Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
Address and discussion at a parents’ evening
9 May 1922, Stuttgart
Ladies and gentlemen! What I would like to do on this occasion is not actually to give a lecture, but rather to encourage as widespread an understanding as possible between those who are involved in the leadership and work of the Waldorf School and the parent body. The reason for this is that I really believe that this understanding, this working together of the parents with the teachers and others involved in the leadership of the school is something extraordinarily necessary and significant. Allow me to begin by describing an experience I had not long ago, an experience that will illustrate the importance of the issue I have just pointed out. Several weeks ago it was my task to take part in the festival in Stratford-on-Avon in England, a festival organized to celebrate the birthday of Shakespeare. 1Rudolf Steiner was invited to address the conference of the “Organization for New Ideals in Education” in Stratford-on-Avon, England, April 1922. He spoke on “Drama and its Relationship to Education” and “Shakespeare and the New Ideals.” Included in Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy 1, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1995 [Erziehungs- und Unferrichtsmethoden auf anthroposophischer Grundlage, GA 304, Dornach, 1979.] This Shakespeare festival was one that took place wholly under the influence of education issues. It was organized by people who are deeply interested in the education of children and adults. It can also be said that during this entire festival the world of Shakespearean art merely provided a background, since the actual issues that were being dealt with were contemporary issues in education. On this occasion one of the small effects, or perhaps even one of the large effects, of the pedagogical course that I held at Christmas at our Goetheanum in Dornach became evident. 2Soul Economy and Waldorf Education, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1986 [Die gesunde Entwickelung des Menschenwesens],16 lectures given in Dornach, 1921-22, GA 303, Dornach, 1978. Some of the people involved in this Shakespeare festival had taken part in this course.
Now, not far from London there is a boarding school which is not very large yet, but which is headed by a person who was present at the Dornach course and who took from there the impulse to introduce what we can now call Waldorf pedagogy, the Waldorf system of education, into this boarding school and perhaps also to apply it in expanding the school. 3Known at that time as the Priory School, this is now the New School in Kings Langley. We were invited to see this educational establishment, and in the course of the visit various questions were raised regarding how the school is being run at present and what could be done to transplant the spirit of the system of education that is fostered here in the Waldorf School to their situation.
One question in particular came up for discussion. The people in charge said that they were doing well with the children; each year they accept as many children as the small size of the establishment permits. The most difficult thing for them, however, was working together with the parents, and the reason for the difficulty — and this is certainly an international concern — was that nowadays the older generation everywhere has certain very specific views on how education is supposed to proceed. There are many reasons why parents send their children to one boarding school rather than another. But when there actually is a slight deviation from what they are accustomed to, it is very easy for disagreements to arise between the school and the parents. And this is something that really cannot be tolerated in an independent system of education.
The boarding school in question was experiencing especially great difficulties in this regard. What I am attempting to do now is neither to criticize nor to make recommendations, but simply to state the facts. In this school, in spite of the fact that it is a residential facility, there are no domestic employees at all. All the work of maintaining the school is done by the children and teachers. Cleaning the hallways, washing the dishes, planting the vegetables, taking care of the chickens so that they provide eggs — the list could go on and on. The children are involved in all kinds of work, and you certainly get the impression that things are run very differently there than in most other boarding schools. The children also have to cook and do everything else, and this goes on from first thing in the morning until late in the evening. It is also evident that the teachers and residential staff put a lot of energy into doing these things with the children. As I said, my intention is neither to criticize nor to advocate what they are doing; I only want to present it to you. Now it can happen that when the children go home on vacation and tell their parents about everything they have to do, the parents realize that they had not imagined it like that, and they cannot understand it. That is why it is so difficult to sustain harmony with the parents in this case. I describe this case only in order to point out how necessary we feel it to be, if we take a system of education seriously, to work together in complete harmony with the children’s parents.
Now of course our situation in the Waldorf School is different. We have no residential facility, we simply have a school where we naturally have to keep the principles of child-rearing in mind while providing academic instruction. Nevertheless, you can rest assured that working together with the parent body is a fundamental element in what we in the Waldorf School regard as our task. In running the school, an infinite number of questions constantly arise with regard to the weal and woe of the children, their progress, their physical and mental health — questions that can be solved only in partnership with the parents. This is why it will actually become more and more necessary for these parents’ evenings to evolve — and all the circumstances will have to be taken into account — and to become a more frequent event in the running of our school.
Our Waldorf School is meant to be a truly independent school, not only in name but in its very essence, and simply because it is meant to be an independent school of this sort, we are dependent on help from the parent body to an extraordinary extent. It is my conviction that if we have the desire to work together with the parents, this will call forth nothing but the deepest satisfaction on the part of all the parents.
The Waldorf School is an independent school. You see, ladies and gentlemen, what it actually means to be an independent school must be stated over and over again, and it cannot be stated strongly enough for the simple reason that in broader circles today it is scarcely possible to realize the extent of our need for independent schools of this sort. The prejudice of thousands of years is working against us, and this is how it works.
We do not need to look back very far in humanity’s evolution to find a school system, especially a primary school system, that was independent to a very great extent. But at that time independence caused a lot of illiteracy because few people sought out formal education. Then, in the course of humanity’s evolution in civilized areas, the desire began to grow in people to promote a certain educational basis for our interactions in society. At this point I cannot go into how this desire arose, but it came about at a time when people had renounced their allegiance to the old gods and now expected to receive all the blessings of humanity’s evolution and everything needed to advance it from a new god, the god of the State. Central Europe in particular was an area where people were especially intent on seeing the god of the State as a universal remedy, especially in the education of children.
In those times, the principle that was applied as a matter of course was that parliaments and large advisory bodies and so on were gatherings in which geniality could flourish, even if the individuals involved in these representative gatherings were not impressive in their degree of enlightenment. The opinion prevailed that by gathering together, people would become smart and would then be able to determine the right thing to do in all circumstances.
However, some individuals with a very good and profound understanding of these matters, such as the poet Rosegger, 4Peter Rosegger, 1843-1918, Austrian teller of folk tales. for example, were of a different opinion. Rosegger coined the expression — forgive me for mentioning it — "“One person is a human being; several are people; many are beasts.” Although this puts it a bit radically, it does contradict the opinion that has developed in the last few centuries, namely that all things state-related will enable us to determine what is right with regard to educating children. And so our school system simply continued to develop in the belief that there was no alternative to having everything spelled out for the school system by the political community.
Now, an independent school is one that makes it possible for the teachers to introduce into the educational system what they consider essential on the immediate basis of their knowledge of the human being and of the world and of their love for children. A non-independent school is one in which the teacher has to ask, “What is prescribed for the first grade? What is prescribed for the second grade? How must the lesson be organized according to law?”
A free school is one in which the teachers’ actions are underlain by a very specific knowledge of how children grow up, of which forces of body and soul are present in them and of which ones must be developed. It is a school in which the teachers can organize what they have to do each day and in each lesson on the basis of this knowledge and of their love for children. People do not have a very strong feeling for how fundamentally different a non-independent school is from an independent school. The real educational abilities of the teachers can develop only in an independent school.
That people actually do not have any real feeling for these things at present is the reason why it is so difficult to continue to make progress with an independent school system. We must not succumb to any illusions in this regard. Just a few hours before leaving to come here, I received a letter informing me that after a long time had been spent working to open a school similar to the Waldorf School in another German city, the request for permission had been turned down. This is a clear sign that the further evolution of our times will not favor an independent school system. This is something I want to ask the parents of our dear schoolchildren to take to heart especially: We must lavish care and attention on this Waldorf School we have fought for, this school in which the independent strength of the faculty will really make the children grow up to be allaround capable and healthy human beings. We must be aware that, given the contemporary prejudices we confront, it will not be easy to get something like a second Waldorf School. At the same time, it should be pointed out that this Waldorf School, which has not yet been in existence for three years, is something that is presently being talked about all over the civilized world. You see that it is nonetheless of significance — think about what I said about the school near London — that a group of people have gotten together to bring a Waldorf School into existence there.
We can also look at this issue from the much broader perspective of the need to do something to restore the position of the essential German character in the world. You can be sure, however, that the significance of this German essence will be recognized only when its spiritual content, above all else, is given its due in the world. This is what people will ask for if they meet the world in the right way. They will become aware of needing it.
For this to happen, we really need to penetrate fully into the depths of this German essence and to become creative on the basis of it. This is evident from something such as the vehement, sometimes tumultuous educational movement that could be experienced at the Shakespeare festival, which showed that there is a need all over the world for new impulses to be made available to the educational system. The impossibility of continuing with the old forms is a concern for all of civilized humanity.
The fact of the matter is, the things that are being fostered in the Waldorf School give us something to say about educational issues that are being brought up all over the world. But we also have almost all of the world’s prejudices against us, and we are increasingly faced with the prospect of having our independence taken away, at least with regard to the lower primary school classes. It is extraordinarily difficult to combat these prejudices, and the Waldorf School can do so only by making its children grow up to be what they can beonly as a result of the independent strength of the faculty.
For this, however, we need an intimate and harmonious collaboration with the parent body. At an earlier parents’ meeting I was able to attend, I pointed out that simply because we are striving for an independent school system, we are dependent on being met with understanding, profound understanding, on the part of the parents. If we have this understanding, we will be able to work properly, and perhaps we will also be able after all to show the true value of what is intended with the Waldorf School.
At that time I emphasized that we must strive to really derive our educational content from an understanding of the being of the child and the child’s bodily nature. Since to observe the child is to observe the human being, it is possible to observe children in this way only if we are striving for an understanding of the human being as a whole, as anthroposophy does. We must say again and again that it is not our intention to introduce anthroposophy into the school. The parents will have no grounds for complaining that we are trying to introduce anthroposophy as a world-view. But although we are avoiding introducing anthroposophy into the school as a world-view, we are striving to apply the pedagogical skill that can come only from anthroposophical training as to how we handle the lessons and treat the children. We have placed the Catholic children at the disposal of the Catholic priest and the Protestant children at the disposal of the Protestant pastor. We have independent religious instruction only for those whose parents are looking for that, and it too is completely voluntary; it is set up only for those children who would otherwise probably not take part in any religious instruction at all. So you see this is not something we stress heavily. Whatever we have to say with respect to our world-view is strictly for adults.
But I would like to say that what anthroposophy can make of people, right down to the skill in their fingertips, applies especially to teachers and educators. In dealing with children and with instructional content, what we should strive for is to have the children find their way quite naturally into everything that is presented to them in school, as a matter of course. We should assess carefully in each instance what is right at a particular stage of childhood.
You know that we do not introduce learning to read and write in the same way that is often used today. When the children begin to learn to write, we develop the shapes of the letters, which are otherwise something foreign to them, out of something the children turn to with inner contentment as a result of some form of artistic activity, of their artistic sense of form. The reason why our children learn to write and read somewhat later is that if we take the nature of the child into account, reading must come after writing.
Those who are accustomed to the old ways of looking at things will object to this, saying that the children here learn to read and write much later than in other schools. But why do children in other schools learn to read and write earlier? Because people do not know what age is good for learning to read and write. We should first ask ourselves whether it is altogether justified to require children to read and write with any degree of fluency by the age of eight.
If we expand on these ways of looking at things, more comprehensive views develop, as we can experience in a strange way: Anyone who knows a lot about Goethe knows that if we had approached him with what is demanded academically of twelve-year-olds today, he would not have been able to do it at that age. He would not have been able to do it even at age sixteen, and yet he still grew up to be the Goethe we know of.
Austria had an important poet, Robert Hamerling. 5Robert Hamerling, 1830-1889. As a young man, he did not set out to become a poet — that was something his genius did for him. He wanted to be a high school teacher, and he took the teacher certification exam. It is written in his certificate that he demonstrated an extremely good knowledge of Latin and Greek, but that he was not capable of handling the German language well and was thus only fit to teach the lowest class. But he went on to become the most important modern poet of Austria. And he wrote in the German language, not in Slovakian.
Our educational impulses must take their standard from actual life. The essential thing about our method of education is that we keep the child’s whole life in mind; we know that if we present the child with something at age seven or eight, this must be done in such a way that it will grow with the child, so that it will still stay with the person in question at age thirty or forty, and even for the rest of his or her life. You see, the fact of the matter is that the children who can read and write perfectly at age eight are stunted with regard to certain inner emotional impulses that lead to health. They really are stunted. It is a great good fortune for a child to not yet be able to read and write as well at age eight as is expected today. It is a blessing for that child’s bodily and emotional health.
What we need to foster must be derived from the needs of human nature. We must have a subtle understanding of this, and not merely know the right answer. It is easy to stand in front of a class of children and to figure out that this one said something right, but that one said something wrong, and then to correct the wrong thing and make it right. However, there is no real educational activity being practiced in that. There is nothing essential to the human development of a child in having the child do compositions and assignments and then correcting them so the child is convinced that he or she has made mistakes. What is essential is to develop a fine sense for the mistakes the children make. Children make mistakes in hundreds of different ways. Each child makes different mistakes, and if we have a fine sense of how different the children are with regard to the mistakes they make, then we will discover what to do to help them make progress.
Isn't it true that our perspectives on life are all different? A doctor does not have the same perspectives on an illness that a patient has. We cannot ask a patient to fall in love with a particular illness, and yet we can say that a doctor is a good doctor if he or she loves the illness. In our case, it is a question of falling in love, in a certain respect, with the interesting mistakes the children make. We get to know human nature through these mistakes. Excuse me for expressing myself radically, but these radical statements are really necessary. For a teacher, keeping track of mistakes is more interesting than keeping track of what the children do right. Teachers learn a lot from the children’s mistakes.
But what do we need in addition to all this? We also need a strong and active inner love for human beings, for children. This is indispensable for teachers. At this point innumerable questions arise. We are concerned about a particular child’s health of body and soul. We see this child for a few hours a day; for the rest of the time we must have confidence, complete confidence, in the child’s parents. This is why the teachers and educators of our Waldorf School always appeal to this confidence, and why they are so eager to work in harmony with the parents for the well-being of the children. As a rule, this is not something that is aspired to in a non-independent school to anywhere near the same extent; there people stick to observing the rules. That is why the very idea of independence in education often meets with very little understanding today.
In some countries, if you talk about independent schools, people will tell you that while things may be like that in Germany, they do not need to found independent schools because their teachers are already free. Teachers themselves will tell you that. It is astonishing that they respond like that, because we can tell that the people who are answering no longer have any idea that they could feel unfree. They do what they are ordered to do. It does not occur to them that it could happen differently, so they do not even feel that things could be different.
Just think of how different your situation is from other people’s with regard to understanding the Waldorf system of education. Other people have to make an effort to understand when we tell them we want to do things in a certain way because we believe it is the only right way. I believe that as parents of Waldorf School children you can see directly, in the beings that are dear to you, what is being done in the Waldorf School and how the relationship of the entire school to the child is conceived. It would be nice if there would come a time when it would be enough for parents simply to be content with what is being accomplished in an independent system of education. Today, however, all of you, who can see results in your own flesh and blood of how this Waldorf School is trying to work, must become strong and active defenders and promoters of the Waldorf system of education.
We have many other difficulties in addition to this. You see, if we really could live up to our ideals, we would be able to say that according to our insight, we should do this particular thing when the children are six, seven and eight, and this other thing when they are nine, ten, eleven and twelve, and so on. The results would be the best if we were able to do that, but we cannot; in some respects we must accept a compromise, because we cannot deny these children, these human beings who are growing up, the possibility to take their place in life.
So we have decided to educate the children from the time when they first enter primary school up to age nine in a way that is free of outer constraints, but while we are doing what human nature requires, at the same time we will support the children in a way that will enable them to transfer to another school [at the end of that time]. The same applies to age twelve and to age fourteen or fifteen. And if we have the good fortune to be able to continue adding grades, we must also make it possible for the young ladies and gentlemen who complete these grades to enter universities and technical colleges. We must make sure that the children will be able to enter these institutions of higher learning. I think it will be a long time before we are given the possibility of granting graduate or undergraduate degrees. We would accomplish much more if we were able to do that, but for the time being all we can do is to enable first the children and then the young men and women to learn what is required in public life in a way that does not inflict great damage upon them.
We find ourselves in very serious difficulties in this regard. You see, if you assess the situation according to human nature, according to what is good for human beings, then you would say that it is simply terrible for young men and women to be in modern college-preparatory and vocational high schools at the age of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. It estranges them from all of life. We must do what is necessary, whatever we can do, to make sure at least that the body also achieves a degree of skill that makes it fit for life. I often mention that you meet grown men nowadays who are incapable of sewing on a button for themselves if one gets torn off. I say this only by way of example. There are other similar things that people also cannot do, and above all they do not understand anything about the world. Individuals need to stand there in the world with their eyes open so that their hands are free to do whatever is needed. You see, this is why at a certain age we need to introduce the elementary aspects of things like spinning and weaving. Now, however, when students graduate from ordinary schools, they are not tested in weaving and spinning or in other arts that are useful in life, and so we must do these things in addition to all kinds of things that are required for the exam. This means that we must arrange our lessons as economically as possible. There is a special art to this in teaching.
Perhaps I may be permitted to introduce an example that happened to me personally. It was a long time ago. A family had entrusted their children to me for tutoring, and among them was an eleven-year-old boy who had been given up on as far as education was concerned. He was eleven years old, and for my information they showed me a sketchbook in which he had demonstrated his drawing ability. This sketchbook had a gigantic hole in the middle of the first page. He had done nothing but erase; that was all he could do. He had also once taken the test for entry into the first grade, and could do nothing at all. With regard to his other behavior, he often did not eat at the table but went into the kitchen and ate the potato peels, and there were difficulties in many other respects as well. It was a question of accomplishing as much as possible in the shortest possible time. I often had to work for three hours to get the materials together for what I would present to the boy in fifteen minutes. After two years he had progressed to the point where he could enter the Gymnasium. He was a hydrocephalic, with a huge head that steadily became smaller.
I mention this case because it shows what I mean by economy of instruction. Economy of instruction means never spending more time on something with the children than is necessary according to the requirements of physical and mental health. Nowadays it is especially important to practice this economy of instruction because life demands so much. Our Latin and Greek teachers, for example, are in a difficult situation because we have much less time to spend on these things, and yet they still have to be fostered in a way that meets the legitimate demands of cultural life. In all subjects, we must seek the art of never overburdening the children. And I must say that in all these things, we need to be met with understanding on the part of the parents; we need to work together in harmony with the parent body.
Really, the genuine successes that are of the greatest significance for life do not lie in accomplishing something amazing on behalf of one or the other gifted student. Genuine successes lie in strength for life. Thus it is always deeply satisfying to me when it happens that someone says that a certain child should be moved from one class to another so that this or that can be accomplished. The teacher fights for each and every child from time to time. These are real successes that take place within the loving interaction between the faculty and the children. Something can come of this, and things on which such great value is placed, such as whether the children are a little ahead or a little behind, fade into the background in comparison.
We are already being confronted with the fact — again, I would like to put it radically — that we cannot possibly be praised by those who hold the usual opinions about today’s school system, who are coming from these opinions. There is always something wrong in believing that something would be accomplished if people who think like this were to praise us. If that was how things were, if we were praised by today’s school authorities or by people who believe that these authorities are doing the right thing, then we would not have needed to start the Waldorf School at all.
Thus it is a matter of course for us to depend on the parents being in harmony with us and giving their time and attention to a method of education that derives from what is purely human. This is what we need today, and in a social sense, too.
Social issues are not resolved in the way we often imagine today. They are resolved by putting the right people into public life, and this will happen only if people are able to grow up really healthy in body and soul. We can do very little to influence what is specific to an individual, what an individual is capable of learning on the basis of his or her particular abilities, because in order to be of service at all in educating a person to become the best he or she can be — if we had to teach a Goethe, for example — we as teachers would have to be at least the equal of the person we are teaching. We can do nothing about what an individual becomes through his or her own nature; there are other factors determining that. What we can do is to remove obstacles so that individuals find the strength within themselves to live up to their potentials. This is what we can do if we become real educators and if we are supported by our contemporaries.
First and foremost, we can be supported by the parent body. We have found an understanding body of parents. Certainly, what I have to say tonight is filled with a feeling of gratitude. That so many of you have appeared tonight gives me great satisfaction. I hope we will be able to talk about details in the discussion period to follow; our teachers are prepared to answer any questions you may ask. Before that, however, I would still like to point out certain characteristic traits.
Recently the Waldorf faculty and I held a college-level course in Holland. 6Six lectures in The Hague, April 7-12, 1922. See Die Bedeutung der Anthroposophie im Geistesleben der Gegenwart, Dornach 1957. The afternoon session in which pedagogical issues were discussed was led by Fraulein von Heydebrandt of the Waldorf School. 7Caroline von Heydebrandt, 1886-1938. This was one of the most interesting afternoons because we saw that today’s educational questions are of concern all over the world. Of course we know that we have no right to harp on how wonderful it is that we have come so far; we are not trying to emphasize our accomplishments.
The way things are today, many people recognize the impulse behind our school. What is still lacking, however, is for them to stand energetically behind us so that this cause can win additional support and become more widespread. Of course we realize that the first concern of parents is to have the best for their children. But with things as they are today, the parents should also help us. Going through with this is difficult for us. We need help in every respect; we need the support of an ever growing circle so that we can overcome the prejudice against our method of education. I say the following with a certain reserve; I certainly want to remain convinced that those who are sitting here have done everything they can financially. I am speaking under this assumption so that none of you will think that I want to step on your toes. Nonetheless, the fact remains that if we want to go forward, we need money.
Yes, we need money! Now people are saying, “Where is the idealism in that? What are you anthroposophists doing, telling us you need money and pretending to be idealists?”
Ladies and gentlemen! Idealism does not stand on firm ground if it makes grandiose statements but says, “I am an idealist, and since I am an idealist, I despise my wallet. I do not want to get my fingers dirty; I am much too great an idealist for that!”
It will scarcely be possible to make ideals into reality if people are such great idealists that they are unwilling to get their fingers dirty when it comes to making financial sacrifices. We must also learn to strike the right note in public in suggesting to people that they give us some support in this matter, which is still a great and terrible cause of concern for us.
After all, the Waldorf School is big for a single school; it has enough students. It is almost not possible to maintain an overview any more. This is a concern that has to be taken very seriously. We certainly do not want the school to grow larger in its present circumstances; we are going to give in to the need for physical expansion. But then the number of students will increase, as will the number of teachers. And since teachers cannot live on air, this requires the means to support them.
I am assuming, ladies and gentlemen, that each of you has already done whatever you can. It is now a question of spreading the idea further in order to find the idealists out there. There must be a decision on the part of the parent body to help the Waldorf School with regard to its material basis, or I am afraid that in the near future, if we want to continue to take care of things properly, our worries will become so great that they prevent us from sleeping, and I am not sure that the teachers in the school will be the kind you want to have there if they are no longer able to sleep at night!
Some people may have the feeling that I have been too radical in my choice of some of the things I have pointed out today, but I hope to have been understood on some of these points. I especially hope that I have not been understood merely on details. I would like to be understood on the farreaching issue of our need to be in cordial harmony with the parent body if we are to function effectively in the Waldorf School. T particularly wanted to point out the need for this because it actually already exists to such a great extent, and we will be best able to find possibilities for progress in this area if the groundwork has already been laid.
Out of the details of our aspirations, which can be addressed in the discussion to follow, out of all the details that come up in these parents’ meetings, let us take with us the impulse for cordial harmony among teachers and educators and the parent body. You parents certainly have a profound vested interest in this harmony because you have entrusted the most precious thing you have to the faculty.
Out of this awareness, out of our awareness of the faculty’s responsibility toward what is most precious to the parents who are associated with us, out of this collaboration may the spirit which has showed itself in the Waldorf School to such a satisfying degree continue to flourish. The more this unity thrives, the more this spirit will also grow and thrive. And the more this is the case, the more we will also achieve that other thing, that best of all possible human goals: to educate the young people entrusted to the Waldorf School for their life in human society. These people will need to stand up to the storms of life. If they are capable of finding the right ways of working together with other people, then it will be possible to resolve the individual human and social issues.
From the discussion
A question Is asked about the Abitur:
Dr. Steiner: I myself have only this to say: On the whole, the principle I have already presented applies. Through economy of instruction, we must get to the point where what we can achieve for the children at the most important stages in life will enable them to fit into what is demanded today. We cannot set these standards or decide whether or not we think they are right; we must submit to them. We are not being asked the question of whether or not what the Abiturrequires is justified. This will have to be accomplished through economy, and as of now we are not yet in a position to do this, but I fully believe that it will be possible to achieve this goal, even though it does not yet look like it in the case of the people in question. Our principle, however, is to make the children able to take the exam at the appropriate age. But there are also external difficulties to be overcome; the school must be approached without bias. Naturally, I know that it would be possible for someone to flunk boys or girls even though we had brought them to the point of being able to take the exam. I gave you the example of how it would be easy for me to flunk the commissioners themselves. We are striving to have our students be able to take the exam, regardless of what we think of it. We want our teaching to be in line with real life and not with some eccentric idea. As much as possible, we must try to introduce our students to life in the right way.
Something along these lines is still possible in Central Europe, while in Russia that is no longer the case. We must be glad for what we have. If we introduce it to the children now, more will be possible in the next generation.
I am emphasizing explicitly that we are not crazy characters who say that our children are only allowed to do this thing or that. We will go along with what is asked for in the exams, even if we are not always in agreement with it. Meanwhile, we are still taking everything into account that we deem necessary for the sake of humanity’s salvation.
Question: Would it not be possible to have school only in the mornings?
Dr. Steiner: There is always more than one viewpoint to consider in questions like this, isn't there? It has been said that instruction should take place between seven o'clock and one o'clock. Now let me point out some of the principles involved. In the question-and-answer sessions during my course of lectures at Christmas, the question of fatigue was raised, and I mentioned that the intent of our educational method was to refrain from fragmenting and dissipating the children’s attention by having an hour of religion followed by an hour of zoology and so on. The point is to teach in such a way that the children’s attentiveness can be concentrated. That is why a particular subject is taught for a longer part of the school day and over several weeks on end. This view is derived from specific knowledge of the nature of the child.
It was asked if the children do not get tired. I must draw your attention to the fact that in principle in our way of teaching we do not count on head work at all when dealing with children between seven and twelve years of age. That would be wrong. Instead, we count on the involvement of the rhythmic system and of the emotions connected to the rhythmical system of breathing and circulation. If you think about it, you will realize that people get tired, not through their rhythmic system, but through their head and limb systems. If the heart and lungs were to get tired, they would not be able to be active throughout an entire lifetime. The other systems are the ones that get tired. By counting on the rhythmic system during these years, we do not make the children as tired as they would get otherwise.
Thus, when experimental psychology investigates fatigue and states as a result of its experiments that children are so tired after three quarters of an hour that they need a change, this only proves that the teaching was done in the wrong way, tiring the children unjustifiably. Otherwise, the time limit arrived at would be different. The point is to conduct the lesson in such an artistic way that this kind of fatigue does not set in. We can achieve this only slowly and gradually, because new educational practices along these lines can be developed only gradually.
You see, ladies and gentlemen, it is possible to prevent the children from tiring to a very great extent by teaching in the right way. This is not the case with the teachers, however, because they have to work with their heads. And if we want to do the pedagogically correct thing and keep the instruction in the hands of one person, I would like to know what the teacher would look like who is supposed to teach from seven o'clock in the morning straight through until one in the afternoon. This is the main thing we have to consider. These teachers would be exhausted by ten o’clock if they had been teaching since seven, and it is not a matter of indifference whether or not we would continue to wear them out. That is not desirable, regardless of how much I might wish that the children from out of town would not have to make a two hour trip for one lesson in school. But that is the exception; it is exaggerated. Secondly, there are some things that must simply be accepted for the sake of achieving anything at all. Of course we cannot arrange the lessons for all the children in the way that would be desirable for the ones who live so far out of town. Of course that cannot happen. In such things, therefore, we have to deal with the actual circumstances.
In any case, we have arranged things so that the lessons that address the children in spirit and soul are given in the morning, to the extent that this is feasible. The afternoon is for eurythmy and artistic lessons. Instruction has been integrated into the times of day in a way that corresponds to the children’s age and nature. It would be a mistake to hold school from seven o’clock in the early morning until one in the afternoon, and this mistake would arouse a great deal of discontentment. It would require a complicated and completely different system [of scheduling]. Then, too, I would like to see what would happen if we had the children in the Waldorf School from seven to one and they were left to their own devices for the rest of the day. I would like to see what kind of notes and complaints would come from home because the children were coming back from their afternoons with all kinds of bad behavior. We would have to deal with both sleepiness and bad manners on the part of the children. Add that to the sleepiness of the teachers, and those notes would be full of bad things.
There are several points of view to be considered. I appeal to you to consider as a matter of course that since we could not avoid having school in session in the afternoon, the reasons we took into account took precedence.
A father asks that the students taking the Abitur be tested by a committee of Waldorf teachers.
Dr. Steiner: This is actually not an issue of education, and our work is with educational impulses. The point for us is doing what I mentioned — taking into account what is in accordance with the nature of the human being and making sure that the children are not forcibly excluded from actual life. Given the way things are, there may be certain possibilities for us in the first years. But I ask you to consider that we are exposed to certain risks in assessing whether or not a child will be able to pass the exam.
What do you think would happen if we were to guarantee that no boy or girl who graduates from this school would flunk the exam? In some cases, the parents have anticipated that the child would have difficulties with the exam and sent him or her to us for that very reason.
As teachers attempting what I have indicated, we will continue to make progress toward the possibility of the children passing the exam. Those who do not wish us well, however, would be able to prove systematically that this is not the case.
It is not up to us to make sure that an officially certified commissioner is present at the exam. If the parents want the exam to be administered by Waldorf teachers, then the parents would have to take the initiative to bring this about. It is not something that is inherent in Waldorf education. This is an issue of opportunity that would also have to be resolved as the opportunity presents itself, and perhaps by the parents. It is not that we want to be excluded from issuing valid diplomas, it is only that we will have to look at the matter from the educational point of view. I would like someone to prove to me that it makes sense from an educational point of view to subject the students to a school-leaving exam when you have been together with them for years. I would like someone to prove that it makes sense. We know what we have to say about each of our students when they have reached school-leaving age. If this needs to be officially documented for other reasons, then that can happen, but it is not actually an educational issue. Those who have experience in this field know that we can tell what a student is fit for better without exams than with them. We have no reason to work toward the goal of being allowed to administer the exams because this does not follow naturally from what underlies our educational methods.
A question is asked about discipline and the attitude of respect toward the teachers.
Dr. Steiner: If you ask whether respect exists wherever Waldorf pedagogy is notbeing applied... It is extremely important to have devotion or respect or love for the teachers come about in a natural way. Otherwise it is worth nothing. Enforced respect, respect that is laid down in the school’s regulations, so to speak, is of no value in the development of an individual. It is our experience that when children are brought up in a way that allows their own being to set the standards, they are most likely to respect their teachers. This is no grounds for complaint. Of course it cannot be denied that some individual instances do not exactly give evidence of respect. It all depends on how much the respect that grows out of love is worth, and how much more the other kind is worth if it is only demonstrated to the teachers’ face and not so much when they turn their backs. You must not imagine this as a situation in which each child does what he or she wants. It is a case of the children developing ever greater confidence in the faculty.
The progress in this particular respect is quite extraordinary. Anyone who is in a position to make the comparison will find that our progress with regard to discipline has been extraordinarily great in the past two years. The fact of the matter is that when we first got the children here, we had to think about how we would maintain discipline and so on. Now we have arrived at quite a different standpoint, actually. We have accomplished the most by having the relationship between teacher and child be a natural one. There is a great difference between how discipline is maintained at present and the situation a year and a half ago.
These things cannot be judged from a point of view that is brought in from outside; you must consider the Waldorf School itself. Respect cannot be beaten into someone — by which I do not mean to say that anything else can be. Respect must be won in a different way. In this regard, your apprehensions are understandable, but it is also necessary to break the habit of apprehension and look more closely at the results that are becoming evident in the Waldorf School.
If our school is still in existence after another couple of years, we will talk again about whether we have reached the point where our graduates can take the exams. Let us discuss it then. We are convinced that in principle this should be possible. By then we will also be convinced that there was no reason to fear that our method of education would bring about what is so very evident in the schools where compulsion is strongest, where I have seen in both the lowest and highest grades that things are in a bad way when it comes to respect. I do not think that we can take it as gospel that respect only thrives where there is compulsion in education, and that meanwhile our children are thumbing their noses behind their teachers” backs. If you deal with a child in the right way with a friendly warning, that is better than a box on the ear.