Lingering colonial attitude at some Dutch Waldorf schools

Max Stibbe (1898-1973) was a Dutchman who lived in South Africa for many years. Although he worked with children of all colours in South Africa, he was there influenced by the ideas of apartheid and defended them on occasion. Stibbe strongly influenced the geography curriculum of the Dutch Waldorf  Schools by suggesting to add "racial ethnology" to the cultural anthropology that Rudolf Steiner had proposed as part of the social studies or geography curriculum. 

The suggestion continued to influence a geography main lesson block lasting several weeks in 8th (sometimes already 7th) grade in most of the Dutch Waldorf Schools. The subject was meant to awaken interest in the different cultures of the world. 

Outdated stereotypical views going right back to Stibbe had,  however, continued to influence the way some of the teachers taught this subject in Dutch Waldorf schools for 30 years, in a way not found at other Waldorf schools around the world, despite a renunciation by leaders of the Waldorf education movement in Holland in the 80s. 

In 1995, a mother was taken aback by the racist content of one of her daughter's school note books, and inquiries at the school did not result in satisfactory explanations, so she decided to go  public. 

The Deputy Minister of Education, Tineke Netelenbos, promptly instructed the State Education Inspection Service to carry out an investigation. The results of the investigation were made public in a joint press release on March 28 1995 by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Science and Cultural Affairs and the Association of Rudolf Steiner Schools in the Netherlands. 

"The investigation into Steiner Schools in the  Netherlands, carried out by the State Education  Inspection service at the request of Deputy Minister  Netelenbos, conclusively proved that there is no evidence of racism in the Steiner Schools. In fact  much attention is given in the schools to developing an awareness among the students so that racism is  actually countered."
At 7 of the 95 Dutch Steiner Schools, the State Inspectorate, however, also reported evidence of a stereotyping of races and peoples with discriminatory tendencies. The main lesson block on "racial ethnology" was consequently dropped by those schools that had had them in their curriculum. A non-discriminatory code of behaviour for Rudolf Steiner Schools, including a complaints procedure, was set up by the Dutch Steiner School Association.

Detlef Hardorp

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