Maybe it's because they leave reading and writing until pretty late, or perhaps it's the emphasis upon weaving, woodwork and organic food, but something about Steiner schools seems to strike a chord in the hearts of the woollier minded type of home educator. The rejection of traditional science in favour of a weird mixture of astrology, herbal medicine and clairvoyance seems only to add to the appeal. I have known a few home educators who subsequently enrolled their children at Steiner schools and heard of many more via the internet. This is of course in addition to those parents who in defiance of all reason follow some watered down version of Steiner's methods in the comfort of their own homes.
Steiner schools, or Waldorf schools as they are known in the USA, are based upon the ideas of a very intelligent but quite mad Austrian called Rudolf Steiner. His educational techniques were devised not empirically, that is to say by observation and experiment, but were learned clairvoyantly from, among others, the spirits of dead Atlanteans. Call me Mr. Conventional Stick- in- the-Mud, but this has never served to recommend his educational philosophy to me.
It is hard to know where to begin when discussing Steiner and his crazy ideas. I am enormously fond of the belief in gnomes which is an integral part of the Steiner's philosophy. It might make some people a little uneasy, but I love the thought of these little folk who spend much of their time in woods and then migrate underground for the Winter. Very useful too, as some of the metal ores which we extract from the Earth apparently owe their distinctive characteristics to the passage of gnomes through the nearby rocks! I visited a Steiner school in North London during an open day and my six year old daughter was given a piece of polished rock. One of the teachers explained carefully how the thoughts of passing gnomes had altered the composition of the stone.
Talking to the parents of children at this particular school, I was struck by how many of them had either tried or were considering trying home education. I was incidentally, also taken aback by the huge number of children with really strange names like Sky, Andromeda, Amethyst and Summer.
A short piece like this really cannot do justice to the astonishingly wide range of completely bonkers notions championed by Steiner. I certainly feel a strange and inexplicable reluctant to give serious thought to anything said about education by a man who believed that Buddha retired to Mars and that planet Earth is the fossilised remains of a giant vegetable. I am aware that many religions subscribe to the theory of reincarnation, but even here Steiner added his own demented twist to the idea. According to him, if you don't watch your step in this life you could end up being reincarnated as a gnome. If that doesn't serve to keep one on the straight and narrow, then nothing will!