Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A golden lesson?

It was beginning to seem like the whole country had constipation. In bars, in cafes, in sports clubs and in living rooms Kiwis sat with furrowed brows and clenched fists, grunting whenever another rider lost contact with his horse, groaning whenever the opposition put another soccer ball or hockey puck into the back of the net. Was New Zealand destined not to win a single Olympic medal? Could the dismal record the All Blacks carved out last month have been an augury?

After Saturday night's surge of medals, brows unfurrowed, faces lost their unhealthy purple tingle, fists unclenched into applauding palms, and the cliche-mongers of the media pronounced the salvation of New Zealand. After rower Mahi Drysdale battled Beijing belly to wear a vomit-stained bronze medal, the New Zealand Herald crowed that the spirit of 'national toughness' had not died with Edmund Hillary. With his willingness to rise above adversity and leave his body, or rather his breakfast, on the battlefield, Drysdale was, the Herald reckoned, a model for young Kiwis raised in an era of emasculating, anti-competitive
'political correctness'.

One of the Herald's gang of civic-minded letter writers took up the same theme with reference to the Evers-Swindell twins, who overcame a couple of pumped-up Germans and Peter Montgomery's senile TV commentary to narrowly win their second successive rowing gold. Contrasting the broad sweet smiles and bulging biceps of the Evers-Swindell girls with the bulging boobs of the naughty girls Steve Crow wants to parade down Queen Street, the Herald's correspondent insisted that 'here we have two different models of womanhood'. Apparently the Evers-Swindells hark back to an older, better world, where girls knew how to sew before they knew how to spell, and only visited sinful places like Queen St to watch the Santa Parade or cheer the return of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Before we turn Drysdale and the Evers-Swindells into symbols of the sort of good old New Zealand Brian Tamaki and Garth George are forever eulogising, though, we ought to consider where all three rowers went to school. Drysdale and the Evers-Swindells didn't spend their formative years at an ultra-conservative, militarised institution like the one John Graham created at Auckland Boys Grammar; nor did they even experience the rough and ready pleasures of a proudly old-fashioned school somewhere in New Zealand's rural heartland.

Drysdale and the Evers-Swindells are all proud ex-students of Taikura Rudolf Steiner School in Hastings. The school was founded more than half a century ago, though it was only in 2000 that the word Taikura was added to its name. As the school's website
, the meanings of the new word illuminate the philosophy of Steiner education:

heartwood of trees with red wood;
currents (of influence, of emotion, of sensibility)

streams (of consciousness, of philosophy)

ocean tides

tides of life

red glow

treasured possession

sanctum of learning

I don't know whether that little incantation would appeal to John Graham, Martin Deaker, or any of the other red-faced schoolmaster-coaches who are always complaining about the 'softness' of young New Zealanders, and the lack of 'guts and grits' shown by young Kiwi sportsmen and women. For his part, Rudolf Steiner would probably have been quite uncomfortable at the barracks-like school John Graham ran at Auckland Grammar in a desperate effort to turn out 'hard' sportspeople with 'a will to win'.

Steiner, a stern critic of the ideological and cultural conformity demanded by
modern industrial society, set up schools that were intended not to churn out robots for the factory or the football team, but to 'educate the whole child', by making the emotions and imagination of pupils as important as their reading and arithmetic skills.

In a fine post on this blog, Skyler described her experiences at one of New Zealand's handful of Steiner schools:

The teachers at my school worked hard to produce well-rounded individuals - people who could learn from life as well as books. Field trips to beaches and forests and school plays were as important as exams. The arts were taken as seriously as the sciences, and imagination was celebrated rather than stifled. Ours was a 'hands on' way of learning: we were encouraged to do our own research, rather than simply swallow facts and figures. I remember learning about history and English literature not by sitting in class taking down a teacher's monologue, but by touring the North Island with our class putting on a play about Nazism and the resistance to it in continental Europe during World War Two. While studying Indian Mythology we heard stories, learnt music, poetry, cooked Indian food and learnt traditional dancing and some of the language, and put on another play. As twelve year olds studying geology we went camping and caving at Waitomo.

Our school would acknowledge the rhythm of the year by celebrating the change of seasons. In autumn we would dress up in autumnal colours, have a harvest table of food we would give to charity, sing songs and eat a meal we had cooked together. For winter we built a bonfire, made lanterns, went for a lantern walk at night and sang winter songs – very magical! These celebrations gave us a sense of stability and connectedness to the world around us.

The Nazis rushed to close Steiner's schools down, calling them breeding grounds for weak and undisciplined citizens. Today, Steiner's detractors sometimes still use similar language. You won't see a Steiner school first XV taking out a regional schools' title anytime soon. Sport is a part of Steiner education, but it is often not even competitive, let alone militarised and commercialised. Twenty year-old fifth year seventh-formers aren't paid to skip classes play rugby at any Steiner school.

Isn't it remarkable, though, that a single, small Steiner school has delivered New Zealand such Olympic riches? If The Republic of Steiner could appear on the medal board, it would stand above a sports superpower like Argentina, which has so far only won a single bronze at Beijing. Could it be that the strength of character that helped Drysdale overcome acute pain to take bronze, and enabled the Evers-Swindells to come from behind to win a tight race, is acquired more easily in the relaxed, anti-authoritarian, creative atmosphere of a Steiner school? Perhaps the narrow, high-pressure, hierachical education that many sportspeople marked as 'promising' now get at mainstream Kiwi schools has something to with the ability of our rugby players and our cricketers to so often steal defeat from the jaws of victory at the business ends of sports tournaments? Perhaps Rudolf Steiner has something to teach the sports coaches and headmasters of this country?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting - I had always assumed that NZ rowing was dominated by the scions of schools such as Christs College.

As someone who had the fortune (or misfortune) to experience both extremes of the NZ educational system (Rudolf Steiner and Christs College) I would have to agree with you though that on the whole the former is preferable to the latter type!

It does seem however that Steiner also has a certain attraction for reactionary right-wing types - in Dunedin last year during my election campaign I was assailed by a Steiner devotee who was greatly concerned at the destruction of spiritual values at the hands of "creeping secularism" and socialism in the West.

He had high hopes of converting me to his ideas, and would hand-deliver stuff that Steiner had written to my letter box which unfortunately I never got around to reading, so I´m really none the wiser as to just what it was that led this nutter to adopt a philosopher more normally associated with morris dancing and eurythmics!

3:45 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I think Steinerism (distorted) can lead to "fascism" or at least elitism and so on or "weird spiritualism", - but if good people are involved the concept and the practice is promising - Ron Riddell my friend was a teacher where Skyler went to school - he is good sort and a poet - but he tends at times to be a bit vague and waffly...I don't buy into vegetarianism (after all Hitler was vegetarian!) - but I think the more humane schools with creative ways of educating people are best -

As to Olympic medals and sports - in general I hate sports.

I quickly stopped watching the Olympics...

I couldn't care if we lost every sports game for the next 20 million years.

I got quite and rapidly bored with the Olympics (particularly the rowing and swimming) and the endless counting of Golds and Bronzes (& the inane commentaries) it all seems to puerile. Like a whole lot of children -

So I stopped watching it all.

If I ever went to compete in anything I would compete as myself - not as a New Zealander - asked who I was I would say -

I am a Worldlander.

And who do you represent and want to win? -

Me - moi - ich - I!

And New Zealand -


4:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maps last week you went on about Kerry Bolton the NZ neo-nazi and the way he tries to use bad scholarship to prove whites were in New Zild before Maori. Well, did you know Bolton is a fan of Rudolf Steiner? Didya?

5:54 pm  
Blogger Skyler said...

Most people I know involved with Steiner education are people who tend to be liberal types who are interested in all things holistic and working collaboratively - I've never come across a right wing Steinerite.

Anything that is alternative can attract wierdos but most people involved in Steiner Ed are normal comitted teachers and parents who want to give their kids a well rounded education.

Some people have taken Steiner's ideas and interpreted them to their own ends and some others try and create a whole cult of steiner and that's where the strange spiritual stuff comes in.

Most Steiner schools in NZ are state integrated and they have to come up to state education standards and fulfill the NZ curriculum requirements.

By the way Richard, as far as I remember Ron was never a full time teacher at Michael Park - just a relief teacher. His ex wife Kate was an excellent art teacher there though. And, not everyone who goes to a steiner school is a vegetarian and it's not a philosophy of the education!

11:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are a serious student of Steiner's writings, it quickly becomes obvious that the question of human races was not immaterial. Steiner returned again and again, and often quite detailed, to the origins and characteristics of human races. This is an important part of his writings on the progress and development of humanity. How do you get a black skin color?

The physiological characteristics which traditionally (but quite in conflict with modern biology) is called a human race are achieved through heritance. Steiner, who did not believe in biological Evolution, thought that it was only recent that the racial characteristics became hereditary. His spiritual science showed that "historically, the racial characteristics came from where people were born". 4 He also wrote in detail on how these racial characteristics had come about. In the case of the "negroes", they came from forces emanating from "a point in the heart of Africa. Just about all of the forces that specifically influences the human during her early childhood come from here." 5 This point works through "those people who throughout their lives are completely dependent on these powers, so that this point permanently infuses them with the first childhood characteristics. This is approximately a description of all the people - regarding their racial characteristics - that, so to speak, sets free the decisive forces from this point. What we call the black race is essentially conditioned by these characteristics." 6 According to Steiner, black people were, in effect, childish.

In a different context, he described the blacks as "the last remnants of the group of humans by which the intestines are hardened", 7 and wrote further:

"But the people that didn't develop their id, that was too exposed to the influence of the sun, they were like plants: They produced far too much carbon under their skin - and became black. That is why the negroes are black." 8

The Asian Peoples

The Asian peoples are, according to Steiner, conditioned by a point on the surface on the Earth that endows them with "the later characteristics of youth." 9 These peoples are, he thought, far too introvert:

"Look at these colours, from the Negro to the Yellow population found in Asia. From those you have bodies which are once again containers of the most different souls, starting with the totally passive negro-soul, completely devoted to the surroundings, the outer physis, to the passive soul's second level in the different parts of Asia." 10

Steiner didn't hesitate when it comes to judging separate Asian peoples. The huns were described as "the last remnants of old Atlantic peoples. They are deeply decadent, which shows in their decaying astral- and ether-bodies." 11

Furthermore, there were "such people, that are degenerated because the nervous system hardened at a much too early stage and didn't stay soft long enough - the last remnants of those are the Malayan race." 12

Another type of hardening relegated the Mongols to a "lower class of people". 13

The dying-out Indians

The group of people that Steiner found least appealing was the native American Indians. Even though these had a certain age in human life, Steiner considered their case to be connected with "the forces that have a lot to do with human extinction." 14 He described the Indians as "a degenerated human race", 15 which was the reason why they had succumbed to such a degree.

"It isn't because of the whims of the Europeans that the Indian population has died out, but because of the Indian population had to acquire those forces that led it to die out." 16

While he ascribed an abnormously weak Ego to the Africans, the Indians had the opposite problem. This was also the cause of their skin color (or rather the skin color Steiner thought they had):

"And they developed this Ego so strongly that it has gone into their skin color: They became copper-red. They have developed into decadence." 17

The white "race"

The "race" which Steiner described in positive terms was - not surprisingly - the white one. When listing the different "races", he described how they were inflicted by "hardening" of different organs. The list ended with those people who "did not become hardened at all". They were found in "those areas that comprise of today's Europe and Asia." 18

Elsewhere, he stated that "the most mature characteristica are found in the European area. It is simply (a natural) law." 19

When non-European peoples proved to be successful, Steiner explained this by claiming that they had learned from Europeans:

"It is often claimed that the Japanese are going through an important development based on their character - this is an illusion. There is no development made from their own abilities. The reason they were victorious in the latest war was that they used warships and cannons invented by the European peoples, thereby using a foreign culture. It is no development if a people has taken what another people's characteristics has produced - it has to develop based on its own nature. That is what counts!" 20

According to Steiner's teachings on soul travel, the same soul could assume different "races" in different lives. What race it would be depended on how you behaved in the previous life.

"A soul can be incarnated in any race, but if this soul doesn't become evil, it doesn't need to be reincarnated in a descending race, it will reincarnate later in a ascending race." 21

In other words, it is important to be a good person, so you won't be black, Japanese or even American Indian in your next life.

The Anthroposophical Defense

The Anthroposophs have mainly used three lines of defense, when Steiner's racism has been brought up. The first line of defense is to describe the quotes as "taken out of context".

This is a very weak defense. In a trivial way, all quotes are of course taken out of context, but it doesn't follow that they are misleading. To defend Steiner, it isn't enough to call quotes like the ones above "taken out of context" without also showing that there is an explanation in the text that shows that Steiner does not speak in a racist context.

No such explanation exists. That is why those Anthroposophs who use this argument are satisfied with the general accusation of out-of-context, and make no attempt of showing how those quotes aren't representative for the texts they are taken from.

One might wonder how the non-racist text would look like, where the author expresses his views with phrases like "the totally passive negro-soul" or "a degenerated human race".

The second line of defense is that Steiner's statements are said to be the norm for their time, and cannot be regarded as particularly noticable or perhaps even controversial. This claim can only convince those who are not familiar with the historical background. Steiner's quotes were made during the first decade of the 1900's, before the Nazi era. His wordings on non-European peoples were for their time unusually degrading and offensive, even within the German language area. Steiner belonged to those many who paved the way for Nazism through expressing the idea about the superiority of the "white" race.

The latest argument

Lately, some Anthroposophs have started using a third line of defense. Now, they claim that the texts from these and other quotes come from are not from the "official" Steiner. The majority of the quotes are not from this books, but from his lectures, that is, recordings of his lectures made by his staff.

This argument is very odd for those who know Anthroposophy and its history. Steiner's lectures have always been central within Anthroposophy. They make up the primary source to the so-called esoteric Anthroposophy, which cannot actively be presented to people outside the movement. The common wisdom among Anthroposophs is that unprepared people cannot understand these texts correctly. Earlier, many of these texts were kept strictly a secret. Nowadays, they are part of Steiner's printed collected works, published by a company which cooperates with the highest international leadership of Anthroposophy. The defense that the lectures cannot be used as sources have, to my knowledge, not earlier been put forth, when non-Anthroposophs criticize them in public. The lectures are still used internally in the Anthroposophic world.

In Steiner's printed books the statements about the human races are more subdued than in the lectures. This is part of a pattern: The books were meant to be read by non-Anthroposophs. Therefore, they are usually, regardless of subject, more general and careful in their expressions than the lectures.

A tough problem for Anthroposophy

Of course, it isn't just Anthroposophs who have skeletons in the closet. There are many other examples, e.g. the founder of modern mathematical logic and analytic philosophy, Gottlob Frege, who had racist views. This is not a problem for either, since they are separated from his racism. First and foremost, there are no analytic philosophers who use Frege's writings as a source for knowledge of life's various areas.

It is quite different in Anthroposophy. Steiner's comprehensive explanations of "human races" and their actions take up a large part of his writings on history, where concepts as root races and peoples souls are central. To remove the racial teaching from Anthroposophy is no easy task. It is not like removing an isolated tumor but like removing a tumor with many metastases. That is why this is so difficult for the Anthroposophs. What is at stake is the very foundation of the movement, namely the belief in Rudolf Steiner's spirit visions as a source of knowledge.

Sue Ovve Hanson

12:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Link for previous article:

12:27 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Sue Hanson - interesting - but I think Maps point is still valid - these days the Steiner schools (admittedly I visited one only) have lot of positive aspects.

The whole Western world was full of this kind of crazy racist stuff - in fact it could be argued that humans are naturally xenophobic - one reason we have so many wars.
War is often (perhaps always) made to exterminate the other group and there is certain genetic logic in that. Survival and sexual success - in fact, if Group A doesn't watch it, Group B gets the knife in first and bang! - Group A is wiped from the earth. Perhaps not the way to go in the future but it is what seems to happen so often whether we are talking Mongoloids, Hindus, or Africans or Whites or whoever...

As Hitler himself commented - who remembers the Armenians?

So, Sue Ovve Hanson, yes, some revealing comments perhaps but I don't think this is anything unusual. Steiner sounds as if he might have taught George Bush etc!!

Skyler - Ron's wife taught art - I know that as I saw her teaching and she designed the cover of my second poetry book RED. Ron used to wander down and vaguely give a lesson....

I just thew the vegetarian thing in as Ron and Kate were - but I spent some great times at his place and worked in his book shop for a while...

When Ron and I waltzed up to the Steiner School in Ellerslie it was an interesting experience..I read some poems as did Ron and the response was positive.

I do have some misgivings about Ron and his wife (they are now divorced) - BUT that doesn't mean I reject the idea of the Rudolf Steiner stuff altogether - it is not for me as such although I may have benefited certainly from a less - I don't know - a 'better' school environment - although in point of fact the schools I went to had good staff.

I myself just didn't like being in large groups - I liked studying as that kept me away from people. But Tamaki College had quite a lot of teachers who were in fact quite open minded for the times (luckily I didn't "qualify " for Auckland Grammar" probably as I didn't play rugby (and my school marks were not really that good) - I hate the game and most other sports in fact - if not all sports)) - but there was a kind of reaction against "stuffiness" in the 50s to 60s following the disastrous war...

But its time we got rid of the Olympics - it's a load of fascist crap and cobblers.

6:55 pm  
Blogger Sanctuary said...

Just BTW - I think the "Martin Deaker" you refer to may be a synthesis of weasley Martin Devlin and the past it Murray Deaker.

8:41 am  
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