Don't forget to visit The Waldorf Review for more up-to-date school reviews and news stories.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pete K Declares War on Racism at Highland Hall Part 1

September 13, 2009

Dear Highland Hall Parents,

Many of you are hearing from me, and of me, for the first time. I am sorry to have to contact you under such circumstances, but I’m afraid there are recent issues at Highland Hall that you need to know about.

I have recently voiced concerns that Highland Hall has been teaching racism to children. The example I gave was a physiology class given by Merrily Lovell. My concerns were met with an invitation to talk with Highland Hall’s attorney.

Highland Hall has a credibility problem according to many parents, so getting to the bottom of things is sometimes difficult and in my experience even impossible but when it happens it is only accomplished through constant pressure and persistence.

Finally, after increasing pressure a meeting with two Highland Hall board members ensued. The details of that meeting are discussed in the attached letter that went out last week to some of you. The meeting was unproductive, terminating with Highland Hall issuing an unofficial “restraining order” to me.

It was only after I made the claim of racism public and threatened to stage a protest in front of their school during the Rose Ceremony (among other things), that Highland Hall appeared to take my concerns about racism being taught at Highland Hall seriously. They have asked me about a specific lesson, but racism at Highland Hall is deeper than this. It is interspersed throughout the curriculum. It is important, I feel, that we look at this carefully. So where do we start?

Every Waldorf school is founded on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner which Steiner called Anthroposophy. With specific attention to racism in Waldorf, every parent should ask these questions now:

1) Who was Steiner?
2) Was he racist?
3) Why does it matter to us now?
4) Is Anthroposophy racist?
5) Is Anthroposophy in Waldorf curriculum?
6) More importantly, is racism in Waldorf curriculum?
7) And finally, if racism is in Waldorf curriculum, why is it there?

Those are the questions I will answer today and in subsequent emails. With your indulgence, I will make my case that Waldorf is based on Anthroposophy, that Anthroposophy is based on racist tenets and that those racist themes end up in Waldorf. If you don’t agree, feel free to tell me so.

Who was Steiner?
We can read the details about Steiner’s life almost anywhere. Let’s look at how he is described on Highland Hall’s website:

… Following the indications of Austrian scientist and philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the children are taught …

OK, so Steiner was a scientist? By what standards? There is no serious scientific discovery attributed to Steiner.

According to :
Although Waldorf often describes Rudolf Steiner as a scientist, you won't find him in lists of famous scientists on the web like this one or this one. Steiner is rarely mentioned as a significant contributor to the body of scientific knowledge, and is by no means essential to modern science. Even those familiar with Steiner are somewhat surprised on the rare occasion he is mentioned in a mainstream scientific context. However, there are some anthroposophists who believe that Rudolf Steiner is the reincarnation of Aristotle, which, if true, would increase his status as a seminal scientist considerably.
While I’d love to digress into some of Steiner’s nutty “scientific” ideas, I’d rather stay on topic.

Let’s ask someone else… How about Wikipedia:

Rudolf Steiner (25 or 27 February 1861[1] – 30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social thinker, architect and esotericist.[2][3] He gained initial recognition as a literary critic and cultural philosopher. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he founded a new spiritual movement, Anthroposophy, as an esoteric philosophy growing out of European transcendentalist roots with links to Theosophy.

OK – so Steiner was not a scientist. Science editor at best… “Spiritual Scientist” for sure. He doesn’t appear on any list of scientists. Why is Highland Hall is misrepresenting Steiner to parents right off the bat? Because Steiner’s science is a vehicle for teaching racist ideas that are not based in science. Which brings us to our next question…

Was he racist?
We’ve seen the horrible quotes that suggest he was. Did he really think black people were inferior to white people? YES, he really did. He believed “individuals” are in spirit form and move up or down through a hierarchy of races in various incarnations. He believed as people advance spiritually, they advance racially until they appear in the white form – the “race of the future”. This is exactly what he believed. That is the definition of racism.

From Wikipedia:

Race and ethnicity
Steiner's work includes both universalist, humanist elements and historically-influenced racial assumptions.[59] Due to the contrast and even contradictions between these elements, "whether a given reader interprets Anthroposophy as racist or not depends upon that reader's concerns."[60] Steiner considered that every people has a unique essence, which he called its soul or spirit,[56] saw race as a physical manifestation of humanity's spiritual evolution and at times seemed to place races into a complex hierarchy largely derived from contemporary theosophical views, yet he consistently and explicitly subordinated the role of hereditary factors, including race and ethnicity, to individual factors in development;[60] the human individuality, for Steiner, is centered in a person's unique ego, not the body's accidental qualities.[13] More specifically:
Steiner characterized specific races, nations, and ethnicities in ways that have been termed racist by critics[61] including characterizations of various races and ethnic groups as flowering, others as backward or destined to disappear;[60] and hierarchical views of the spiritual evolution of different races,[62] including - at times, and inconsistently - portraying the white race, European culture, or the Germanic culture as representing the high-point of human evolution as of the early 20th century, though describing these as destined to be superseded by future cultures.[60] Nevertheless, his views about German culture were not ethnically based; he saw this culture, in particular Goethe and the German transcendentalists, as the source of spiritual ideals that were of central importance both for the immediate region and for the world.[63]
Why does it matter to us now?
We are being told by many people that racism IS in Waldorf schools. Waldorf says NO. Yet the ideas of race and the spirit developing through incarnations in higher and lower races is one of the basic tenets of Anthroposophy. These tenets are taught in Waldorf teacher training.

From the article:
Klaus Prange, educational specialist at the University of Tübingen:
"This construction serves to create a consciousness in the individual that all of history, as Steiner reads it, with all it peculiarities, is present in every human being. With a clear advantage to our belonging, or supposed belonging, one must say, to the Aryan race, which Waldorf continues to treat as something that really existed."
Some books describe the characteristics of entire peoples, teaching that Russians are undisciplined and unpunctual, the French superficial and so-called "bush men" have forward-curving spines and large posteriors.
Hildegard Ernst trains history teachers for public schools. We present her with the Waldorf teaching materials.
Hildegard Ernst, historian at the University of Mainz:
" In some chapters peoples are depicted with exaggerated stereotypes that must lead to racist ideas if left uncommented."
Is Anthroposophy racist?
When we look at Anthroposophy’s defense of Steiner’s racism, we see some very shifty footwork. We see a glowing quote from Steiner describing how he saw the idea of race as no longer necessary. From “Overcoming Racism through Anthroposophy” which warns:

In recent years, occasional charges of racism have been leveled against Rudolf
Steiner and against institutions arising from his work, such as the Waldorf schools. Those
laying the charges have increasingly shown themselves more interested in defaming the
work of Rudolf Steiner than in finding what lay behind the apparently offending
passages. It is therefore important for serious readers to recognize that critics have taken quotations out of context and/or from unedited, transcribed (not tape-recorded) notes of Steiner’s lectures. Clearly, such techniques can easily lead to errors or serious misunderstandings based on patently dishonest manipulation or distortions of Steiner’s thoughts. The most compelling proof comes from Steiner himself.

As evidence, they put up the following quote:

“ … the anthroposophical movement [ . . .], must cast aside the division into
races. It must seek to unite people of all races and nations, and to bridge the
divisions and differences between various groups of people. The old point of view
of race has a physical character, but what will prevail in the future will have a
more spiritual character.”
-R. Steiner, The Universal Human4

So, to take it out of context would be a “patently dishonest manipulation or distortion of Steiner’s thoughts… right? OK, then… let’s see what the passage really says:

The Universal Human – Lecture One
If we go back beyond the Atlantean catastrophe, we see how human races were prepared. In the ancient Atlantean age, human beings were grouped according to external bodily characteristics even more so than in our time. The races we distinguish today are merely vestiges of these significant differences between human beings in ancient Atlantis. The concept of race is only fully applicable to Atlantis. Because we are dealing with the real evolution of humanity, we have therefore never used this concept of race in its original meaning. Thus, we do not speak of an Indian race, a Persian race, and so on, because it is no longer true or proper to do so. Instead, we speak of an Indian, a Persian, and other periods of civilization. And it would make no sense at all to say that in our time a sixth “race” is being prepared. Though remnants of ancient Atlantean differences, of ancient Atlantean group-soulness, still exist and the division into races is still in effect, what is being prepared for the sixth epoch is precisely the stripping away of race. That is essentially what is happening.
Therefore, in its fundamental nature, the anthroposophical movement, which is to prepare the sixth period, must cast aside the division into races. It must seek to unite people of all races and nations, and to bridge the divisions and differences between various groups of people. The old point of view of race has a physical character, but what will prevail in the future will have a more spiritual character.
That is why it is absolutely essential to understand that our anthroposophical movement is a spiritual one. It looks to the spirit and overcomes the effects of physical differences through the force of being a spiritual movement. Of course, any movement has its childhood illnesses, so to speak. Consequently, in the beginning of the theosophical movement the earth was divided into seven periods of time, one for each of the seven root races, and each of these root races was divided into seven sub-races. These seven periods were said to repeat in a cycle so that one could always speak of seven races and seven sub-races. However, we must get beyond the illnesses of childhood and understand clearly that the concept of race has ceased to have any meaning in our time.
Humanity is becoming evermore individual, and this has further implications for human individuality. It is important that this individuality develop in the right way. The anthroposophical movement is to help people become individualities, or personalities, in the right sense. How can it accomplish this? Here we must look to the most striking new quality of the human soul that is being prepared. People often ask why we do not remember our former incarnations. I have often answered this question, which is like saying that because a four-year-old child cannot do arithmetic, human beings cannot do arithmetic. When the child reaches ten, he or she will be able to multiply with ease. It is the same with the soul. If it cannot remember our former incarnations today, the time will come when it will be able to do so. Then it will possess the same capacity initiates have.
This new development is happening today. There are numerous souls nowadays who are so far advanced that they are close to the moment of remembering their former incarnations, or at least the last one. A number of people are at the threshold of comprehensive memory, embracing life between birth and death as well as previous incarnations. Many people will remember their present incarnation when they are reborn in their next life. It is simply a question of how they remember. The anthroposophical movement is to help and guide people to remember in the right way.
In light of this, we can describe this anthroposophical movement as leading a person to grasp correctly what is called the I, the innermost member of the human being. I have often pointed out that Fichte rightly said most people would sooner regard themselves as a piece of lava on the moon than as an I. [ see Note 1 ] To think how many people in our time have any idea at all of the I — that is, of what they are — leads to a dismal conclusion.
In other words, it is the job of Anthroposophy to change people’s thinking about the races – not that they are all equal, but that their inequality is unimportant in the NEXT epoch – in the context of Steiner’s thinking. For them to do this, they have to transfer the responsibility of being “human” to some spiritual form Steiner calls the “I” – our spirit Individual.
Is Anthroposophy in Waldorf curriculum?
Anthroposophy is everywhere in the curriculum of Waldorf. To know this, one needs to first know what Anthroposophy is. The kids know it’s there – they just can’t describe what it is or how it got there. Steiner’s ideas are supported in the science curriculum, for example. Here is former Highland Hall science teacher Tom Mellett talking about Goethean science. Look at the kid’s report cards and see how many times Goethe is mentioned – especially in science.
More importantly, is racism in Waldorf curriculum?
Yes, this is the most important quiestion for many reasons. To get to the racism, that is, the theme that says the “I” is the human, and not the physical body, themes like reincarnation are brought to children starting very young. The “Rainbow Bridge” story in the kindergarten and the paper butterflies symbolizing a single spirit form undergoing metamorphosis from one physical shape to the other set up the children for the concepts of the “I” taking precedence over the human form. By the fifth grade Olympic games, the kids have been divided by body type (according to Steiner’s indications) and are told to wear tee shirts designating them as such. These ideas, starting before kindergarten, pave the way for the more solid racist ideas to be presented. Ideas about perfect thinking, physiology and culture are weighted toward Europeans. In future emails, I will explore the Waldorf curriculum thoroughly and show how it relates to Steiner’s “I” and the promotion of racist themes.
And finally, if racism is in Waldorf curriculum, why is it there?
Again, it is the purpose of Anthroposophists to promote Steiner’s ideas of the “I” – that we are not humans but spirits inhabiting human bodies. Waldorf is the missionary arm of Anthroposophy. Waldorf’s intention is to create Anthroposophists.

Many people would be fine with Steiner’s ideas about the “I” if they didn’t require the assignment of a higher value to the white race and a lower value to other races and further describe that some races are ascending while others are declining or degrading. The fact that Steiner DID have these views is sad. That he created a school to promote them is terrible. That the school promotes these views without telling parents… well, that is a tragedy that borders on criminal – but we can help them stop.

Our course of action
So, where do we go from here? Waldorf has, at its core, racist ideas that cannot be extricated from the curriculum without intense overhaul of the curriculum and refutation of Steiner’s main themes. Now that it has been discovered, what should be done about this? What CAN be done about this? More difficult would be to extricate Steiner’s racist ideas from the minds of some Waldorf teachers who don’t understand that their ideas are racist..

For any parent still considering leaving their child at Highland Hall, the first course of action must be OPENNESS at Highland Hall. They must be open to answering ANY parent’s or prospective parent’s questions truthfully. How do parents know if they have had a truthful answer? Many people I have encountered at Highland Hall claim ignorance of these issues. Maybe Highland Hall needs to be educated about what racism is? Maybe some formal sensitivity training about why some ideas they believe are racist - should be required for ALL faculty and staff. Decision-makers at Highland Hall must be people who understand what is in Anthroposophy and what its intentions are.

We could have an open forum for questions and answers, but Highland Hall opposes this. Why? I feel it is important to discuss these things openly so that people have the opportunity to hear both sides. I encourage openness at Highland Hall. I encourage you to do the same.

Please ask the tough questions of your teachers. Your children require your attentive focus RIGHT NOW. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or comments.

Pete Karaiskos