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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

XI. On the Teaching of Geography

2 September 1919, Stuttgart

I have told you that the teaching of geography can first be begun at the second stage of the elementary school course. We can very well begin it after the age of nine. It remains to arrange it suitably. Wherever the elementary-school teaching of the future is in question—and this even holds good of teaching in senior schools (age 12-18)—we must see that geography embraces far more than it does at present. Geography at the moment retires only too much into the background; in fact, a step-motherly treatment is meted out to it. The achievements of the other subjects ought really in many ways to culminate in geography. And even if I said that the teaching of mineralogy should only begin at the third stage, round about twelve, mineralogy in the form of description and direct observation can be partly interwoven with geography as early as the previous stage. The child can absorb an extraordinary amount of geography between nine and twelve, if only we go about teaching it rightly. It is a question in geography above all of setting out from the child's own knowledge of the face of the earth and the processes which occur on its surface. We try first of all to convey to the child, again artistically, by a kind of picture, the relations of mountain and river and other aspects of his surroundings. In fact, we really work out with the child, in an elementary way, a map of the immediate surroundings in which he has grown up and with which he is familiar. We try to take the child through the difference between the view we have of a landscape if we ourselves stand on the land or look down to it from the air; that is, we show him the transformation into a map of the landscape immediately familiar to him. We try to show him how rivers flow through this stretch of land; that is, we actually draw the river and stream system of the surrounding country on the map into which we gradually transmute our view of the country. And we draw on it the physical features of the mountains and hills. It is a good thing to do this with colours, marking the rivers with blue and the mountains with brown chalk. But then we add to it the other features connected with human life. We mark the different configurations of the district, drawing the child's attention to them like this: “You see that part of the country is planted with orchards;” and we draw the fruit-trees.

Diagram 1

We point out to him in addition the presence of needle-trees or pine woods and draw the stretches which are covered with conifers.

Diagram 2

We direct his attention to the fact that part of the district is covered with corn and we draw these stretches too.

Diagram 3

Then we direct his attention to the fact that there are meadows, which again we draw.

Diagram 4

This drawing represents meadows which can be mown. We say so to the child. We also draw in the meadows which cannot be mown but which can be used for pasturing the cattle, which eat the grass and thus it remains short.

Diagram 5

And we tell the child that this is pasture land. In this way we make the regional map live for him. It gives him some sort of survey over the economic foundations of the district. Then, too, we point out to him that mountains contain all kinds of things: coal, ore, etc. And we further point out that the rivers are used for shipping the produce or manufactures of one place to another. We thus lead him to deduce therefrom a good deal about the economic implications of the structure of the country. When we have made clear the economic foundations in the form of rivers and mountains, meadows and forest, etc., as far as the child is able to understand our knowledge of these, we draw in, at the corresponding spots, the villages or towns included in the district which we are studying first. And then we begin to point out the connection between the growth and development of villages at definite spots and the wealth of the mountains or the courses of streams and rivers. In short, we try by means of the map to give the child some simple idea of the economic connections between the natural formation of the land and the conditions of human life, and of the difference between the conditions of life in the country and in the towns. As far as the child can understand this aspect we must not fail to pursue it. And last of all we go as far as to show how man, by his labour, overcomes natural conditions. That is: we begin to open the child's eyes to the fact that man lays out artificial rivers in canals, that he builds railways for himself. Then we show how these railways determine the part played by provisions, and so on, and even people, in life. When we have tried for some time to give the child an idea of the economic connection between natural relations and the conditions of human life, we can put the idea thus introduced into the vaster terms of the earth. Here, if we have only taken the first stage correctly, we shall not need to display much pedantry. The pedant will say at this point: “It is natural first to study the geography of the immediate neighbourhood and then, concentric with this, to extend the study on every side.” That, of course, is pedantry. There is no need to enlarge in this way. But when a foundation has been laid for an understanding of the connection between nature and human beings, another aspect can perfectly well be studied. Accordingly, you now pass on to some aspect from which you can develop as well and intensively as possible the economic relations between men and natural conditions. For instance, in the case of our Swabian district, after developing the necessary ideas from familiar stretches of land and indicating to the child, as you go on, the direction you are taking—widening, as it were, his horizon—tell him about the Alps, study the geography of the Alps. You have taught him how to draw maps. You can now extend his drawing of maps by marking for him the line where the Southern Alps touch the Mediterranean Sea. In drawing for him the Northern part of Italy, the Adriatic Sea, etc., you indicate the great rivers and draw their course on the surrounding country. You can go on from this to draw for him the Rhone, the Rhine, the Inn, the Danube, with their tributaries. Then you can draw in the separate arms of the Alpine range. And the child will be extraordinarily fascinated by the sight of the different arms, for instance, of the Alpine range, parted from each other by the course of the rivers. Do not hesitate to mark, all along the blue lines of the rivers, red lines, which are now imaginary lines, up the Rhone from Lake Geneva to its source, and along the Rhine. Then continue the line over the Arlberg Pass, etc., then draw another line along the Drau, etc., dividing the Alps by these red lines drawn from west to east, so that you can say to the child: “You see, along the course of the rivers, I have drawn red lines. The Alps lying between the two red lines are different from those lying above and below.” And now you show him—here the teaching of mineralogy springs from geography—a piece of Jura limestone, for instance, and say: “You see, the mountain masses above the top red line are made of limestone like this, and the mountains beneath the red line are made of different limestone.” And for the mountains lying between, show him a piece of granite, or gneiss, and say: “The mountain range between the two is made of rock like this, which is primary rock.” And he will be tremendously interested in this Alpine structure, which you perhaps explain to him from a regional map showing the lateral perspective as well as the aerial view, and if you make clear to him plastically that the river-courses divide the Alps into limestone and gneiss and slate, and that these stand side by side the whole length of the mountain range from south to north, bending towards the north: limestone mountains—granite mountains—limestone mountains, parted from each other by the river courses. Without any pedantic object lessons the child's range of ideas can be enlarged by many illuminating features relating to this study.

Then you go on—you have already created the necessary elements for this in your nature-teaching—to describe to the child what grows down in the valley, what grows further up, and what grows at the very top. You approach vegetation vertically.

And now you begin to show the child how people establish themselves in the kind of country which is chiefly dominated by the mountain structure. You begin to describe quite vividly a little mountain village situated really high up, you draw this, and tell of the people living there. And you describe a village lying down below in the valley, with roads. Then the towns lying at the confluence of a tributary with its river. Then you describe again, in these wider terms, the relation of human economics to natural formations. You build up, as it were, human economic life out of nature, by pointing out to the child where there is ore, and coal, and how these determine human settlements, etc.

Then you draw for him a district poor in mountains, a flat district, and treat this in the same way. First describe the natural aspects, the constitution of the soil, and show at this early point that different things flourish in a poor soil from a rich soil. You show the internal composition of the soil—this can be done quite simply—in which potatoes grow; the composition of the soil in which wheat grows, in which rye grows, etc. You have already taught the child, of course, the difference between wheat, rye, and oats. Do not hesitate at this early stage to teach him many facts which he will only understand for the time being in a general way, and will only understand more clearly when they are referred to in a later lesson from another point of view. But up to twelve years of age familiarize the child chiefly with economic relations. Make these clear to him. Prefer to show him many points of view in geography rather than a complete picture of the earth at this time. It is, however, important to show that the sea is very vast. You have already begun to draw it with the Southern Alps, where you drew the outline of the Mediterranean Sea. You show the sea by a blue surface. Then draw for the child the outlines of Spain, of France, and then show in your drawing how, towards the west, there lies a great ocean, and gradually open his eyes to the fact that there is America besides. He should get this idea before he is twelve.

You see, if you begin like this with a good foundation, when the child is about twelve, you can expect him to respond easily to a more systematic survey with the five continents, the seas, and with a description—rather briefer, indeed, than the earlier one—of the economic life of these different parts of the earth. You ought to be able to develop all this from the foundations already laid. When—as I said—you have summarized for the whole earth the knowledge of economic life which you have implanted in the child, go on—when you have been teaching history for six months on the lines we have discovered—to talk to the children of the spiritual condition of the people who inhabit the different parts of the earth. But be careful only to introduce this lesson when you have attuned the child's soul to it in some degree by the first history lessons. Then speak, too, about the spatial distribution of the characteristics of the different peoples. But do not speak of the different characters of the individual peoples earlier than this, for, on the basis which I have described, it is at this point that the child brings the greatest understanding to bear on such teaching. You can now describe to him the differences between the Asiatic, the European, the American peoples, and the differences between the Mediterranean races and the Nordic races of Europe. You can then go on to combine geography gradually with history. You will find it a beautiful and enjoyable task when you do what I have recommended chiefly between the age of twelve and the end of the elementary school course; that is, in the end of the fifteenth year. You see that a tremendous amount should be put into the teaching of geography, so that, in fact, the geography lesson is like a resume of much that is learnt. What cannot flow together and merge in geography! Finally, you will even come to a wonderful interplay of geography and history. Here, if you have contributed generously in this way to the geography teaching, you will be able to extract as many things out of it. This, of course, involves a demand on your imaginative powers, on your gift for invention. When you tell the child that here or there a certain thing is done, for instance: “The Japanese make their pictures like this,” try to encourage the child to make something of the same kind in his simple primitive way. Do not omit, even at the beginning, when showing the child the connection between agriculture and human life, to give him a clear idea of the plough, of the harrow, etc., in connection with his geographical ideas. And try especially to make the child imitate the shapes of some of these implements, even if only in the form of a little plaything or piece of handiwork. It will give him skill and will fit him for taking his place properly in life later on. And if you could even make little ploughs and let the children cultivate the school garden, if they could be allowed to cut with little sickles, or mow with little scythes, this would establish a good contact with life. Far more important than skill is the psychic intimacy of the child's life with the life of the world. For the actual fact is: a child who has cut grass with a sickle, mown grass with a scythe, drawn a furrow with a little plough, will be a different person from a child who has not done these things. The soul undergoes a change in doing these things. Abstract teaching of manual skill is really no substitute. And the laying of little sticks and plaiting paper should be avoided as much as is reasonably possible, because these tend to unfit man for life rather than fit him for it. It is far better to encourage the child to do things which are really done in life, than to invent things foreign to it. In arranging the child's geography lessons in the way I have described we make him familiar in the most natural possible way with the fact that human life is made up in different ways from different sides. And at the same time we are dealing with what he can understand perfectly. We describe to him first, from nine to twelve years of age, economic and external aspects in the geography lessons. We then lead him on to understand the cultural conditions, the spiritual conditions of the different peoples. And at this point, saving up everything else for a later time, we gently indicate the relations of right (Rechtsverhältnisse: legal conditions) which prevail among these peoples. But we only let the first and most primitive ideas of this kind glimmer through the picture of economic and spiritual life. For the child cannot yet fully understand conditions of right. If he is acquainted too early with these ideas of conditions of right, the forces of his soul for the whole of life will be impoverished, because conditions of right are a very abstract matter.

It is, in fact, a good thing to employ the geography lesson to bring unity into the rest of teaching. It is, perhaps, precisely for geography the very worst thing that could happen that it has been assigned a place in the severely demarcated time-table, which we do not want in any case.

Our whole attitude from first to last will be one of dealing with the same subject of study for some length of time. We receive the child into school and devote our attention first of all to teaching him to write. That is: we occupy the hours which we claim from his morning in teaching him to paint, draw, write. We do not draw up a time-table according to which we write in the first lesson, read in the second, etc., but we deal for longer periods at a time with things of the same nature. We only go on later to reading, when the child can already write a little. He learns to read a little, of course, while writing. But an even better combination can be effected. For the later subjects, too, we set definite time-limits within which they are to be studied, but not so that we always have a lesson in one subject following on a lesson in another, but so that we keep the children busy for some time at one subject, and then, only when they have been engaged on it for weeks, turn to something else. This concentrates the teaching and enables us to teach much more economically than if we were to allow the appalling waste of time and energy involved in taking one subject first and extinguishing it in the next lesson. But particularly with geography, you can see how it is possible to pass from every imaginable subject to geography. You will not have it laid down beforehand: geography must be taught from nine to ten years of age; but it will be left to you to choose the time suitable for going on, from what you have already taught, to geographical explanations.

This, of course, imposes upon you a great responsibility, but without this responsibility teaching is impossible. A system of teaching which lays down beforehand the teacher's time-table and every imaginable limitation, actually, and, moreover, completely, excludes the teacher's art. And this must not be. The teacher must be the driving and stimulating element in the whole being of the school. Particularly from the way in which I have shown you how to teach geography you should get a correct idea of the right procedure in teaching from first to last. Geography can really be a vast channel into which everything flows, from which in return much can be drawn. For instance, you have shown the child in geography the difference between limestone mountains and primary mountains. You show him the constituents of the primary mountain-rock, granite or gneiss. You show him how they contain different minerals, how one of these is a sparkling substance whose presence is shown by a glitter—the mica. And then you show him all the others that are contained in granite or gneiss. Then you show him quartz and try to evolve the mineral element from rock-substance. Particularly here you can do a great deal towards developing a sense for the association of facts and a united whole. It is much more helpful to show the child granite and gneiss first, and then the minerals of which they consist, than to teach him first of all: granite consists of quartz, mica, feldspar, etc., and only afterwards show him that these are combined in granite or gneiss. Particularly in mineralogy you can go from the whole to the part, from the structure of mountains to mineralogy. And it helps the child.

With the animal kingdom you will proceed in the opposite way, by building it up from the separate animals. We must treat the plant kingdom, as you saw in our discussion in the seminary class,1See R. Steiner, “The Training of Teachers” (“Pädogogisches Seminar”), published in the periodical, The Art of Education (“Erziehungskunst”), Nos. 6 and 7. as a whole, and then enter into the details. In the mineral kingdom nature itself often gives us the whole and we can go from this to the part.

But here you must not omit—again connecting mineralogy with geography—to speak about the uses to which the economic resources of nature are put. We shall link up our discussion of the rock-formation of mountain ranges with all the uses of such things as coal for industry. At first we shall only describe it simply, but we shall connect it descriptively with the talk about the mountains.

Nor should we neglect, in describing the forest, for instance, to describe the saw-mill. First we lead over from the forest to the wood, and from the wood to the saw-mill.

We can do a tremendous amount in this direction if we do not begin with a time-table marked out like Regimental Orders, but follow the suggestions of past lessons. We must simply have a good idea of the demands of the child's nature at the age when he begins school up to nine years of age, from nine to twelve, and from twelve to fifteen.