group of the European Parliament, here’s a doc they co-authored for example (beware, tis a biggish pdf to download). A list of the Euro MP’s supportive of their ‘Quality of Childhood’ campaign group is given on AFC-ENG’s website. It includes one UK MEP. Given that ECSWE has set up a major project and received funding for it from the EU, it seems fair to say ECSWE is recognised by the EU as representing Anthroposophical schools and education generally. In its first newsletter ECSWE lists SWSF as one of its 20 or so Anthroposophical school association members. Whilst SWSF is an ECSWE member it is unclear to me if the EU sees SWSF in similar light as it does ECSWE itself.
There may well be other bodies external to the Anthroposophy movement recognising Anthroposophical schools or their associative bodies but so far as this post is concerned it would be tedious and unnecessary to look at recognition of Anthroposophical schools and associations on a nation by nation or case by case basis, it’s enough to know what the situation here is domestically and within an EU context.
One of the questions posed earlier – how the national Steiner education associative bodies are recognised – having been answered there remains the question as to how far the deeply Anthroposophic nature of UK recognised schools is matched by their American and other oversees counterparts. An answer to that will arise naturally in the next section of this post when the Steiner pedagogical model of child development is examined.
As to what it is that distinguishes a UK Steiner recognised school from a Steiner flavoured school, SWSF recognition apart there is no certain way of doing so. A UK ‘Steiner inspired school’ of today might tomorrow or a year or so later become recognised by SWSF. Or, as is the case with Fullfledge Ecology School (a Steiner inspired Free School applicant), the school might not want to be part of the SWSF fold but make no mention in its informational materials of its intention to operate in line with the Steinerian view of child development, a defining characteristic of Anthroposophical schools. Unless the school is explicit as to what aspect of Steiner education ‘inspires’ it then there’s no certain way of assessing it insofar as how deeply Anthroposophic it is or how likely it is that the school will become a recognised school.
As will be argued in another part of this post, the Steiner model of child development is the sole distinguishing criteria of a Steiner school – curricula may vary to suit local requirements and cultures but the model they teach to cannot. And, as will be demonstrated, Steiner’s model of child development is fundamentally racist.
In the absence of full disclosure on the part of some schools as to their beliefs or praxis the Steinerian model can therefore serve as a litmus test for parents or politicians and others in deciding which schools to support. As the situation stands, this relies on people asking the schools the right questions and presumes schools will answer and answer honestly. As followers of this blog will know, SWSF, a registered charity, refuses to answer requests for basic information. It shouldn’t be this way, the onus is on schools and government to be fully transparent in the first place.