Steiner teachers and racism: a tale of two letters
According to Steiner, humanity was divided into a series of races that are more or less spiritually evolved, and skin colour was a sure sign of where a race sat in the evolutionary hierarchy. Dark skin was the mark of a 'child-like negro-soul'; the 'copper skin' of Malayans and some indigenous Americans betrayed a 'decadent soul'; white skin and blonde hair, by contrast, indicated spiritual advancement. As Catherine Woulf notes in her article, Steiner preached that human beings who lived good lives would be reincarnated as members of advanced rather than 'descending' races.
The first schools based on Steiner's ideas about education opened their doors during the guru's lifetime. Today New Zealand has about a dozen Steiner kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. Many though by no means all of the teachers at these schools belong to the New Zealand branch of the Anthroposophical Society, the church-like organisation set up in Germany to perpetuate Steiner's ideas after his death.
Te Ra's dissident students, teachers, and parents left the school, and complained to the Ministry of Education, which began an investigation. In a report issued last week the Ministry cleared Te Ra of teaching Steiner's doctrines about race directly to students, but expressed sympathy with Maori feelings of estrangement from the school, and wondered whether the creed of anthroposophy could be reconciled with the Treaty of Waitangi.
A number of Steiner schools have responded to the Ministry of Education's report and Catherine Woulfe's article by issuing statements denouncing racism and promising to eliminate it from their classrooms, but Rosie Simpson, the spokesperson for the federation of Steiner schools in New Zealand, has struck a much more aggressive note.
In a letter published on the Listener's website, Simpson insists that accusations of racism at Steiner schools are 'ridiculous'. Simpson will admit that 'a small number' of Steiner's writings contain racist ideas, but she claims that the 'essence' of his philosophy is 'the opposite of racist'. Today's Steiner teachers are, according to Simpson, paragons of anti-racism.
On the same day that Simpson's confident denials of racism turned up on the Listener's website, though, another important figure in the Steiner schools movement published an epistle of his own in the Otago Daily Times. Colin Rawle is a veteran Steiner teacher who has worked at many of the movement's New Zealand institutions, and is currently attached to Dunedin's school. Rawle is also a long-time member of the New Zealand Anthroposophical Society, and is listed as a Dunedin contact person on the outfit's website.
In his letter to the Otago Daily Times, Rawle predicts the imminent extinction of the Maori language, and delights at the prospect. Echoing the words that Steiner used about indigenous peoples like the American Indians, Rawle argues that not only te reo Maori but the whole of Maori culture belongs to an older, more primitive era, and should be left to die. Rawle calls advocates of Maori culture 'malcontents', and warns that 'the old mentality or consciousness' that te reo Maori expresses is 'the very last thing that modern cosmopolitan societies want'.
This is not the first time Rawle has shared his views on race relations with the Otago Daily Times. In a series of letters over recent years, he has bemaoned the backwardness and ungenerosity of Maori, and hailed the honesty and charity of Pakeha and the British Crown. In a 2012 letter, for instance, he suggested that 'the only proper, rational attitude that Maori can have toward British colonisation is the deepest possible gratitude'.
In his latest letter to the Otago Daily Times Colin Rawle does not explain which more spiritually evolved people and culture must replace the doomed Maori. In the numerous texts he has published on the internet and in right-wing magazines like Ian Wishart's Investigate, though, Rawle has been more explicit. He believes, like Rudolf Steiner before him, that the pale-skinned peoples of Europe and North America have a superior culture and a special destiny.
When Rudolf Steiner wrote his tributes to the genius of the white race nearly a century ago, European ruled most of the world. As the twentieth century wore on, though, a succession of revolutions and wars of national liberation freed huge areas of Africa, Asia, and Oceania from white colonial rule. In New Zealand, the indigenous people whose demise had been confidently predicted at the beginning of the twentieth century staged a cultural and political renaissance in the last decades of the century.
In an article for Treatygate, the website of John Ansell, Rawle angrily laments the anti-colonial trend of the last hundred years. For him, the Maori renaissance and Africa's anti-apartheid and anti-colonial movements have been part of a plot against white civilisation. Rawle particularly laments the coming of black majority rule to Rhodesia, a country that had been run by a tiny white minority which denied the most basic civil rights to its subjects: