Spiritual Ground of Education
VII. The Organisation of the Waldorf School
23 August 1922, Oxford
When we speak of organisation to-day we commonly imply that something is to be organised, to be arranged. But in speaking of the organisation of the Waldorf School I do not and cannot mean it in this sense, for really one can only organise something which has a mechanical nature. One can organise the arrangements in a factory where the parts are bound into a whole by the ideas which one has put into it. The whole exists and one must accept it as an organism. It must be studied. One must learn to know its arrangements as an organism, as an organisation.
A school such as the Waldorf School is an organism in this sense, as a matter of course, — but it cannot be organised, as I said before in the sense of making a program laying down in paragraphs how the school shall be run: Sections: 1, 2, 3, etc. As I said, I am fully convinced — and I speak without irony — that in these days if five or twelve people sit down together they can work out an ideal school plan, not to be improved upon, people are so intelligent and clever nowadays: Paragraphs 1, 2, etc., up to 12 and so on; the only question which arises is: can it be carried out in practice? And it would very soon be apparent that one can make charming programs, but actually when one founds a school one has to deal with a finished organism.
This school, then, comprises a staff of teachers; and they are not moulded out of wax. Your section 1 or section 5 would perhaps lay down: the teacher shall be such and such. But the staff is not composed of something to be moulded like wax, one has to seek out each single teacher and take him with the faculties which he has. Above all it is necessary to understand what these faculties are. One must know to start with, whether he is a good elementary teacher or a good teacher for higher classes. It is as necessary to under-stand the individual teacher as it is, in the human organism, to understand the nose or the ear if one is to accomplish something. It is not a question of having theoretical principles and rules, but of meeting reality as it comes. If teachers could be kneaded out of wax then one could make programs. But this cannot be done. Thus the first reality to reckon with is the college of teachers. And this one must know intimately. Thus it is the fundamental principle of the organisation of the Waldorf School that, since I am the director and spiritual adviser to the Waldorf School, I must know the college of teachers intimately, in all its single members, I must know each single individuality.
The second thing is the children, and here at the start we were faced with certain practical difficulties in the Waldorf School. For the Waldorf School was founded in Stuttgart by Emil Molt from the midst of the emotions and impulses of the years 1918 and 1919, after the end of the war. It was founded, in the first place as a social act. One saw that there was not much to be done with adults as far as social life was concerned; they came to an understanding for a few weeks in middle Europe after the end of the war. After that, they fell back on the views of their respective classes. So the idea arose of doing something for the next generation. And since it happened that Emil Molt was an industrialist in Stuttgart, we had no need to go from house to house canvassing for children, we received the children of the workers in his factory. Thus, at the beginning, the children we received from Molt's factory, about 150 of them, were essentially proletarian children. These 150 children were supplemented by almost all the anthroposophical children in Stuttgart and the neighbourhood; so that we had something like 200 children to work with at the beginning.
This situation brought it about that the school was practically speaking a school for all classes (Einheitschule). For we had a foundation of proletarian children, and the anthroposophical children were mostly not proletarian, but of every status from the lowest to the highest. Thus any distinctions of class or status were ruled out in the Waldorf School by its very social composition. And the aim through-out has been, and will continue to be, solely to take account of what is universally human. In, the Waldorf School what is considered is the educational principles and no difference is made in their application between a child of the proletariat and a child of the ex-Kaiser — supposing it to have sought entry into the school. Only pedagogic and didactic principles count, and will continue to count. Thus from the very first, the Waldorf School was conceived as a general school.
But this naturally involved certain difficulties, for the proletarian child brings different habits with him into the school from those of children of other status. And these contrasts actually turned — out to be exceedingly beneficial, apart from a few small matters which could be got over with a little trouble. What these things were you can easily imagine; they are mostly concerned with habits of life, and often it is not easy to rid the children of all they bring with them into the school. Although even this can be achieved if one sets about it with good will. Nevertheless, many children of the so-called upper classes, unaccustomed to having this or that upon them, would sometimes carry home the unpleasant thing, whereupon unpleasant comments would be made by their parents.
Well, as I said, here on the other hand were the children. These were what I might call the tiny difficulties. A greater difficulty arose from the fact that the ideal of the Waldorf School was to educate purely in accordance with knowledge of man, to give the child week by week, what the child's own nature demanded.
In the first instance we arranged the Waldorf School as an elementary school of 8 classes, so that we had in it children from 6 or 7 to 14 or 15 years old. Now these children came to us at the beginning from all kinds of different schools. They came with previous attainments of the most varied kinds; certainly not always such as we should have considered suitable for a child of 8 or 11 years old. So that during the first year we could not count on being able to carry out our ideal of education; nor could we proceed according to plan: 1, 2, etc., but we had to proceed in accordance with the individualities of the children we had in each particular class. Nevertheless this would only have been a minor difficulty. The greater difficulty is this, that no method of education however ideal it is must tear a man out of his connections in life. The human being is not an abstract thing to be put through an education and finished with, a human being is the child of particular parents. He has grown up as the product of the social order. And after his education he must enter this social order again. You see, if you wanted to educate a child strictly in accordance with an idea, when he was 14 or 15 he would no doubt be very ideal, but he would not find his place in modern life, he would be quite at sea. Thus it was not merely a question of carrying out an ideal, nor is it so now in the Waldorf School. The point is so to educate the child that he remains in touch with present-day life, with the social order of to-day. And here there is no sense in saying: the present social order is bad. Whether it be good or bad, we simply have to live in it. And this is the point, we have to live in it and hence we must not simply withdraw the children from it. Thus I was faced with the exceedingly difficult task of carrying out an educational idea on the one hand while on the other hand keeping fully in touch with present-day life.
Naturally the education officers regarded what was done in other schools as a kind of ideal. It is true they always said: one cannot attain the ideal, one can only do one's best under the circumstances. Life demands this or that of us. But one finds in actual practice when one has dealings with them that they regard all existing arrangements set up either by state authorities or other authorities as exceptionally good, and look upon an institution such as the Waldorf School as a kind of crank hobby, a vagary, something made by a person a little touched in the head.
Well you know, one can often let a crank school like this carry on and just see what comes of it. And in any case it has to be reckoned with. So I endeavoured to come to terms with them through the following compromise. In a memorandum, I asked to he allowed three years grace to try out my ‘vagary,’ the children at the end of that time, to be sufficiently advanced to be able to enter ordinary schools. Thus I worked out a memorandum showing how the children when they had been taken to the end of the third elementary class, namely in their 9th year, should have accomplished a certain stage, and should be capable of entering the 4th class in another school. But during the intermediate time, I said, I wanted absolute freedom to give the children week by week, what was requisite according to a knowledge of man. And then I requested to have freedom once more from the 9th to the 12th year. At the end of the 12th year the children should have again reached a stage such as would enable them to enter an ordinary school; and the same thing once again on their leaving school. Similarly with regard to the children, — I mean, of course, the young ladies and gentlemen — who would be leaving school to enter college, a university or any other school for higher education: from the time of puberty to the time for entering college there should be complete freedom: but by that time they should be far enough advanced to be able to pass into any college or university — for naturally it will be a long time before the Free High School at Dornach will be recognised as giving a qualification for passing out into life.
This arrangement to run parallel with the organisation of ordinary schools was an endeavour to accord our own intentions and convictions with things as they are, to make a certain harmony. For there is nothing unpractical about the Waldorf School, on the contrary, on every point this ‘vagary’ aims at realising things which have a practical application to life.
Hence also, there is no question of constructing the school on the lines of some bad invention — then indeed it would be a construction, not an organisation, — but it is truly a case of studying week by week the organism that is there. Then an observer of human nature — and this includes child nature — will actually light upon the most concrete educational measures from month to month. As a doctor does not say at the very first examination everything that must be done for his patient, but needs to keep him under observation because the human being is an organism, so much the more in such an organism as a school must one make a continuous study. For it can very well happen that owing to the nature of the staff and children in 1920 — say — one will proceed in a manner quite different from one's procedure with the staff and children one has in 1924. For it may be that the staff has increased and so quite changed, and the children will certainly be quite different. In face of this situation the neatest possible sections 1 to 12 would be of no use. Experience gained day by day in the classroom is the only thing that counts.
Thus the heart of the Waldorf School, if I speak of its organisation, is the teachers' staff meeting. These staff meetings are held periodically, and when I can be in Stuttgart they are held under my guidance, but in other circumstances they are held at frequent intervals. Here, before the assembled staff, every teacher throughout the school will discuss the experiences he has in his class in all detail. Thus these constant staff meetings tend to make the school into an organism in the same way as the human body is an organism by virtue of its heart. Now what matters in these staff meetings is not so much the principles but the readiness of all teachers to live together in goodwill, and the abstention from any form of rivalry. And it matters supremely that a suggestion made to another teacher only proves helpful when one has the right love for every single child. And by this I do not mean the kind of love which is often spoken about, but the love which belongs to an artistic teacher.
Now this love has a different nuance from ordinary love. Neither is it the same as the sympathy one can feel for a sick man, as a man, though this is a love of humanity. But in order to treat a sick man one must also be able — and here please do not misunderstand me — one must also be able to love the illness. One must be able to speak of a beautiful illness. Naturally for the patient it is very bad, but for him who has to treat it it is a beautiful illness. It can even in certain circumstances be a magnificent illness. It may be very bad indeed for the patient but for the man whose task it is to enter into it and to treat it lovingly it can be a magnificent illness. Similarly, a boy who is a thorough ne'er-do-well (a ‘Strick’ as we say in German) by his very roguery, his way of being bad, of being a ne'er-do-well can be sometimes so extraordinarily interesting, that one can love him extraordinarily. For instance, we have in the Waldorf School a very interesting case, a very abnormal boy. He has been at the Waldorf School from the beginning, he came straight into the erst class. His characteristic was that he would run at a teacher as soon as he had turned his back, and give him a bang. The teacher treated this rascal with extraordinary love and extraordinary interest. He fondled him, led him back to his place, gave no sign of having noticed that he had been banged from behind. One can only treat this child by taking into consideration his whole heredity and environment. One has to know the parental milieu in which he has grown up, and one must know his pathology. Then, in spite of his rascality one can effect something with him, especially if one can love this form of rascality. There is something lovable about a person who is quite exceptionally rascally.
A teacher has to look upon these things in a different way from the average person. Thus it is very important for him to develop this special love I have spoken of. Then in the staff meeting one can say something to the point. For nothing helps one so much in dealing with normal children as to have observed abnormal children.
You see healthy children are comparatively hard to study for in them every characteristic is toned down. One does not so easily see how it stands with a certain characteristic and what relation it has to others. In an abnormal child, where one character complex predominates one very soon finds the, way to treat this particular character complex, even if it involves a pathological treatment. And this experience can be applied to normal children.
Such then, is the organisation; and such as it is it has brought credit to the Waldorf School in so far as the number of children has rapidly increased; whereas we began the school with about 200 children we now have nearly 700. And these children are of all classes, so that the Waldorf School is now organised as a general school [‘Einbeitschule.’] in the best sense of the word. For most of the classes, particularly in the lower classes, we have had to arrange parallel classes because we received too many children for a single class; thus we have a first class A, and a first class B and so on. This has made, naturally, increasingly great demands on the Waldorf School. For where the whole organisation is to be conceived from out of what life presents, every new child modifies its nature; and the organism with this new member requires a fresh handling and a further study of man.
The arrangement in the Waldorf School is that the main lesson shall take place in the morning. The main lesson begins in winter at 8 or 8:15, in summer a little earlier. The special characteristic of this main lesson is that it does away with the ordinary kind of time table. We have no time table in the ordinary sense of the word, but one subject is taken throughout this erst two hour period in the morning — with a break in it for younger children, — and this subject is carried on for a space of four or six weeks and brought to a certain stage. After that, another subject is taken. For children of higher classes, children of 11, 12, or 13 years old what it comes to is that instead of having: 8 – 9 Religion, 9 – 10 Natural History, from 10 – 11 Arithmetic, — that is, instead of being thrown from one thing to another, — they have for example, in October four weeks of Arithmetic, then three weeks of Natural History, etc.
It might be objected that the children may forget what they learn because a comprehensive subject taken in this way is hard to memorise. This objection must be met by economy in instruction and by the excellence of the teachers. The subjects are recapitulated only in the last weeks of the school year so as to gather up, as it were, all the year's work. In this manner, the child grows right into a subject.
The language lesson, which, with us, is a conversation lesson, forms an exception to this arrangement. For we begin the teaching of languages, as far as we can, — that is English and French — in the youngest classes of the school; and a child learns to speak in the languages concerned from the very beginning. As far as possible, also, the child learns the language without the meaning being translated into his own language. (Translator's Note: i.e. direct method). Thus the word in the foreign language is attached to the object, not to the word in the German language. So that the child learns to know the table anew in some foreign language, — he does not learn the foreign word as a translation of the German word Tisch. Thus he learns to enter right into a language other than his mother tongue; and this becomes especially evident with the younger children. It is our practice moreover to avoid giving the younger children any abstract, theoretical grammar. Not until a child is between 9 and 10 years old can he understand grammar — namely, when he reaches an important turning point of which I shall be speaking when. I deal with the boys and girls of the Waldorf School.
This language teaching mostly takes place between 10 and 12 in the morning. This is the time in which we teach what lies outside the main lesson — which is always held in the first part of the morning. (The Waldorf School began at 8 a.m.) Thus any form of religion teaching is taken at this time. And I shall be speaking further of this teaching of religion, as well as about moral teaching and discipline, when I deal with the theme ‘the boys and girls of the Waldorf School.’ But I want for the moment to emphasise the fact that the afternoon periods are all used for singing, music and eurhythmy lessons. This is so that the child may as far as possible participate with his whole being in all the education and instruction he receives.
The instruction and education can appeal the better to the child's whole nature because it is conceived as a whole in the heart of the teachers' meetings, as I have described. This is particularly noticeable when the education passes over from the more psychic domain into that of physical and practical life. And particular attention is paid in the Waldorf School to this transition into physical and practical life.
Thus we endeavour that the children shall learn to use their hands more and more. Taking as a start, the handling little children do in their toys and games, we develop this into more artistic crafts but still such as come naturally from a child.
This is the sort of thing we produce (Tr. Note: showing toys etc.) this is about the standard reached by the 6th school year. Many of these things belong properly to junior classes, but as I said, we have to make compromises and shall only be able to reach our ideal later on — and then what a child of 11 or 12 now does, a child of 9 will be able to do. The characteristic of this practical work is that it is both spontaneous and artistic. The child works with a will on something of his own choosing, not at a set task. This leads on to handwork or woodwork classes in which the child has to carve and make all kinds of objects of his own planning. And one discovers how much children can bring forth where their education is founded in real life. I will give an example. We get the children to carve things which shall be artistic as well as useful. In this for instance: (Tr. Note: holding up a carved wooden bowl) one can put things. We get the children to carve forms like this so that they may acquire feeling for form and shape sprung from themselves; so that the children shall make something which derives its form from their own will and pleasure. And this brings out a very remarkable thing.
Suppose we have taken human anatomy at some period with this class, a thing which is particularly important for this class in the school (VI). We have explained the forms of the bones, of the skeletal system, to the children, also the external form of the body and the functions of the human organism. And since the teaching has been given in an artistic form, in the manner I have described, the children have been alive to it and have really taken it in. It has reached as far as their will, not merely to the thoughts in their heads. And then, when they come to do things like this (Carved bowl) one sees that it lives on in their hands. The forms will be very different according to what we may have been teaching. It comes out in these forms. From the children's plastic work one can tell what was done in the morning hours from 8 – 10, because the instruction given permeates the whole being.
This is achieved only when one really takes notice of the way things go on in nature. May I say a very heretical thing: people are very fond of giving children dolls, especially a ‘lovely’ doll. They do not see that children really don't want it. They wave it away, but it is pressed upon them. Lovely dolls, all painted! It is much better to give children a handkerchief, or, if that can't be spared, some piece of stuff; tie it together, make the head here, paint in the nose, two eyes etc. — healthy children far prefer to play with these than with ‘lovely’ dolls, because here is something left over for their fantasy; whereas the most magnificent doll, with red cheeks etc., leaves nothing over for the fantasy to do. The fine doll brings inner desolation to the child. (Tr. Dr. Steiner demonstrated what he was saying with his own pocket handkerchief.)
Now, in what way can we draw out of a child the things he makes? Well, when children of our VIth class in the school come to produce things from their own feeling for form, they look like this, — as you can see from this small specimen we have brought with us. (Wooden doll.) The things are just as they grow from the individual fantasy of any child.
It is very necessary, however, to get the children to see as soon as possible that they want to think of life as innately mobile not innately rigid. Hence, when one is getting the child to create toys, — which for him are serious things, to be taken in earnest, — one must see to it that the things have mobility. You see a thing like this — to my mind a most remarkable fellow — (carved bear) — children do entirely themselves, they also put these strings on it without any outside suggestion, — so that this chap can wag his tongue when pulled: so (bear with attached strings). Or children bring their own fantasy into play: they make a cat, not just a nice cat, but as it strikes them: humped, without more ado and very well carried out.
I hold it to be particularly valuable for children to have to do, even in their toys, with things that move, — not merely with what is at rest, but with things which involve manipulation. Hence children make things which give them enormous joy in the making. They do not only make realistic things, but invent little fellows like these gnomes and suchlike things (Showing toys).
They also discover how to make more complicated things like this; they are not told that this is a thing that can be made, only the child is led on until he comes to make a lively fellow like this of his own accord. (Movable raven. ‘Temperaments Vogel’) — now you can see he looks very depressed and sad.
(The head and tail of the temperament bird can be moved up or down. Dr. Steiner had them both up at first, and then turned them both down.)
And when a child achieves a thing like this (a yellow owl with movable wings) he has wonderful satisfaction. These things are done by children of 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 years old. So far only these older ones have done it, but we intend to introduce it gradually into the younger classes, where of course the forms will be simpler.
Now we have further handwork lessons in addition to this handicraft teaching. And here it should be borne in mind that throughout the Waldorf School boys and girls are taught together in all subjects. Right up to the highest class boys and girls are together for all lessons. (durcheinandersitzen: i.e.=sit side by side, or beside each other.) So that actually, with slight variations of course (and as we build up the higher classes there will naturally have to be differentiation) — but on the whole the boys actually learn to do the same things as the girls. And it is remarkable how gladly little boys will knit and crochet and girls do work that is usually only given to boys. This has a social result also: Mutual understanding between the sexes, a thing of the very first importance to-day. For we are still very unsocial and full of prejudice in this matter. So that it is very good when one has results such as I will now proceed to show.
In Dornach we had a small school of this kind. Now in the name of Swiss freedom it has been forbidden, and the best we can do is to undertake the instruction of more advanced young ladies and gentlemen; for Swiss freedom lays it down that no free schools shall exist in competition with state schools. — Well, of course, such a thing is not a purely pedagogical question. — But in Dornach we tried for a time to run a small school of this nature, and in it boys and girls did their work together. This is a boy's work; it was done in Dornach by a little American boy of about nine years old. (Tea cosy; Kaffee Warmer.) This is the work of a boy not a girl. And in the Waldorf School, as I have said, boys and girls work side by side in the handwork lessons. All kinds of things are made in handwork. And the boys and girls work together quite peaceably. In these two pieces of work, for instance, you will not be able to decide without looking to the detail what difference is to be seen between boys' and girls' work. (Two little cloths).
Now in the top classes which, at the present stage of our growth, contain boys and girls of 16 and 17, we pass on to the teaching of spinning and weaving as an introduction to practical life for the children, so that they may make a con-tact with real life; and here in this one sphere we find a striking difference: the boys do not want to spin like the girls, they want to assist the girls. The girls spin and the boys want to fetch and carry, like attendant knights. This is the only difference we have found so far, that in the spinning lesson the boys want to serve the girls. But apart from this we have found that the boys do every kind of handwork.
You will observe that the aim is to build up the hand-work and needlework lesson in connection with what is learned in the painting lesson. And in the painting lesson the children are not taught to draw (with a brush) or make patterns (‘Sticken’). But they learn to deal freely and spontaneously with the element of colour itself. Thus it is immensely important that children should come to a right experience of colour. If you use the little blocks of colour of the ordinary paint box and let the child dip his brush in them and on the palette and so paint, he will learn nothing. It is necessary that children should learn to live with colour, they must not paint from a palette or block, but from a jar or mug with liquid colour in it, colour dissolved in water. Then a child will come to feel how one colour goes with another, he will feel the inner harmony of colours, he will experience them inwardly. And even if this is difficult and inconvenient — sometimes after the painting lesson the class-room does not look its best, some children are clumsy, others not amenable in the matter of tidiness — even if this, way does give more trouble, yet enormous progress can be made when children get a direct relation to colour in this way, and learn to paint from the living nature of colour itself, not by trying to copy something in a naturalistic way. Then colour mass and colour form come seemingly of their own accord upon the paper. Thus to begin with, both at the Waldorf School and at Dornach, what the children paint is their experience of colour. It is a matter of putting one colour beside another colour, or of enclosing one colour within other colours. In this way the child enters right into colour, and little by little, of his own accord he comes to produce form from out of colour. As you see here, the form arises without any drawing intervening, from out of the colour. (showing paintings by Dornach children). This is done by the some-what more advanced children in Dornach, but the little children are taught on the same principle in the Waldorf School Here, for instance, we have paintings representative of the painting teaching in the Waldorf School which shows the attempt to express colour experience. Here, what is attempted, is not to paint some thing, but to paint experience of colour. The painting of something can come much later on. If the painting of something is begun too soon a sense for living reality is lost and gives place to a sense for what is dead.
If you proceed in this way, when you come to the treatment of any particular object in the world it will be far livelier than it would be without such a foundation. You see children who have previously learned to live in the element of colour, can make the island of Sicily, for instance, look like this, (coloured map) and we get a map. In this way, artistic work is related to the geography teaching.
When the children have acquired a feeling for colour harmony in this way they come on to making useful objects of different kinds. This is not first drawn, but the child has acquired a feeling for colour, and so later he can paint or shape such a thing as this book cover, or folio. The important thing is to arouse in the child a real feeling for life. And colour and form have the power to lead right into life.
Now sometimes you find a terrible thing done: the teacher will let a child make a neckband, and a waist band and a dress hem, and all three will have on them the very same pattern. You see this sometimes. Naturally it is the most horrible thing in the world to an artistic instinct. The child must be taught very early that a band designed for the neck has a tendency to open downwards, it has a downward direction; that a girdle or waistband tends in both directions, (i.e. both upwards and downwards); and that the hem of the dress at the bottom must show an upward tendency away from the bottom. Hence one must not perpetrate the atrocity of teaching the child simply to make an artistic pattern of one kind on a band, but the child must learn how the band should look according to whether it is in one position or another on a person.
In the same way, one should know when making a book cover, that when one looks at a book, and opens it so, there is a difference between the top and the bottom. It is necessary that the child should grow into this feeling for space, this feeling for form. This penetrates right into his limbs. This is a teaching that works far more strongly into the physical organism, than any work in the abstract. Thus the treatment of colour gives rise to the making of all kinds of useful objects; and in the making of these the child really comes to feel colour against colour and form next to form, and that the whole has a certain purpose and therefore I make it like this.
These things in all detail are essential to the vitality of the work. The lesson must be a preparation for life. Now among these exhibits you will find all sorts of interesting things. Here, for instance, is something done by a very little girl, comparatively speaking.
I cannot show you everything in the course of this lecture, but I would like to draw your attention to the many charming objects we have brought with us from the Waldorf School. You will find here two song books composed by Herr Baumann which will show you the kind of songs and music we use in the Waldorf School. Here are various things produced by one of the girls — since owing to the customs we could not bring a great deal with us — in addition to our natural selves. But all these things are carried out plasticly, are modelled, as is shown here. You see the children have charming ideas: (apes); they capture the life in things; these are all carved in wood. (Showing illustrations of wood-carving by children of the Waldorf School reproduced by one of the girls.)
You see here (maps) how fully children enter into life when the principle from which they start is full of life. You can see this very well in the case of these maps: first they have an experience of colour and this is an experience of the soul. A colour experience gives them a soul experience. Here you see Greece experienced in soul. When the child is at home in the element of colour, he grows to feel in geography: I must paint the island of Crete, the island of Candia in a particular colour, and I must paint the coast of Asia Minor so, and the Peleponesus so. The child learns to speak through colour, and thus a map can actually be a production from the innermost depths of the soul.
Think what an experience of the earth the child will have when this is how he has seen it inwardly, when this is how he has painted Candia or Crete or the Peleponesus or Northern Greece; when he has had the feelings which go with such colours as these; then Greece itself can come alive in his soul the child can awaken Greece anew from his own soul. In this way the living reality of the world becomes part of a man's being. And when you later confront the children with the dry reality of everyday life they will meet it in quite a different way, because they have had an artistic, living experience of the elements of colour in their simple paintings, and have learned to use its language.