The BHA’s Selective Approach to Steiner Criticism

The British Humanist Association's (BHA) recent information victory on Steiner/Waldorf education is very good news. Making sure parents have accurate information when choosing education surely cannot be faulted.

Richy Thompson of the BHA has, through the Information Tribunal, forced the UK’s Department for Education (DfE) to release withheld documents which may help shine a light on how and why this education system was approved to be part of the free schools initiative.

We’ve had concerns about Steiner pedagogy being accepted into the free schools movement for some time; we'd made a video detailing those issues and released it before they'd been given the go-ahead, in the hopes of encouraging debate.

So we’re absolutely agreed that making sure the government is open and transparent about the approval process is an excellent thing, and we just need to wait now for the DfE to provide the requested information.

But there's a problem with the BHA's selective approach to known Steiner problems, and humanism itself (as advertised) demands that the BHA, intent on publicly criticising others, should stand by its values and back up its own position if it is found to be open to challenge.

The BHA's main points of argument are that they "oppose state funding of Steiner schools because of concerns about pseudoscience on the curriculum (including scepticism of evolution and vaccinations and support for homeopathy), homeopathy being given to pupils by schools' 'anthroposophical doctors', and the fact that a number of private and at least one state school has opted out of providing vaccinations."

They provide a link to a freedom of information request which states that the Hereford Steiner school had opted out of the HPV vaccine programme in November 2012.

As Mr Thompson, the BHA’s Education Campaigner puts it, "we also think there are serious public health risks to funding schools that opt out of providing vaccinations."

We contacted a few councils and traditional state schools across the country, and it turns out that the situation isn't clear cut at all; it only took a few calls to establish that while many schools do provide a vaccination service for certain vaccines, others do not, and they state that it's up to GPs to provide them.

So if some traditional state-funded schools don't provide vaccinations either, why single out Steiner schools and make it sound as if they're the only ones by stating that "the BHA is not aware of any other state schools opting out of vaccines"?

Whether the BHA has researched this properly or not, specific accusations against state-funded Steiner schools are unfortunately not well backed up by evidence either.

The Bristol Steiner Free School, for example, won't be having an anthroposophical doctor and when we interviewed their business manager, Joe Evans, he told us that "we're absolutely clear that our curriculum is about mainstream science," and, "if there's a local programme where vaccinations are being offered in schools, we'd be part of that."

This shows that the concerns the BHA are choosing to express about Steiner free schools may well be less justified than it sounds, or at the very least, cannot be generalised.

Contrast this with Mr Thompson's approach to another concern of Steiner education, which is described by a very vocal Steiner critic as such: "it seems the MOST problematic issue in Waldorf is unchecked bullying."

When Mr Thompson wrote "BHA BRIEFING: concerns about the state funding of Steiner schools" in January 2014, this concern wasn't mentioned once in its fifteen pages.

We were passed a brief piece of communication with the BHA by someone who had tried to address this apparent oversight. This is what Mr Thompson said to them in answer to their question about unchecked bullying: "I have heard many people say that bullying is an issue in Steiner schools, although it's not something I've looked into as our interest is principally in the state funded schools where I am not aware of similar issues. You might want to consider contacting Andy Lewis".

Dr Lewis is a prolific critic of Steiner education in the UK, and indeed, his website states that "The [sic] are consistent reports of how Steiner Schools have a laissez faire attitude to problems such as bullying within schools. [...] The role of the school is spiritual midwiffery [sic] – teachers are there to help children’s spirits incarnate as they grow. Karmic influences need to be worked out and if a child is being bullied then intervention may interfere with the child’s destiny."

And also, "it is a common complaint that bullying goes unchecked as their [sic] is a belief that the bullied and the bullier and reversing roles from previous incarnations and these karmic issues must be worked out by the children."

Yet in spite of these clear statements which are borne out by many others from critics and ex-parents alike, Dr Lewis referred to the BHA briefing as "comprehensive".

In his communications, Mr Thompson further justified not mentioning the most reported problem in Steiner education at all in the briefing by stating: "the Steiner movement has been working hard to distinguish the behaviour of their state schools from what happens in the private sector."

Yet check back to the BHA's quote about vaccination above: "a number of private and at least one state school has opted out of providing vaccinations".

It seems the BHA are prepared to use private Steiner schools to bolster the vaccination agenda, while simultaneously ignoring them to avoid mentioning unchecked bullying, even though all agree this is of genuine concern.

Bullying, even when it is addressed, can have long term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of children, as we all know. “Unchecked bullying” is furthermore bullying which is not addressed by staff, allegedly in Steiner for the reasons of karma that Dr Lewis refers to, i.e. it is bullying which is allowed to continue and consequently it describes a situation in which children and anyone trying to advocate for them are left in a spectacularly vulnerable position, as is well documented in the awful accounts so prevalent on the internet.

Whatever the truth of the alleged karmic reasons for allowing bullying to remain unchecked, it is a fact that "pedagogical" means of dealing with discipline are openly stated as being a "marked characteristic" of all Steiner/Waldorf Schools, whether public or private.

So while waiting for the release of the DfE documents, we're forced to note that the position of the BHA doesn't add up either, and sadly points to political manoeuvring of the issues for some other reason than the transparent and accountable humanist agenda, in the interests of children, that is being publicly advertised.

We put those points to Mr Thompson and asked him for some clarification, but at the time of publication, he has chosen not to respond or even attempt to explain this completely obvious contradiction from the British Humanist Association about their stance on serious matters of children’s welfare.

Richy Thompson’s photo was taken from the BHA’s site.

The vaccination photo was taken from Wikipedia.

1861-2011 : 150 years of Rudolf Steiner

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