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Rudolf Steiner, clairvoyant, educationist and racist

PETER FROST first discovered the weird ideas of Austrian occultist Rudolf Steiner in Watford 45 years ago. Now Steiner schools are back in the headlines

THE Rudolf Steiner School, in Kings Langley near Watford, has been ordered to close after a totally unsatisfactory Ofsted inspection. 

The Secretary of State for Education has issued a notice for the school, which charges between £3,405 and £8,370 a year in fees, to be deregistered and closed. 

The school is currently appealing against the decision and will continue to operate until a final decision has been made, probably before Christmas. 

It is not allowed to take in any new students but it has appointed a new head and completely changed its board of trustees.

The school has also issued a public apology to children and their families for “real and serious failings going back several years,” acknowledging that it had failed to act on “repeated concerns raised by parents” over safeguarding, bullying and other issues.

The decision comes after Denis McCarthy, a senior staff member who was also a leading figure in Britain’s Steiner school movement, was sacked from the school for gross misconduct.

The Sunday Telegraph has reported that McCarthy was also a senior figure in the Steiner-inspired movement called anthroposophy. 

The school, it seems, did everything that they could to protect him: minimising or dismissing concerns and deleting emails. 

About 45 years ago, my wife Ann and I moved out of London to Watford in Hertfordshire. Watford was then well known as a centre of the glossy magazine printing industry. 

We soon met up with the large and active Communist Party in the town. As well as the local branch, there was also an industrial branch for printers in the huge Sun Printers and Odham’s print works in the town.

There were also a good few printers working at the Communist Party’s own national print works, Farleigh Press, which was located in the town. (Indeed, the Morning Star is printed in Watford today, by Trinity Mirror.)

All this communist activity encouraged many other progressive organisations, including the Woodcraft Folk, the Workers Music Association and the the Co-operative Women’s Guild too.

All in all it was an active and interesting cultural left-wing community but one aspect of it always surprised and troubled me. 

Many of the better-off communists in the town choose to send their children to a private fee-paying school — that very same Steiner school that has just hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

All those years ago Watford and its district still had single-sex grammar schools, a co-educational mixed grammar school, faith schools, as well as a good selection of secondary moderns, both mixed and single-sex. Things have changed little today.

As I have already said, it also had the Steiner school offering what seemed like a very liberal kind of education, albeit at fees of many hundreds of pounds a year. 

The school seemed to offer laid-back and liberal education with an emphasis on art and culture rather than science but also with a few rather curious features.

From pupils at the school I learnt that they didn’t allow black paint in the art studios and didn’t allow younger pupils to even start to learn to read until they were seven years old.

More recent pupils have told me other disquieting things. Parents of a left-handed pupil were advised to tie the youngster’s left hand behind his back to encourage more common right-handed behaviour. 

Other recent pupils have told me that they hated the stroking some staff used as a disciplinary measure.  

On the pastoral side the schools discouraged vaccinations and used homeopathic first aid and healthcare. The lack of vaccinations means that some Steiner schools have received health warnings as measles danger spots. 

The schools also taught a Steiner-invented therapeutic dance and movement technique called eurhythmy.

They encouraged really close relationships between staff, pupils and their families. This included home visits and even staff going on holiday with pupils and their families.

This obviously continues and was one of the criticisms in the recent Ofsted report. Staff took older pupils to lunch and there was no reliable mechanism to check if the pupils returned to school in the afternoon.

These curious features of Steiner education made me keen to find out more about Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian-born clairvoyant and occultist, who died in 1925.

Steiner, I soon discovered, seemed to have written about just about everything. He had weird ideas about almost everything, including the occult, alternative medicine, agriculture, racial superiority, even the lost continent of Atlantis and, of course, education.

This vast and diverse collection of his ideas had become part of both a philosophy and a movement known as anthroposophy.

Strangely, I discovered that, although it seemed all the staff at the Steiner schools were enthusiastic anthroposophists — indeed it seemed to be an essential qualification for the job — the actual philosophy was never openly taught or indeed even mentioned by name within teaching at the school.

It was only when I started to study Steiner’s incredible racist ideas I realised why they would be reluctant to make them public. 

Steiner believed that black people had an instinctive approach to life while white Caucasian people approached life intellectually. 

Every race, he believed, had a natural geographical homeland where they should live — black people in Europe were a nuisance, he wrote.

Steiner argued there was also what he called a hierarchy in races. Inferior races were at the bottom of an evolutionary staircase he helpfully sketched out in one of his books. 

There were a number of racial groups with “negroes” at the bottom and “white Aryans” and particularly Nordic Germanic Aryans at the top of the pile. In between there were various “brown” and “yellow” inferior races.     

When a person of any race died they were reincarnated. If they had good karma they would come back as what Steiner saw as a superior race until after a number of satisfactory lives they would achieve a top-of-the-pile white Aryan existence. Others would move down in the pecking order.    

Recently, it has been reported that when four white Steiner teachers taking part in a survey were asked to tick a box giving their ethnicity, they ticked every box, explaining that over their many lives and reincarnations they had moved up through the races.

Steiner saw skin colour and race as central to understanding a person’s spirituality. No wonder Hitler and his nazis were so enthusiastic in accepting and promoting Steiner’s ideas on race.

Steiner also often pronounced his strong anti-semitic views. Here is just one quote which will give you a flavour of his thinking. “Jewry as such has outlived itself for a long time. It does not have the right to exist in the modern life of nations. That it has survived, nevertheless, is a mistake by world history, of which the consequences were bound to come.” 

Another strong but strange basis of anthroposophy was Steiner’s version of organic farming, called biodynamism. This included more than its fair share of myth, muck and magic.

Among the techniques used was the burying of cattle horns filled with either cow dung or crushed flint. 

After many months the horn’s contents were dug up and dissolved in water to create a liquid manure of microscopic homeopathic-type dilution. 

Practitioners were carefully instructed that this must be done by stirring for exactly 30 minutes in a clockwise direction and then another half an hour in an anti-clockwise direction. 

Today one of the few strongholds of biodynamism is, perhaps predictably, among California’s wine growers.  

Another area of study for Steiner was anthroposophic medicine, including drugs, art therapy, rhythmic massages, special exercises and anthroposophic nursing. 

His anthroposophic drugs are based on ancient alchemy and homeopathic notions, far removed from modern medical science. 

For example, Steiner’s intuition convinced him that mistletoe might help treat cancer because, like cancer, mistletoe is a parasitic growth that eventually kills its host. 

Today, mostly in Germany, the sale of mistletoe remedies for cancer produces enormous funding for the entire Steiner anthroposophy movement.  

So with such a bunch of unlikely beliefs, how has it been possible that Kings Langley and other Steiner schools have got away with such serious failings and not been uncovered by the inspection regime?

Over the years the Steiner movement successfully lobbied the government that their schools should be inspected not by normal Ofsted inspectors, but by a special, much more sympathetic body, the School Inspection Service. 

Steiner schools tended to get glowing reports from these inspectors. However, it would appear at Kings Langley that persistent complaints from parents have resulted in Ofsted stepping in and producing a more accurate and critical report.

A number of years ago the Steiner schools campaigned to have some of their institutions directly funded by the Department for Education. Three actually achieved state funding. 

One of the leading lobbyists on behalf of the Steiner schools movement was the novelist Emma Craigie, better known as Emma Beatrice Rees-Mogg.

She is none other than the sister of the arch-right-wing Tory and Dickensian villain lookalike, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.

Craigie had a word with her brother’s fellow Tory MP, Michael Gove, when he was still in opposition, even showing him round a Steiner school. 

Three Steiner schools got their state funding in 2012 when Gove was education secretary. Others are still working towards state funding.

So will the Steiner school in Kings Langley survive? That is important to nearly three dozen other private Steiner schools which also dream of getting state funding. 

Or will the school close and the resulting post-mortem and enquiries help shine a bright cleansing light on the nasty, nutty, racist beliefs of Rudolf Steiner and end the scandal that allows state funding for this awful education system and the racist and superstitious philosophy that is at its root?

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