Another Waldorf School, another outbreak. Quelle surprise!

In my experience, most people not familiar with Rudolf Steiner and his mystical, magical quackery, such as anthroposophic medicine and biodynamic farming tend to view Waldorf schools, which are based on his philosophies, as quirky private schools that are probably, echoing The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy‘s description of earth, “mostly harmless.” This assessment, however, forgets just how profoundly full of mystical and nonsensical pseudoscience Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy was. Steiner education is based on esoteric mystical principles with little or no basis in science or even reality, as Steiner was a follower of an occult belief system known as theosophy. However, he split with other Theosophists after most accepted an Indian child named Krishnamurti as the new “World Teacher” and reincarnation of Christ, ridiculing the idea that a “Hindu lad” could be the new cosmic leader. Not surprisingly, Waldorf schools tend to be antivaccine, with results like this:

Chickenpox has taken hold of a school in North Carolina where many families claim religious exemption from vaccines.

Cases of chickenpox have been multiplying at the Asheville Waldorf School, which serves children from nursery school to sixth grade in Asheville, N.C. About a dozen infections grew to 28 at the beginning of the month. By Friday, there were 36, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.

The outbreak ranks as the state’s worst since the chickenpox vaccine became available more than 20 years ago. Since then, the two-dose course has succeeded in limiting the highly contagious disease that once affected 90 percent of Americans — a public health breakthrough.

The school is a symbol of the small but strong movement against the most effective means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The percentage of children under 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And why did this happen? The answer is simple. More children are unvaccinated than vaccinated:

The private school has a higher rate of exemption on religious grounds than all but two other North Carolina schools, the Citizen-Times reported. During the 2017-18 school year, 19 of 28 kindergartners were exempt from at least one vaccine required by the state. Of the school’s 152 students, 110 had not received the chickenpox vaccine, the newspaper reported.

So basically, thanks to religious exemptions to school vaccine mandates, the vast majority of the children at the school were susceptible to chickenpox. But why is the religious and personal belief exemption rate so high at Waldorf schools? The answer is simple. Steiner philosophy is very much antivaccine, which is why Waldorf schools tend to attract children whose parents are vaccine-averse or outright antivaccine. Not surprisingly, whenever there is an outbreak at a Waldorf school, you’ll inevitably see disingenuous excuse-laden statements like this emanating from the affected school:

The Asheville Waldorf School issued a statement, noting that the school is cooperating with the health department. When asked by email about the high religious exemption rates, the school responded, “The school follows immunization requirements put in place by the state board of education, but also recognizes that a parent’s decision to immunize their children happens before they enter school.”

Yes, Waldorf schools follow state vaccine policies and school vaccine mandates, but either do nothing to encourage vaccination or actively discourage it. North Carolina allows religious exemptions to school vaccine mandates, and it should surprise no one that the parents at this Waldorf school take full advantage of it. Make no mistake, either. Steiner philosophy is far more a religion than anything else. Andy Lewis described just how weird this religion is, as well.

A core belief of anthroposophy, the variant of Theosophy that Steiner created, is that human souls evolve through a series of reincarnations and that as a soul develops it will take on different racial forms, with the “Aryan” form being the most evolved and comprising “present-day civilized humanity.” Indeed, Steiner said that if Lucifer and Ahriman (a demon) hadn’t interfered, all humans would be Aryans. Steiner actually called his beliefs “Occult Science” or “Spiritual Science” and asserted that his science was the way to ensure that white races did not “degenerate,” as he believed that they did in the past. He also believed that through clarvoiyance one could determine the true spiritual nature of the cosmos.

It’s true that the Anthroposophical Society claims to reject Steiner’s racist ideology. However, defenses of anthroposophy against charges of racism tend to be disingenuous, basically saying that Steiner respected the “spirituality” of other races. It’s hard to see how anthroposophy could completely purge anthropsophy of Steiner’s racism completely, given how integral his ideas of the “Aryan” race as the most evolved and other races as the result of the “degeneration” of Aryan races, with blacks the least evolved. Anthroposophy is based on a hierarchy of races and teaches that there is a spiritual reason for the hierarchy, with black people distinguished by an “instinctual life” as opposed to Caucasians’ “intellectual life.” Some Steiner schools even teach the myth of the lost continent of Atlantis as real history, and there are plenty of real world examples of Waldorf schools teaching pseudoscience, quackery, pseudohistory, and even racist ideas.

And, of course, Waldorf schools are incubators for disease, given the concentrations of unvaccinated children that they inevitably attract. The antivaccine beliefs flow from Steiner’s philosophy, for example:

Steiner believed that febrile illnesses such as measles and scarlet fever were related to a child’s spiritual development. Adherents assert that the use of vaccines (especially measles vaccine) deprives infants of the opportunity to benefit from the experience of having those diseases.”

For instance, in this lecture by Rudolf Steiner from a series of lectures, Manifestations of Karma, he said:

The organic expression of uncharitableness is killed in the most complete sense, in the external bodily sense, by vaccination against smallpox. There, for instance, the following becomes manifest, and has been investigated by Spiritual Science. In one period of civilisation, when there prevailed a general tendency to develop a higher degree of egotism, and uncharitableness, smallpox made its appearance. Such is the fact. In anthroposophy it is our bounded duty to give expression to the truth.

Now it will be clear why in our period the protection of vaccination appeared. We also understand why, among the best minds of our period, there exists a kind of aversion to vaccination. This aversion corresponds to something within, and is the external expression of an inner reality. So if on the one hand we destroy the physical expression of a previous fault, we should, on the other hand, undertake the duty of transforming the materialistic character of such a person by means of a corresponding spiritual education. This would constitute the indispensable counterpart without which we are performing only half our task. We are merely accomplishing something to which the person in question will himself have to produce a counterpart in a later incarnation. If we destroy the susceptibility to smallpox, we are concentrating only on the external side of karmic activity. If on the one side we go in for hygiene, it is necessary that on the other we should feel it our duty to contribute to the person whose organism has been so transformed, something also for the good of his soul. Vaccination will not be harmful if, subsequent to vaccination, the person receives a spiritual education. If we concentrate upon one side only and lay no emphasis upon the other, we weigh down the balance unevenly. This is really what is felt in those circles which maintain that where hygienic measures go too far, only weak natures will be propagated. This of course is not justifiable, but we see how essential it is that we should not undertake one task without the other.

In other words, vaccination won’t hurt the child, but only if he receives a “spiritual education” afterwards. No wonder Waldorf schools dwarf all other forms of schools when it comes to the number of unvaccinated children. Most Waldorf schools don’t specifically teach antivaccine beliefs, but are “accepting” of whatever decision parents make and serve as magnets for the children of antivaccine parents, where the culture there reinforces antivaccine views, as described by anthropologist Elisa Sobo:

Tellingly, she found the percentage of kids who are vaccinated goes down the longer they have been at the school. This suggests that, while parents who choose such schools may be skeptical of vaccines, there’s something about the culture of the institution that bolsters this skepticism and effectively discourages the otherwise-common practice.

That’s exactly what Sabo found when she interviewed 24 parents and conducted a focus group with a dozen of them. She discovered they were “highly educated, and took seriously their perceived responsibility for child health.”

They also prided themselves on being “independent thinkers” who are deeply skeptical of both big government and big corporations. This shared sense of identity, she writes in the journal Medical Anthropology Quarterly, reinforces anti-vaccination attitudes, which gradually coalesce into a cultural norm parents are reluctant to deviate from.

Opposition to vaccination becomes, for many, intertwined with their perception of themselves as intelligently skeptical parents.

Often, the source of this skepticism is anthroposophy, which teaches that fevers and inflammation that accompany common childhood diseases “contribute to cell renewal and growth, as well as to overall immune-system strength.”

But wait, Waldorf school apologists will say, anthroposophy isn’t specifically taught in Steiner schools. Well, yes and no. There’s a lot of under-the-radar promotion of anthroposophy going on. In an interview with Isabelle Burgun, former anthroposophist and teacher, Grégoire Perra, explained how this can happen:

Because of their stance on vaccination, these schools know they’re being observed, and speak covertly to parents and pupils about their views on the subject. Very often, they ask parents to choose an anthroposophical doctor, and preferably one who also happens to be the school’s doctor. It is him who will bring up the idea of anti-vaccination, within the confidential confines of his practice, but without mentioning the notion of reincarnation, which might raise a parent’s suspicions. Instead he’ll hint that vaccines could be dangerous to your health, that children should have their childhood illnesses “naturally” in order to get rid of a particular hereditary trait (a notion Steiner had about vaccines which is more palatable, as it doesn’t directly refer to concepts of karma).

Basically, Waldorf schools are a danger to the children who go there, both from an intellectual perspective given the nonsense they teach and their failure to teach standard educational topics like mathematics well, and from a very real physical perspective, thanks to the antivaccine beliefs they nurture. It’s no wonder that at the root of an outbreak of vaccine-preventable disease is often a Waldorf school where the outbreak got started. Waldorf schools are not only a danger to the children who attend them; they’re a danger to the communities in which they are located.