No teaching pseudoscience please

A letter to the Observer notes that worries about creationism prompted the government to change the rules for free schools to prevent them from teaching pseudoscience.

However, not enough attention has been paid to two equally grave threats to science education, namely Maharishi and Steiner schools. Maharishi schools follow the educational methods of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru of the transcendental meditation movement, while Steiner education is based on an esoteric/occultist movement called anthroposophy, founded by Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner (“Holistic unit will ‘tarnish’ Aberdeen University reputation“). The Maharishi school has as its specialist subject the “science of creative intelligence”, which is not based on science. It also teaches a system of herbal medicine, most of which lacks evidence of efficacy and safety. Anthroposophy is centred on beliefs in karma, reincarnation and advancing children’s connection to the spirit world.

The first Steiner academy opened in 2008, with a free school to open this September. The first Maharishi school opened last September. Both groups have interviews to open more schools in 2013. We believe that the new rules on teaching pseudoscience mean that no more of these schools should open.

Pavan Dhaliwal head of public affairs, British Humanist Association; Edzard Ernst professor of complementary medicine, Exeter University; David Colquhoun professor of pharmacology, University College London and blogger,; Simon Singh science writer; Andy Lewis; Alan Henness; Melanie Byng; Richard Byng medical academic; James Gray; Mark Hayes; David Simpson

Steiner schools are mostly under the radar, and shouldn’t be; they’re very sinister.




  1. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Also, the Steiner school students are usually highly unvaccinated, because they think that getting sick matures the soul or something.

    Public health menaces!

  2. says

    Ironically, such people finish up having to justify their claims with some sort of evidence; much the same as an appeal to reason.

    If a snake oil merchant claims the potions work, it has to be in terms that the customers in the normal marketplace will accept. Otherwise, the merchant has to go somewhere where the clients are most gullible.

    People in isolated valleys in mountainous areas who believe in elves, witches and hobgoblins are ideal, but hard to find these days. Or so I am led to believe.

  3. says


    Not sure about lumping Steiner schools in with the other lot.

    I read the bumph from the local Steiner school when my own boys were young and a lot of its approach made sense and was attractive. Their code of practice looks pretty professional (I was a governor at my boys primary and it is full of standard, good practice, appears to cover all the bases, etc.).

    I have a very finely tuned nose for religious hogwash, pseudo-religious hogwash and other sinister forms of authoritarianism and I didn’t detect any at all. The influence of anthropopoposphy seemed to end with a stress on the imaginative and classic fables, action, and being child centric. And anthopopopoposphy looks pretty benign in its rawest form.

    The 14 onwards science curriculum in the UK – again relying on paper – looks pretty normal too.

    If they’re pseudo-religious nutters they’re doing a good job of hiding it, in the UK at least.

  4. says

    ‘Anthropopoposphy’ draws a blank on Google, but ‘anthroposophy’ has various sites explaining it.

    Wikipedia: “Anthroposophy, a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development. More specifically, it aims to develop faculties of perceptive imagination, inspiration and intuition through cultivating a form of thinking independent of sensory experience, and to present the results thus derived in a manner subject to rational verification. In its investigations of the spiritual world, anthroposophy aims to attain the precision and clarity attained by the natural sciences in their investigations of the physical world.”

    Anything subject to genuine rational confirmation can be presented in science education, though various explanations of any particular phenomenon will likely appear, not just ‘spirit world’ ones. How one checks out the latter is a bit hard to determine.

    Well, hard to determine while stationed at this astral level. From positions at higher astral levels it may be a piece of cake.

  5. says

    Yahweh – You and a lot of people. This is what my friend Melanie Byng (see letter) has been educating me about: the way Steiner/Waldorf schools pass as nice and alternative but not woo, because the woo (not to mention the racism) is veiled in public.

  6. Brian M says

    on a related note…I am a wine geek, and Steinerism is rampant in the more esoteric end of the wine market (natural wines). You know…anecdotally, biodynamic wines do taste BETTER to a certain palate. But that is more because of earlier harvesting, native yeasts, avoidance of manipulation, and intricate vineyard management, NOT cows horns buried under the full moon.

  7. Ysanne says

    AFAIK, Steiner (or as called in Germany, Waldorf) schools can be quite varied.
    Some are just a bit “alternative” in terms of classrooms with no sharp corners, supportive child-centered learning and this dance-PE-meditation-thing called Eurythmia (classic mockery: “and now we close our eyes and dance our name”), with otherwise regular teachers and decent academic standards. Didn’t notice anything woo-y in the neighbour kids who attended to that school.
    At the same time, there are also schools that take the woo, racist and plain idiotic parts of anthroposophy seriously, and teach accordingly. Including discouraging vaccinations, encouraging homeopathy, and teaching agricultural practices that involve burying a cow’s skull in the forest for a year and then digging it out at full moon and then somehow using it to improve the soil or something. (I’m not making this up. An acquaintance who studied “biodynamic” farming was dead serious about it.)

  8. Greg Tingey says

    Thanks for the warning on this one.
    I had no idea Steiner were like this – the emphasis here is on the “good/natural” bit – which can lead to all sorts of mostly harmless mild crankery, but, as you say ……

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