Friday, 5 April 2013
What anthroposophism means to my family and what it meant to Clara and Ernst Lehrs
It feels very much as if it belongs to the New Age. It’s a little creepy when you read works by and about Rudolf Steiner and he uses word such as the “astral body” and the “etheric body” and he talks of his own reincarnation that actually should have happened somewhere in the United States in 2002. I find myself asking where is that ten or eleven-year old and what is s/he doing now? Do I really believe this happens?
And yet. If one takes out the strange language, a lot of what Steiner says in his various lectures, particularly those about education, makes an awful lot of sense.
The first Waldorfschule, as Steiner schools are known in Germany, was built at Stuttgart. Ernst Lehrs taught there. He and Clara Lehrs built a house nearby which offered accommodation to students during the week. Later that house, the very house after which this blog is named, would accommodate and protect a class of disabled children with severe learning difficulties. In 1973 I visited the school. The family of my mother-in-law’s best friend attended. I was taken there by the two daughters of the well-known architect, Gűnter Behnisch. Being an award-winning architect does not preclude you from sending your children to a Steiner School. Not many private schools are tolerated in Germany. The Steiner education system is.
Nothing seemed particularly strange at the school. It was in a leafy suburb of Stuttgart. As far as I could tell, it taught the normal range of subjects in quite small classes. I’ve been in British education system since 1974 – until 2006 at secondary level and now in higher education. What I and others consider good practice – as opposed to some crazy tick-box hurdles – always seems to line up with what happen in the Steiner schools. The latter don’t seem to have any tick-box craziness.
My mother-in-law, Renate Edler, attended the Michael Hall Steiner School in London and during World War II was evacuated with them to Minehead. I tell her story in my novel Potatoes in Spring in my blog of the same name. My husband’s parents considered Steiner education for him and we also considered it for our children. In the end, because we all wanted out children to remain in the main stream, because we didn’t know how we would pay the fees and because of the practicalities of getting the children to school, we decided against it.
Ernst Lehrs had fought in World War I. He became an officer. He came home disillusioned with society. He continued his studies in the natural sciences and obtained his doctorate in 1923. But he found some of the experiments he had to do tedious and meaningless, despite the excitement in physics at the time because of the discoveries of Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Steiner offered him a spiritual perspective and a common sense approach to science.
Clara Lehrs was born into a Jewish family. She and husband Ernst became protestant at the beginning of the 20th century. She also became an anthroposophist later and her faith in this sustained her through many of the horrors of the Holocaust. She was resistant at first. She couldn’t quite believe what Steiner offered and it was most likely her intimate relationship with her son that persuaded her to help him and the organisation generally. By the time she was living amongst the Rexingen Jews towards the end of her life she was wholly convinced and used her own faith to help others.