Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
Address at the assembly at the end of the first school year
24 July 1920, Stuttgart
My dear children! Today, now that we are at the end of our first school year here in our dear Waldorf School, let us inscribe on our souls something of why we are actually in this school. What does it mean that our dear friend Herr Molt, together with Frau Molt, founded this Waldorf School for you, my dear children, and for humankind? What does it mean that you come here every morning in order to learn something good? What does it mean, above all, that there are people who are taking great pains to guide you into life so that you will grow up to be good and capable people?
You know, my dear children, that I have often come here during this school year, and in each class I always asked you a question, a question that comes straight from my heart. I often asked you, “Do you love your teachers?” [“Yes!” shout the children.] And you know, you always answered me as warmly as you just did today.
Now there will be weeks in which you do not see your teachers for a while, and so now I want to say something different to you. I hope your hearts will often answer this question during vacation. Now I would like to say to you, “Now that you are not going to see your teachers, learn to be grateful to them.” In the same way that you have learned, tried hard to learn to love your teachers, now learn to feel firmly in your heart that you are grateful to your teachers, so that when you ask yourselves, “Am I grateful to my teachers?” you can honestly and heartily say, “Yes, I am grateful.”
Now there is something else I want to say to you. You see, my dear children, here with us it should not happen that as Waldorf School students you say, “Hey, school is over now; it’s vacation. When we'e in school, we have to work hard and learn, but now we can be lazy. We don't have to do anything. We'e glad that we can be lazy.” You know that is not what we want to say. We should say something else; we should say, “Yes, it's a beautiful day. During the day we experience many beautiful things along with some that are sad and painful, but what would human beings be if they could not experience through their senses everything that divine spirituality has put into the world, everything that is so great and beautiful and true.”
But unless we can also sleep and rest, we cannot use our ears and eyes properly to hear and see all the beautiful things divine spirituality has put into the world. Think about how after enjoying the day, you have to rest at night, and then in the morning you are strengthened again. Your eyes see better and your ears hear better. If you had to stay awake all the time, you would surely not be able to enjoy and learn about life in all its truth and beauty the way divine spirituality made it.
This is also how it is in life as a whole. You should not think, “Now that it’s vacation we can be lazy;” you should think, “All of what we received from our dear teachers, everything that humankind has learned so that individuals can know it — we received all this, and now we need a little rest, so that when we have rested, we can go back into our classes and be fresher and more lively. In fact, we will each go into the next grade; with new forces we will once again take into our hearts what our teachers will give us through their love and hard work, what humanity has learned in service to humanity.” This is how we should think of it — that we are resting during the vacation to get strong again for the whole new school year.
Then, my dear children, I would like to tell you a little about what it means that this Waldorf School of ours exists, and what it means that we are here in this school. You see, the person you are going to grow up to be, this person has a physical body, a soul and a spirit. You each have a body, a soul, and a spirit. And when a person is very little and is born into the world, this body and soul and spirit are all very incomplete. In you, they are still incomplete, but they are supposed to become more complete. Here in the Waldorf School your body will be shaped to become skilled at everything a person has to do in life. Your teachers have worked hard at this on your behalf; you have been introduced to eurythmy, for example, which works to make your body very skillful in life, and many other things have been brought to you so that you will become people who are skillful and capable and strong in their bodies. When you are small, you are fairly clumsy. You have to become more skillful. It is the same with the soul which is in each one of you. But it has to be developed so that it can send out threads in all directions for life. This is like unwinding the strands from a tangled ball of yarn — the threads for your life have to be untangled from your soul. This is how the soul develops, and this happens for you so that you become good and capable with regard to your forces for life. Good strong forces for life have to be fetched up out of your souls. And your spirit — yes, my dear children, if we did not educate the spirit, we would not be human beings at all. The spirit must be educated so that we become very good and capable human beings.
Now you see, when a person has worked all day or when a child has played and learned well and then sleeps, sometimes dreams come to them from their sleep. Most of you have experienced dreams. Sometimes they are very beautiful dreams, sometimes ugly dreams. And now you are going to go rest during vacation. Then something will come to you that can be compared to a dream. You see, during vacation, when you think back to when you were in school, it may be that you think, “Oh, I had nice teachers, I learned a lot, I was glad to be able to go to school.” And when you think that, those are beautiful dreams during your vacation. And when you think, “Oh, I should have been less lazy; I didn' like to go to school,” and so forth, then you are having bad dreams during vacation. Think back often during this vacation to when you were in school; for example, think like this: “My thoughts are drawn back to the Waldorf School, where my body is shaped for skillful activity, where my soul is developed to be strong in life, where my spirit develops so that I can be truly human.” When you think often like this about how your body is being shaped, your soul developed and your spirit educated, you will send yourself a good dream for your time of rest, and then your vacation time will also contribute something to making you a good and capable person in life.
You know, when I came in today, one of your good little fellow students gave me something. Let’s see what it is. Look, this is what he gave me — a washcloth and a flower! Now I guess I must wash myself and dry my hands, and perhaps the flower is meant to say that your lessons are something that blooms as beautifully as this nice little white flower. [Rudolf Steiner holds up the washcloth.] And perhaps this could remind us that what we learn here is also something we can use to wash away everything in our souls that is incomplete, all bad thoughts and feelings that want to make us be lazy and not pay attention. I would like to give you each a little spiritual cloth so you can wash away all the laziness and lack of hard work and inattentiveness, and so on. So I am very glad that you have given me this little symbol and that I can show you how to use it to wash away a whole lot of what should not be in your souls.
And look at this little flower! You have learned many things here that you needed to learn, and what you learned is so many little flowers like this in your soul. Think about this when you remind yourselves that your thoughts are hurrying back to the Waldorf School where your bodies are trained to be skillful, your soul is developed to be strong for life, and your spirit unfolds so that you can be properly human — and think about how flowers like this are being cultivated in your soul day after day, and how grateful you should be for that. Everything in life can be of service to us and help us think about what is right. That, dear children, is what I wanted to say to you.
Think about each other, too! You have gotten to know each other and also, I hope, learned to love each other. Think about each other very, very often, and think about how good it was that you came together so that your teachers could help you grow into good and capable people. Don't think, “Now we can be lazy,” but think, “We need to rest, and when we have rested we will come back and be fresh and ready to receive what our dear teachers bring to us.”
And now, although you will not yet be able to understand it, I would like to say a few words in your presence to your dear teachers, who have now put all the diligent work of the Waldorf School behind them, and I would like to shake their hands. First of all, I would like to shake hands with Herr Molt and Frau Molt for having created this Waldorf School for us so that we can try to do something for humanity in its dire straits. My dear friends — as I said, I am speaking to the teachers, but you children can also hear it and can remember it later — the years behind us have been bitter ones for humanity, years in which people beat and bloodied and shot each other. There are still other bitter things in front of us, for the times still look very bad. But then the Waldorf teachers were the first to find the courage to appear here and to start to believe something that I am convinced that people today must start to believe above all else. The Waldorf teachers came here and said, “Yes, we have to work on the children so that when we are old, something will have happened to the children that can prevent unhappiness and bitterness of this sort from overcoming people.” This requires a certain courage and it requires hard work, but above all it requires something that awakens in human hearts the possibility of not sleeping, but of staying awake. That, dear Waldorf teachers, is why I want to shake your hands so warmly. If many people would wake up and look at the decision you have come to instead of sleeping through it, if what happens here would find successors, then you would realize that you were the first to work at something that is so very necessary for our future as human beings.
Dear children, when your teachers came into school each morning, they were people who clearly grasped the task of our times and devoted themselves diligently to what was required of them. And it was always a warm moment for me when I asked you, “Do you love your teachers?” and you so heartily answered, “Yes!” During the vacation I will also wonder whether you are grateful to your teachers. But you, dear Waldorf teachers, let me warmly shake your hands. I thank you in the name of the spirit of humanity which we are trying to cultivate throughout our spiritual movement. In this spirit, I shake your hands for everything you have accomplished on behalf of the future ideals of humanity. Today is the day for us to be able to remember these things, and it is the day when you children should feel how grateful you ought to be to these teachers of yours.
There is still something I would like to say today. Alongside everything we have learned here, which the individual teachers have demonstrated so beautifully, there is something else present, something that I would like to call the spirit of the Waldorf School. It is meant to lead us to true piety again. Basically, it is the spirit of Christianity that wafts through all our rooms, that comes from every teacher and goes out to every child, even when it seems that something very far from religion is being taught, such as arithmetic, for example. Here it is always the spirit of Christ that comes from the teacher and is to enter the hearts of the children — this spirit that is imbued with love, real human love. This is why I want you children to feel that not only have you learned something here, you have also gradually learned to feel what it is for one person to love another. And so now as you are going on vacation, I would like you to think of all your schoolmates with a warm-hearted “Until we meet again! Until we meet again, when we come back strengthened into these rooms, when we can once again work with our teachers on what will make us into good and capable people.”
You see, dear children, you must consider how life here in this school is connected to the whole of human life. When people get old, they are seventy or eighty years old. Life brings joy and sorrow, beauty and ugliness. When we get old, we are seventy or eighty, as I said. We can compare our life to a day with twenty-four hours. If this day represents our life, then a year that we spend in this day of life would be about twenty minutes long, and your eight years in primary school would be something like two to three hours out of your whole life. So the time that you spend in the Waldorf School makes up two or three hours out of your whole life. And when we go through the other twenty hours we have for living, for working, for becoming aware of the spirit, for doing things with other people so that something good can happen in the world — when we go through these hours, it can be a real comfort for our hearts, a real strength for our lives, if we are able to realize that the two or three hours of life we spent in primary school gave us something for our whole life, gave us strength and spirit and the ability to work.
Let us say this to ourselves, my dear children, now on this last day of our first school year in the Waldorf School, but during the vacation, let us remember something else again and again. I would like to write it in your souls so that it blooms there like this cute little flower, so that you think of it often: “Let my thoughts hurry back to my dear Waldorf School, where my body is trained to work and to do good, where my soul is developed to be strong for life, where my spirit is awakened to be truly good and human.” We want you all to become such good and capable people someday, when you are grown up and out there in life.
I wanted to speak to you from heart to heart today. I wanted to say this to you out of love, and I say it to you so that you can take note of it. Once again, think of your thoughts hurrying back to your dear Waldorf School, where your body is shaped to work capably in life, where your soul is developed for strength in life, where your spirit is awakened to true humanity. That is how it should be. And so now we will leave each other, and when we come back, we will go on as we have done before.
Afterwards you will receive your reports. 1At the end of the school year, instead of receiving grades, the children received brief characterizations of their behavior and of how they worked. Whoever gets a good report should not take it as an indication that it is now all right to be lazy, and whoever gets a bad report need not immediately start to cry, but should think about trying harder next year.
Out of the spirit of the Waldorf School, shake your teachers’ hands and say to each other, “We will be back in fall to learn to do good work, to develop our souls to be strong for life, and to awaken our spirit to true humanity.”
And so, until we meet again!