Discussions with Teachers
27 August 1919, Stuttgart
Translated by Helen Fox
Repetition of yesterday’s speech exercises.
New speech exercises:
Proxy prized bather broomstick
One of Lessing’s fables was read.
RUDOLF STEINER: You have to remember that prose can be read in varying tone according to the reader’s personality. Also, the title of a fable of this kind is not very important and should not be emphasized particularly.
The Nightingale and the Peacock
A friendly nightingale found among the singers of the wood enviers galore, but no friend. “Perhaps I shall find one among a different species,” she thought, and flew down trustfully to the peacock. “Beautiful Peacock, I admire you very much.” “I you, too, dear Nightingale.” “Then let us be friends,” the nightingale continued, “we ought not to be envious of each other. You are as pleasing to the eye as I am to the ear.” The nightingale and the peacock became friends.
Kneller and Pope were better friends than were Pope and Addison. 1Rudolf Steiner jokingly added an alternate example: France and Italy are better friends than Italy and England. Thus you see that the fable can be applied in the most varying ways.
RUDOLF STEINER: Now there is an educational matter I would like to talk over with you. I want to point out that you should never spoil the contents of a “passage” by first reading it aloud yourself, or reading it through with your students, and then pedantically explaining it, because this will destroy the powers of feeling and perception in the children. A teacher with insight will not work this way, but will feel that hearing a bit of prose or poetry should produce a sense of contentment in the soul — a satisfaction should arise from hearing a passage of prose or poetry read. The children will then fully understand every shade of meaning. Within their feelings, in any case, they will instinctively understand what the poem contains. It is unnecessary to go into subtleties or to make learned comments about a poem or prose passage, but through your teaching the children should rise to a complete understanding of it through feelings. Hence you should always try to leave the actual reading of a piece until last, first dealing with everything you can give the children to help them understand it. If you prepare for the reading as well as you can ahead of time, then you will not work like a pedant, but help make the whole piece clear and understandable, and thus enhance the children’s enjoyment and satisfaction.
I would therefore take something like the following with the children (but you would have to work it out in greater detail). I would say: “Now look, boys and girls, you have certainly seen some dogs at some time or other in your life. If any of you have never seen a dog then you must have been hiding in some dark corner! And you must have noticed that not all dogs are alike. They are very, very different from one another. There are tiny little dogs, small dogs, larger dogs, and great, big dogs. You have probably always been afraid of the very large dogs; but you have not been afraid of the tiny little dogs — or maybe you have, because sometimes they bite people’s calves.
“Now today we will look at some of these dogs. You have probably often seen a meat cart in the streets pulled by a butcher’s dog. If you have looked carefully, you have probably noticed that the rest of the time this dog sits in front of the butcher’s stall and makes sure no one steals the meat. If anyone comes who isn’t allowed and takes the meat, the dog must bite that person, or at least bark. Now, you see a butcher’s dog cannot be a tiny little animal; no, he must be a big dog. You will also notice that small dogs are never harnessed to a butcher’s cart, nor do they watch a butcher’s stall.
“You can compare a butcher’s dog with a person who has to guard something. You can often compare animals with people. Animals have to do things through instinct, and people must often do the same things because it is their duty. People and animals have to do similar things and therefore they can be compared.
“Suppose a man has to guard something just like a butcher’s dog does at the meat stall; the man will form a certain habit. If someone comes and tries to steal something, he will take hold of him by the hair. Yes, when someone is doing something wrong — you take hold of such a person ‘by the comb.’ But a person has hair, not a real comb. You pull the hair, and that hurts, so the person doesn’t try to get away; that is why you do it. You don’t say this kind of thing point blank. If you said straight out, ‘I will pull your hair,’ it wouldn’t be as much fun. There must always be a little fun in life, so you say that you take someone ‘by the comb.’ A person has hair, and is sometimes insolent; a rooster is almost always insolent, and has a comb; that’s why you say, ‘I’ll take you by the comb.’ You can imagine that if, for example, another insolent creature came along, wanting to take a piece of meat out of the stall, the butcher’s dog might say, ‘I’ll take you by the comb!’ Then you would have made a very good comparison between a person and a dog.
“Now you know, children, there are also other dogs, small dogs, who are mostly lazy creatures; they are miserably lazy. They lie on cushions or sometimes even on laps. Basically, they are idle fellows. They are ‘cushion-dogs,’ those ‘lapdogs.’ They are not as useful as the butcher’s dog. The butcher’s dog is of some service; the lapdogs, they only play; they are basically useless. But if anyone does anything wrong, the butcher’s dog will take that person by the comb — the dog will seize that person and give a thorough shaking. This is of some use, because the other creature will not be able to steal the meat.
“The lapdog doesn’t do anything useful like that, but only yaps, yaps at everybody; and especially when big dogs come along, the little lapdog rushes out and yaps and yaps and yaps. But their bark is worse than their bite; that is what the proverb says and that is what the large dogs think as they pass by. You can also see how large dogs go by very calmly; they let the little yappers yap, and think to themselves: Yapping dogs don’t bite, they are not brave, they are cowardly. But a butcher’s dog must always have courage. The lapdogs run after the big dog and yap, but if the butcher’s dog turns round and looks at them, they immediately run away. So you see these little dogs are certainly lazy; they only do what is unnecessary and they are good for nothing. They are like certain people whom we should not listen to, even though they very often yap at us.
“These lapdogs are very small, the butcher’s dog is large. But there are other dogs in between — not as big as the butcher’s dog, but larger than the lapdog. Among the medium-sized dogs is the sheep-dog. The sheep-dog has to guard the sheep. In many districts it is a more difficult job than here. In many places — in Russia, for example — there are wolves, and the dog has to keep the wolves or any other animals away from the sheep; and so the sheepdog has gotten into the habit of continually running round the flock. In our country too it is good to have dogs who run round the flock all the time, because the shepherd is often asleep, and any evil-minded creature could come and steal some of the flock. So the sheepdog runs round and guards the flock. Even when there are no wolves, it is good for the sheepdog to run round and guard the flock; and sometimes the sheepdog guards the shepherd, as well, who is then awakened. It might even happen that a shepherd could be stolen while asleep!
“Thus the shepherd’s dog, the sheepdog, is of service; the sheepdog is a useful animal and can be compared with people who have found their proper work in life, people who are not useless like the idlers, the lapdogs. Yes, in human life too there is this difference between those who are like sheepdogs and those who are like butcher’s dogs. They are both useful, although the latter, like the butcher’s dog, are at times rather rough. Sometimes they say exactly the right thing in a few words and straight to the point, to guard something, to ward off an enemy. You can make a comparison with the sheepdogs also; they are like people who work quietly, waiting calmly until difficulties are upon them. The sheepdog runs round and round for a long time; he has nothing to do, but he must always be prepared for action, so that when the wolf or another enemy appears the sheepdog will be strong and courageous and well prepared to attack at the right moment. There are also people who have the duty to watch and wait until they are called on to fulfil some task. They must not allow themselves to be harassed by petty things in life, but always have to be ready for the moment when they must act, and act correctly.”
This is how I would speak to children, choosing some particular example from the animal world and leading their thoughts to analogies between animals and people. After speaking somewhat in this way you can read aloud the following passage, and when you have read it explanations will be unnecessary. If you were to give the children this little story first without any explanation they would not be fully prepared, because their perceptions and feelings would not be directed to what it contains. If on the other hand you do not explain until afterward, you would pedantically pull the passage apart, and so they would not be able to read it properly either.
One evening an old sheepdog who was a faithful keeper of the master’s sheep was on the way home. As he went down the street, some little lapdogs yapped at him. He trotted on without looking around. When he came to the meat stall, a butcher’s dog asked him how he could stand such constant barking and why he didn’t take one of them by the scruff of the neck. “I won’t,” said the herdsman’s dog, “none of them are worrying me or biting me; I must save my teeth for the wolves.”
You do not need to say another word to the children. The preparation must come first so that they understand what is read.
Another time you can say to the children, “My dear children! You have often gone for a walk; you have certainly gone for a walk in a meadow, in the fields, also in woods, and sometimes on the edge of the woods where the trees and meadow meet. While you walk in the wood you are right in the shade, but when you are on the edge of the woods the Sun can still shine very brightly on one side. When you find a meadow that borders the woods, you should stand quietly and watch, and see how the flowers grow. It’s always good when during your walks you look especially for the places where the trees meet the meadow, because then you can always be looking for something, sometimes in the woods, and sometimes in the meadow; you can continually notice afresh how the grass grows, and how the plants and the flowers grow in the grass.
“But you know, it is especially beautiful and lovely — a real delight — when you can go, not just through woods and fields, but somewhere where the meadows lie among mountains and valleys. Here you’ll find much more interesting things than in the meadows, which often get too much sun. Valley meadows that are protected by the mountains have very beautiful flowers, which we can often find among the moss growing in great abundance in these valley meadows. Violets especially are always found with moss growing near them.”
Then you can continue talking to the children about moss and violets, perhaps calling on a child to describe a violet and another to talk about moss. And when it is the right season you might even bring some violets and moss to school with you, because they can be gathered at the same time of year.
Then you could continue, “But look, dear children, if you have a valley of this kind near your home, maybe you could go there one day and only see moss. Then a week later you could go there again. What would you see this time? Violets growing in the moss! Yes, they have just appeared; when you were there before, they were hidden in the moss. Remember this, and next year when you go there you can have even greater pleasure, because now you think to yourselves: Last spring there weren’t any violets showing here yet, we didn’t see one. And then you try to separate the moss with your fingers. Ah! A violet! There it is!
“In nature, my dear children, it is often just as it is with people. There, too, much is often hidden that is good, much that is beautiful. Many people are not noticed because the good in them is concealed, it has not yet been found. You must try to awaken the feeling that will enable you to find the good people in the crowd.
“Yes, dear children, and there is still another way that you can compare human life with nature. Think of a really good person whom you know, and you will always find that person’s words to be honest and good. Now some people are modest and others are proud and arrogant. Modest people don’t attract much attention, but the pushy ones always like to be noticed.
“Now a violet is certainly very beautiful, but when you look at this violet and see how it stretches up its lovely little petals, you cannot fail to see that the violet wants to be noticed, it wants to be looked at. So I could not compare the violet with a modest little child who keeps in the corner out of the way. You could only compare it with a child who is really very anxious to be seen. You will say: That may be, but it doesn’t show itself when it’s hidden in the moss, does it? Yes, but look; when you see how the violet comes out among its leaves and then again how the whole plant creeps out of the moss, it is just as though the violet not only wanted people to see it and smell it, but to search for it as well. ‘Yes, yes! Here I am, here I am but you have to look for me!’ And so the violet is like a person who is certainly not modest but rather a sly rascal.”
It is good to discuss comparisons of this kind with the children, and to show them analogies between nature and human beings so that everything around them becomes alive.
You should have these talks with the children ahead of time, so they can enjoy the reading when it comes. After the reading no more explanations of any kind should be given. You will agree it would not make sense if I were now to begin giving you a lecture in Chinese. You would say, “That is senseless, because we never learned Chinese.” But if you all knew Chinese when I gave my lecture, you would find it extremely dull if afterwards I wanted to explain it all to you. You should have the same feeling about a piece of reading and do everything you can to make it enjoyable.
Talks such as these about modesty and conceit in people — and affectation, as well — can be developed in greater detail than we have done today, and you must let the children take a lively share. Then you can read them the following poem:
What’s gleaming in the sunshine though fast asleep? Oh, those are tiny violets that bloom in valley deep. Bloom quite hidden in moss-covered ground, So that we children no violets have found.
And what’s this little head that stretches silent there? What whispers in the moss so still and quiet here? “Search and you will find me, search for me still!” “Wait, violet, wait, and find you we will!”
— Hofmann von Fallersleben
When you teach children a poem in this way, they can enter its every nuance, and it will be unnecessary to spoil the impression with commentary and pedantry afterward. This is the method I want to recommend to you with regard to your treatment of selections for reading, because it will give you the opportunity to talk over many things that belong in your teaching, and further, the children will have a real feeling of satisfaction when such passages are read. This then is what I wish to lay upon your hearts about reading.
We will now continue our discussion on the treatment of individual children. Yesterday I asked you to think over how to treat “virtuous,” “good” children (the goody-goodies), who assert themselves but are not helpful to the rest of the class.
Various contributions were presented.
RUDOLF STEINER: I have presented this particular problem because it is difficult to discriminate between the harmful, selfrighteous children and those who can play a useful role. You must notice whether you are dealing with those who really have a contribution to make later. That is their nature. They are “useful” goody-goodies, but a bit of a nuisance!
In such a case you could relate the story of how the donkey got big ears. You can even use stronger measures with some of these goody-goody children, but you should not expose them to the class and thus reflect shame on them. That would be going too far. But you can give such a forward child exceptionally difficult tasks, with rod exercises for example, and let the facts speak for themselves; in this way, such children see that they cannot perform, and they have to tell the teacher so. From this it can become apparent whether their boasting was justified.
Other teachers made further remarks.
RUDOLF STEINER: The essentials of the problem have been presented in this discussion. First you must very carefully ascertain the worthiness of the self-assertiveness of the pupils who are more gifted and therefore more capable. You must not allow their greater talent to develop into ambitious egoism, but help them to use their gifts to help the other children. You can get the smart children like this to do something with their special powers that will help the others, so that they do not work just for themselves, but for the other children as well. If they are better at arithmetic, have them do the problem first, and let the others learn from them. Their greater ability is channeled properly when they hear from the teacher the consequence of a line of thought that could be expressed in this way: John is a good boy. Look how much he can do. Such people are a great help to others, and I’m very pleased with all of you that you learned so much from John.”
So you begin by praising one child and end by praising them all! When you have outstanding talent of this kind and have singled out these very self-possessed children (of whom there are always some), you will almost always find that you can deal most effectively with them by combining two methods. First, you must speak to them, not in front of the class, but in private so that they will realize that you see through them. You must very emphatically say, “You are doing this or doing that,” and then you characterize their qualities. In such a case you must then strike a personal note: “All right, you can go on doing it, you can do it over and over again. But do you think I like it? Do you think that you are pleasing me? No, I don’t like it at all; I find it very disagreeable.” This is how you should speak to them — as I say, not in front of the class, but in private. That is the first thing. You must make it very clear that you see through the student.
The second thing is this: you should give such children tasks beyond their powers and try to make it clear to them why they have to solve these problems that are too difficult for them; it is because they want to assert themselves. It is harder for such children to battle this propensity than to solve problems that are beyond them. But it is more disagreeable for them to do these tasks, so they will try to become less conceited, and we must tell them that they have been given these tasks because of their assertiveness. But if they can overcome their desire to be noticed, then they will not get anything different from the rest of the class.
But you can do both of these things together in the case of such pupils, whether boys or girls, you can combine the two methods — letting them know that you see through them and telling them why they get especially difficult tasks. By using these two methods together you will accomplish much. After some time, if you apply these methods, you will see that you have cured your students.
We still have many more difficult problems to solve in these discussions. But for tomorrow I would like to give you a similar problem connected with the last one, and yet a bit different; and in our treatment of this, eurythmy will be considered. Forgive me for placing this before you, but it belongs to the area of teaching. What should you do when, among your students, a foolish kind of adoration arises for the teacher. Does everyone know what I mean by “adoration?” It is when a boy idolizes a female teacher or the other way round, when a girl idolizes a male teacher, or when a girl adores a female teacher or a boy a male teacher. All these different varieties exist. Any real manifestation of this foolish adoration can be very disturbing to the pursuit of your work; please think about how it should be treated.
It must of course take such a serious form that your lessons are actually disturbed by it. Of course I do not mean genuine respect and sincere regard, neither do I mean proper affection and love for a female or male teacher, but just a kind of unhealthy adoration that disturbs your teaching, which is frequently found in classes.