A IV. The First School-lesson — Manual Skill, Drawing and Painting — the Beginnings of Language-teaching - GA 294. Practical Course for Teachers - Rudolf Steiner Archive
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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

IV. The First School-lesson — Manual Skill, Drawing and Painting — the Beginnings of Language-teaching

25 August 1919, Stuttgart

Based on such sentiments as might arise from the discussions which we have actually pursued in our meeting on “General Principles of Teaching,” 1See Lecture IV of the accompanying course referred to in the Preface. I should like to mention, in connection with method, an extraordinarily important point, which, moreover, has reference to our discussions on method of yesterday.

You must look on the first school-lesson which you take with your pupils in every class as a lesson of outstanding significance. The influence of this first school-lesson will be far more important in one connection than that of all the other lessons. But the other lessons, too, will have to be employed to make the potential influence of the first lesson fruitful for the whole course of teaching. Let us imagine, without more delay, in concrete terms, how — as you will soon be in a position to become familiar with children coming from all quarters of education, and mis-education, too — we are going to arrange the first school-lesson. Of course here I can only give you general suggestions which you will be able to develop further. The point is that you will not have to act in accordance with certain principles of education which have arisen lately, but you will have to aim at things of real value for the child's development.

You have, then, a group in front of you, of various children. The first thing will be to draw the attention of the children to the reason why they are really there. It is extremely important to address the children somewhat in this way: “So now you have come to school, and I shall tell you why you have come to school.” And now this act of coming to school must be consciously appreciated. “You have come to school because you have to learn something in school. To-day you have no idea of all that you are to learn in school, but you will have to learn very many things here. Why will you have to learn very many things in school? Well, you have already met grown-ups, the big people, and you will have seen that they can do something which you cannot. And you are here so that one day you too will be able to do what the big people can do. Some day you will be able to do what you cannot do yet.” To give the children this complex of idea is extremely important. But this deep-seated idea has still another consequence.

No teaching proceeds in the right course unless it is accompanied by a certain reverence for the previous generation. However much this shade of feeling must remain a nuance of feeling and sentiment, it must nevertheless be cultivated in the children by all possible means: the child must look up with reverence, with respect, to what the older generations have already achieved and what he is to achieve, too, through the school. This looking with a certain respect to the surrounding culture must be inspired in the child from the very first, so that he really sees almost a kind of higher being in the people who have already grown older. Without awakening this sense in teaching and education one cannot get on. But neither can one get on without raising to the level of the soul's consciousness the ideals that are to be realized. Proceed to reflect with the child, then, in the following way, quite without hesitation at the fact that you are, in so doing, looking beyond the child's horizon. It does not matter, you see, if you say a great deal to the child which he will only understand later. The principle that you should only teach the child what he already understands, what he can already form an opinion on, is the principle which has ruined so much in our culture. A very famous educator of a still more famous personality of to-day once boasted that he had educated this person on this principle: he said: “I have educated this young man well, for I have made him form an immediate opinion on everything.” Now very many people to-day are in agreement with this principle of forming opinions about everything and it is not remarkable that you find a very well-known teacher of a still better-known personality wishing to emphasize this principle again in pedagogical books. I have even found it said in a modern pedagogical work referring to this principle: It only remains to desire that such a model education might be given to every German boy and every German girl. You see from this that examples are plentiful among present-day educationists, of how not to behave, for this kind of educating conceals a great tragedy, and this tragedy again is connected with the present world catastrophe.

The point, then, is not that the child should at once form an opinion on everything imaginable, but that between the seventh and fifteenth year he absorbs what he is to absorb, from love for his teacher, from a sense of his authority. Accordingly you must try to continue the already suggested conversation with the child, enlarging on it in the way which best suits you: “Look how grown-ups have books and can read. You cannot read yet, but you will learn to read, and when you have learnt to read you will be able, one day, too, to handle books and to learn from them what the grown-ups learn from these books. Grown-ups can write letters to each other, too; in fact, they can write about all the things in the world. You also will be able to write letters later, for besides learning to read you will learn to write. And besides being able to read and write, the grownups can calculate. You do not know at all yet what calculating is. But you have to be able to calculate in life, when, for instance, you want to buy something to eat, or when you want to buy clothes or make clothes.” We must talk like this to the child, and then tell him: “You will learn to calculate, too.” It is a good thing to draw the child's attention to this fact, and then perhaps, even the next day, to redirect his attention to it, so that we take it through with the child, like other things, by frequent repetition. It is important, then, to make the child fully conscious of what he is doing.

Altogether it is most important for teaching and for education to see that the consciousness — if I may put it like this — is consciously awakened to what otherwise goes on in life through force of habit. On the other hand, it is of no benefit to teaching or to education to introduce all kinds of tricks into teaching, merely for the sake of the “aim” or only the ostensible aim, of the lesson. You find it suggested to-day that the child should come to school equipped with a box of burnt matches, and with these burnt matches — preferably not round, but square, so as not to roll off the steep benches of the school-room — he should be encouraged to make shapes. He is to be encouraged, for instance, to imitate the shapes of a house, and so on, with these matches. “Playing with sticks” is, in fact, a favourite subject quite particularly recommended nowadays for young children. But such a practice, in the face of a real knowledge of life, is like playing at things; it is meaningless for the inner being of the individual to learn things by playing at matches. For whatever playing at matches can lead to, this can only appear to man in later life as child's play. It is unwise to introduce mere trifling into education. On the contrary it is our task to introduce real life-fullness into education; but mere playing about should have no place there. Do not, however, misunderstand me: I do not say that games should not be introduced into education, but only that a game artificially prepared for the purpose of teaching is a mistake in school. As to how games should be incorporated in teaching we shall have much to say later.

But how can we really educate the child from the first, particularly in the forming of his will?

Having thoroughly talked over what I have just explained, that is, what is suited on the one hand to awakening the child's consciousness to the reason for his coming to school, and on the other hand to his developing a certain reverence, a certain respect, for the grown-up, it is important to pass on to something else. It is well to say to him at this point, for instance, “Look at yourself, now. You have two hands, a left hand and a right hand. You have these hands to work with; you can do all kinds of things with these hands.” That is, let us try to awaken the child's consciousness to the nature of man. The child must not only know that he has hands, but he must be conscious that he has hands. Of course you will probably say here: “Obviously he is conscious of having hands.” But there is a difference if while knowing he has hands to work with this thought has never crossed his soul. When you have talked with the child for a time about hands and about working with hands, go on to let him make something or other requiring manual skill. This can sometimes be done in the first lesson. You can say to him: “Watch me do this.” (You draw a straight line, Fig. 1.) “Now do it with your own hand.” Now you can let the children do the same, as slowly as possible, for it will naturally be a slow process if you are going to call the children out one by one and let them do

Diagram 1
Diagram 2

it on the board and then go back to their places. The right assimilation of teaching in this case is of the greatest importance. After this you can say to the child: “Now I am making this (Fig. 2); now do the same with your hand.” Now each child does this too. When this is finished you say to them: “This line (Fig. 1) is a straight line, and the other (Fig. 2) is a curved line; so now with your hands you have made a straight and a curved line.” You help the children who are clumsy with their hands, but be careful to see that each child from the first performs his task with a certain perfection.

In this way, then, see that you let the children do something by themselves from the first, and see, further, that a performance of this kind is repeated as revision in the following lessons. In the next lesson, then, have a straight line made, then a curved line. Here a subtle distinction comes into play. The greatest value must not first of all be attached to whether the children can make a straight and a curved line from memory. But the second time, as before, you yourself show on the board how a straight line is drawn and let the children make it after you, and the curved line in the same way. But then you must ask: “Peter, what is that?” “A straight line.” “John, what is that?” “A curved line.” You ought to utilize the principle of repetition by letting the child imitate the drawing and, in refraining from telling him what he is doing, let the child say it himself. It is very important to make this fine distinction. You must attach importance to do habitually the proper thing in front of the children, taking your educational impulses right into your own personal habits.

Then you need not be in the least afraid of setting up fairly soon — it is even an especially good plan to do things like this very early with the children — a paint-box with a glass of water by the side. You take a brush and dip it in the water, take some colour and, on a white surface that you have previously pinned on the board with drawing-pins, you apply a small yellow patch. When you have made this small yellow patch, again let every child make his own yellow patch like it. Each child must leave a certain space between his and the other yellow patches so that you end by having so many distinct yellow patches. Then you yourself dip the brush in the blue paint and make, next to the little surface which you painted yellow, directly next to it, a blue patch. Now you let the children make each a blue patch just the same. When about half the children have done this you say: “Now we will do something else; I am going to dip the brush in the green and add a green patch to the other patches.” Now let the other children — avoiding as well as you can making the children jealous of each other — make a green patch in the same way. This will take some time; the children will take it in well, as, in fact, in teaching, all depends on going quite slowly, in quite little steps, from one thing to the next. At this point you should say: “Now I am going to tell you something that you cannot understand properly yet, but that you will understand perfectly some day: what we have done up there, where we put blue next to yellow, is more beautiful than what we did down here, where we have green next to yellow; blue near yellow is more beautiful than green near yellow.” That will linger long in the child's soul. It will often have to be referred to again, to be repeated, but the child himself will turn it over; he will not absorb it with complete indifference but he will learn by and by to understand very well from simple, primitive illustrations how to distinguish in his feeling a beautiful thing from a less beautiful thing.

A similar process can be applied to the teaching of music. Here, too, it is a good plan to start from some single note. There is no need even to tell the child the name of this note, but strike a note in some way or other. Then it is a good plan to let the children themselves strike this note immediately, that is, here, too, to combine it with the element of will. Afterwards you strike a second concordant note and again let a number of children take turns at striking this same concordant note. Then go on to strike a note dissonant with a given note and again let the children do it after you. And now you try, as previously with colour, to awaken in the children a feeling for concord and discord in tones, by talking to them not of “concord” and “discord,” but of “beautiful” and “less beautiful,” by appealing, that is, to feeling. It is with these things, not with letters, that the first lesson should start. This is how we should begin.

Now let us take first the teacher who takes the main morning lessons. He will conduct with the children the conversations I have just described. Perhaps the musical element will have to be separate from these; the children will then be introduced to it at another time. Now it will be well for the music-master to enter into a quite similar conversation with the children, but based more upon music, and also to refer to it frequently, so that the child realizes: This is not only repeated by one teacher, but the other teacher says the same, and we learn the same from both. This should help to give the school a more corporative character. These matters should always be discussed in the weekly staff meeting and so produce a certain unity in the teaching.

Only when you have taught the children manually and aurally like this is the time ripe for passing on to the first elements of reading, and, in fact, particularly to the reading of handwriting. It will have an extraordinarily good effect on the child from the point of view of method to have spoken to him as early as the first lesson about reading, writing, and arithmetic, and how he cannot do these things yet, it is true, but will learn them all in school. This awakens hope, desire, resolve in the child, and he enters through their spontaneous power into a world of feeling, which again incites to the world of will. You can refrain from introducing the child directly to what you intend to teach him later and leave him in a state of expectancy. This has an extremely favourable effect on the development of the will of the growing being.

I should now like, before going into this further, to dissipate a few of those ideas which might perhaps lead you astray. There has been so much sinning in the name of the methods hitherto employed in learning to read and to write, but especially in what is, after all, connected with learning to read and write: with language, with grammar, syntax, etc. There has been so much sinning that there are doubtless few people who do not remember with a kind of horror how they were made to learn grammar or even syntax. This horror is, of course, fully justified. Only it must not therefore be imagined that the learning of grammar as such is useless and that it should be entirely ousted. That would be an utterly false idea. Obviously, if people are going to try to come by the right method by going from one extreme to the other, we shall be hearing it said: “Well, then, let us do away with grammar altogether; let us teach the child to read practically, by putting reading passages before him: let us teach him to read and write without any grammar.” This idea might result from the very horror which many a person still remembers. Yet the learning of grammar is not a useless factor, particularly in our time, for the following reason.

What do we really do when we elevate unconscious speech into grammar, into the knowledge of grammar? We pass with our pupil from unconscious language to the higher plane of a fully conscious approach; we do not in the least wish to teach him grammar pedantically, but we want to elevate into consciousness processes otherwise performed unconsciously. Unconsciously, or half-consciously, in fact, man climbs in life up to the external world in a way corresponding to what he learns in grammar. In grammar, for instance, we learn that there are nouns. Nouns indicate objects, objects which in a sense are enclosed in space. That we encounter such objects in life is not without significance for our life. Through all that is expressed in nouns we become conscious of our independence as human beings. We disassociate ourselves from the outer world in learning to describe things by nouns. When we call a thing “table” or “chair,” we disassociate ourselves from the table or chair. We are here, the table or chair is there. It is quite another matter when we describe things by adjectives. When I say: “The chair is blue,” I define some quality which unites me with the chair. The quality which I perceive unites me with the chair. When I describe an object by a noun I disassociate myself from it; when I define its quality I approach and unite with it again, so that the development of our consciousness in relation to things is reflected in forms of address of which we must become conscious by all means. When I use a verb, “Someone writes,” I do not only associate myself with the individual of whom I use the verb, but I participate in the action of his physical body; I perform it with him, my ego does it with him. My ego joins in the gesture of a physical body when I use a verb. Our listening, particularly to verbs, is in reality always a participation. The most spiritual part of man, in fact, participates, but merely as “tendency.” But only in Eurhythmy is it fully expressed. Eurhythmy gives, besides all else, a form of listening. When someone tells a tale, the listener all the time participates with his ego in the physical life behind the sounds, but suppresses it. The ego performs a constant Eurhythmy, and the Eurhythmy expressed in the physical body is only listening made visible. So you are always engaged in Eurhythmy when you listen, and when you are actually performing Eurhythmy you are only making visible what you leave invisible when you listen. The manifestation of the activity of the listener is, in fact, Eurhythmy. It is nothing in the least arbitrary, but it is in reality the activity of the listening person revealed. People to-day, of course, are inwardly fearfully sluggish, and in listening they inwardly perform at first very bad Eurhythmy. You become better controlled when you really learn to listen. In making this activity normal you elevate it into a real Eurhythmy. People will learn from Eurhythmy to listen rightly, for to-day, of course, they cannot listen properly at all.

I have made curious discoveries while delivering my present lectures. 2These were the lectures on the Threefold State. In the discussions speakers stand up, but you very soon notice from their speeches that they have really not heard the whole lecture at all, not even physically, but that they have only heard parts of it. Particularly in the present age of our human evolution this is of quite especial significance. Someone puts in his spoke, in the discussion, for instance, and says what he has been accustomed to think for decades. You may address a socialistically minded audience, but they really only hear you say what they have heard from their political propagandists for decades; they do not even physically hear the rest. They sometimes naively confess as much in these words: “Dr. Steiner says many beautiful things, but he says nothing new.” People have become so rigid in their listening that they confuse everything that has not been fossilized within them decades ago. People cannot listen, and will become increasingly less able to do so in these times, unless the power of listening is stirred to life afresh by Eurhythmy.

A kind of healing or restoration of the soul's being must take place again. Consequently, it will be particularly important to add the hygiene of the soul to all the materialistic hygienic tendencies of gymnastic training and to all that is exclusively concerned with the physiology and the functions of the body. This can be achieved by having alternate Gymnastics and Eurhythmy. Then, even if Eurhythmy, in the first place, is Art, the hygienic element in it will be of particular benefit, for people will not only learn something artistic in Eurhythmy, but they will learn for the soul what they learn for the body in Gymnastics, and, moreover, there will result a very beautiful interplay of these two forms of expression. The point is really to educate our children so that they take thought again for their surroundings, for their fellow-beings. That, of course, is the foundation of all social life. In these days everyone talks of social impulses, but sheer anti-social tendencies prevail. People will have to learn to respect one another before socialism can begin. They can only do this if they really listen to each other. It is extraordinarily important to direct people's feelings to these matters again, if we are to be educators and teachers.

Now simply this knowledge: by using a noun I dissociate myself from my surroundings, by using an adjective I unite myself with them, and by using a verb I actively merge in them, I participate — this knowledge alone will compel you to speak of “noun,” “adjective,” and “verb” with quite a different inner emphasis from what you would give to these words without this consciousness. All this, however, is only by way of preliminary; it must be developed further. For the moment I only wish to evoke certain ideas whose absence might confuse you.

It is, then, extraordinarily important to know how significant for man is the elevation to consciousness of the structure of our language. But besides this, we must acquire a feeling which has also to a great degree already died out in modern people — a feeling of how wise language really is. It is much cleverer, of course, than all of us. Language — as you will doubtless believe from the outset — has not been built up in its structure by man. For imagine what would have resulted if people had had to sit down together in parliaments to determine the structure of language according to their lights! Something about as clever as our laws! But language is truly cleverer than our State-laws. The structure of language contains the greatest wisdom. And you can learn an extraordinary amount from the way a nation or other group of people expresses itself. If you consciously penetrate into the framework of a language its genius teaches you very much. And to learn how to feel something concrete of the working and active influence of the spirit of language is extraordinarily important. To believe that the genius of a language works at its construction means a great deal. This feeling, too, can be further developed, can be developed into the consciousness: we human beings speak; animals cannot; they have at the most the beginnings of an articulate language. In these times, of course, when people like to confuse everything, we attribute language to ants and bees as well. But in the light of reality that is all nonsense. It is all based on a form of opinion to which I have frequently drawn attention. There are naturalist philosophers to-day who imagine themselves very wise and who say: “Why should not the plants, too, have a life of the will and a life of feeling?” There are, in fact, such things as plants — the so-called insectivorous plants — which, when small creatures fly in their proximity, attract them, and when they have crept inside, close up. Those, then, are beings which apparently use will towards what approaches them. But we cannot claim that such outward signs are really characteristic of will. If such a view is mentioned, I usually say, applying the same logic to my argument: “I know something which waits, too, till a living creature comes near it, then encloses and imprisons it. I refer to the mouse-trap. The very mousetrap could just as well be considered a living creature as the Venus fly-trap (the plant that catches flies).”

We must be profoundly conscious that the power of articulate speech is mere human property. Man must also become conscious of his relation in the world to the other three kingdoms of nature. If he is conscious of this he knows that his ego is essentially bound up with our power to speak, though to-day's speaking has become very abstract. But I should like to remind you of a fact which will inspire you anew with respect for language. When in very olden times, for instance in the Jewish civilization — but it was even more pronounced in still older civilizations — when priests and those who represented a cult or were in charge of it — in the course of their rites and ceremonies came to certain ideas, they interrupted their words and conveyed certain descriptions of higher beings, not through words, but through silence and through the corresponding Eurhythmic gesture — they were silent and then they went on speaking. In this way, for example, the name which already sounds so abstract to us to-day and which expressed in Hebrew, “I am that I am,” was never uttered, but speech was invariably used up to this point, then a sign was made, and only after that was the speaking resumed. Thus was expressed by gesture the “Unutterable and ineffable name of God in man.” Why was this done? Because if this name had been spoken and repeated, as a matter of course, without further ceremony, people would have been stunned by it, so great was their sensitiveness in those days. There were then certain sounds and combinations of sound in speech by which the people of more ancient civilizations could be stunned, so violent was their effect. Something like an actual swoon would have come over people at the utterance and hearing of such words. That is why they spoke of the “ineffable name of God.” It was profoundly significant. And this is seen when it is laid down: Only the priests, and they only on certain occasions may utter such names, because otherwise, at their utterance before those unprepared for them, heaven and earth would collapse. That is, people would have fainted and lost consciousness. That is why a name of this kind was expressed by a gesture. The real essence of language, then, was expressed by a feeling of this kind. But nowadays people chatter thoughtlessly about everything. We can no longer vary our feelings, and those people are very rare who, without sentimentality, feel tears in their eyes, for instance, at certain passages in novels. In fact, this is quite atavistic to-day. The living experience of what lies in the essence of language and the feeling in language has become very dulled.

This experience, among many other things, will have to be revived, and if we revive it we shall be able to feel profoundly how much we owe to the power of speech. We owe much of our ego-sense, of our sense of ourselves as personalities, to nothing less than our language. And it is possible for man to have a feeling as intense as prayer: “I hear language spoken around me; the power of language is flowing into me.” When you have felt the holiness in this call of the language to the ego you will also be able to awaken it in the children. And then, in fact, you will not awaken this ego-sense in children in an egoistic form, but quite differently. For this ego-sense in children can be awakened in two ways. If it is falsely excited it directly stimulates egoism; if it is rightly stirred, it stimulates the will, it is an impulse to selflessness itself, a direct impulse to life with the outer world.

What I have just said is meant to permeate you as educators and teachers. It is left to you to apply it in the teaching of languages. Of how it can be imbued in practice with consciousness, to awaken in the child the conscious feeling of his personality, we shall speak in our next lecture.