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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

VII. The Teaching in the Ninth Year — Natural History — the Animal Kingdom

28 August 1919, Stuttgart

(Dr. Steiner in the original first paragraph confined his remarks to the educational system in Germany in 1919 and before. They may be summarized as follows: In Germany you will be sharing the many difficulties inevitable in country schools where the equipment is defective in comparison with the town schools. On the other hand, the country schools have often better methods and have preserved many simple, good old principles, which die out as soon as modern intellectualism is introduced. —

In these circumstances you will often have to rely on your gift for invention. You will have to fall back on many a simple device where the average town schools have abundant resources. That may, indeed, animate your teaching, but it will also make the teaching of some subjects thoroughly distasteful. You will feel this particularly when you have brought the children to the end of their ninth year and can really only continue your teaching provided you have adequate materials for it. You will then have to use drawing, and simple elementary painting, as a substitute for many a thing which, in ideal conditions, you would not convey by drawing or by painting, but by a study of the thing itself.

I have made this preliminary observation because I should like to speak to you to-day about the transition in method which must be attended to just when the children have passed their ninth year. We shall only understand the curriculum at this point if we have trained ourselves in method so far that we have realized the nature of each individual child between seven and fifteen years. I should like to explain to you, as teachers, what you will have to make clear to children (in a rather different, more elementary way), just when they are between their ninth and tenth year. In some children this stage is reached even before the ninth year, with some it only occurs later, but on an average what I have to tell you to-day begins with the ninth year.

When we approach this period in their lives we shall have to feel the need to introduce natural history into the timetable in addition to the other things. Before this the children have grown familiar with natural history in narrative form, in the same way as I took in our training class 1See No. 3 of the sixth year of the periodical, The Art of Education. the relations of the animal world and the vegetable world to man. The method so far used to familiarize the child with natural history has been chiefly narrative, descriptive. But with actual natural history, before the Rubicon of the ninth year has been crossed you will hardly have started.

Now here it is of great importance to know that the development to be aimed at in the child by means of natural history teaching is radically defeated unless the teaching of natural history starts with an exposition of man. You may say with justice: “The child at nine years of age can be told little natural history about man.” But be it never so little, the little that a child can be taught about man should be taught as a preparation for all other teaching in natural history. You must know, in the meantime, that in man we have, as it were, a synthesis, a compendium, of all three natural kingdoms, that the other three natural kingdoms merge in man on a higher plane. You will not need to tell the child this, but by the course of your teaching you will have to awaken in him the feeling that man is this consummation of all other kingdoms of nature. You will succeed in this if, in speaking of man, you lay sufficient emphasis on him; if, from your manner of referring to man, you produce in the child an impression of the importance of man within the entire world-order. You will perhaps start, when the child is nine, to describe the human form in its external aspect. You will draw his attention to the principal division of man into head, trunk, and limbs, but in so doing you will be more concerned with the outer appearance, with the outward form. You will be wise to use the drawing already practised to produce in the child, even at this early age, an idea of the most outstanding features of the human form: that the head is spherical, that it is slightly flattened underneath and rests on the trunk at the flattened spot, that is, that it is a sphere poised on the trunk. It is well to give the child this idea. It awakens simultaneously the elements of feeling and will, for the child starts by seeing the head artistically, as spherical. This is important. In this way you compass the whole human being, not merely the intellect. Then you try to arouse in the child the idea that the trunk is in a sense a fragment of the head. And then, for the limbs, you awaken the idea that they are appended to the trunk and affixed to it. There is much that the child will not be able to understand, but at least call up a vivid picture that the limbs are “fixed into” the human organism. At this point you must not go any further, for the limbs are continued internally in the morphological constitution of the human being, and are there connected with the digestive and sexual organs, which are simply a continuation, in an inward direction, of the limbs. But you evoke the clear idea in the children that the limbs are affixed to the organism from outside. This gives the child a first conception of the human form.

Try further to excite in the child a first, if still elementary, primitive conception, that our gazing on the world is bound up with the spherical head. You can say to him: “You have your eyes, your ears, your nose, your mouth, in your head. You see with your eyes, you hear with your ears, you smell with your nose, you taste with your mouth. Most of what you know about the outside world you know through your head.” If you develop this thought further the child derives from it a conception of the formation and function of the head. Then you try to produce in him a conception of the trunk by saying: “What you taste with your tongue enters your trunk as food; what you hear with your ears goes into your trunk as sound.” It is well with children to evoke an idea of the organic system of the whole being. If you then suggest to the child that he has the respiratory organs in the chest and breathes through these, that in the lower part of the body he has the stomach with which he digests food, it is an excellent plan. And it is moreover a good thing to let the child reflect on how the human limbs serve, as feet for walking on, and as hands for free movement and work. It is well at the same time to awaken in the child an understanding for the different services rendered to the human body by the feet, which carry it and make it possible for the human being to work in the different places where he has to live — and, in contrast to this, by the arms and hands, with which the human being does not need to carry his own body but can work freely. While his feet stand on the ground, his hands can be extended in the air to work. In short, the child's attention must be clearly directed to the essential difference between human legs and feet, and human arms and hands. The difference between the service performed by the feet and legs, in carrying the human body, and that performed by the hands and arms in working, not for the human body but for the world — this difference between the egoistical service of the feet and the selfless service of the hands in labouring for the human world outside, ought to be impressed on the child early and through the feelings.

Thus we ought to teach the child, by evolving ideas from form, as much as possible about man from natural history. Only then should you go on to the rest of natural history, and first of all to the animal kingdom. Here it would be a good plan to bring to the lesson — you will have to contrive this in some way or other — a cuttle-fish, a mouse, a lamb, or even a horse, something or other from the mammals, and then, in addition, perhaps, an example of a human being — now you ought to have enough specimens of human beings: you need only present one of the pupils to the others as a human object! You must be clear as to how to proceed. You will try to familiarize the class first of all with the cuttle-fish. You will tell them how it lives in the sea; you will describe, by studying or drawing it, its appearance; in a word, you will make the children acquainted with the cuttle-fish. They will feel, while you describe the cuttle-fish to them, that you are describing it in a particular way. Perhaps only later, when, for instance, you describe the mouse, the children will notice how differently you treat the subject of the mouse from that of the cuttle-fish. You must try to develop this artistic feeling in the children, which, from your different procedure in describing the cuttle-fish and the mouse, will be at the same time a feeling of the difference between these two creatures. With the cuttle-fish you must suggest how it feels its immediate surroundings: if it scents danger in its surroundings it at once emits its dark juice and envelops itself in an aura, to divert the attention of the approaching enemy. You can tell the child many things which help him to understand that the cuttle-fish, when protecting itself from its enemies, or, too, when feeding, always acts like the human being when he eats or looks at something. When the human being eats, he has a taste — a feeling which is conveyed to him through his tongue, through his taste-organ. Again, the human eye feels the constant need to look into light, and, when it does so, can adjust itself to light. Because the taste-organs of the human being desire to taste, they absorb what serves to nourish him. So describe the cuttle-fish in such a way that the child feels from your description the sensitiveness of the cuttle-fish, its fine perception of things surrounding it. You will have to work out for yourself an artistic description of the cuttle-fish so that the children really grasp it in this artistic description.

Then describe the mouse. Describe how it has a pointed snout, how on this pointed snout there can be seen very strong whiskers, how, besides, you can see the gnawing-teeth protruding from the lower and upper jaws; describe the disproportionately large ears of the mouse, then come to its cylindrical body and to the fine velvety growth of hair. Then go on to describe the limbs, the smaller forefeet, the slightly larger hind-feet, which enable the mouse to leap. Then notice its tail, covered with scales, scurf, and less hairy. At the same time show the child that when the mouse is climbing or grasping something by its fore-feet, it supports itself on its tail, which it can use very skilfully because it is not hairy but scurfy, and therefore inwardly more sensitive. In a word, you again try to describe the mouse to the child by building up its physical form artistically. And you will succeed in this artistic construction if you evoke in the child a notion of how, for all the functions for which the cuttle-fish does not need limbs grown on to the body, the mouse needs limbs grown on. The cuttle-fish is sensitive in itself, in its own body; consequently, it does not need such big ears as the mouse. Its relation to its surroundings allows it to imbibe nourishment without the help of the pointed snout which the mouse has. Nor does it need such large grown-on limbs as the mouse, because it can use its own body to propel itself forward in the water. Sum up in artistic form what you are trying to show the child: that the cuttle-fish expresses itself less through its limb-organs than through its body.

I have to describe all this to you first so that you can translate it into teaching, for you must first be conscious of what you must later introduce less consciously into artistically prepared lessons. In short, describe the mouse so that you gradually produce in the child the feeling that the mouse is completely adapted to serve the life of its trunk through its limbs. Then, too, make clear to the child that, after all, the lamb is so organized that its limbs serve its body, and the horse, when it lives wild, is organized so that with its limbs it can serve its body. For instance, show clearly why the mouse has such very pointed teeth; these teeth have to be sharp and pointed, or else the mouse would not be able to gnaw at objects, as it must, to nourish itself, and even to bore holes, in which it then lives. But in this way it is constantly wearing away its teeth. But the teeth of the mouse are arranged — like our nails — always to grow new again from inside, and the tooth-substance is constantly being renewed. Here you see, particularly with the teeth, which are, of course, also organs appended to the rest of the organism, that they are designed to enable the body of the mouse to live.

In this way you have given the child a profound, if only rudimentary impression, through the feelings, of the cuttlefish, and you have also evoked in him a clear idea of the structure of the mouse. And now you return to the structure of the human being. You make clear to the child that if we now look for the ways in which man most resembles a cuttlefish, curiously enough we are brought to the human head. The part of man which most resembles the cuttle-fish is the head. It is prejudice which causes people to imagine that the head is their most perfect organ. The head is indeed very complex in formation, but it is really only a transformed cuttle-fish — I mean, a transformed lower animal, for the relation of the human head to its surroundings is that of the lower animals to theirs. It is in his trunk that man most resembles the higher animals: the mouse, lamb, horse. But, whilst the cuttle-fish can maintain its entire existence by means of its head, man cannot do this. The head must be poised on the trunk and rest upon it; it cannot move freely. But the cuttle-fish, which is really all head and nothing else, can move freely in the water. You must at least succeed in giving the children a feeling of how the lower animals are heads which can move freely, though they are not so perfect as the human head. And you must awaken in the children a feeling for the fact that the higher animals are chiefly trunk, and are endowed by nature with refined organs chiefly for the satisfaction of the needs of the trunk, which is much less true of man; as far as his trunk goes he is more imperfectly formed than the higher animals.

You must then awaken in the child a feeling of the external feature in which man is the most perfect of all creatures. That is, his limbs. If you trace the higher animals up to the ape, you will find that the front limbs are not so very different from the hind limbs, and that the four limbs as a whole serve essentially to bear the trunk, to propel it forwards, etc. The wonderful differentiation of the limbs into feet and hands, into legs and arms, occurs for the first time in man, and is marked by the tendency to stand upright in his carriage and even in his structure. No animal species is so perfectly formed as man, from the point of view of the inter-organization of the limbs.

Then introduce a quite graphic description of the human arms and hands: how they have been relieved of the weight of carrying the body, how the hands do not come in contact with the earth for the purposes of the body, but how they are transformed so as to be able to grasp objects, so as to perform labour. And then go on to the will-aspect, to the moral aspect. Produce in the child, through the feelings, not theoretically, this vivid idea: for instance, you take up chalk to write with; you can only take up the chalk because your hand is designed to perform labour, because it no longer has to carry the body. The animal cannot be lazy with its arms because it cannot really be said to have any. When people talk of apes as being four-handed it is only an incorrect way of talking, for the ape actually has four legs and feet shaped like arms, and not four “hands.” For when, after all, animals are formed to climb, their climbing is a function which serves the body, and their feet are shaped like hands so that they can support the body in climbing. For the human body, hands and arms are freed from the task of supporting it, expressing thus the most beautiful symbol of human freedom. In fact, no more beautiful symbol could exist for it than our hands and arms. Man can both work with his hands and arms for others and for the support of his own body.

By this description of the cuttle-fish, the mouse, the lamb, the horse, and the human being himself, you gradually awaken in the child, by way of the feelings, a clear conception that the lower animals have the character of head, the higher animals of trunk, and the human being of the limbs. It only inculcates man with conceit to teach him perpetually that he is the most perfect creature in the world by virtue of his head. On hearing this he instinctively derives the notion that man is perfect through idleness, through laziness. For the human being knows instinctively that his head is a lazy-bones, that it rests on his shoulders, that it does not want to move itself through the world, that it lets itself be carried by the limbs. It is not true that man is the most perfect creature because of his head, because of his lazy-bones of a head, but because of his limbs, which are a part of the structure and work of the world. You make man in his inmost heart more moral if you do not teach him that he is perfect through his lazy head, but through his active limbs. For the creatures which are only head, like the lower animals, have to propel their own heads, and the creatures which only use their limbs in the service of the trunk are, compared with man, the less perfect creatures because their limbs are less fashioned for free use than are those of the human being. They are burdened from the start by a certain purpose; they invariably serve the body. In man, one pair of limbs, his hands, is completely liberated into the sphere of human freedom. You will only give man a sound experience of the world if you awaken in him the idea that he is perfect on account of his limbs, not on account of his head. You can do this very well by the comparative description of the cuttle-fish, the mouse or the lamb or the horse, and the human being. At the same time you will notice that you should never really omit the human being in describing anything in the natural kingdom, for in man you see all the activities of nature combined. We should always have man in the background when we are describing anything in nature. That is why, after reaching the child's ninth year, and going on to teach natural history, we should take man as our starting-point.

In the study of childhood it is found that something happens just between the ninth and tenth year, though it is not so evident as at an earlier stage. When the child begins to move his limbs a little more consciously than before and to walk about, even if it is unsteadily, when he begins to move his arms and hands with a purpose, he is just beginning to be partially aware of his Ego, and will later be able to remember as far back as this moment, but no further. If you notice how normally (there are individual exceptions) the human being begins at this age to say “I,” — or perhaps a little later, because the activity of speech, that is, the will-element, must first have developed — you can see that the emergence in man of self-consciousness is distinctly perceptible at this stage, whereas the change is not so evident which takes place in the human consciousness round about the ninth year. At this point self-consciousness increases; you notice that the child understands much more intelligently what is said to him about the difference between man and the world. Before the Rubicon of the ninth year the child is far more merged in his surroundings than after this age. He then finds himself more separated from his surroundings. For this reason you can now begin to talk to the child a little about things of the soul, for which he would have shown little understanding before he reached the age of nine. When he is nine his self-consciousness both deepens and increases.

Anyone with a feeling for such things will observe that at this age the child begins to use words much more inwardly than before, to become much more aware that words arise from his inner nature. Nowadays, when people are much more concerned with outer than inner nature, far too little attention is shown to this sudden change in the ninth or tenth year. But the teacher must pay attention to it. For his reason you will be able to address the child from a quite different background of feeling when you introduce him — not before this stage has been reached — to natural history, which must always compare man with the other kingdoms of nature. Whereas before, when the individual was more merged in nature, you could only speak to the child of the things of natural history in the form of stories, now that he is past nine years of age you can show him the cuttle-fish, the mouse, the lamb, or the horse, and the human being, and talk with him of their relationship to each other and to man. Before this stage you would stumble on something quite unintelligible to the child if you were to connect the functions of the head with the cuttle-fish, or the functions of the trunk with the mouse, or if you were to seek the distinguishing perfection of man in the human limbs. And now you are to use the very material offered to you by the child's age, for when you teach natural history in the way I have described, you plant in the child's soul moral concepts which are firm and strong. Moral concepts are not instilled into the child's soul by appealing to the reason, but by appealing to the feelings and the will. But you will be appealing to the feeling and the will in directing the child's thoughts and feelings to the way in which he himself is only fully human if he employs his hands in work for the world, and how this makes him the most perfect creature; further, how the human head is related to the cuttle-fish, and the human trunk to the mouse, sheep, or horse. Through feeling himself duly placed like this in the natural order the child absorbs feelings by which he will later know himself to be fully man.

You can implant in the child's soul this quite particularly important moral element if you take pains to arrange your teaching of natural history so that the child has no suspicion that you intend to teach him anything moral. But you will never implant so much as a trace of morality in the children if your teaching of natural history is independent of man and describes the cuttle-fish for itself, the mouse or the lamb or the horse for itself, and even man for himself; these descriptions would simply be verbal-definitions. You can only describe man if you build him up from all other organisms and activities of nature. Schiller admired in Goethe his naive conception of nature, in the light of which he considered the human being composed of all the single entities of nature, as Schiller states in the beautiful letter which he wrote to Goethe at the beginning of the nineties in the eighteenth century. I have again and again brought this to your notice because it contains something which should permeate our civilization and our culture: the consciousness of the synthesis of all nature in man. Goethe is repeatedly expressing it like this: “Man is placed at the summit of nature and feels there that he is a whole nature;” or again: “The whole world reaches within man its own consciousness.” If you go through my writings you will find such utterances of Goethe's quoted again and again. I have not quoted them because they struck me as pleasing, but because such ideas should become part of the consciousness of our age. That is why I am always so grieved that one of the most important of educational writings has really remained quite unknown, or at least unfruitful in the actual sphere of education. Schiller, as a matter of fact, learnt good educational theory from Goethe's naive self-education, and introduced this educational theory into his work Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (“Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man”). These letters contain a tremendous wealth of educational theory; one only has to think out its implications to their logical conclusion. Schiller arrived at his discoveries, remember, through Goethe's vision. Just recall how Goethe, a product of civilization and yet rooted in nature, from his very earliest childhood opposed the educational principles in force around him. Goethe could never isolate the human being from his surroundings. He always took man in his setting of nature and felt himself, as a human being, one with nature. That is why, for instance, he took no pleasure in piano lessons as long as they were given to him in no kind of connection with the human being. He only began to take an interest in piano lessons when he was shown the function of the different fingers, when he heard: “That is the thumb; that is the index-finger, etc.,” and when he knew how the thumb and the index-finger are applied in playing the piano. He always wanted to see the whole being rooted in the whole of nature. And again — I have mentioned this before, too — at the age of seven he built his own altar to nature, taking for the purpose his father's music desk, laying minerals upon it, and plants from his father's rock-garden, and on top putting a little fumigating candle; then he caught up the beams of the morning sun in a burning-glass and offered a sacrifice to the great God of nature — a rebellion against what people wanted him to learn. Goethe was always a person who wanted to be educated as people ought to be educated now. And because Goethe was like this, after first struggling hard with himself towards that end, he won Schiller's great admiration and inspired in Schiller's Aesthetic Letters on education what you know to be the contents of these letters.

My old friend and teacher, Schröer, once told me that he had to sit on a school commission to examine prospective teachers, but he had not been able to prepare the work demanded of the future teachers in the examination. So he questioned them on Schiller's Aesthetic Letters. They had learnt from A to Z everything about Plato and all else that was to be known, but when Schröer began to question them on Schiller's Aesthetic Letters they revolted! And all over Vienna the tale spread: Schröer had tried to examine the teachers on Schiller's Aesthetic Letters, while obviously no one on earth can make anything of them.

But if we wish to turn to many a healthy and sound, if rudimentary suggestion, we have to go back to Schiller's Letters on Aesthetic Education, and also to Jean Paul's educational doctrines in Levana. This, too, contains very many practical hints for teaching. In recent times there have been many improvements, but it cannot be said that the potential influence of Schiller's Aesthetic Letters and Jean Paul's educational doctrines have really entered the educational system of our days. Things are often turned according to personal points of view.

I have now tried to give you an idea of how it is possible to learn from a certain age in childhood, roughly the ninth year, the educational methods which ought to be adopted at this age. In the next lecture we shall see how the child's fourteenth and fifteenth years should be employed to give the child what satisfies the needs of his nature at that age. In this way we shall come near to winning insight into how the whole world appears to children between seven and fifteen years of age and into the obligations of the educator and teacher. From this insight will arise our curriculum. In these days people ask abstractly: “How are we to develop the child's latent possibilities?” But we must first know them, if all the oft-repeated phrases about teaching according to the “development of the child's possibilities” are to have any concrete meaning.