Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
The opening of the Independent Waldorf School
7 September 1919, Stuttgart
Ladies and gentlemen! From Herr Molt’s words, you will have inferred out of what spirit he took the initiative to found this Waldorf School. You will also have gathered from his words that its founding springs, not from any mundane intention, but from a call that resounds very clearly from the evolution of humanity in our times in particular. And yet, so little of this call is heard. Humanity’s evolution resounds with much that can be encompassed within the framework of rebuilding society, of giving social form to humanity’s lot. Thus there is something in this call, above all else, that must not be disregarded: the issue of education. We can rest assured that the only people who hear this call for social restructuring correctly amid the chaos of what our present time demands of us will be those who pursue its consequences all the way to the issue of education. But we will certainly be on the wrong track if we hear this social call in a way that makes us want to call a halt to all our social striving when faced with the issue of education, preferring to fashion the facilities of our educational system on the basis of social principles, whatever they may be, that have not also sprung from a renewal of the source of education.
For me, ladies and gentlemen, it has been a sacred obligation to take up what lay in our friend Herr Molt’s intentions in founding the Waldorf School, and to do so in a way that enabled this school to be fashioned out of what we believe to have won from spiritual science in our present times. This school is really intended to be integrated into what the evolution of humanity requires of us at present and in the near future. Actually, in the end, everything that flows into the educational system from such requirements constitutes a threefold sacred obligation.
Of what use would be all of the human community’s feeling, understanding, and working if these could not condense into the sacred responsibility taken on by teachers in their specific social communities when they embark on the ultimate community service with children, with people who are growing up and in the becoming? In the end, everything we are capable of knowing about human beings and about the world only really becomes fruitful when we can convey it in a living way to those who will fashion society when we ourselves can no longer contribute our physical work.
Everything we can accomplish artistically only achieves its highest good when we let it flow into the greatest of all art forms, the art in which we are given, not a dead medium such as sound or color, but living human beings, incomplete and imperfect, whom we are to transform to some extent, through art and education, into accomplished human beings.
And is it not ultimately a very holy and religious obligation to cultivate and educate the divine spiritual element that manifests anew in every human being who is born? Is this educational service not a religious service in the highest sense of the word? Is it not so that all the holiest stirrings of humanity, which we dedicate to religious feeling, must come together in our service at the altar when we attempt to cultivate the divine spiritual aspect of the human being whose potentials are revealed in the growing child?
Science that comes alive!
Art that comes alive!
Religion that comes alive!
In the end, that is what education is.
If we understand teaching and child-rearing in this sense, we will not be inclined to carelessly criticize what is imposed from the other side as the principles, goals, and foundations of the art of education. However, it does seem to me that no proper insight into what our modern culture demands of the art of education is possible unless we are aware of the great need for a complete spiritual renewal in our times, unless we can really work our way through to understanding that in future, something must flow into what we do as teachers and educators that is quite different from what can thrive in the sphere of what is now known as “scientific education.” Nowadays, after all, future teachers, people who will have a formative influence on human beings, are introduced to the attitudes and way of thinking of contemporary science. Now, it has never occurred to me to denigrate contemporary science. I am full of regard for all the triumphs it has achieved, and will continue to achieve for the sake of humanity’s evolution, through a scientific viewpoint and method that are based on understanding nature. But for that very reason, it seems to me, what comes from the contemporary scientific and intellectual attitude cannot be fruitfully applied to the art of education. Its greatness does not lie in dealing with human beings or in insight into the human heart and mind. Great technical advances are possible as a result of what springs from our contemporary intellectual attitude, and on that same basis it is also possible to develop the basic convictions of a free humanity in the context of society. However, it is not possible — grotesque as this may still sound to the majority of people today — to take a scientific viewpoint that has gradually come to the conclusion that the human heart is a pump and the human body a mechanical device, to use the feelings and sensations that proceed from this science to inspire us to become artistic educators of growing human beings. It is impossible to develop the living art of education out of what makes our times so great in mastering dead technology.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is where a new spirit must enter the evolution of humanity — the spirit we seek through our spiritual science, the spirit that leads us away from seeing the living human being as a carrier of implements that pump and suck, as a mechanism that can only be understood according to the methods of natural science. Into this intellectual attitude of humanity must come the conviction that spirit is alive in all natural existence, and that we are capable of recognizing this spirit. This is why, in the course that preceded this Waldorf venture, in the course intended for teachers, we attempted to found an anthropology or science of education that will develop into an art of education and a study of humanity that will once again raise what is alive in the human being from the dead. The dead — and this is the secret of our dying contemporary culture — is what makes people knowing, what gives them insight when they take it up as natural law. However, it also weakens the feeling that is the source of teachers’ inspiration and enthusiasm, and it weakens the will. It does not grant human beings a harmonious place within society as a whole. We are looking for a science that is not mere science, that is itself life and feeling. When such a science streams into the human soul as knowledge, it will immediately develop the power to be active as love and to stream forth as effective, working will, as work that has been steeped in soul warmth, and especially as work that applies to the living, to the growing human being. We need a new scientific attitude. Above all, we need a new spirit for the entire art of education.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we think about contemporary education and its needs, we will not be too quick to criticize what has been undertaken with the best of intentions on the basis of all kinds of worthwhile impulses, both in the present and in the recent past. What beautiful impulses underlay the efforts to move the educational system out of the chaos and deadening aspects of city life to the country, to rural boarding schools! We must acknowledge all the good will that was expended in this direction. However, ladies and gentlemen, if the living spirit that makes the human being comprehensible to human beings, that shows people how to deal with the growing human being, does not enter these rural boarding schools, then what was dead in the cities remains dead in the country.
People are now considering how to draft a constitution for a school so that the teachers” authority would no longer work in a deadening way. However, if they are unable to inject the real living spirit that makes human beings human into these newly structured schools, then in spite of all their socio-educational theories these educational establishments will remain something dead, something that cannot lead the present generation into the future in the right way.
The conviction that the call resounding from humanity’s evolution demands a new spirit for our present age, and that we must carry this spirit into the school system first and foremost, is what underlies the efforts of this Waldorf School, which is intended to be a model along these lines. An effort has been made to listen to what is subconsciously present in the demands of the best of those who have attempted to work for healing and regeneration of the art of education in the recent past. In this context I had to think of explanations given by Theodor Vogt, a student of Herbart’s and a prolific thinker, and by his successor Rein, professor of education at Jena. 1Theodor Vogt, 1835-1906. Wilhelm Rein, 1847-1929, author of Pädagogik im Grundriss [An Outline of Pedagogy]. Their thoughts seem to me to spring from a deeper feeling for what is lacking in our educational system at present. Vogt and Rein suspected, although they did not clearly say it, that in order to really be able to educate, it would be desirable to know how children actually develop in the early years between infancy and the time they enter school around the seventh year of life, and above all how they develop during the primary school years, from their sixth or seventh year of life up to the time in their fourteenth or fifteenth year that impacts so heavily on the growing person’s entire development. Insightful instructors of education ask whether we can also understand the kinds of forces at work in human nature, which presents us with a different intellectual, emotional, and bodily face, if not every month, then at least every year. As long as we have no real science of history, so these educators say, we will also not be able to know how an individual human being develops, because the individual human being presents in concentrated form what humanity as a whole has gone through in the course of its historical development.
People like the ones I mentioned felt that modern science is basically a failure when it comes to saying anything about the great laws that prevail throughout history, or to grasping what wells up out of the great all-encompassing laws of human evolution for us at the present moment. We would be attempting to do something very foolish if we tried to understand individual human beings on the basis of the composition of the nutrients they take in from their first breath until their last. However, this is basically what we are trying to do in the case of history, in understanding humanity’s entire evolution. In the case of an individual, we must understand how a physiological process such as the change of teeth intervenes in development, for example. We must know all the mysterious things that are going on in the body as a result of a completely new physiology that is not yet available to modern science. But we must also know what is accompanying this transformation on an emotional level. We must know about the metamorphoses of human nature. In the case of an individual, we will at least not deny, although we may be powerless to fully recognize the fact, that a person experiences metamorphoses or transformations on the basis of his or her inmost being. We do not admit to this with regard to the historical development of humanity as a whole. The same methods are applied to antiquity, the Middle Ages, and recent times. We do not accept that great leaps have taken place in humanity’s historical evolution. Looking back over historical developments, we find the last leap in the fifteenth century. Humanity’s ways of feeling, conceptualizing, and willing, as they have developed in more recent times and as we know them now, have only taken on this subtle character among civilized humanity since the fifteenth century. How this civilized humanity differs from that of the tenth or eighth century is similar to how a twelve-year-old child differs from a child who has not yet reached his or her seventh year. And what happened by way of transformation in the fifteenth century proceeded from the innermost nature of humanity, just as the change of teeth as a lawful development proceeds from the innermost nature of the individual. And everything we are living with now in the twentieth century — our striving for individuality, the striving for new social forms, the striving to develop the personality — is only a consequence of what the inner forces of history have brought up since the time in question.
We can understand how individuals attempt to take their place in the present only if we understand the course that humanity’s development has taken, as described above. People like Vogt and Rein who have given a lot of thought to education and who have also been involved practically in such things know that the powerlessness of our modern art of education is a result of the powerlessness of modern historical insight. Just as it is impossible to educate human beings with a science for which the heart has become a pump, it is also impossible to find one’s place as a teacher in a system of education based on a historical understanding that does not draw on the living spirit of humanity or recognize the metamorphoses that have taken place between the Middle Ages and modern times. We are still involved with the consequences of what began there.
Regardless of the fact that we tend to make fun of prophecy in this day and age, it must be said that in a certain respect teachers must be prophets. After all, they are dealing with what is meant to live in the generation to come, not in the present.
From the insightful vantage point of real, true historical happenings, ladies and gentlemen, such things often look somewhat different than they do to modern observers of humanity. In many respects, these observers often have a very superficial grasp of what is meant to come to life in the science and art of education. Today the question is being debated of whether people should be educated more in line with what fosters human nature itself — that is, whether a more humanistic education is preferable — or whether they should be provided with an education that prepares them for their future careers and to fit into the context of the state, and so on. For those who attempt an insight into the depths of such things, discussions of this sort are verbal dialectics that take place on the surface. Why is that? Those with insight into the generation to come get a clear feeling that individuals, in what they work at, think, and feel, and in what they strive toward for the future as adults, emanate from the womb of history. Careers and state context and the places people can make for themselves — all this originated in these people themselves. It is not something external that is superimposed on them. We cannot ask whether we should have the individual being or the outer career more in view when we educate people, because if seen rightly, these are one and the same thing!
If we can develop a living understanding of the careers and people that are out there, then we can also develop an understanding of what previous generations that are still alive and at work today brought up out of the womb of humanity into the present time.
Separating education toward a career and education toward being an individual is not sufficient when we want to work as teachers and educators. There needs to be something living in us that is not outwardly visible, neither in a career nor in the context of the state nor anywhere else in the outer world. What must be alive in us is what the generations to come will bring to life’s outer level. What must live in us is a prophetic merging with the future evolution of humanity. The educational and artistic feeling, thinking and willing of a faculty stands and falls with this merging. A living theory and methodology of education for the present must strive to have flow into the faculty what can be known about the growing human being. This is like a soul and spiritual life-blood that becomes art without first having been knowledge. What is to enter the childlike heart, mind, and intellect can proceed only from this living methodology.
I cannot present our educational principles in detail today. I only wanted to point out how the art of education as it is meant to be in the present and future is to take its place in a living spiritual grasp of the entire nature of the world and of humanity.
We talk a lot today about the social forms of humanity’s future. Why is it always so difficult to take steps to bring this future about? It is difficult because in our times, antisocial drives and instincts are present in the evolution of humanity and work against social striving.
When we look back at patriarchal times, to a time when humanity led a more instinctive life than is the case in our civilization, we may have many reasons to be proud of the accomplishments of the present. However, the impulses of earlier times were more social than ours; we are now governed by antisocial impulses. These antisocial impulses, however, must be eliminated from the art of education above all else. More precise observers will note how our educational system has gradually developed into an antisocial system. However, the only art of education that can be fruitful is one in which the teacher’s effect on the child results from a commonality of feeling from the very moment they enter the classroom. The child’s soul and the teacher’s soul must become one through a mysterious and subconscious bond that passes from the teacher’s spirit to the child’s. This gives the school its social character. For this to happen, the teacher must be able to put him or herself in the child’s position.
What do we often do nowadays? We make an effort to formulate our thoughts in ways that will enable us to explain something to the children. Perhaps we say to them, “Look, here is a chrysalis. A butterfly is going to come out of it.” We may show the children the butterfly and the chrysalis and may also demonstrate how the one develops out of the other. Perhaps we then go on to say, “Your immortal souls are at rest in your bodies just as the butterfly is at rest in the chrysalis. And just as the butterfly leaves the chrysalis one day, so too your immortal souls will one day leave your bodies when you go through the gate of death.” We have thought of an image from nature that we use in order to make something clear to the children, but we know that we have only used a comparison, and that we ourselves have a different way of understanding the whole thing. We have made an effort to straighten something out for the children. However, according to a mysterious law, we cannot really accomplish anything in the lesson if we straighten things out in this way. It is really only possible to convey to the children what we ourselves believe in the depths of our souls. Only when we have wrestled our way through to the feeling that the image of the butterfly and chrysalis is no mere cooked-up comparison, but one presented to us by divine spiritual nature itself, only when we can believe in the truth of the image in the way that the children are meant to believe it, only in that instant are we able to convey living spirit to them.
It is never permissible for us to merely give lip service to something, although this plays such a great role in cultural development today. We must speak and be able to work out of the spirit of truth. This is possible only when we are connected, deeply and intimately connected, to everything human. Even if we are already white-haired, we must be able to unite with what growing human beings are in accordance with their essential nature. We must have an inner understanding of the growing human being. Can we still do that today? No, we cannot, or we would not sit ourselves down in laboratories and practice experimental psychology in order to work out the rules by which human understanding and human memory work. If teachers see these superficial methods and procedures as the essential thing in learning to understand the human being, they kill off their living intuitive connection and relationship to human beings. I know that educational experiments and experimental psychology are useful to teachers in a certain way. However, I also know that these are only symptoms of what they are supposed to be most useful for, and I know that we have lost the direct soul-route from person to person and are looking for it again through outer observation in laboratories. We have become inwardly estranged from what is human and are looking for it in outer ways. However, if we want to be real teachers and educators, we must be reunited with the human aspect. We must foster the whole person within us, and then this whole person will be related to what we have to develop in the child in educational and artistic ways. What we as educators gain from experimental study and observation, which are often promoted as the basis of the science of education nowadays, is comparable to the effort of trying to understand how we eat and drink on the basis of the study of nutrition and its applications to the human being. We do not need a science of how one eats and drinks, we need a healthily developed sense of taste and healthy organs, and then we will eat and drink properly. Nor do we need a theory of education based on experimental psychology. What we as educators need is an awakening of our living human nature, which will experience in itself the whole of the child to which it makes a spiritual connection.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, we want to create this Waldorf School on the basis of a new spirit. You will also have noticed what this school is nof meant to become. In any case, it is not meant to become a school to promote a particular philosophy. Anyone who says that anthroposophically oriented spiritual science is founding the Waldorf School, and that it is now going to inject its philosophy into this school, will not be speaking the truth. I am stating this now, on the opening day. We are not interested in imposing our “dogmas,” our principles, or the content of our world-view on young people. We are not trying to bring about a dogmatic form of education. We are striving to turn what we have been able to learn from spiritual science into a living act of education. We are striving to include in our instructional methods a way of dealing with individual souls that can originate in a living spiritual science. Dead science can give rise only to knowledge; living spiritual science will give rise to instructional methodology and practical applications in the soul-spiritual sense. We strive to teach, to be able to educate. With regard to all this, we are fundamentally aware of the responsibility our dear friend Herr Molt spoke of earlier. We have pledged that the various religious denominations will be able to provide religious instruction in the school and to introduce the principles of their world-views, and we will honor this promise. It remains to be seen whether the art form we want to introduce provisorily and in a modest way will encounter as little interference from them as the world-views which they introduce will encounter from us. 2Unlike in the U.S., in Germany it is even now quite standard for state-supported schools to make space available in the school and time in the school week for religious instruction, with teachers supplied by the churches. We know that before humankind can acquire a correct insight into issues involving world-views and their interrelationships, people must understand that an art of education in the pedagogical and methodological sense can result from a spiritual world-view. Thus, we are not going to found a school on the basis of a particular world-view. What we are attempting to create in the Waldorf School is a school based on the art of education.
To you parents of the first children to be sent to this school, let me say that you are pioneering not only a personal human intention, but also a cultural challenge of our times, and that you will be able to grasp in the right way what is now meant to happen with regard to the Waldorf School only if you feel yourselves to be pioneers of this sort.
It is too soon to speak to the children in words as rational as those I spoke to their parents, but we will promise these children that what we are conveying to their parents in words will come to them in the form of actions — actions that will help them find their place in life so that they will be a match for the difficult challenges facing the generations to come. These challenges will be difficult, and what we today, especially in Central Europe, are experiencing as a time of great troubles is only the beginning of greater troubles to come. But just as the greatest things for human beings have always emerged from pain and suffering, so too a true, reality-based human art of education will emerge from these troubles. By seeking the source and foundation of our school system in the whole human being, by trying to build it up on the basis of the whole human being, we want to insert the social issue of education into the overall social issue of our times.
Comprehensive school! That is what our times are saying. And the art of teaching that draws its ability from the whole human being, as has been indicated here, will appear only in a comprehensive school. If humanity is to be able to live in social justice in the future, then people must first educate their children in a socially appropriate way. Through the Waldorf School, we hope to make a small contribution toward bringing this about.
In spite of the best will, we may be able to accomplish only a portion of what we set out to do, but we hope that the strength of the effort may not be exhausted in our feeble attempts, and that it will find successors. For we are convinced that although a feeble attempt may fail due to opposition and lack of understanding, the central core of this effort will find successors. When a real social art of education finds its way into the consciousness of all of humanity, which is what carries the faculty and the group of children to be educated, then the school will be incorporated into our overall life in society in the right way.
May the Waldorf School make a small contribution toward this great goal.