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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

VIII. Education After the Twelfth—History—Physics

29 August 1919, Stuttgart

When schools come under external legislation, we must obviously agree to compromise with regard to religious teaching, and also with regard to the curriculum. But we must keep clear what are the right and good foundations of a curriculum, so that where it imposes something which we feel to be organically inconsistent we can correct it personally here and there.

The discovery of the right curriculum for the period between the seventh and fourteenth or fifteenth year is on the whole bound up with the real knowledge of the child's development at this age. In the last lecture I drew attention to a phase in this development, which lies between the ninth and tenth year, that is, the time when the child has completed his ninth year and is beginning his tenth. When we trace the child's development from the age of seven through the eighth and ninth year, before we come to the tenth year we pass at some point the phase which I described to you, in relation to the whole development, as follows: The ego consciousness is strengthened and consolidated, so that from this time onwards we can introduce the child to the concepts of natural history, as I showed in the last lecture, from the cuttle-fish, the mouse or lamb or horse, and the human being. But you will have seen that there must still be taken into account the reciprocal relation of man to his surroundings, that attention must be paid to man as the real compendium of all other kingdoms of nature, to the importance of not isolating him sharply from the other natural kingdoms. A tremendous amount of harm is done to the growing being unless he is constantly referred, in the tenth and eleventh year, with his feelings and his experiences, to the intimacy of man with external nature, to man as a synthesis of the world of nature outside him.

But another important phase in the child's development lies between the twelfth and thirteenth year. At this time of life the spirit and soul element in man is strengthened and reinforced in so far as soul and spirit are less dependent on the ego. What we are used, in spiritual science, to call the astral body, permeates the etheric body, and unites with it. Of course the astral body is only really born as an independent entity at puberty, but it manifests itself in the etheric body in a peculiar way by charging and permeating it with its own force at the age of twelve to thirteen.

Here, then, lies another important point in the child's development. It is expressed in the fact that the child, if we deal wisely with him at this age, begins to understand the impulses of the outside world which resemble those of the spirit and soul and are expressed in the external world as historical forces. I showed you in an illustration how the sway of such historical forces can be brought within the scope of teaching in the elementary school.1See The Art of Education (“Erziehungskunst”). Elementary school is a translation of “Volkschule,” which in these lectures includes every school up to fourteen. But although it is left for you to translate into children's terms what I have explained to you, however much you adapt yourself to children you will not be able to awaken in the child the right understanding of historical impulses if you introduce him to the study of history in this way before he has completed his twelfth year. You can tell the child history earlier than this in the form of stories; you can tell him biographies. He will grasp these. But he will not grasp historical connections before he has completed his twelfth year. That is why you will do harm unless you punctually observe this phase in his development. At this point the child begins to feel a yearning to get what he once learnt in the form of stories in real historical form. And if you have told the child before, for instance, stories of this or that crusader, or of other heroes, you must now try to recast these, so that in the remodelled form he realizes the underlying historical impulses and historical connections. You will see, you will notice unmistakably, that the child responds with understanding from the twelfth year onwards to this right procedure, and you will say to yourself: “I shall confine myself chiefly, until his ninth year, to what we have already described as art, and derive from it writing and reading and later go on to arithmetic; but I shall only pass on to natural history after the age described in the last lecture, and I shall only touch on history, as far as it is more than stories, after he has reached his twelfth year.” At this point he begins to take an inner interest in the great historical connections. This will be quite especially important in the future, for more and more it will become obviously necessary to educate people to a comprehension of historical connections, whereas hitherto they have never arrived at a real conception of history. They have been more like members of an economic State system whose demands and interests they have followed as if they were machines. It has been considered sufficient to know a few paltry anecdotes about rulers and wars, and the dates of battles and famous people.

An especial subject of teaching in the future will have to be the development of the impulse in humanity towards culture. But teaching will then have to include the study of historical impulses, and these will have to be timed in the curriculum to answer to the appropriate moment in the child's development.

But there emerges in the child, when he has crossed the Rubicon of his twelfth year, a further glimmering of understanding. You may talk to the child before this about the organization of the human eye as clearly as possible—but before he is twelve he will not be able to master its formation properly and with understanding. For what are you really doing when you teach the child about the formation of the human eye? You are drawing his attention to the way in which rays of light strike the eye, enter it, are taken up by the lens and refracted, how they then pass through the vitreous humour and form an image upon the back wall of the eye, etc. You must describe all these as physical processes. You describe a physical process which really occurs in man himself, namely in a human sense-organ. If you want to do this you must already have developed the ideas in the child which enable him to respond. That is, you must have already shown the child the refraction of rays of light. That is very easily explained by showing him a lens, explaining the focus, and showing how the rays of light are refracted. But you are then describing purely physical facts which take place outside the human being. This can be done between the turning-point of the child's ninth year and the turning-point of his twelfth year. Only at the end of the twelfth year should this physical description be applied to the organs of man himself, because only then does the child begin to estimate at its right value the action of the outer world upon man, the process by which the activity of the outside world is projected into the human being and prolonged within him. He cannot understand this before he is twelve. He can understand physical processes—but not the consummation of physical processes in the human being.

There is some relation between the comprehension of historical impulses in humanity and the comprehension of the external physical impulses of nature in the human organism. The essence of real humanity lives in historical impulses, but the power concentrated in them persists as an external historical course of events and reacts on man. When you describe the human eye you describe an activity of external nature repeated in the human being. Both processes require an understanding of the same quality, and this understanding does not really emerge until the twelfth year. For this reason we shall need to arrange the curriculum so that the child is trained from the ninth to the twelfth year in the physical ideas suited to a comprehension of man himself, that is that he learns, along with natural history, simple physics, but that we wait until the twelfth year before applying the laws of physics to man himself—just as we should cultivate the telling of stories until he is twelve and then turn the stories into “history.”

My explanations so far refer to the beginnings of this subject. Naturally, the further organization of physics-teaching can then be continued into the period after twelve. But neither physics nor natural history should be embarked on before the child is nine, nor history lessons, nor lessons of a physiological kind, that is, the description of human manifestations, be given before the end of the twelfth year. If you remember that understanding something is not just what arises exclusively in the human intellect, but that it always comprises feeling and will, you will not feel quite antagonistic towards what I have just said. And if people do not observe these distinctions it is because they succumb to illusions. You can acquaint the human intellect in a scanty fashion with historical or physiological concepts before twelve years of age, but it ruins human nature, it really un-suits it for the whole of life. You will therefore find that you must talk to a child of nine to twelve, little by little, for instance, about how light-rays are broken up, how images are formed through lenses or other instruments. For instance, you will be able to discuss with him at this age how opera glasses function. At this age, too, you will be able to talk to him of the nature and the functioning of a clock, you will be able to explain the difference between a pendulum-clock and a watch and all such things. But you must not explain to him before he is twelve the application of light-refraction and image-formation to the human eye.

Now you will have realized from the approaches already indicated how you should proceed to draw up a curriculum in which the subjects of teaching are arranged so as to develop the child's aptitudes in the right way. It remains for us to make another observation from this point of view. It is undoubtedly important in teaching not to deviate too much from life, but at the same time not to accommodate yourself too much to it in trivialities. Saying to the child: “What have you got on your feet?” Answer: “A pair of shoes;” “What are your shoes for?” “To put on,” is called by many teachers an “object lesson,” and serves to reveal absurd trivialities. When you carry on an object lesson on the lines laid down in books on method you tire the child horribly in his subconscious soul, and that again does the child a great deal of harm. We should concern ourselves less with this staying “put” too close to life and this continual dragging up into consciousness of concepts which can really quite well remain in the unconscious, and which simply haul into blatant consciousness purely habitual actions. But because of this we must not keep too great a distance from life and teach the child empty abstractions too early. That will be particularly important in the teaching of physics. Indeed, physics teaching of itself will offer sufficient opportunity to bring into close relationship things near at hand in our everyday life—and things far removed from external life. You should therefore take care to develop physical concepts from life itself. As far as you are able, and according to your gift for invention, you should let the child realize such things as, for instance, these: that it is sometimes still “cold to the feet” in our room after we have turned on the heating, while it is already warm near the ceiling. In pointing this out you draw the child's attention to a fact of life, and from it you can start to explain to him that of course the air below, round the stove, is warmed first. The top of the room obviously does not get warm first of all. But the warm air has the tendency always to rise and the cold air must then fall, so that the process is explained to the child like this: “The air down below, around the stove, gets warm first; this warm air rises, so that the cold air has to fall, and so it is still cold to the feet in a room where the air up above has been warm for some time.” In this way you have set out from a fact of life from which you can now find the transition to pointing out that the warm air expands and the cold air contracts. Here you are already leaving everyday life. But in other cases, too, for instance, if you are speaking in a physics lesson of a lever, it is not wise simply to confront your class with the abstract lever. Start with the lever of a balance, and then come from this to the way a lever functions. Start, that is, from what is useful in ordinary life, and go on to what can be thought out from it in physics.

But at this point I cannot withhold from you the fact that many of our physical concepts themselves work havoc on the child, and that very much depends on the teacher's sound knowledge, on his attempts in the first place to acquire a certain maturity of mind from which to form opinions. You cannot avoid saying to the bigger children: “Here you have an electrical machine; what I have here is called a friction-electrifying machine. By rubbing certain objects I can produce electricity, but to do this I must always be careful to wipe the objects which are to be electrified, for they must be dry. If they are wet the experiment will not work; no electricity is produced.” You then enlarge to the children on the reasons why it will not do to try to produce electricity with wet instruments. Then you go on to explain how lightning is produced, and you speak of it as an electrical process. Now many people say: “There is friction between the clouds, which produces an electric discharge in the form of lightning.” The child will believe it, perhaps, because the teacher believes it himself, but in his subconscious nature a quite peculiar process is going on—of which he is naturally unaware. He says to himself: “Yes, the teacher always carefully wipes—so that they are not wet—the instruments which are to rub against each other and produce electricity, but afterwards he tells me that electricity is produced by the friction of the clouds, which, after all, are wet!” The child notices such contradictions. And much of the tormenting restlessness of life arises from the fact that the child has continuously to put up with such contradictions. They may arise in the outer world; but within our thoughts they are out of place. Because the knowledge and experience of men to-day is not profound enough, there persist, in what we teach the children and in what later we teach young people, contradictions of this kind, which really torture the unconscious inner nature of the human being. For this reason we must at least see that what we consciously teach the child does not contain too many statements which the child then visualizes differently in his subconsciousness. In science we shall not, of course, be called upon as teachers to sift such nonsense as the foolish confusion which is introduced into physics between lightning and electricity. But when we are dealing with, let us say, more transparent questions, we should always at least be conscious that we are not, of course, merely influencing the child's consciousness, but always his subconscious nature too. How can we adapt ourselves to this subconsciousness?

We can only do it by becoming, as teachers, more and more the kind of people who do not adjust their understanding to suit the child. I have already mentioned in another connection what this involves. You must cultivate in yourself the capacity for letting the lesson in which you are engaged with the child absorb you as entirely as the child is absorbed in it—no matter what the subject. You must not let yourself be infected with the thought: “Of course I know a great deal more, but I am making it up to suit the child. I am above the child and serve up whatever I have to say to him in a suitable way.” No, you must have the gift of so transforming yourself that the child literally awakens in your lessons, that you yourself become a child with the child. But not childishly. Nursemaids often make this mistake; they talk with the child in baby-talk; when he says “Daddy,” they say “Daddy,” too, instead of father. The point is not to be childish superficially, but to transform into childlike experience what is more mature. Of course, to be able to do this properly you must penetrate a little deeper into human nature. We must take seriously the fact that man must become productive in just the most important of spiritual gifts, that he must keep a childish nature all his life. You are a poet, an artist, if, as a mature man, you can always live over in your own soul the child's participation in life. To be always a solemn or stodgy person, to be no longer able to behave like a child, inwardly like a child, in your thinking and feeling and willing (which have now acquired the maturer conceptions of thirty years), to be always only a composed and rigid person, is not the attitude suited to a teacher. But the right attitude is this: always to be able to transport yourself back into childhood in every personal experience, in every new knowledge acquired. You will not transport yourself like this into childhood if you are a person who relates a newly learned fact in baby-language. But you will be able to transport yourself back by rejoicing as intensely in this new fact as the child rejoices in the realization of a new fact of life. In a word, it is the soul and spirit which must transport itself back into childhood, and not the external body.

Much, of course, will depend on the atmosphere which is created between the teacher and the pupils. For the right atmosphere is created when, for instance, in talking about life, about nature, you take a delight in it like the child himself, marvelling at it in the same way. For example, you have all learnt something about physics and understand the so-called Morse-telegraphy to some extent. You know the process by which a telegram is sent from one place to another. You know that, by means of different devices, by means of the Morse keyboard on which the telegraphic operator presses now for a short time, now for longer, the circuit is closed either for a short or a long time, while it is interrupted when there is no pressure on the keyboard. You know that the actual Morse telegraph apparatus is joined to the circuit in the form of an iron lever attracted by an electro-magnet. Then you know that there is also connected, into this current, the so-called relay. You know that this, with the help of a wire, sets up contact between the telegraph apparatus at one station and that at another, so that at the second station there is reproduced what was produced at the first station. According to whether I apply the current for a short or long time, something is heard at the other station, which, on being set down, produces what is then read by the telegraph operator at the other station. The short or long interruptions become visible as an impression on a strip of paper, a point being seen on the paper for a short duration of the current and a dash for a long duration. The strip of paper is run through rollers. For instance, you see a dot, then perhaps after an interval, three dots, etc. Out of dots and dashes the whole alphabet is composed: an A is .—, Ð’—..., and one dash is T, and so on. In this way we can read off what passes from one station to another.

But all this explanation of the telegraph apparatus is really only an object of intellectual consideration. You really do not need to exert much psychic energy to make intelligible all that is involved in this mechanical process, where the mechanism is saturated with the action of electricity, about which modern science only offers hypotheses. But one aspect of it remains a miracle, and we may as well call a miracle a miracle. I must confess that when I think of the contact which is established between the Morse apparatus of one station and that of another I am always most profoundly moved by the way in which the electrical circuit is closed. It is not, of course, closed by a wire passed from the first station to the second, and a second wire from this back to the first. That could be done; in this way the interruption would be effected by interrupting the circuit. But the closed circuit is not produced by wires which pass to and fro and into which the Morse apparatus is then fitted; actually only one part of the current is conducted by the wire. The wire from the one station goes into the earth and there enters a metallic plate, and at the other station in the same way the wire goes into the earth through a metal plate. The contact, therefore, which could be set up by a wire is established by the earth itself. In the earth itself the process takes place which could otherwise only be produced, in the case of a closed circuit, by means of the other half of the wire. And whenever you have to think how one telegraph apparatus at one station is connected with that of another you cannot but be conscious of a miracle in the fact that the earth, the whole earth, adopts the role of transmitter, that it takes, as it were, the current in its protection and delivers it faithfully up at the other station, for it is the earth alone which undertakes the transmission. All explanations of this are hypotheses. But the important thing for our human relations is that we should be able again and again to feel this as a wonderful fact, that we should not blunt our feelings to the realization of physical processes. Then we shall find the atmosphere in which to explain these to the child, in which we can always transport ourselves back again to our first experience of a fact. A physical explanation will thus transform us with the marvelling child into marvelling children. And such things are everywhere present, even in the physical processes of the world.

Imagine for the moment that you are giving this lesson. There stands something like a bench; on this bench lies a ball; I pull the bench quickly away—the ball falls to the ground. What will the modern teacher generally say when he is explaining a phenomenon of this kind to the child? “The ball is attracted by the earth; unless it is supported, it succumbs to gravitation.” But that really means nothing. For this phrase: “The ball succumbs to gravitation” is actually meaningless; it is one of those verbal definitions of which we have already spoken. For the physicists again confess that no one knows anything about gravitation and the nature of gravitation; but they talk about them nevertheless. But we cannot avoid speaking of gravitation. We are bound to speak of it. For otherwise our pupil will go out into the world and find himself required to qualify for some position, and quite properly is asked: “What is gravitation?” And imagine what would happen if a fifteen-year-old youngster or a fifteen-year-old lassie did not know what gravitation is! So we must tell the child what gravitation is; we must not foolishly close our eyes to the demands of the modern world. At the same time, by acting on the child's subconscious nature we can excite beautiful ideas in him. Having taught him other things, we can explain, for instance, the following fact: suppose you have here the receiver of an air-pump in which there is no air; if you now take out the stopper the air pours quickly in and fills up the void. In the same way there is everywhere the tendency in things to pour into empty space. This tendency is connected with the other case in which you speak of the action of gravitation; if you draw the stopper away in a downward direction something streams in, too. The difference is only that in the one case the outside air pours into the empty space while in the other case the action is in one direction only. Now compare the phenomena.2See Allgemeine Menschenkunde als Grundlage der Pädagogik, Lecture 7. Do not give the child verbal-definitions, but bring out the connections between the concepts and the phenomena connected with air and those connected with solid bodies. If one were, even with firm bodies, to come to the conception of “streaming in” when they move in a certain direction unsupported, one would abandon the present idea connected with air streaming into an empty space; one would altogether come to sounder conceptions than those now spread all over the world, e.g. the Relativity Theory of Professor Einstein. I only say this as a passing observation on modern civilization, but I must draw your attention to the fact of much mischief being active in our civilization through the Relativity Theory, particularly in its latest form, and to the fact that this will have an injurious effect when the child becomes a scientist.

This already gives you a considerable idea of how the curriculum must be composed, and on what basis.