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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Discussions with Teachers
GA 295

Discussion Eight

29 August 1919, Stuttgart

Translated by Helen Fox

Speech Exercise:

In the vast unmeasured world-wide spaces,
In the endless stream of time,
In the depths of human soul-life,
In the world’s great revelations:
Seek the unfolding of life’s great mystery.

RUDOLF STEINER: The first four sentences have a ring of expectation, and the last line is a complete fulfillment of the first four. Now let’s return to the other speech exercise:

Proxy prized
bather broomstick
polka pushing
beady basket
prudent pertness
bearskin bristled

RUDOLF STEINER: You can learn a great deal from this. And now we will repeat the sentence:

Dart may these boats through darkening gloaming

RUDOLF STEINER: Also there is a similar exercise I would like to point out that has more feeling in it. It consists of four lines, which I will dictate to you later. The touch of feeling should be expressed more in the first line:

Lulling leader limply
liplessly laughing
loppety lumpety
lackety lout

RUDOLF STEINER: You must imagine that you have a green frog in front of you, and it is looking at you with lips apart, with its mouth wide open, and you speak to the frog in the words of the last three lines. In the first line, however, you tell it to lisp the lovely lyrics “Lulling leader limply.” This line must be spoken with humorous feeling; you really expect this of the frog.

And now I will read you a piece of prose, one of Lessing’s fables.1Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781), German dramatist, poet, critic, editor, and translator.

The Oak

One stormy night the raging north wind pitted its strength against a magnificent oak, which now lay on the ground. A number of low bushes lay shattered beneath it. A fox, whose lair was not far away, saw it next morning. “What a tree!” he cried, “I never would have thought it had been so big!”

RUDOLF STEINER: What is the moral of this fable?

Someone suggested: That it is not until someone is dead that we see how great that person was. Another suggested: That, until the great are overthrown, the small do not recognize what they were.

Rudolf Steiner: But why then choose the fox, who is so cunning?

Because the cunning of the fox cannot compare with the magnificence of the tree.

RUDOLF STEINER: In which sentence would you find the moral of the fable in relation to the cunning of the fox? “I never would have thought it was so big!” The point is, he had never even looked up; he had run round the bottom of the trunk, which was the only part of the tree he had noticed, and here the tree had only taken up a small space. Despite cunning, the fox had only seen what is visible around the foot of the tree.

Please notice that fables—which by their very nature are enacted in their own special world—can be read realistically, but poems never.

Now the problem I placed before you yesterday brings us something of tremendous importance, because now we must consider what measures to take when we notice that one group of children is less capable than another in one or another subject or lesson. I will ask you to choose from any part of the period between six and fourteen, and to think especially of, let’s say, a group of children who cannot learn to read and write properly, or those who cannot learn natural history or arithmetic, or geometry or singing. Consider what course you will pursue in the class, or in your general treatment of the children, both now and later on, so that you can correct such shortcomings as much as possible.

Several teachers contributed detailed suggestions.

RUDOLF STEINER: The examples you mention might arise partially from general incompetence. On the other hand, it could also be a question of a particular lack of talent. You could have children who are perhaps extraordinarily good at reading and writing, but as soon as they come to arithmetic they do not demonstrate any gift at all for it. Then there are those who are not so bad at arithmetic, but the moment you begin to call on their power of judgment, such as in natural science, their powers are at an end. Then again there are children who have no desire to learn history. It is important to notice these specific difficulties.

Perhaps you can find a remedy in this way: When you notice that a child, right from the beginning, has little talent for reading and writing, you would do well, anyway, to get in touch with the parents and ask them immediately to keep the child off eggs, puddings, and pastry as much as possible. The rest of the diet can remain more or less as it was. When the parents agree to try to provide the child with a really good wholesome diet, however—omitting the items of food mentioned above—they might even cut down on the meat for awhile and give the child plenty of vegetables and nourishing salads. You will then notice that, through a diet like this, the child will make considerable gains in ability. You must take advantage of this improvement, and keep the child very busy when the diet is first changed.

But if you notice that a mere change of diet doesn’t help much, then, after you have talked it over with the parents, try for a short while, perhaps a week, to keep the child entirely without food for the whole morning, or at least the first part of the morning when the child should be learning to read and write—to allow learning on an empty stomach—or maybe give the child the minimum of food. (You should not continue too long with this method; you must alternate it with normal eating.) You must make good use of this time, however, when the capacities will most certainly be revealed, and the child will show greater ability and be more receptive to what you are teaching. If you repeat a cure of this kind several times over the year, you will see that the powers of a fairly young child undergo a change. This applies to the first years of school life. I ask you to consider this very seriously.

Generally speaking, you should be very aware that the foolish ways many parents feed their young children contributes greatly to the lessening of their faculties, especially with phlegmatic and sanguine children. Perpetually overfeeding children—and this is somewhat different at the present time,2Due to the food shortages in Germany in 1919. but you should know these things—stuffing them with eggs, puddings, and starchy foods is one of the things that makes children unwilling to learn and incapable of doing so during the early years of their school life.

A teacher asked about cocoa.

RUDOLF STEINER: Why should children drink cocoa at all? It is not the least bit necessary except to regulate digestion. Things like this are needed sometimes for this purpose, and cocoa is better than other remedies for children whose digestion works too quickly, but it should not be included otherwise in children’s diet. These days children are given many things that are unsuitable for them.

You can experience some very strange things in regard to this. When I was a teacher in the eighties, there was a young child in the house; I did not actually teach him, since I had only the older children; he was a little cousin. He was really a nice lovable child with bright ideas. He could have become a gifted pupil. I saw him a good deal and could observe for myself how witty and gifted the child was. One day at table this little fellow—although he was scarcely two years old—had two little dumplings, and when someone said to him, “Look Hans, now you already have two dumplings,” he was clever enough to answer, “And the third will follow in a minute.” That’s what the little tyke said!

Then another thing: he was very fond of calling people bad names. This did not seem very important to me in a child of that age—he would soon grow out of it. He had gotten into the habit of being particularly abusive to me. One day as I was coming in the door (he was a little older by this time) he stood there and blocked the way. He couldn’t think of any name bad enough for me, so he said: “Here come two donkeys!” That was really very smart of him, wasn’t it?

But the boy was pale; he had very little appetite and was rather thin. So, on the advice of an otherwise excellent doctor, this child was given a small glass of red wine with every meal. I was not responsible for him and had no influence in this extraordinary way of treating a child’s health, but I was very concerned about it. Then in his thirty-second or thirty-third year I saw this individual again; he was a terribly nervous man. When he was not present I enquired what he had been like as a schoolboy. This restless man, although only in his thirties, had become very nervous, and demonstrated the lamentable results of that little glass of red wine given to him with his meals as a boy. He was a gifted child, for a child who says “Here come two donkeys” really shows talent.

Frau Steiner interjected, “What an impudent boy!”

RUDOLF STEINER: We needn’t bother with impudence, but how does this really come about? It’s amazing. He can find no word bad enough, and so he makes use of number to help him. That shows extraordinary talent. But he became a poor scholar and never wanted to learn properly. Thus, because of this method of treatment—giving him wine as a young child—he was completely ruined by the time he was seven years old.

This is what I want to impress upon you at the beginning of our talk today—that, in relation to a child’s gifts and abilities, it is not the least unimportant to consider how to regulate the diet. I would especially ask you, however, to see that the child’s digestion does not suffer. So when it strikes you that there is something wrong with a child’s capacities, you must in some tactful way find out from the parents whether or not the child’s digestion is working properly, and if not you should try to put it in order.

Someone spoke about the children who are not good at arithmetic.

Rudolf Steiner: When you discover a special weakness in arithmetic, it would be good to do this: generally, the other children will have two gymnastics lessons during the week, or one eurythmy lesson and one gymnastics lesson; you can take a group of the children who are not good at arithmetic, and allow them an extra hour or half-hour of eurythmy or gymnastics. This doesn’t have to mean a lot of extra work for you: you can take them with others who are doing the same kind of exercises, but you must try to improve these children’s capacities through gymnastics and eurythmy. First give them rod exercises. Say to them, “Hold the rod in your hand, first in front counting 1, 2, 3, and then behind 1, 2, 3, 4." Each time the child must change the position of the rod, moving it from front to back. A great effort will be made in some way to get the rod around behind at the count of 3. Then add walking: say, 3 steps forward, 5 steps back; 3 steps forward, 4 steps back; 5 steps forward, 3 steps back, and so on. In gymnastics, and also perhaps in eurythmy, try to combine numbers with the children’s movements, so they are required to count while moving. You will find this effective. I have frequently done this with pupils.

But now tell me, why does it have an effect? From what you have already learned, you should be able to form some ideas on this subject.

A teacher commented: Eurythmy movements must be a great help in teaching geometry.

RUDOLF STEINER: But I did not mean geometry. What I said applied to arithmetic, because at the root of arithmetic is consciously willed movement, the sense of movement. When you activate the sense of movement in this way, you quicken a child’s arithmetical powers. You bring something up out of the subconscious that, in such a child, is unwilling to be brought up. Generally speaking, when a child is bad both at arithmetic and geometry, this should be remedied by movement exercises. You can do a great deal for a child’s progress in geometry with varied and inventive eurythmy exercises, and also through rod exercises.

Comment: Where difficulties exist in pronunciation, the connection between speech and music should be considered.

RUDOLF STEINER: Most cases of poor pronunciation are due to defective hearing.

Comment: Sanguine students do not follow geography lessons very well because their ideas are vague. I recommend taking small portions of a map as subjects for drawing.

RUDOLF STEINER: When you make your geography lessons truly graphic, when you describe the countries clearly and show the distribution of vegetation, and describe the products of the earth in the different countries, making your lessons thoroughly alive in this way, you are not likely to find your students dull in this subject. And when you further enliven the geography lessons by first describing a country, then drawing it—allowing the children, to draw it on the board and sketch in the rivers, mountains, distribution of vegetation, forest, and meadow land, and then read travel books with your pupils—when you do all this you find that you usually have very few dull scholars; and what’s more, you can use your geography lessons to arouse the enthusiasm of your pupils and to stir up new capacities within them. If you can make geography itself interesting you will indeed notice that other capacities are aroused also in your pupils.

Comment: I have been thinking about this problem in relation to the first three grades. I would be strict with lazy children and try to awaken their ambition. In certain cases children must be told that they might have to go through the year’s work a second time. Emulation and ambition must be aroused.

RUDOLF STEINER: I wouldn’t recommend you to give much credit to ambition, which cannot generally be aroused in children. In the earliest school years you can make good use of the methods you suggest, but without overemphasizing ambition, because you would then later have to help the child to get rid of it again. But you must primarily consider food and diet, and I need to say this again and again.

Perhaps the friends who speak next will consider the fact that there are many children who in later life have no power of perceiving or remembering natural objects properly. A teacher may despair over some pupils who can never remember which among a number of minerals is a malachite or a hornblende, or even an emerald—who really have no idea of how to comprehend natural objects and recognize them again. The same is true also in relation to plants and animals. Please keep this in mind also.

Comment: I have noticed that with the youngest children you often find some who are backward in arithmetic. I like best to illustrate everything to them with the fingers, or pieces of paper, balls, or buttons. One can also divide the class without the children knowing anything about it; they are divided into two groups, the gifted ones and the weaker ones. We then take the weaker ones alone so that the gifted children are not kept back.

RUDOLF STEINER: In that case, Newton, Helmholtz, and Julius Robert Mayer would have been among the backward ones!

That doesn’t matter.

RUDOLF STEINER: You are right. It doesn’t matter at all. Even Schiller would have been among the weaker ones. And according to Robert Hamerling’s teaching certificate, he passed well in practically everything except German composition; his marks for that subject were below average!3Robert Hamerling (1830–1889) was a distinguished German poet and a personal friend of Rudolf Steiner.

We have heard how eurythmy can help, and now Miss F. will tell us how she thinks eurythmy can be developed for the obstinate children, for they too must learn eurythmy.

Miss F.: I think melancholic children would probably take little interest in rhythmic exercises and rod exercises, beating time or indeed any exercise that must be done freely, simply, and naturally. They like to be occupied with their own inner nature, and they easily tire because of their physical constitution. Perhaps, when the others are doing rod exercises these children could accompany them with singing, or reciting poems in rhythm. In this way they will be drawn into the rhythm without physical exertion.

But it is also possible that melancholic children may dislike these exercises, because they have the tendency to avoid entering wholeheartedly into anything, and always withhold a part of their being. It would be good, therefore, to have them accompany the tone gestures with jumps, because the whole child must then come into play, and at the same time such gestures are objective.

The teacher must never feel that the child cannot do this, but instead become conscious that eurythmy, in its entirety, is already in the child. Such assurance on the part of the teacher would also be communicated to the child.

RUDOLF STEINER: These suggestions are all very good. With regard to the children who resist doing eurythmy, there is still another way to get them to take pleasure in it. Besides allowing them to watch eurythmy frequently, try to take photographs of various eurythmy positions. These must be simplified so that the child will get visual images of the human being doing eurythmy forms. Pictures of this kind will make an impression on the children and kindle their abilities in eurythmy. That was why I asked Miss W. to take pictures of this kind (I don’t mean mere reproductions of eurythmy positions, but transformed into simple patterns of movement that have an artistic effect). These could be combined to show children the beauty of line. You would then discover an exceptionally interesting psychological fact—that children could perceive the beauty of line that they produced themselves in eurythmy, without becoming vain and coy. Although children are likely to become vain if their attention is drawn to what they have themselves done, this is not the case in eurythmy. In eurythmy, therefore, you can also cultivate a perception of line that can be used to enhance the feeling of self without awakening vanity and coquettishness.

Someone spoke of how he would explain the electric generator to children. He would try to emphasize in every possible way what would show the fundamental phenomenon most clearly.

RUDOLF STEINER: That is a very important principle, and it is also applicable to other subjects. It is a good principle for teaching, but to a certain extent it applies to all children in the physics lessons. It has no direct connection with the question of dealing with backward pupils. In physics the backward ones, especially the girls, are certain to put up a certain amount of opposition, even when you show them a process of this kind.

Question: Since food plays such a very important role, would Dr. Steiner tell us more about the effect of different foods on the body.

RUDOLF STEINER: I have already spoken of this, and you can also find many references in my lectures. It would perhaps lead us too far afield today to go into all the details of this subject, but most of all one should avoid giving children such things as tea and coffee.

The effect of tea on our thoughts is that they do not want to cohere; they flee from one another. For this reason tea is very good for diplomats, whose job in life is just to keep talking, with no desire to develop one thought logically out of another. You should avoid sending children’s thoughts into flight by allowing them to indulge in tea.

Neither is coffee good for children, because it disposes them to become too pedantic. Coffee is a well-known expedient for journalists, because with its help they can squeeze one thought out of another, as it were. This would not be the right thing for children, because their thoughts should arise naturally, one from another. Coffee and tea are among the things to be avoided. The green parts of a plant and also milk may be considered especially important food for children, and they should have white meat only, as far as possible.

Comment: When a child has difficulty in understanding, the teacher should offer a great deal of individual help, and should also inquire about how the child does in other subjects; but if too much time is spent with the duller children, the difficulty would arise that the others are left unoccupied.

RUDOLF STEINER: Please do not overestimate what the other children lose because of your work with the less gifted ones. As a rule, not much is lost provided that, while you present a subject properly for the duller children, you also succeed in getting the brighter ones to pay attention to it also. There is really then no serious loss for the more talented children. When you have a right feeling for the way in which a subject should be introduced for the weaker ones, then in one way or another the others will profit by it.

Comment: Whenever there is lack of interest, I would always have recourse to artistic impressions. I know of one child who cannot remember the forms of different minerals—in fact he finds it difficult to form a mental image of any type of formation. Such children cannot remember melodies either.

RUDOLF STEINER: You have discovered the particular difficulty found in children who have no perception of forms and no power of retaining them in memory. But you must distinguish between forms related to the organic world and those connected with minerals, which in fact run parallel to the forms of melodies. The important thing is that here we touch on a very, very radical defect, a great defect in the development of the child, and you must consider seriously how this defect can be fundamentally healed. There is an excellent way of helping these children to remember organic forms in nature—the forms of plants and animals; draw caricatures for them that emphasize the characteristics of a particular animal or plant. These drawings must not be ugly or in bad taste, but artistic and striking; now have the children try to remember these caricatures so that, in this roundabout way through caricature, they begin to find it easier to remember the actual forms. You could, for example, draw a mouse for them like this. Give it teeth and whiskers too if you like!

Enclosing a cross

Then there is also another way of possibly helping children to grasp forms: have them understand from inside what they cannot grasp from outside. Let’s suppose, for example, that a child cannot understand a parallelepiped from outside.4A parallelepiped is a solid with six sides, all of which are parallelograms. The child cannot remember this form. You say to the child: imagine you are a tiny little elf, and that you could stand inside of this form as if it were a room. You allow the child to grasp from inside what cannot be understood from outside. This the child can do. But you must repeat this again and again.

With forms of this kind, which also appear in minerals, this is relatively easy to do, but it is not as easy when it comes to perceiving color or any other quality of the mineral. In that case you can help the child to understand merely by letting the imagination see that a small thing is very large indeed. Have the child repeatedly try to picture some little yellow crystal as a gigantic crystallized form.

When you are dealing with the element of time, however—in music, for example—it is not such an easy matter. Let us for the moment suppose that you have not yet made any progress in improving the children’s grasp of spatial forms. Now, however, if you want to use caricature in musical form, you will only succeed when you introduce an arithmetical process, making the intervals infinitely larger and drawing out each sound for a very long time; thus by greatly increasing the time between each sound, you can produce the melody on a much larger scale, which will have an astonishing effect on the children. In this way you will achieve something, but otherwise you will not be able to effect much improvement.

Questions for tomorrow:

1. How can I treat the higher plants from a natural-scientific viewpoint in the same spirit shown yesterday for the animals, for cuttlefish, mouse, and human beings?5See Practical Advice to Teachers, lecture 7.

2. How can I introduce mushrooms, mosses, and lichens into these lessons?

These two questions can perhaps be answered together. It is a case of applying the same methods for the plants as those I spoke of yesterday. It is not a question of object lessons, but of the proper teaching after the ninth year, when natural history is introduced into the curriculum.