Discussions with Teachers
30 August 1919, Stuttgart
Translated by Helen Fox
Deprive me not of what, when I give it to you freely, pleases you.
Rudolf Steiner: This sentence is constructed chiefly to show the break in the sense, so that it runs as follows: First the phrase “Deprive me not of what,” and then the phrase “pleases you,” but the latter is interrupted by the other phrase, “when I give it to you freely.” This must be expressed by the way you say it. You must notice that the emphasis you dropped on the word “what” you pick up again at “pleases you.”
Name neat Norman on nimble moody mules
Weekly verse from The Calendar of the Soul:
I feel a strange power bearing fruit,
Gaining strength, bestowing me on myself,
I sense the seed ripening
And presentiment weaving, full of Light,
Within me on my selfhood’s power. 1Verse for August 25–31 (twenty-first week); see Rudolf Steiner, The Calendar of the Soul, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1988.
RUDOLF STEINER: Now we arrive at the difficult task before us today. Yesterday I asked you to consider how you would prepare the lessons in order to teach the children about the lower and higher plants, making use of some sort of illustration or example. I have shown you how this can be done in the case of animals — with a cuttlefish, a mouse, a horse, and a person — and your botany lessons must be prepared in the same spirit. But let me first say that the correct procedure is to study the animal world before coming to terms with the natural conditions of the plants. In the efforts necessary to characterize the form of your botany lessons — finding whatever examples you can from one plant or another — you will become clear why the animal period must come first.
Perhaps it would be a good idea if we first ask who has already given botany lessons. That person could speak first and the others can follow.
Comment: The plant has something like an instinctive longing for the Sun. The blossoms turn toward the Sun even before it has risen. Point out the difference between the life of desire in animals and people, and the pure effort of the plant to turn toward the Sun. Then give the children a clear idea of how the plant exists between Sun and Earth. At every opportunity mention the relation of the plant to its surroundings, especially the contrast between plants and human beings, and plants and animals. Talk about the outbreathing and in-breathing of the plant. Allow the children to experience how “bad” air is the very thing used by the plant, through the power of the Sun, to build up again what later serves as food for people. When speaking of human dependence on food you can point to the importance of a good harvest, and so on. With regard to the process of growth it should be made clear that each plant, even the leaf, grows only at the base and not at the tip. The actual process of growth is always concealed.
RUDOLF STEINER: What does it actually mean that a leaf only grows at the base? This is also true of our fingernails, and if you take other parts of the human being, the skin, the surfaces of the hands, and the deeper layers, the same thing applies. What actually constitutes growth?
Comment: Growth occurs when dead matter is “pushed out” of what is living.
RUDOLF STEINER: Yes, that’s right. All growth is life being pushed out from inside, and the dying and gradual peeling off of the outside. That is why nothing can ever grow on the outside. There must always be a pushing of substance from within outward, and then a scaling off from the surface. That is the universal law of growth — that is, the connection between growth and matter.
Comment: Actually the leaf dies when it exposes itself to the Sun; it sacrifices itself, as it were, and what happens in the leaf also happens at a higher level in the flower. It dies when it is fertilized. Its only life is what remains hidden within, continuing to develop.
With the lower plants one should point out that there are plants — mushrooms, for example — that are similar to the seeds of the higher plants, and other lower plants resemble more particularly the leaves of the higher plants.
RUDOLF STEINER: Much of what you have said is good, but it would also be good in the course of your description to acquaint your students with the different parts of a single plant, because you will continually have to speak about the parts of the plant — leaf, blossom, and so on. It would therefore be good for the pupil to get to know certain parts of a plant, always following the principle that you have rightly chosen — that is, the study of the plant in relation to Sun and Earth. That will bring some life to your study of the plants; from there you should build the bridge to human beings. You have not yet succeeded in making this connection, because everything you said was more or less utilitarian — how plants are useful to people, for example — and other external comparisons.
There is something else that must be worked out before these lessons can be of real value to the children; after you have made clear the connection between animal and human being, you must also try to show the connection between plant and human being. Most of the children are in their eleventh year when we begin this subject, and at this point the time is ripe to consider what the children have already learned — or rather, we must keep in mind that the children have already learned things in a certain way, which they must now put to good use. Then too you must not forget to give the children the kind of image of the plant’s actual form that they can understand.
Comment: The germinating process should be demonstrated to the children — for example, in the bean. First the bean as a seed and then an embryo in its different stages. We could show the children how the plant changes through the various seasons of the year.
RUDOLF STEINER: This should not really be given to your students until they are fifteen or sixteen years old. If you did take it earlier you would see for yourself that the children who are still in the lower grades cannot yet fully understand the germinating process. It would be premature to develop this germinating process with younger children — your example of the bean and so on. That is foreign to the child’s inner nature.
I only meant to point out to the children the similarity between the young plant and the young animal, and the differences as well. The animal is cared for by its mother, and the plant comes into the world alone. My idea was to treat the subject in a way that would appeal more to the feelings.
RUDOLF STEINER: Even so, this kind of presentation is not suitable for children; you would find that they could not understand it.
Question: Can one compare the different parts of the plant with a human being? The root with the head, for example?
RUDOLF STEINER: As Mr. T. correctly described, you must give plants their place in nature as a whole — Sun, Earth, and so on — and always remember to speak of them in relation to the universe. Then when you give the proper form to your lesson you will find that the children meet what you present with a certain understanding.
Someone described how plants and human beings can be compared — a tree with a person, for example: human trunk = tree trunk; arms and fingers = branches and twigs; head = root. When a person eats, the food goes from above downward, whereas in a tree the nourishment goes from below upward. There is also a difference: whereas people and animals can move around freely and feel pleasure and pain, plants cannot do this. Each type of plant corresponds to some human characteristic, but only externally. An oak is proud, while lichens and mosses are modest and retiring.
RUDOLF STEINER: There is much in what you say, but no one has tried to give the children an understanding of the plant itself in its various forms. What would it be like if, for example, you perhaps ask, “Haven’t you ever been for a walk during the summer and seen flowers growing in the fields, and parts of them fly away when you blow on them? They have little ‘fans’ that fly away. And you have probably seen these same flowers a little earlier, when summer was not quite so near; then you saw only the yellow leaf shapes at the top of the stem; and even earlier, in the spring, there were only green leaves with sharp jagged edges. But remember, what we see at these three different times is all exactly the same plant! Except that, to begin with, it is mainly a green leaf; later on it is mainly blossom; and still later it is primarily fruit. Those are only the fruits that fly around. And the whole is a dandelion! First it has leaves — green ones; then it presents its blossoms, and after that, it gets its fruit.
“How does all this happen? How does it happen that this dandelion, which you all know, shows itself at one time with nothing but green leaves, another time with flowers, and later with tiny fruits?
“This is how it comes about. When the green leaves grow out of the earth it is not yet the hot part of the year. Warmth does not yet have as much effect. But what is around the green leaves? You know what it is. It is something you only notice when the wind passes by, but it is always there, around you: the air. You know about that because we have already talked about it. It is mainly the air that makes the green leaves sprout, and then, when the air has more warmth in it, when it is hotter, the leaves no longer remain as leaves; the leaves at the top of the stem turn into flowers. But the warmth does not just go to the plant; it also goes down into the earth and then back again. I’m sure that at one time or another you have seen a little piece of tin lying on the ground, and have noticed that the tin first receives the warmth from the Sun and then radiates it out again. That is really what every object does. And so it is also with warmth. When it is streaming downward, before the soil itself has become very warm, it forms the blossom. And when the warmth radiates back again from the earth up to the plant, it is working more to form the fruit. And so the fruit must wait until the autumn.”
This is how you should introduce the organs of the plant, at the same time relating these organs to the conditions of air and heat. You can now go further, and try to elaborate the thoughts that were touched on when we began today, showing the plants in relation to the outer elements. In this way you can also connect morphology, the aspect of the plant’s form, with the external world. Try this.
Someone spoke about plant-teaching.
RUDOLF STEINER: Some of the thoughts you have expressed are excellent, but your primary goal must be to give the children a comprehensive picture of the plant world as a whole: first the lower plants, then those in between, and finally the higher plants. Cut out all the scientific facts and give them a pictorial survey, because this can be tremendously significant in your teaching, and such a method can very well be worked out concerning the plant world.
Several teachers spoke at length on this subject. One of them remarked that “the root serves to feed the plant.”
RUDOLF STEINER: You should avoid the term serves. It’s not that the root “serves” the plant, but that the root is related to the watery life of earth, with the life of juices. It is however not what the plant draws out of the ground that makes up its main nourishment, but rather the carbon from the air.
Children cannot have a direct perception of a metamorphosis theory, but they can understand the relationship between water and root, air and leaves, warmth and blossoms.
It is not good to speak about the plants’ fertilization process too soon — at any rate, not at the age when you begin to teach botany — because children do not yet have a real understanding of the fertilization process. You can describe it, but you’ll find that they do not understand it inwardly.
Related to this is the fact that fertilization in plants does not play as prominent a part as generally assumed in our modernday, abstract, scientific age. You should read Goethe’s beautiful essays, written in the 1820s, where he speaks of pollination and so on. There he defends the theory of metamorphosis over the actual process of fertilization, and strongly protests the way people consider it so terribly important to describe a meadow as a perpetual, continuous “bridal bed!” Goethe strongly disapproved of giving such a prominent place to this process in plants. Metamorphosis was far more important to him than the matter of fertilization. In our present age it is impossible to share Goethe’s belief that fertilization is of secondary importance, and that the plant grows primarily on its own through metamorphosis; even though, according to modern advanced knowledge, you must accept the importance of the fertilization process, it still remains true, however, that we are doing the wrong thing when we give it the prominence that is customary today. We must allow it to retire more into the background, and in its place we must talk about the relationship between the plant and the surrounding world. It is far more important to describe the way air, heat, light, and water work on the plant, than to dwell on the abstract fertilization process, which is so prominent today. I want to really emphasize this; and because this is a very serious matter and particularly important, I would like you to cross this Rubicon, to delve further into the matter, so that you find the proper method of dealing with plants and the right way to teach children about them.
Please note that it is easy enough to ask what similarities there are between animal and humankind; you will discover this from many and diverse aspects. But when you look for similarities between plants and humankind, this external method of comparison quickly falls apart. But let’s ask ourselves: Are we perhaps on the wrong path in looking for relationships of this kind at all?
Mr. R. came closest to where we should begin, but he only touched on it, and he did not work it out any further.
We can now begin with something you yourselves know, but you cannot teach this to a young child. Before we meet again, however, perhaps you can think about how to clothe, in language suited to children, things you know very well yourselves in a more theoretical way.
We cannot just take human beings as we see them in life and compare them with the plant; nevertheless there are certain resemblances. Yesterday I tried to draw the human trunk as a kind of imperfect sphere. 2See Practical Advice to Teachers, lecture 7. The other part that belongs to it — which you would get if you completed the sphere — indeed has a certain likeness to the plant when you consider the mutual relationship between plants and human beings. You could even go further and say that if you were to “stuff ” a person (forgive the comparison — you will find the right way of changing it for children) especially in relation to the middle senses, the sense of warmth, the sense of sight, the sense of taste, the sense of smell, then you would get all kinds of plant forms. 3See The Foundations of Human Experience, lecture 8. If you simply “stuffed” some soft substance into the human being, it would assume plant forms. The plant world, in a certain sense, is a kind of “negative” of the human being; it is the complement.
In other words, when you fall asleep everything related to your soul passes out of your body; these soul elements (the I and the actual soul) reenter your body when you awaken. You cannot very well compare the plant world with the body that remains lying in your bed; but you can truthfully compare it with the soul itself, which passes in and out. And when you walk through fields or meadows and see plants in all the brightness and radiance of their blossoms, you can certainly ask yourselves: What temperament is revealed here? It is a fiery temperament! The exuberant forces that come to meet you from flowers can be compared to qualities of soul. Or perhaps you walk through the woods and see mushrooms or fungi and ask: What temperament is revealed here? Why are they not growing in the sunlight? These are the phlegmatics, these mushrooms and fungi.
So you see, when you begin to consider the human element of soul, you find relationships with the plant world everywhere, and you must try to work out and develop these things further. You could compare the animal world to the human body, but the plant world can be compared more to the soul, to the part of a human being that enters and “fills out” a person when awaking in the morning. If we could “cast” these soul forms we would have the forms of the plants before us. Moreover, if you could succeed in preserving a person like a mummy, leaving spaces empty by removing all the paths of the blood vessels and nerves, and pouring into these spaces some very soft substance, then you would get all kinds of forms from these hollow shapes in the human body.
The plant world is related to human beings as I have just shown, and you must try to make it clear to the children that the roots are more closely related to human thoughts, and the flowers more related to feelings — even to passions and emotions. And so it happens that the most perfect plants — the higher, flowering plants — have the least animal nature within them; the mushrooms and the lowest types of plant are most closely akin to animals, and it is particularly these plants that can be compared least to the human soul.
You can now develop this idea of beginning with the soul element and looking for the characteristics of the plants, and you can extend it to all the varieties of the plant world. You can characterize the plants by saying that some develop more of the fruit nature — the mushrooms, for example — and others more of the leaf nature, such as ferns and the lower plants, and the palms, too, with their gigantic leaves. These organs, however, are developed differently. A cactus is a cactus because of the rampant growth of its leaves; its blossom and fruit are merely interspersed among the luxuriant leaves.
Try now to translate the thought I indicated to you into language suited for children. Exert your fantasy so that by next time you can give us a vivid description of the plant world all over the Earth, showing it as something that shoots forth into herb and flower, like the soul of the Earth, the visible soul, the soul made manifest.And show how the different regions of Earth — the warm zone, the temperate zone, and the cold zone — each has its prevailing vegetation, just as in a human being each of the various spheres of the senses within the soul make a contribution. Try to make it clear to yourself how one whole sphere of vegetation can be compared with the world of sound that a person receives into the soul, another with the world of light, yet another with the world of smell, and so on.
Then try to bring some fruitful thoughts about how to distinguish between annuals and perennials, or between the flora of western, central, and eastern European countries. Another fruitful thought that you could come to is about how the whole Earth is actually asleep in summer and awake in winter.
You see, when you work in this way you awaken in the child a real feeling for intimacy of soul and for the truth of the spirit. Later, when the children are grown, they will much more easily understand how senseless it is to believe that human existence, as far as the soul is concerned, ceases every evening and begins again each morning. Thus they will see, when you have shown them, that the relationship between the human body and soul can be compared to the interrelationship between the human world and the plant world. How then does the Earth affect the plant? Just as the human body works, so when you come to the plant world you have to compare the human body with the Earth — and with something else, as you will discover for yourselves.
I only wanted to give you certain suggestions so that you, yourselves, using all your best powers of invention, can discover even more before next time. You will then see that you greatly benefit the children when you do not give them external comparisons, but those belonging to the inner life.