Sunday, 27 May 2012

Steiner and science

A group of parents and teachers have launched a campaign to create a new free school. The Bristol Steiner Free School group announced...that it would bid next February for government approval of the project. Free schools are state-funded but independent of council control and set up in response to demand from groups of parents....[The group said the school would have] a strong academic element, specialising in environmental sciences...The Steiner School movement emerged from the ideas of early 20th century educationalist Rudolf Steiner. (full story).

Steiner (pictured) claimed direct experience of the 'spiritual' world. He was a philosopher, occultist, social reformer, architect, esotericist. and founded Anthroposophy. Anthoposophy claims to investigate the spiritual world and believes it can attain precise and clear conclusions in the same way that science concludes about the physical world.

I've been an active green for 30 yrs and I teach environmental sciences  (which is simply the proper application of scientific methods to the environment). I do not support Steiner's ideas or Steiner Free Schools and would point to the British Humanist Association concerns about them (see http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1042 ).

Like others commenting on this Post report I can’t see how Steiner's ideas are at all consistent with modern science and its methods and so I am as concerned about Steiner Free Schools setting up with public money and support as I am about certain other kinds of Free School with a significant ideology behind them instead of openness, questioning and reason.

Background on Steiner:
http://www.rudolfsteinerweb.com/  and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner  

28 comments:

  1. Hi, I'm part of the Bristol Steiner Free School group and I thought I'd try to respond. Our school will be part of the Steiner educational movement, which stems from a school that Steiner himself set up in 1919. His ideas on education inform the way that Steiner schools teach, but not what they teach. Our school will teach to GCSE curriculum from 14-16 so the actual content will be the same as other state schools. Steiner's more mystical thinking will not in any way be taught or influence what we teach. Our group includes several science professionals, teachers with mainstream educational backgrounds and youth work professionals. We want high quality environmental science teaching - proper science including serious exploration of the scientific method - and we plan to monitor and evaluate our teaching methods and share the results.
    We are doing all this within the framework of Steiner education because we feel that the Steiner educational tradition has a lot of very valuable and relevant ideas. He was a mystical philosopher but he was also a social radical, running a school with an anti-militarist, anti-sexist ethos in an imperialist age, and instilling a reverence for nature and a commitment to democratic participation. He's an inspiration for us but not an absolute authority, and we want to be part of the ongoing development of his educational ideas.
    In due course we will publish details of our educational plans and we will invite discussion and feedback on them; we will also have public meetings in due course at which all will be welcome to discuss any concerns that they might have.

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  2. Thanks for this response Joe. How will Steiner's ideas on education inform the way that the proposed Steiner School will teach? Can I presume that the teachers who teach there will be Steiner trained or be undergoing such training on an ongoing basis? Is it right for any specific ideology to inform the way a school will teach?

    Why the stress on environmental science in the Bristol Post news article? If the proposed Steiner School will teach the GCSE curriculum from 14-16 surely it would teach broad and balanced science as mainstream schools do, not specifically environmental science? And what about before 14-16 (I assume the school will be a primary as well as secondary)?

    Steiner's ideas and the framework of Steiner education will be what the proposed school will operate within, so they will have influence -what would be the point of calling it a Steiner School otherwise? Do Steiner's ideas on education make much sense? I've had a good look at them several times over the years - they look prety incoherent and at odds with current best educational practice to me. Will kids be taught to read at the same time/age and in the same way as in mainstream schools? Will they be taught using the latest information and educational technologies at the same time/age and in the same ways as in mainstream schools?

    There are fundamental reasons why this school should not be established and why Steiner Schools should not receive state funding.

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  3. Hi Glenn,
    There are a few fundamental ways in which Steiner education is organised differently to mainstream education in England. Firstly, very young children learn through play and spend lots of time outdoors. It's not unstructured - teachers lead the children through a definite pattern of activities - but neither is it formal learning. Wales has actually now introduced a similar system with the 'Foundation Stage'.
    Formal literacy teaching does not begin until around age 7. This is later than in England but quite common in mainland Europe including France, Italy and some Scandinavian countries. But before then there is a focus on developing children's concentration and their hand skills - they draw the letters as part of pictures and do pattern-drawing to improve pen control.
    From 7 or so onwards they have a main lesson every day, a themed lesson that takes in various disciplines. So if they were looking at fungus they might draw specimens, learn the Latin names, learn about reproductive cycles, go and find mushrooms growing in the woods and so on. The concept of multi-disciplinary lessons has now been adopted into the Scottish 'Curriculum for Excellence'.
    Steiner schools always start foreign language teaching very young; we will teach two foreign languages from age 6 or so - probably French and Spanish although the Frome Steiner Free School will be teaching Spanish and Cantonese.
    The focus on environmental science comes from us. We will use GCSE's but also study outside of the set GCSE curriculum, and accredit that study in other ways. So we will have a school vegetable garden and grow food; involve the children in practical environmental projects around the school; try to find work experience placements in suitable environmental organisations, and so on. We will also focus subject teaching according to our environmental ethos in areas like physics, chemistry, biology and so on, and pupils will spend lots of time learning outdoors.
    We will have a broad-based curriculum but with a clear ethos and flavour; in the same way that some academies focus on sports or the arts, our focus will be on environmental science.
    Re IT, our plan is to start teaching IT later than mainstream schools, probably at age 14, but when we do start we will focus on programming/coding rather than on using Windows or whatever, starting with the absolute basics (or should that be BASIC's?) and building a proper knowledge of how computers really work. We will probably get them building super-simple machines then programming them too. Platforms and software will change beyond recognition in our pupils lives but the underlying logic of computer programming will never change.
    Re teacher training, there are not going to be anywhere near enough Steiner-trained teachers in the country once the various Free Schools open. We will probably employ PGCE-qualified teachers and have a one-year in-house training programme to integrate them into the way we're going to work. Personally I think that's a good thing, as one of the issues with Steiner education in the past has been that the qualifications and experience required of teachers has not always been adequate; it will also give us control over the specific Steiner training that they receive, allowing us to build our own ethos and practices.

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  4. So, you don't like Steiner schools? As a teacher of many years standing I find them extremely stimulating and of much more use and value to pupils than our horrendous state school exam fodder factories, where achieving a 'C' grade is the only goal schools really care about.

    I am not in favour of free schools but because it will be a Steiner school is the last reason for me to oppose it. And if you're gonna get all 'sciencey' on my ass, then er homeopathy, 9/11 conspiracies and crazy ideas about GM? I never taught those in my science classroom.

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  5. Steve, first can I point out that the language you use is unnecessarly rude. Stick to genuine debate please. I am opposed to state funding of all schools with a significant ideology behind them, including those called 'faith' schools. Steiner schools are a particular issue for me because the ideas and framework have little reasonable basis.

    I too am opposed to state school exam fodder factories. Do I have to choose between Steiner or 'state school exam fodder'? And dont forget, if you are going to be reasonable about this, that this proposed Steiner school will be offering GCSEs just like other schools according to commenter Joe Evans and to the press report - so will it be any more than an exam factory, from 14-16 at least?? Aren't Free schools part of the 'exam fodder' problem?

    You say you are opposed to Free Schools (me too) and so logically should be opposed to this one.

    As for your list - homeopathy, 9/11 conspiracies, crazy ideas (whatever they are) about GM - what's your point? Why should you even consider teaching them? At this point in your comment (eg 'sciency on my ass') you dont sound very reasonable, clear or much like the kind of teacher I'd like to have teaching my children. I would say that in my experience many of those who support Steiner's ideas are much more likely to believe in the sort of nonsense you list. Fo my position I point you to the header of this blog, which talks amongst other things of a 'reasoned, evidence-based...approach'.

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  6. Joe Evans - And you think its reasonable - and consistent with current best educational practice - not to teach kids 'formal literacy' until age 7 and to start teaching IT at age 14!?!

    You have not addressed this key question from my first comment/reply: Is it right for any specific ideology to inform the way a school will teach?

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  7. Glenn - it is normal educational practice in many countries to start formal literacy teaching at seven, as I said. France, for example, does not in any way seem to suffer from adult literacy problems or any other bad consequences. Very early literacy teaching is the current norm in this country but it is by no means the only way to go.
    Re your other question, our school will be inspired by Steiner but he's not an absolute authority; we particularly value the ideas of his that have been shown to work over many years of practical experience. And I would say that every school is informed by one or other ideology - patriotism, religion, free market values, blind faith in McKinseyite management techniques - all of these have had a hand in the education system. The point of Free Schools is that parents have more choice as to the values of the school that their children attend. It's fair enough to disagree with that but that's the system as it stands, and it's inherent in that system that there will be schools which you like and schools that you don't like.

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  8. Joe Evans - you really ought to know that its far from straightforward comparing education systems and outcomes from different countries - because there are so many variables. What we can clearly conclude from our discussion so far is that you admit that the approach of Steiner Schools to teaching literacy is at odds with what is considered best practice here in this country. You've not bothered to address my point about the use of the latest educational and computing technology (in my first reply) and teaching IT only from age 14 (in my second reply) - is this not a threat at least to technology education if not more?

    Steiner wont be an absolute authority, according to you, but of course he will still be an authority (why else call it a Steiner School and instruct already trained teachers about Steiners approach?). You obviously intend Steiner's ideology to be the most prominent and influential. You assert that every school is informed by one or other ideology but give no evidence for this sweeping statement. My experience as someone who has been a teacher since the mid 1980's is that, with the exception of faith schools, most schools do not have a single dominant ideology behind them from the outset and that schools themselves - their teachers, governors, pupils, parents, local community - shape the ethos and mission (this can change, as appropriate, over time as the school community changes).

    I doubt very much whether Free Schools will in reality give all parents more choice - time will tell in this educational experiment (!) I suppose. Children should be enabled to get the kind of education that enables them to choose their own values not those that their parents or teachers or government, or Steiner, or me/you, or whoever, favour. Teach kids to think not what to think.

    Your concluding sentence is simply a statement of the very obvious. The way the 'system is' is why we are in debate - systems can and should change for the better.

    You've not really addressed the question I posed as to whether any specific ideology eg Steiner's ideas and values should inform the way a school operates? Why not openness? You've not commented directly on the view of the British Humanist Association, a very significant body of opposition, that more Steiner Schools would be a threat to science education. http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1042

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  9. Glenn,

    As an engineering (electronics and computing) professional planning a Steiner education for my children and having seen other members of my extended family benefit greatly from a attending the Hereford Steiner School (which has recently become state funded), I would like to contribute.

    You comment that Joe has not answered some of your questions, but I don't agree. Firstly there was "Is it right for any specific ideology to inform the way a school will teach?". Joe replied "[...] patriotism, religion, free market values, blind faith in McKinseyite management techniques - all of these have had a hand in the education system."

    My interpretation of Joe's point is that it is not reasonable to say that current educational best practice is not an ideology. I agree: in my view it is purely ideological to apply top-down, target based, league-table focussed management to education; it is ideological to examine children more often and earlier.

    But perhaps this doesn't get to the nub of your question? Let me try another tack:

    It seems to me that there is nothing wrong with an ideologically driven approach to education per se, but that any given ideology might give rise to some objectionable consequences. For example, a school in modern times run in absolute accordance with the scientifically unfounded (by today's standards), anti technological writings of an early 20th century esoteric philosopher is probably not going to turn out alumni who are able to function as well as they possibly could in the world. I think Joe has taken great pains to explain that the proposed school would not be run in such a way, though you appear to dismiss his comments when you say "Steiner wont be an absolute authority, according to you...You obviously intend...". What reason do you have to doubt the truth of what Joe is saying? And is it not possible that just as there is huge variation in, say, the interpretation of the Christian faith with its many denominations, is it not also possible that two schools can be a Steiner schools but take a different line on some important aspects of their approach?


    Secondly, you asserted that Joe has "not bothered to address my point about the use of the latest educational and computing technology (in my first reply) and teaching IT only from age 14 (in my second reply) - is this not a threat at least to technology education if not more?" I disagree: I thought Joe gave a strong account of the plans for teaching technology from which I suppose he thought it would be self evident that delaying the onset of the teaching of technology is not a threat to the quality of the education received by pupils.

    My own opinion (and I'm sorry I don't have facts and figures to point to to back this up), is that it is, as a rule of thumb, a mistake to introduce phenomena that do not readily occur in nature into a childs education (and life in general) too early. To do so risks blunting the child's nuanced, intuitive understanding of the world and laws of nature. Only when the child reaches an age at which they engage predominantly intellectually with a phenomenon should it be taught in an intellectual way.

    Anyway, to get back to Joe's plans, he said that though it would start significantly later, "[we will start] with the absolute basics and building a proper knowledge of how computers really work. Platforms and software will change beyond recognition in our pupils lives but the underlying logic of computer programming will never change." In what way does this alternative (and in my view superior) approach constitute a threat to techological education? - it appears to offer a more fundamental, potentially long-lasting educational outcome than what I would expect in a mainstream school. The anecdotal evidence from my experience is that Steiner educated teenagers are just if not more capable of bending technology to their will as are mainstream-educated teenagers.

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  10. Glenn,

    There are a couple of other comments in the foregoing coversation stood out for me:

    "Steiner schools are a particular issue for me because the ideas and framework have little reasonable basis."

    I have to admit I have not read the writings of Steiner. For me it does not matter. What matters is that in the school my kids will attend there is no shortcoming in teaching of maths, science and technology. This is the case in the Bristol school as anyone can see during the school's open day.

    "And you think its reasonable - and consistent with current best educational practice - not to teach kids 'formal literacy' until age 7 and to start teaching IT at age 14!?!"

    Clearly Joe does not think it is consistent with current practice... but why do you assume that current practice is the best that is achievable? It seems that there are always reports that teachers, pupils, parents and employers are dissatisfied with the results that current practice gives us.

    "you really ought to know that its far from straightforward comparing education systems and outcomes from different countries - because there are so many variables"

    I don't think a direct comparison was intended. Your question was 'is it reasonable to start teaching formal literacy at age 7' to which the answer is yes: it is at least as reasonable as starting it earlier. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

    My final highlight is something that I vehemently agree with you on:

    "Children should be enabled to get the kind of education that enables them to choose their own values not those that their parents or teachers or government, or Steiner, or me/you, or whoever, favour. Teach kids to think not what to think."

    It is precisely because I believe that, of what is available/affordable to my family, Steiner education in Bristol will turn out free-thinking, open-minded, intelligent, versatile young adults that I want my children to attend.

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  11. Simon Deeley

    You are wrong about Joe Evans answering my question on ideology. I referred to 'specific ideologies' if you read what I said carefully. Many ideologies can be found operating in schools, some imposed, some not -and generally there is not one dominant one. You cant have it both ways on Steiner ideology - on the one hand you say it wont be that infuential and yet on the other you stress the advantages of the Steiner approach and say you will be instructing already trained teachers on the Steiner approach. I remind you that Steiner ideology is holistic and so regarded by its adherents as a coherent whole, not something to pick and choose from as you seem to imply.

    On technology Joe answered a question of his own creation, not mine. I asked about the use of the latest educational and information technologies not just about IT teaching. Delay in using these technologies until 14 means kids losing out on experiences they need for todays world.

    This paragraph of yours, Simon, really sums up what is wrong with Steiner education and certainly why it should not be publicly funded. You said this: "My own opinion (and I'm sorry I don't have facts and figures to point to to back this up), is that it is, as a rule of thumb, a mistake to introduce phenomena that do not readily occur in nature into a childs education (and life in general) too early. To do so risks blunting the child's nuanced, intuitive understanding of the world and laws of nature. Only when the child reaches an age at which they engage predominantly intellectually with a phenomenon should it be taught in an intellectual way.". This is ultra vague, no-evidence, no decent rationale, nonsense on a par with believing in tabloid newspaper astrology columns. And this is your 'justification' for delaying teaching IT until age 14!

    No wonder you are quite happy to admit that "it does not matter" that Steiner ideas and framework have no reasonable basis. Sounds a bit like you have 'blind faith' in something, whatever it is, to me. I'm not a strong defender of all of current best educational practice but much of it does have an evidence base to support it, whether we are talking about teaching kids to read before age 7 or using the latest educational and information technologies from an early stage.

    If you vehemently agree with me that kids should be taught to think not what to think, as you say you do, why then would you want any one specific ideology, set of ideas or framework to inform a school's teaching? Why aren't you campaigning to take ideologies out of our education system? Steiner education is what it is because it has Steiner's ideology behind it. This ideology overarches and informs the school's approach. Qualified teachers will be trained in Steiner's approach...Why else call it a Steiner School?

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  12. By the way I think this debate would benefit from more concise comments. If there is anyone tracking the discussion (!), conciseness makes the debate clearer, more focussed, and easier to follow. In any case I'd certainly benefit from it because its taken me ages to read through the lengthy material and try to respond fully (problem is that my comments themselves are too long!).

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  13. HI Glenn,
    I'll have a go at answering your question about ideologies - I left another reply yesterday but it doesn't seem to have showed up properly.
    An ideology is "a system of ideas and ideals" (Oxford Dictionary). You asked whether schools should be based on ideologies. I would say that every school is based on an ideology - a system of ideas and ideals. So, for example, here's the system of ideas and ideals that guides Knowle Primary School:
    http://www.knowle.solihull.sch.uk/aboutfiles/teach1.html
    In recent years, UK education has been guided by a specific ideology: that regular testing is the best way to improve educational testing. Many people feel that this ideology has resulted in a school system that teaches children how to pass tests, not how to think for themselves. As may be, it is certainly a 'system of ideas and ideals'.
    Steiner schools are guided by a different system. You might not care for it, but there is some evidence that it is effective. For example, here's a piece of research carried out in Adelaide University that suggests that students from the Mount Barker Steiner School significantly out-performed their peers from non-Steiner schools at university level in both science and humanities subjects:
    http://www.bristolsteinerfreeschool.org.uk/files/7313/3819/4234/billwoodsmountbarkerstudy.pdf
    Of course that could just be one good school, but at the very least it implies that the Steiner educational movement is capable of delivering good educational results.
    I think we basically disagree on the fundamental point of choice and diversity in education, which is fair enough - it's not a straightforward issue. I feel that parents should be able to choose a school which has a 'system of ideas and ideals' that they like, and that our education system should offer a range of different 'systems of ideas and ideals' rather than being centrally-controlled and uniform.
    Thanks for hosting this conversation, by the way - I do respect your point of view and I appreciate the spirit of open debate on your blog.

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  14. Glenn,

    Thanks for your reply.

    It would be very helpful if you could point me to some of the evidence on reading before age 7 and use of technology you refer to as I'd be very interested to read it.

    The reason I'm not campaigning to take ideologies out of our education system is because I believe it to be impossible (and undesirable) to do so - isn't 'an educational system without ideology' itself and ideology?

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  15. Joe Evans

    I've published your latest comment but you'll find I've really already answered your point about ideology/ies (see my response to Simon Deeley's two rather lengthy comments). You really should read what I write more carefully - I did not say that schools should be based on ideologies, in fact I said they should not be based on any specific ideology. It's an impossibility to have schools completely free of all any kind(s) of ideology so this is rather obviously not what I'm arguing for.

    What should be avoided is teaching kids in accordance with a guiding, overarching, underlying, single ideology. Steiner methods for instance rely on a single theory of child development - and this has been questioned. Some Steiner teachers have an unquestioning attitude toward anthroposophy - and this too has been criticized. Its much healthier for each school community have an ethos and mission that emerges from the interaction of competing ideologies present amongst the management, unions, teachers, departments, governors, local authority, central govt, local community, pupils and parents...

    Its really interesting that part of your justification for Steiner education is that they can get good results. This is a rather conventional view for someone purporting to argue for a rather 'different' way of schooling/educating/teaching kids!! You may be right about results - but why kids get the results they do may be down to all sorts of reasons, not least parental education levels, support and wealth...I'd say arguing for Steiner schools on the basis of results is actually not at all what Steiner education is supposed to be about (see Steve's ealier comment referring to 'state school exam fodder factories')! In fact its rather puzzling to me that anyone into Steiner education would want to be tied in to current govt thinking by seeking govt money.

    I know Steiner education fairly well and was actually offered a job as a science teacher at the Bristol Waldorf School way back (late 1980's I think), before it moved from near the top of Jacobs Wells Rd. I was most put off by the very odd experience I was given on observing some of the lessons (each one beginning with a mini ceremonial candle lighting and strange poem about natural objects) plus the distinct lack of openness and clarity when I naively asked what Steiner philosophy was all about. In the few decades or more since then I've found out a lot more. The Steiner approach stems from its particular view on child development and from this comes the educational theory, teaching methods and content. Do you, Joe, believe, for instance, that humans possess an innate spirit that has passed through various lives and which will, after passing through this world go back to the spirit world from where it will be reincarnated? Some Steiner teacher training I'm aware of sees the teacher as having a 'sacred task' and primarily wants each 'child's soul and spirit' to be helped to grow - is this your view Joe?

    My opposition to state funding for Steiner schools is in the main because I'm opposed to any school that has a single ideology behind it. I do have quite a large number of other questions and concerns in addition to this though. In addition to concerns I've expressed about the approach to literacy, technology and science I know that some think that Steiner schools management skills, organisation, administration, classroom management, secondary-school competency (particularly planning for and delivering differentiated lessons), assessment and record keeping may be questionable.

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  16. " I know that some think that Steiner schools management skills, organisation, administration, classroom management, secondary-school competency (particularly planning for and delivering differentiated lessons), assessment and record keeping may be questionable."

    The above comment is unworthy of you. I have seen plenty of god-awful teachers in state schools and many more are coming into the profession. Current methodology and Ofsted observation/inspection criteria are deeply anti-intellectual and turning teachers into uninspiring formulaic robots. Children are bored and leaving school with little of real value under their belts.

    Hearsay - like that above - is a cheap, cheap argument. For example, homeopathy, crazy ideas about GM and 9/11 conspiracy theories all found a home in the Greens. I can link to concrete evidence for those, not hearsay. Would that fairly describe your party? NO, so don't label Steiner schools on hearsay.

    I'm surprised a Green doesn't see some value in Steiner schools. You seem blinded by the 'free school' label. I'd quite like to work in one and see how it's done before I come to a firm judgement but they seem progressive and healthy places to me.

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  17. By the way, the bit about "helping each child's soul and spirit to grow" is one of the most noble aims of education I've heard. Better than the meaningless bollocks of most schools' "mission statements" as they call them.

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  18. Simon Deeley

    That's a pretty cheeky suggestion - I'm not your researcher and this blog is a personal, reasonably well informed, viewpoint not a research unit!! I suggest to look at what Ofsted, the Dept for Education and the many universities delivering PGCE and other teacher training are saying about literacy and technology education. Here's some links to get you going (though I suspect you dont really need them) - there's loads of material out there.

    http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/reading-six-how-best-schools-do-it-ofsted-0

    http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/transforming-teaching-of-ict

    You just dont seem to get what I've been saying about ideology/ies (see all my comments on here, including my last reply to Joe Evans). Are you deliberately ignoring what I write? I've several times now indicated that from the outset I have referred to 'specific ideologies'. I'm not suggesting that we can or should take all ideologies out of education system (though some can be downplayed) and in fact I am referring only to that part of the education system that gets state funding. This is broadly the humanist stance (see link in original blog post!!). I'm arguing that we should cut out situations where single, dominant ideologies exist in state funded schools eg that wwould mean no state funded so-called faith schools (I'd put Steiner Schools in this group). I'm arguing the benefits of ideological plurality in the education system from the point of view of promoting thinking, openness and reason.

    By the way I'd be most interested in your view on child development, especially given your vague statement about it in a previous comment and especially in relation to the Steiner teacher's role and Steiner teacher training (see my last reply to Joe Evans).

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  19. I'm sorry if you feel your points on ideology are not being understood - as you said the comments are quite lengthy and it's hard to keep everything in one's head when replying.

    On my 'vague' statement - I'm guessing you mean "it is, as a rule of thumb, a mistake to introduce phenomena that do not readily occur in nature... Only when the child reaches an age at which they engage predominantly intellectually with a phenomenon should it be taught in an intellectual way".

    I'll try to be more lucid by way of example:

    When a 4 year old asks: "why does it rain?", it's probably not helpful to give an answer that describes evaporation, weather systems and precipitation. Depending on the context it's probably more helpful to give answers like "it rains so that the flowers grow". This is because the context in which the child is asking the question is much more informative as to the intention of their enquiry than are their words: they want to connect their observations to form an understanding the world. Over a number of such inquisitive episodes, the child and the adults they engage with build up a strong, shared and self-consistent system for understanding the world - even if that system is disconnected from scientific understanding. Using their shared metaphor for understanding the world, the adults act as midwives to the child's higher falculties of understanding, analysing, synthesising and creative thinking. In the early years (say up to 7), anything that detracts or distracts from the shared adult/child experience is a mistake in that it engages and develops the 'wrong' faculties at the expense of development of the 'right' ones.

    To link this to the Steiner teacher's role and training as you requested: disregarding for a moment the aspects of Steiner regarded by some as secretive, obsessive and/or disturbing, a Steiner teacher's approach to teaching the children (as learnt in their training) is highly rhythmical, structured and reverent. A lot of attention is paid to creating an environment in which the shared metaphor can be built, building the metaphor through song and stories, and then exploiting the metaphor for developmental ends.

    There is also a link to my insistence that introducing technology to early is a bad thing: technological teaching aids cannot build rapport with children, cannot know the true context needed to interpret the child's input, and cannot generate the genuine empathy required for a fulfilling, dare I say emotionally nourishing, interaction. Time spent using such technology in the early years distracts and detracts from the aim of building up the child's most important cognitive faculties.

    There's so much to say and it's unfortunate that I have to guess which small sample to write here. I hope you appreciate my efforts to clarify my thoughts for you... I'm off to bed.

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    1. Sorry Simon but this isn't much better than the original vague paragraph I referred to. In fact it makes things worse. Telling a 4 yr old that it rains so that the flowers grow would hardly help their undertstanding!! Did you get your science education from a Steiner School?

      Your attitude to technology is both worrying and revealing. First, technology is nothing more than all our practical knowledge for living, not just the machines/hardware/objects you appear to have in mind. To deny children experience of all the latest educational technologies from an early stage is therefore denying them all the latest practical knowledge for living. The key is surely appropriate use of technologies not denial of use until an ideologically determined age.

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    2. "Telling a 4 yr old that it rains so that the flowers grow would hardly help their understanding!!"

      I couldn't disagree more. It seems to me that you don't understand the first thing about early childhood learning and development.

      "Did you get your science education from a Steiner School?"

      There's really no need for disparaging remarks such as this. May I remind you of your entreaty: "Genuine, open, reasonable debate is most welcome..."

      "The key is surely appropriate use of technologies..."

      I agree

      "...not denial of use until an ideologically determined age."

      I agree with this too. The issue is one of appropriateness. I would say it's developmentally inappropriate to introduce most technology into the teaching setting in the early years. Of course, pens and paper are technology, so clearly it's not a black-and-white decision. My assertion is that delaying the introduction of technology not only does no harm to a child's future ability to use various tools, but may in fact enhance it while also giving them an advantage in other measures later in life. A recent Telegraph article (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9266592/Bright-children-should-start-school-at-six-says-academic.html) talks of the work of Dr Richard House, who said: “The conventional wisdom is that naturally intelligent children should have their intellect fed and stimulated at a young age, so they are not held back.
      “Yet these new empirical findings strongly suggest that exactly the opposite may well be the case, and that young children’s run-away intellect actually needs to be slowed down in the early years if they are not to risk growing up in an intellectually unbalanced way, with possible life-long negative health effects.”

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    3. Telling a child it rains to make the flowers grow indicates that it rains for a purpose - and is factually incorrect. It rained before flowers ever existed and it rains now mostly where there are no flowers at all eg over the oceans. Why make a statement that implies purpose when there is no evidence for it? This is the effect of Steiner ideology on your 'science' - in place of the evidence. Far better in my view to use concepts such as up, down, high and low and encourage the child to investigate these through play eg with feathers, water, perhaps bubbles - both fun and stimulating learning related to the real world and not feeding them a point of view on it as your suggestion clearly does. Sound like someone who doesn't understand the first thing about early childhood learning and development or like someone who favours investigation of the real world instead of feeding kids fantasy?

      On the issue you raise of genuine, open debate - everything I've said is genuine and reasonable and open I assure you. I've asked you a perfectly reasonable question and intended my question to make a sharp point in an edgy way. I've published your latest comment in which you say about me "...you don't understand the first thing about early childhood learning and development..." as well as publishing comments from others who have used rude language. It is, believe it or not, for me to decide what is genuine, open and reasonable and for me this does not necessarily exclude pointed language and statements that may insult. Its my blog and I'm for robust debate - from me and from others.

      On technology its pretty clear that Steiner education ideologically (or perhaps arbitrarily) excludes certain kinds of technology until quite a late age compared to almost every other modern system of education in every country. This should speak volumes to you but it appears it does not - I think you are blinded by ideology.

      Clearly you (Steiner education) dont use the criterion of appropriate use of technology - unless you include as appropriate action making zero use of certain technologies at all for a high percentage of an individuals childhood. Certain things are, for you, black and white considerations and I'm calling, much more reasonably in my view, for shades of grey (others in mainstream education would go much further than me). You assert that there are no ideological determinations of this nature but have in previous comments described an extremely vague, woolly ideology of child development that means the exclusion of certain technologies for extended periods of education - like Steiners ideas and framework you are not even internally consistent.

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  20. Steve

    That the current state system can sometimes be bad in what it provides does not make Steiner Schools any better on the issues I've listed and perhaps on other grounds also. And I've not said what I've said on the basis of hearsay mate - the source for what I say is the 2005 report 'Steiner Schools in England' by Philip Woods, Martin Ashley and Glenys Woods, which pointed out how state school system practices could inform Steiner Schools AND vice versa. Why dont you check things before blurting out accusatory and false rubbish. I think an apology is in order though I somehow doubt one will be forthcoming.

    This blog is not here to defend the Green Party and this post is not based on any party line - its an independent blog as its header states - and its very puzzling that you bring up the issues you do in the rude manner that you do. They are hardly central to Green Party philosophy, policies or action - and in any political party you can find small groups of people who believe in wild and weird nonsense. Your rude manner and language do your argument, such as it is, no good whatsoever by the way.

    For your information I've visited Bristol Waldorf School (a Steiner School) several times and observed lesson for a few days (though some years ago now). I've long been an advocate of educating the whole person and have (and still do) perform my teaching accordingly. I've also met and talked to parents who've sent their kids to Steiner schools and talked to some pupils themselves (both ex-Steiner and those still in Steiner schools). I'm not talking from an ill-informed viewpoint, though it appears from what you say that you are, which perhaps explaines why you are making many incorrect assumptions and assertions. By the way I've not argued that Steiner Schools have no value - there are some practices of interest but Steiner's ideas on child development and his education framework are fundamentally flawed and they certainly should not be state funded.

    Its pretty ignorant of you to bracket together all 'Greens' in the sterotyped way you do. Has it not occurrred to you that it is best science and its evidence that backs the case for a green/sustainable society better than anything else? In any case what 'green' is is still very much in development and has yet to pass tests of practice, experience and achieving significant power.

    Finally, on your admiration for "helping each child's soul and spirit to grow" as 'one of the most noble aims of education' I'd say the following. The soul or spirit in the sense that Steiner adherents mean it, may or may not exist - there is no evidence that it does. Its hardly something that education should be focussed on. Kids should be allowed to make up their own minds about whether they believe in souls/spirits - and the schools they go to should not have such supernatural ideas as an overarching philosophy informing all teaching and learning. The state should not fund schools based on any kind of supernatural belief because this is/should be a matter for individuals.

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  21. Joe wrote: 'For example, here's a piece of research carried out in Adelaide University that suggests that students from the Mount Barker Steiner School significantly out-performed their peers from non-Steiner schools at university level in both science and humanities subjects:
    http://www.bristolsteinerfreeschool.org.uk/files/7313/3819/4234/billwoodsmountbarkerstudy.pdf
    Of course that could just be one good school, but at the very least it implies that the Steiner educational movement is capable of delivering good educational results.'

    I'm afraid it might not indicate that, or at least that it's a little bit more complicated. We've discussed this matter on my blog and two of my blog readers have read the study Joe and the Bristol Steiner school refers to. See this comment and the one following it:

    http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/perhaps-not-entirely-honest-about-bristol-steiner-free-school/#comment-16548

    I think it's enough to cast doubt on whether Steiner students significantly outperform their peers. Perhaps they do (I personally doubt it), but the evidence so far isn't overwhelming.

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    1. I agree that its much more complicated. One piece of research is nowhere near enough. One problems I have with the claim about achieving better results is that Steiner Schools really do not teach very large numbers of pupils compared to the total, and in the UK at least they are not operating in very many areas especially in poorer parts of cities. The pupils going to Steiner Schools are from a pretty narrow section of society I would suggest - perhaps the kind of pupils who would get decent results no matter what school they attended.

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    2. Agreed. Also, the other studies I know of don't seem to be showing a more positive result for Steiner education, though the results are sometimes misrepresented (or, to be charitable, misunderstood) by Steiner advocates. As for the narrow section, I don't think this is likely to change a lot with state-funding. The same type of families will still be choosing Steiner education, the kind of relatively privileged families whose children would do decently even with bad pedagogy. They can often help their children catch up. The kids have books and technology at home. Less privileged children would be worse off in a school that eschews these things. Just to mention some concrete examples.

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  22. I'll give it a few days to see if Joe, Steve and Simon (above) want to respond to my more recent comments. I will then try to summarise this discussion and publish a new blog post on it because some interesting points are beginning to emerge.

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  23. I would ask if IT is delayed until age 14 in the proposed Steiner school because:

    a) There are sound eduction reasons as to why delaying the teaching of technologt makes sense,

    or

    b) Steiner believed that children should engage with such intellectual learning until at about fourteen years the astral body incarnates?

    In short, is this an evidence-based policy or a spiritual policy?

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Genuine, constructive, relevant comments are most welcome.