Henry Barnes about Waldorf Education

I spent four months in the trenches shooting anthropop bullets against virulent critics of Rudolf Steiner - and getting plenty of beatings in the process - at Dan Dugan's Waldorf-critics mailing list, accessible from his PLANS site, which is dedicated to discredit anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, and Waldorf education. From January to May 1999, I crawled through the mud answering allegations and accusations and sarcasms with the same ammunition they were using.

Dan Dugan, who holds the opinion that Rudolf Steiner was not only a charlatan and a kook, but a Nazi-like racist and fascist with a white supremacist ideology not unlike that of Adolf Hitler, revealed his ambition to collect various memorabilia from German waldorf schools from the 1930's during Hitler's reign in order to establish that the Waldorf teachers were eager Nazi-collaborators.

In response to this challenge from Dugan, I posted the following message to the Waldorf-critics mailing list on February 9th, 1999 and included an interesting excerpt from a book by Henry Barnes, who was actually present at the Waldorf school in Stuttgart at the time in question.

My fellow subscribers,

In 1987 I enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Henry Barnes at the Waldorf school in Austin. I drove up there from Houston, where I was living at that time, to hear a lecture by Barnes, who was president of the Anthroposophical Society in America, and to exchange a few words with him. He was a very congenial, white-haired gentleman in his seventies.

It surprised me to see that Henry Barnes had just published a new book, because he must be way into his eighties. (Actually, as can be easily calculated from the text below, he was born in 1912.) Nevertheless, in 1997, Anthroposophic Press published A Life for the Spirit - Rudolf Steiner in the Crosscurrents of Our Time by Henry Barnes. His autobiographical sketch in the introduction is relevant to the WC list, because here we have an eyewitness account of the Waldorf schools in Germany when Adolf Hitler came to power. I understand that Dan Dugan is collecting various memorabilia from the time and place in question in order to feed his pet theory that Anthroposophy is infested with Nazi ideology, and that people like myself are, ipso facto, Nazis - consciously or unconsciously. And Henry Barnes too, of course.

In his introduction to A Life for the Spirit, Henry Barnes writes:

"I met the work of Rudolf Steiner in the summer of 1933, just before my twenty-first birthday. The occasion was the first conference to be held in North America to present anthroposophy and some of the practical initiatives arising from it.

"Just a year and a half before, in January 1932, the suicide of my roommate and dearest friend had struck like lightning into the protected and unquestioning confidence of my young life. Peter and I had been schoolmates for many years at the Lincoln School of Teachers College in New York City, and we had gone on together to Harvard College. The Lincoln School pioneered what came to be known as "progressive education" in the United States. The school had been established in 1917, and we entered the first grade the following year. It was a privilege to attend this truly outstanding school, yet Peter's death raised deeply troubling questions. Had our education in some way failed us? I was roused to begin a search for an education that could go beyond the intellect and reach deeper than self-expression. Destiny intervened.

"Peter's mother, in her effort to understand a death that had so little apparent outer cause, remembered a book she had read before Peter was born. It was by Rudolf Steiner and was entitled *Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment*. After Peter's death, she returned to the book and discovered that Rudolf Steiner had written other books, and that there was even a small group of people in New York City who knew of his work. She also learned that a school based on his work had been started there a few years before. It was Peter's mother who invited me to the conference in Spring Valley, New York, in July 1933.

"Two of the three guest speakers at that conference were teachers at the school in Stuttgart, Germany, which Rudolf Steiner had founded in 1919. What they said about the school, and about the view of the human being on which it was based, stirred me deeply. I determined to go to Stuttgart - one way or another - but I had already committed myself to a teaching job for the fall, a position I considered myself fortunate to have obtained during those Depression years. My even greater good fortune, however, was that when I told the school's headmaster that I wanted to leave at the end of the first year to study this new "Waldorf" education, he smiled wisely and said, "Why don't you go now and get it out of your system? Then come back to Choate."

"As a result, I arrived in Stuttgart eight months after Hitler had been elected chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. As a student in the Waldorf Teacher Training Course, I came to realize that the Nazi government was gradually tightening a noose in the hope that the school would sooner or later close on its own. The Jewish teachers had to leave, and there was to be no new first grade. Every lesson had to begin with a "Heil Hitler" salute, and parents got into trouble if their children were not enrolled in a Hitler Youth Group. The school, however, did not give in. Finally, in March, 1938, the school was forced to close by government order. It was publicly stated that the function of education was to prepare the coming generation to be citizens of the state. There was no room in Germany for a school whose goal was to educate children to think for themselves as adults. It is significant also that the Anthroposophical Society and the Christian Community - an independent movement for religious renewal, inaugurated with Rudolf Steiner's help - had been banned earlier by the Nazi government in 1935. Hitler knew that a free spiritual life is by far the greater danger to totalitarian state control.

"By 1938 I was a class teacher in the first Waldorf, or "Rudolf Steiner," school in England, the New School, later called Michael Hall. That September I witnessed the British public's almost hysterical relief when Neville Chamberlain stepped out of the plane from Munich and announced "Peace in our time!" Staid, self-contained Londoners danced in the streets. Twelve months later, World War Two began.

"These external world events and their consequences affected human beings worldwide and wrought unimaginable suffering to millions. My own life continued to unfold in dramatic interplay with the larger circumstances of world affairs.

"Two days after the war began, Christy MacKaye and I were married in Dornach, Switzerland, and we spent the first year of the war in that country. On June 1, 1940, Christy and I - with her father Percy MacKaye (her mother had died in St. Germain-en-Laye near Paris, June 1, 1939), her sister Arvia, brother Robin, and my younger brother Alfred - sailed from Genoa with the last American ship to leave the Mediterranean. We landed in New York on June 10, the day Italy declared war."

To sum it up in a nutshell: This is how Henry Barnes explains how he was drawn to a Waldorf Nazi meeting in America, hypnotized into the cult by stealth and shrewdness - "What they said about the school, and about the view of the human being on which it was based, stirred me deeply" - and went to Stuttgart to salute Hitler in the Waldorf fashion.

Tarjei Straume


Anthroposophy, Critics, and Controversy



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