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Steiner and race  

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 

Hi there! A family member of ours balks most of our parenting decisions, including our participation in local efforts to get a Waldorf school off the ground. During our last visit, he confronted us with his Internet findings that Steiner was a racist. I've been reading up on the internet, trying to figure out whether there is any truth in what he found. Thoughts?


Edited by bmcampb - 7/11/12 at 12:13pm
post #2 of 24

hi

Steiner wasn't a racist, Waldorf pedagogy is not racist, and perhaps you would just need to make sure your faculty weren't racist...

post #3 of 24

Whether he was or not is irrelevant to present practice unless it is being taught in the teacher training.  Sixty years ago the schools in the South were segregated.  Should that be trotted out as evidence against the current public schools, or is it smoke?  

post #4 of 24
Thread Starter 

When the public schools were segregated and teaching racists, the federal government stepped in and desegregated and overhauled the curriculum (however ineffectively in some parts). That won't happen to Waldorf because it's private.All schools are required by AWSNA to have an Anthroposophy study group. The school in my area opens each meeting with a Steiner quote. I'd like to know whether he's a racist or not. Thank you.
 

post #5 of 24

For a German in his time he was anti-racist. He wrote about needing to look past anything stereotypical like gender and race to see the real unique person. He wrote about society moving past having race as a concept in the future. But - some of his writing and even the current curriculum of upper grades still carries old "science" regarding development of the races, and even elemental and moral associations and hierarchy, worth some study as a historical relic anyway. Also he wrote of spiritual/religious explanations of how the differences came about, something involving Lucifer and demons. He did also write a lot of...different...stuff unrelated to race so maybe you should study him a bit for yourself to see if what the teachers are taught meshes with what you want your kids around, as well as look closely into curriculum and classroom practices to see if/how everything carries over (easier to do if you're more familiar with Steiner). I love the feel of the Waldorf classroom but I agree you've got to approve of the ideas behind it too since the teachers do study it.

post #6 of 24

The short answer to your question is as others have noted: Steiner was anti-racist for his time and place. He was very clear about how every human is unique and has an individual destiny to fulfill during their life. Because of this, he said we should endeavor to establish societies where everyone is equal before the law and able to live out their unique destiny in religious, artistic and cultural freedom. 

 

Newer articulations of anti-racism have obviously emerged in the last 100 years. For this reason, some people find aspects of Steiner's writings and worldview to be insufficiently anti-racist today. This different opinion is to be expected as history and experience have taught us plenty about the insidiousness of racism and how it is able to support many forms of oppression. But we always have to be careful about interpreting the past through the values, concepts and lessons of the present. As you can see from the "internet findings" there are great differences of opinion in how this issue should be dealt with. For example, if you're always willing to apply current labels to the past then you might overlook important distinctions that even people in the past made. OTOH, complete relativists risk overlooking important similarities or patterns between different kinds of racist thought. "Was he a racist?" is not a question for which there is a simple answer if you are approaching this topic with the seriousness and care it deserves.  What all this boils down to for me is that no, he ought not to be classified as "a racist." But just because someone is "not a racist" doesn't mean that their 100 year old ideas or comments on race should be listened to (especially when they diverge from current scientific or historical consensus). Steiner didn't have the benefit of certain historical, scientific (especially DNA), and archeological discoveries. But we do. So, we have to think for ourselves in the historical moment we are in with the knowledge we have.

 

But you want to establish an anti-racist school. This is completely within your power. Because all Waldorf schools are independent schools, I think you will find as you go down the path of establishing your school that you have considerable latitude to articulate whatever anti-racist principles you want. You'll write your own school policies and procedures, you'll hire your own teachers and evaluate their work. Personally, I can't think of any ways that instituting specific policies of anti-racism and social inclusion would pose any kind of conflict with this educational method. You may have difficulties pushing the envelope with Eurocentrism in the traditional curriculum but this can also be addressed by the teachers that you hire and how willing and able they are to consider this issue and try to innovate. If you make anti-racism and preparing students for the global 21st century a central part of your stated mission, you'll have an institutionalized way of ensuring this core value becomes a part of the education offered at your school. Unless you are looking to upend the child development progression that characterizes teaching at a Waldorf school, you'll have considerable "official" power to create the most anti-racist, inclusive school you can imagine. 

post #7 of 24

He had some racist ideas, for example he shared Hitler's idea of a hierarchy of races with white "aryans" at the top. I agree he was a product of his time. While he was less racist than some, he wasn't outstandingly so, I wouldn't say his anti-racism was a key feature of his ideology or anything. I also think its not really enough just to say "he was of his time". Well so was Hitler. So were any number of other racists who did enormous harm. The key question for me is, is it possible to use his works today to not only allow but to actually actively promote an anti-racist message. 

 

I do feel that the various anthroposophical societies need to do more, actively, to recognise that steiner had racist ideas and distance themselves from them. Its not enough to say he was "of his time", so what? So was Hitler-his views were hardly unique in 30s Europe, the British royal family were particular fans and half Europe was on the verge of signing treaties with him.

post #8 of 24

Fillyjonk: Its shocking and offensive to me that you would assert that Hitler was just "of his time." ("Well, so was Hitler.") Although Hitler made use of the memes already within his culture (racism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia, etc) he obviously took them to a whole new level. Your comment illustrates my point about how one must be careful not to overly relativize a certain time and place, glossing over important distinctions that were even noted by contemporaries. 

 

As for "if its possible to use his works today to not only allow but to actually actively promote an anti-racist message," I would say yes, look at Waldorf schools all across the globe. Not only is this principle evident in existing schools---and shared between existing schools--- the developing schools are also given wide latitude in how they want to make use of this value as they set themselves up. 

 

Bmcampb: I suggest you read whatever materials your family member has given you and discuss this with the other people you are planning the school with. I understand you'd like a simple "yes" or "no" answer but even if this is possible, it will take some work if you approach it with the care and seriousness the topic deserves. On the other hand, don't lose focus of the fact that your school will always be what you make it. Rudolf Steiner may have suggested that first graders should wear blue on the first day of school but your board, your parent body and the faculty you hire are the ones who will be interpreting how you want your school to be.* If you give it some thought and decide that blue on the first day of school don't meet the needs of your first graders you won't do it. The Waldorf school the next town over that enthusiastically wears blue might raise their eyebrows but this is the nature of the independent school model, where its assumed that each school should actively shape their school to meet the needs of the community in which it resides. 

 

*hypothetical example

 

Good luck to you. 

 

 

post #9 of 24

Rudolf Steiner and Hitler were contemporaries - Steiner's life was at an end as Hitler was coming to power.  Both Steiner (directly) and Hitler (indirectly) drew their racist ideas from the same source - Helena P. Blavatsky.  Steiner's and Hitler's ideas can indeed sound indistinguishable - especially when taken out of context.  Nonetheless, Steiner was no Hitler - nor did he want to be.  He just had ridiculous ideas about the races. 

 

To understand what Steiner believed, one need only read Steiner's words AND apply them to the overall context of Anthroposophy.  It doesn't do any good to take Steiner out of context.  Steiner structured Anthroposophy around the themes of reincarnation and karma.  With regard to racism, what he believed is that the "individual" is a spirit (not a incarnate human being) and that the individual incarnates into an appropriate body for an experience on earth.  The body is unimportant - OTHER THAN it serves as an indicator of the person's place on the ladder of spiritual advancement... people with white skin being the highest physical form attainable.  You are entitled to advance through all the races... and eventually become white.  White Anthroposophists don't necessarily look down on people of other races... they're just not as spiritually advanced as white people.  Steiner made observations of the races, of course, and assigned intelligence to white people and childishness to black people... among many, many other things.

 

Now, you may think that this is all stuff of a by-gone era, but that isn't completely true.  Steiner's racist ideas are taught to Waldorf teachers in Waldorf teacher training today!  Why?  Well, obviously, they may have children of all races in their classroom, and since each race has its own characteristics, Waldorf teachers need to know about them - just like they learn about the temperaments, large and small-headed children and other things they believe are important.  So each Waldorf teacher has an "impression" of what the spirit of a black, hispanic, asian or native American child is like before they meet them.  This is intended to help them with the incarnation and development of the child.  They aren't intentionally racist, they simply don't understand that what they are doing is racist.

 

The worst manifestation of Steiner's racism came to my own consciousness when a Waldorf teacher taught my child something that is *directly* from Steiner.  She taught in physiology class that "the blood of people from Europe is more evolved than the blood of people from Africa and Asia".  This incredibly thoughtless statement was SUPPORTED by the school administrators when I brought it to their attention.  One called it "out of Africa theory".  So, it is clear to me, they simply don't understand that Steiner was a racist, and they don't understand that by following and applying his ideas in the classroom, they too are promoting and sometimes even teaching racism - as if it was science.

post #10 of 24

PeteK, there are numerous errors in your characterizations and, especially, what you attribute to teachers and classrooms today. I'm not going to engage further because there is no chance this issue can come to resolution here and, should anyone want to discuss this with you, there are already ample opportunities to do so all over the internet. I know you may not care if you are asked to leave Mothering but, as a mother, I would like to participate in other discussions in the future. I'm doing my best not to encourage any back-and-forth on specific points, only registering my general disagreement as someone who has asked this question and investigated it previously. 

 

I answered bmcamb's question because I have seen how troubling it is for people to come across PLAN's stuff and match that to their own observations and experiences with Waldorf schools across the globe. Few people would want opening a racist school as something on their conscience. I guess all I can say at this point is that there are people who have seriously investigated this issue and have come to the conclusion that while Steiner did say some things that warrant having this conversation at all, that fact does not mean that there is an inevitable problem with the teachers, schools and classrooms today. 

post #11 of 24
Quote:
To understand what Steiner believed, one need only read Steiner's words AND apply them to the overall context of Anthroposophy.

 

I totally agree- this is what we did and the main (among other as well) reasons we said NO.

If you question it- do your own research and see who Steiner was- why anyone would not is beyond me. Pretending things are what you want them to mean really only goes so far-IMO

post #12 of 24
Quote:
PeteK, there are numerous errors in your characterizations and, especially, what you attribute to teachers and classrooms today. I'm not going to engage further because there is no chance this issue can come to resolution here and, should anyone want to discuss this with you, there are already ample opportunities to do so all over the internet.

 

The topic is "Steiner and race".  Nobody is trying to come to a "resolution" here - we're just discussing the topic.  Sure, anyone can discuss this topic anywhere on the internet... including, hopefully, MDC.  If you find errors in my characterizations, please feel free to point them out.  If you don't want to engage me, that's fine too.  You are not required to engage me.  If I've mis-characterized anything, you are free to point it out, or let it stand.  Again, the topic of this thread is Steiner and race... it's an issue I'm very familiar with, both with regard to what Steiner said and what is being taught in schools today and why.  I feel like I have a lot to contribute and I hope MDC will allow me to. 

 

 

Quote:
I know you may not care if you are asked to leave Mothering but, as a mother, I would like to participate in other discussions in the future.

 

Isn't that what the other threads are for?  Just a hunch...

 

 

Quote:
I answered bmcamb's question because I have seen how troubling it is for people to come across PLAN's stuff and match that to their own observations and experiences with Waldorf schools across the globe.

 

Ya think?  But really, don't listen to PLANS... I've collected hundreds of reviews of people who have had horrible experiences with Waldorf.  These aren't "critics" - they're just parents, students and teachers who have experienced Waldorf's problems and felt compelled to write about their experiences.

 

 

Quote:
Few people would want opening a racist school as something on their conscience. I guess all I can say at this point is that there are people who have seriously investigated this issue and have come to the conclusion that while Steiner did say some things that warrant having this conversation at all, that fact does not mean that there is an inevitable problem with the teachers, schools and classrooms today.

 

I'm hoping to help people investigate Waldorf - and perhaps come to a different conclusion.  Waldorf teacher training materials are the tip-off that his racist stuff is STILL important to Waldorf teachers.  The training materials are full of very racist stuff.  Anyone can read Faculty Meetings by Rudolf Steiner and see it... I'd be happy to post a link but I'm sure anyone "investigating" Waldorf would find it anyway.  Faculty Meetings is required reading in teacher training.  So is Knowledge of Higher Worlds and many other titles that reinforce Steiner's ideas.  Again, nobody in Waldorf seems to think this is racist in the first place... so I'm pretty sure they don't believe they're opening a racist school.  I, myself, founded a Waldorf school years ago... I never could have imagined the racist material I discovered later.

post #13 of 24

I don't think PeteK should be told to stop giving his opinion. That kind of hush hush is the stuff that scares me about Waldorf!

I just chose this education for my child, even though I really hope a modern day teacher no longer believes in all that anthroposophy teaches. I chose Waldorf because of everything else that is so great about it. It comes closest to what my dream school would look like.

It comforts me that our teacher told something like this... that Steiner's teachings are not a bible to him and he takes from it to his pedagogy what ever works for him.

 

If you were to start a Waldorf school, why could you not be the first school to really put an emphasis on being open about the stuff that Steiner got wrong.

 

quote from PeteK:

 So, it is clear to me, they simply don't understand that Steiner was a racist, and they don't understand that by following and applying his ideas in the classroom, they too are promoting and sometimes even teaching racism - as if it was science.

 

Choosing teachers that don't hush about these problems in anthroposophy, could enable you to pick teachers who can see for themselves what is healthy in a modern society and what should be ditched. Try picking teachers that just want to be great teachers and are not so strong in the religious part?

post #14 of 24
Quote:
Choosing teachers that don't hush about these problems in anthroposophy, could enable you to pick teachers who can see for themselves what is healthy in a modern society and what should be ditched. Try picking teachers that just want to be great teachers and are not so strong in the religious part?

 

I haven't found too many of those (only one or two).  The reason is that Waldorf teachers go through Waldorf teacher training.  That's where Steiner's ideas (religious and otherwise) are taught to them.  Teacher training is a screening process - graduates are ready to do Waldorf... Anthroposophy and all.  Steiner's racist ideas are part of Waldorf teacher training.  Does it make sense that teachers spend money taking training they intend to throw out later?  The internet has abundant stories of people who have started Waldorf teacher training and have been disgusted by what they found.  Others went through it without finding anything problematic.

 

I know I'd be pushing it here if I started quoting some of the stuff Steiner actually said - stuff that's in teacher training materials - but parents should look at the reading lists in Waldorf teacher training: http://www.openwaldorf.com/readingroom.html , http://www.waldorfcritics.org/articles/RSC_reading_list.html , http://www.bacwtt.org/wp-content/uploads/booklist09-10.pdf to get an idea of what Waldorf education is REALLY about.

 

Here's an online version of "Faculty Meetings" (it goes by many names on the teacher reading lists - "Conferences with Teachers", "Discussions with Teachers") which is on all Waldorf teacher training lists: http://digitalseance.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/faculty_meetings_1_2.pdf

post #15 of 24
Quote:

 

If you were to start a Waldorf school, why could you not be the first school to really put an emphasis on being open about the stuff that Steiner got wrong.

 

you can't call it a "Waldorf" school if it is NOT-can you?

 

 

 

Quote:
I don't think PeteK should be told to stop giving his opinion. That kind of hush hush is the stuff that scares me about Waldorf!

 

I agree! Finding information was really key for us and I don't like the idea of stopping others and hope no one finds out mindset-so very wrong on so many levels!

 

When we looked, we went to an open house and were told out right our questions would not be addressed- that started our education into what Waldorf is really about.

 
post #16 of 24
Quote:
you can't call it a "Waldorf" school if it is NOT-can you?

 

You really can't, technically.  The "Waldorf" name is trademarked by AWSNA in America and by other "associations" connected to Waldorf throughout the world.  So, any American school using the Waldorf name is presumably doing so with AWSNA's permission... even the really bad ones.  The worst schools, in fact, is where one tends to find the closest connections to AWSNA... and often the worst schools are the oldest, most established Waldorf schools where coincidentally, the Waldorf teacher training centers tend to be.  Smaller Waldorf start-ups might get away with a few things that are out of the ordinary for Waldorf.  I've never heard of ANY Waldorf school publicly acknowledging that Steiner's ideas were racist.  We often hear, however, apologia that resembles such an acknowledgment.  AWSNA, to my knowledge, has never enforced its right to make a poorly-functioning school suspend use of the Waldorf name.

post #17 of 24

One can argue back and forth in theory if he was, if he wasn't, if it's taught, if it's not.  What I can say is that the theories PeteK likes to quote have yet to be taught to my children in Waldorf Schools, as a matter of fact we have experienced just the opposite when it comes to diversity and treatment of those who come from many areas of the world, bringing with them aspects of different cultures which are also honored at school.  I have no reason to expect they would ever be taught in any manner.  I think it's one thing to look at what Steiner believed, in many areas, as "this is what he also believed," and another to interpret it as "this is what your children will be taught as fact, today."

post #18 of 24

OK, let's ignore what Steiner "also believed", and ONLY look at what is being taught in Waldorf teacher training.  If it's in the teacher training materials, then it's there for a reason... plain and simple.  There's no speculation going on here.  Waldorf teacher training materials include Steiner's racist ideas - it is OUR responsibility to determine the reason.

 

I'm not suggesting Waldorf schools don't have a lot of diversity (they don't, but that isn't what I'm suggesting) - I'm suggesting Waldorf teachers learn about the different races BECAUSE they allow diversity.  When Waldorf-trained teachers looks at a black child, what they are taught is that that child is at a lower stage of human spiritual development than a white child.  There isn't discrimination, per se, against non-white children or families - those people absolutely have to evolve too, they just haven't evolved as much as white people have.  It's not like Waldorf is going to turn down their money.  Waldorf schools can embrace diversity, and some do.  When you believe we're ALL in it for the long haul, and that we will all end up white eventually, what's not to embrace?  They live under a very sick delusion that sometimes surfaces in their curriculum.  If it was only Steiner's delusion, WHY do they teach the same delusion in Waldorf teacher training?  It doesn't make sense that they teach teachers stuff they aren't supposed to apply in their teaching.  It makes more sense that they teach this BECAUSE it's important in Waldorf education to treat and assess each child in accordance with their race.  Just like Waldorf teachers have different approaches for working with a choleric child vs a phlegmatic child, they have different approaches for working with a black child vs a white child.  That's why the racist material is in Waldorf teacher training - and for no other reason.

post #19 of 24

If Rudolf Steiner spoke like this:

"It is completely understandable that every movement has its childhood illnesses and that at the beginning of the theosophical movement one described what it is about as if the evolution of the Earth so to speak was differentiated into seven epochs - they were called 'main races' [here 'main races' refers to the theosophical concept of seven "root races"] - and that every 'root race' was differentiated into seven 'sub-races', and that everything would repeat itself that way for ever, so that you for ever could speak of seven 'races' and seven 'sub-races'.

"But one has to overcome this childhood illness and become clear that the concept of race ceases to have any meaning / importance specifically in our time."

 

then why would a waldorf teacher from OUR time not be able to see the same development in theosophical movement, but in fact go backwards. If there has been accounts on racism by individual waldorf teachers, that only proves that, racist individuals do exist. It does not prove your agenda that racism is being thought in waldorf schools. Your boring link didn't prove it either.

 

I'm posting this for the other people visiting this site, not you PeteK. So spare yourself from attacking me, and then calling me a looser in fight for disappearing, like I've seen you do to others. Guess what, they probably just moved on to other forums to get their information and never visit this site anymore, but you will stay right! Good luck and happy life. 

post #20 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by tittipeitto View Post

If Rudolf Steiner spoke like this:

"It is completely understandable that every movement has its childhood illnesses and that at the beginning of the theosophical movement one described what it is about as if the evolution of the Earth so to speak was differentiated into seven epochs - they were called 'main races' [here 'main races' refers to the theosophical concept of seven "root races"] - and that every 'root race' was differentiated into seven 'sub-races', and that everything would repeat itself that way for ever, so that you for ever could speak of seven 'races' and seven 'sub-races'.

"But one has to overcome this childhood illness and become clear that the concept of race ceases to have any meaning / importance specifically in our time."

Do you know the context of this quote, or did you just peel it off AWSNA's (or Sune's) website?  It's another example of one of AWSNA's out-of-context quotes.  When Steiner talks about the movements' "childhood illnesses" he's talking about the movement TODAY - in that racism STILL exists today - but in a few thousand years of mixing (when everyone turns to "latte" as the Waldorf teacher described it) - THEN the races will cease to have meaning... not before, and not because some Waldorf teacher decided to turn up the timetable.  Steiner said when this will happen... and it ISN'T NOW!

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