Skeptic News: Homeopathy, Creationism and Steiner

From: BHA News

The Steiner Academy Hereford, the first state-funded Steiner school, teaches science from a curriculum book sceptical of evolution and gives homeopathy to students, the British Humanist Association (BHA) can reveal. The revelations come as a result of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted to the school by the BHA and other campaigners. The news comes the same week as Frome Steiner School opens as the second state-funded Steiner school and the first Steiner Free School, and not long after Steiner Academy Exeter was ‘pre-approved’ to open as a Free School from 2013. The Exeter school is currently a private school, has used the same curriculum book and has also run a homeopathy clinic for students. The BHA has expressed concern about the quality of science education in the schools and the promotion of unevidenced medicines to students.

The Hereford Academy opened in 2008 and does not offer any science GCSEs, but instead pupils study a BTEC in Ecology Studies. The BHA was told that ‘The school implements its Curriculum through the schemes of work as detailed in The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculumedited by Martyn Rawson and Tobias Richter.’ In one Life Science lesson, the book says that ‘Creation stories give an holistic image of the origins of the earth, plants, animals and human beings’. In another, it says that ‘The Darwinian mechanism delivers clarifying power within a certain range of phenomena, but it is rooted in reductionist thinking and Victorian ethics and young people need to emerge from school with a clear sense of its limits.’

The rest of the science curriculum is also cause for concern. Other examples include:

  • In Chemistry lessons, homeopathy is described as ‘a good example of an effect that cannot be explained by the dominant [atomic] model’. The teaching of ‘homeopathic and/or other models of the interaction of matter and life’ is specifically advocated. Homeopathy is based on the idea that a substance that would normally cause a disease would, if highly diluted, cure that disease. Homeopathy is scientifically implausible, and evidence overwhelmingly shows that it works no better than placebo.
  • In Life Sciences, the book says ‘The circulation of blood is not a closed system and the pump model is not sufficient to understand the circulation of the blood and the sensitivity of the heart to the emotions.’ This reflects Steiner’s teaching in other books that ‘The heart is not a pump … basically the heart is a sense organ.’
  • In Life Sciences, the book advocates teaching ‘the limitations of the “germ” theory, which omits the part played by the immune system and the degree to which this is strengthened by exposure to illness.’ The movement has formally gone from a position of opposition to vaccines to one of parental choice – although surely schools, with responsibility for children’s wellbeing, should advocate vaccination. However, in practice, the Steiner movement is still somewhat hostile, and the Health Protection Agency regards Steiner schools as unvaccinated communities.
  • Geometry includes the teaching of ‘counter space’, which is a specifically Anthroposophical construction that allows links to Steiner’s spirit world. In other books, Steiner describes ‘the relationship between geometric studies and developing direct perception of spiritual realities’.

It is unclear the extent to which these portions of the curriculum book are actually taught; however, it nonetheless remains the case that this is the only curriculum book the school uses, and is specifically cited by the school as being the basis of the science curriculum.

Furthermore, the school has extensive alternative medicine policies, including a specific policy on the administration of homeopathic remedies, including for burns. The remedies are only given with parental permission.

The school employs an Anthroposophical doctor to prescribe the medicine. Although it does not appear that this has been prescribed at the school, Anthroposophical medicine is best known for the belief that mistletoe can cure cancer. Earlier this year, the University of Aberdeen generated controversy when it considered establishing an Anthroposophical unit; the plans were subsequently dropped.

More detailed information can be found on the BHA website

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