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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Education for Adolescents
GA 302

Lecture Six

17 June 1921, Stuttgart

As we consider the education of the older children, it will be especially necessary to address ourselves to the deeper aspects of human life and the cosmos. Without such a deeper understanding of life, we cannot really in good conscience accept the tasks connected with the high school.

We must understand that life is actually a totality, a oneness, and that by removing any one part of it, we do harm to it. As children, we grow into this life as we find it. We are placed into it by, in a way, sleeping into it. Just think of the absolutely unconscious way children confront the world during their first years. They then gradually increase their consciousness. But what does this mean? It means that the children learn to adapt their inner life to the world outside, to connect the outer world to the inner, the inner to the outer. They also learn to be conscious of the outer objects and to differentiate themselves from those objects.

This dichotomy between inner and outer grows ever stronger. The children look up, beyond the horizon, at the sky, they perceive the cosmos, they may even sense the existence of cosmic laws; but as a rule, the children grow into the totality of the world, into which they are received, without in any way getting close to the mystery of the connection between the human being and the cosmos.

The children continue to grow, they are cared for by the people around them, they are educated and instructed. The children develop in such a way that the necessity of participating in world events in some form or other rises from their whole individuality.

We prepare the children for world events by letting them play during the early years, thus awakening their activity. We make every effort to do things with them that meet and satisfy their needs, to educate them healthfully, hygienically—body, soul, and spirit. We try to do something else. We try to adapt them to the demands of the social and technological life. The attempt is made to educate the children in a way that allows them, later in life, to work, to participate in events, to interact with other people. We try to teach them skills and facts that allow them to participate in the technological life, so that their work can be meaningful and valuable for society, so that they themselves may find their place in life, their connection to the social life, to other people.

We do all of this. And in order that we do this in the right way, so that we, on the one hand, really meet the needs of human nature, so that we do not place human beings into the world with spiritually, psychologically (soul), and physically sick or stunted organisms, we must, on the other hand, admit to ourselves that human beings must grow into the social life in such a way that they can do something by which they may advance both themselves and the world. We must see to meeting both these demands.

And yet we have to tell ourselves that it is not easy today to accomplish this, to give the children what they need in these two areas. And if we take an unbiased look at our situation as teachers, it even causes us a certain skepticism, a certain doubt. We can easily understand today’s concerns and the many discussions on the subject. How should our children be educated? What should we do?

All these questions and problems that arise in our culture with such vehemence did not exist in older civilizations. You only need to study these old cultures without bias. Of course, there were a lot of things in those cultures that are incomprehensible to us today. We quite justifiably reject the slave and helot system of ancient Greece. But when we study the Greeks’ views on education, we shall soon see that such discussions as we have today—discussions in which so many diverse and opposing opinions are thrown about—would have been unthinkable then.

Beyond the effort we put into teaching, we need educational methods, and we need to develop teaching skills. But when we watch the heated discussions and see the impossibility of agreement—some emphasize the physical, some the mental-academic aspects, some these, some those methods—we arrive at the conclusion not only that teaching has become difficult but that in regard to our position as teachers and educators we cannot break away from being ignoramuses.

We should really have this feeling of helplessness; and it will, I believe, be even more pronounced if we take a wider view of the situation. You will get this wider view when you study how the current outpouring of educational principles and ideas has its roots in central European culture. I suggest that you make yourselves familiar with everything that was said about spiritual, psychological, and physical education by individuals steeped in central European cultural life. Read the books by Dittes and Diesterweg; read about their views on education.

I recommend to you the interesting essay in Karl Julius Schroer’s book Aspects of Education [Unterrichtsfragen], in which—quite correctly, I believe—he speaks of the place of physical education in the curriculum and offers a detailed program for this subject. During your perusal, I would like for you to consider the mode of thinking and the attitudes from which the thoughts arise. Consider how despite the real understanding of physical human nature and of the need to prepare the children for becoming practical and efficient adults, there is nonetheless also a strong consciousness of the reality of the soul and of the necessity to consider the human soul in all aspects of education.

Then compare—not the outward features; as anthroposophists you ought to be above doing that—compare what lies embedded in the depths of the soul, compare the basic attitudes contained in any of the numerous treatises on education in the Anglo-American literature. Everywhere in this literature you will find chapters on intellectual, aesthetic, and physical education. Think of the deeply held conviction from which they are written. You will get the feeling that the word “education” no longer applies. Everywhere in this culture—even when spiritual or intellectual education is mentioned—the human being is thought of as a kind of mechanism; it is thought that if the physical/corporeal organism, or mechanism, is properly developed, all the moral and intellectual development will follow as though by itself. We have with this view a much stronger inclination to the physical/corporeal in the human being.

I would like to suggest that the central European writers assume that it is possible to include soul and spirit in education and that by doing this the correct treatment of the physical will follow. The Anglo-Saxon idea emphasizes physical education. One then ignores a kind of tiny room inside the human being; one “educates” around the physical, along the periphery, and assumes that there is a tiny room in which the intellect and the moral and religious life are locked up, a kind of instinctive and logical religious and moral life. Once the physical body has been sufficiently educated, its forces will spread to within and dissolve the walls of this room, and the intellectual, moral, and religious life will by itself rush out. We must learn to read between the lines when we study these books and thus discover the underlying reasons and attitudes.

It is necessary to pay attention to these differentiations across the world today. It is much more important than merely observing superficially, in the modern fashion, when one considers these symptoms. Try to understand these symptoms of our transitional culture by following the extraordinarily important debates that have taken place in England during recent weeks. The debates have been triggered by the worsening social conditions and by the general industrial actions (strikes) that have threatened the whole social life. The press was reporting these discussions in full. And then, suddenly, a complete change of interest. Why? A season of ball games has begun, and interest in sport overshadows the interest in the most important social matters. Those involved in the discussions try to get away from the debating rooms as quickly as possible, rushing to the tennis courts, the football fields, and so on, with the feeling: “I want to move in a way that my muscles can grow as strongly as possible; I am interested in such important things.” I am probably describing the feeling in an amateurish way, but I cannot be bothered about detailed facts in this cultural phenomenon: “I am interested in such important matters as watching how somebody throws a ball-like object and how somebody else can catch it correctly with his big toe or another part of his body.”

The picture we get from studying these differentiations is indeed a peculiar one. Reading the papers is of little use. What the journalists are writing is of little significance. It is far more important to discover their reasons for writing about a subject. To enter a discussion with people, to listen to their opinions, is quite useless today. It is far more profitable to discover what is living deep down in their souls, to discover what induces them to act in a certain way, to have this or that opinion. It is this that matters today. What the French and German ministers are saying to each other, if one agrees with either the one or the other, is of no importance whatsoever. It cannot be the concern of someone who wishes to participate in the progress of our civilization. What matters is to discover the differing nature of the untruths expressed by these individuals. We must keep in mind the intentions behind the lies of both speakers.

We must know that we are living at a time when the words people are speaking have no longer any meaning; the forces behind and between the words are significant. A teacher wishing to educate modern youths must understand this, must become part of his or her age in this way, must do so in an ever deeper sense. But the teacher must not share the current basic characteristic attitudes and mode of thinking. When we today—permeated even a little with anthroposophical consciousness—take a walk in the streets, we no longer see human people; rather we see moles that move about in the smallest of circles, circles into which they were placed, moles whose thinking is limited to these narrow circles, cannot reach beyond them, moles who take no interest in what is happening outside these circles. If we do not succeed in growing beyond this molelike existence, if we cannot do more than reproduce the judgments and opinions—from various points of view—to which we have been conditioned through the events at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, then we cannot positively participate in what ought to be done, in order to overcome this unhappy situation.

If there is anyone who ought to be gripped by what I have just outlined, it is the teacher in charge of the young, who wishes especially to help the students to come to terms with their more mature age in the ninth and tenth grade classes. The whole school must be so structured that such ideas can be included. To do this, it is necessary to understand them even better, so that all of us, not only those directly involved in the higher classes, but all the teachers, can say to ourselves that what matters is that we have an elementary feeling for the whole of education and its practical application, that we experience the whole weight and force of our task—to place human beings into the world. Without this experience of our task, our Waldorf School will be no more than a phrase. We shall say all sorts of beautiful things about it, until the holes have become so large that we shall lose the ground under our feet. We must make it inwardly true, and we can do this only by getting ourselves to the stage at which we can have a thorough understanding of the teaching profession.

As we do this, the question will surely arise: As human beings at the present time, what are we really? We were placed into our age through the way we were brought up, conditioned by the events during the last third of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. And what are you today, my dear friends? Some of you have studied philosophy or history in the way these subjects were taught in the high schools and universities at the beginning of this century. Some of you have studied mathematics or other practical subjects. Some of you have become teachers of singing or physical education. Various methods were used in teaching these subjects. There are those among you who, according to the predilection of the staff, accepted the model of the gentleman or lady, but with a physical/corporeal understanding. There are those of you who have preferred what could be called a more inward path, but a path made inward through intellectualism. We are the sum total, the result of the ways we were conditioned—as far as into our fingertips and toes.

We must be quite clear about our task today—namely, to take full charge of what has been implanted in us through our education. This is possible only through a timely exploration of conscience that extends beyond the individual aspects. Without such exploration we cannot grow beyond what our time can provide us with. And we must grow beyond what our time can give us. We must not become puppets of the trends developed at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Above all, we must admit to the limitations of what is given us by today’s culture; through a comprehensive exploration of conscience, we must attain the correct knowledge, knowledge that will allow us to find our place in life.

At this point we ask: Has not everything that has made us the way we are been infected by the materialistic attitudes of our time? Certainly, there is no shortage of goodwill. But even this goodwill has been infected by the views that are the result of the natural-scientific world conception. And our knowledge of physical education has emerged from such views.

Humankind has really always wanted to hide from, to avoid, the necessity of exploring its conscience. Humankind has wanted to avoid the exploration that would thoroughly stir up its inner life by asking: How do we older people confront the young? When we look at the girls and boys reaching the age of sexual maturity, when we see them coming to us after having attained this maturity—if we wish to be honest with ourselves, we can only have one answer to the question: We don’t know what we should do for them, unless we educate and teach on the basis of fundamentally new concepts. Otherwise, we produce nothing but a wide gap between the young and ourselves.

This great question has practical dimensions. Take a good look at the youth movements as they have developed today. They are nothing else but documentation that our various experimentations have resulted in the loss of our leadership in education. Just look at what has happened. At the age we are now discussing, the young feel inwardly urged to withdraw from the leadership of the old, to take their guidance into their own hands; this happened with tremendous rapidity. We cannot fault the young for this. Discussion of this phenomenon is of great spiritual-scientific interest but not initially of pedagogical interest. Our pedagogical interest must be limited to the fact that the old have been responsible for their loss of leadership and understanding of the young.

Since the old no longer have anything of substance to give to the young, the teenagers and adolescents have formed themselves into groups [Wandervögel] that traverse the countryside with singing and conversing, searching in a vague way for what the older generation has failed to provide. Thoughts and words have become hollow; the older generation having nothing to give to the young, the young then roam the woods, searching among themselves for what they cannot receive from the words and models of their elders. It is one of the most significant phenomena of the present time. The young find themselves confronted by the great question that used to be answered in the past by the older generation but that now can no longer be answered by them, because their language is no longer comprehensible.

Remember your own youth? You had, perhaps, more courage than the members of such groups, took less interest in traipsing through the countryside. You managed to survive somehow. You pretended to listen to the older generation and adhered to the status quo. But the Wandervögel do not pretend. They have withdrawn from the older generation and have taken to the woods. We have seen this happen, and we have also witnessed the results of this youth movement. Not so long ago, they felt the need to make contact among themselves, wishing to discover for themselves what they could not get from their teachers, wishing to escape them and take refuge in nature. They mean to find their answers in some vague, undefined sphere. They make contact among themselves, forming small cliques.

It really is a strange phenomenon that is immensely instructive. The old have lost their leadership, have become philistines. They cannot accept the fact that this deep longing has awakened in the young, in the members of such groups. And how have the old reacted to this, those among them who are at least a little affected by modern times? They do not say to themselves: “We must advance to a deep exploration of conscience; we must from our mature stage of development find a way to the young.” No, they react differently: “Since the young,” they say, “do no longer wish to learn from us, we shall learn from them.” And you can see this happening in all our educational institutions—the old adapting to the will and demands of the young. When you look at this new phenomenon without prejudice, you will see that the old wish to be led by the young, that they have placed the leadership into their hands—representatives of the student body are now counselors and members of boards and trusts in educational institutions.

We must consider the deeper implications of this phase. What has it done to the young? They have passed from their need for contact, from their wish to find themselves in cliques, to searching for their inner (soul) life in a hermit existence. The final stage of this development is a kind of fear of contact, everyone feeling the necessity of relying only on himself or herself. The former certainty of finding answers in the world outside has given way to a kind of atomizing longing, a brooding: “What is the reason for my inability to do justice to the human being in me?” You can see this feeling spreading everywhere; you only need to be awake enough to see it. You can see this growing uncertainty in the fragmentation of soul forces. You can perceive a special fear, a horror vacui, that makes the young shudder and feel scared in view of their future. They are fearful of the life ahead of them. There is basically only one answer, one remedy—the deep exploration of conscience. And this cannot limit itself to externalities but must lead to the question: How has it come to pass that we, when we wish to lead and guide the young, no longer understand them with the forces of the old?

Let us, by contrast, take a look at a distant age, such as that of the ancient Greeks. The older Greeks, as we know from history, still had a certain understanding for the young. If you try to understand Greek culture, you will find a peculiar and very definite relation between the period from the thirteenth or fourteenth to the twentieth or twenty-first year and the period from the twenty-eighth to the thirty-fifth year. This is characteristic of both the Greek and Roman cultures—that people in their late thirties had a fine understanding for children between seven and fourteen and that people in their early thirties felt a special affinity for, an understanding for the needs of, teenagers and adolescents. There was this relation according to different age groups—a relation of those in the third seven-year period with those in the fifth and a relation of those in the second seven-year period with those in the sixth.

It really is not easy to see behind the mysteries of human evolution. But we can indeed clearly feel that for the Greeks when the girls and boys arrived at sexual maturity they looked up to the twenty-eight- and twenty-nine-year-olds, choosing the ones they liked best, the ones they wished to emulate in freedom. They could no longer obey an authority as such, only one of their choosing in this specific age group. As humanity evolved through the Middle Ages to our time, this relation became ever weaker until it disappeared altogether. People were thrown together in a helter-skelter way; a spiritually given structure gave way to chaos. This very real situation has, then, prompted a social problem in our world; in education, it has prompted a pedagogical/didactic problem. Without keeping in mind the whole of evolution, we cannot make any progress.

I would like to show you the cause for this phenomenon by pointing to a concrete fact. All you have then to do is to generalize this concrete fact in order to discover the causes for this lack of understanding between the old and the young. You see, during our current preparation for life, during our education, we are, for example, taught that there are some one hundred elements. We learn this, and when we become teachers we are, as a rule, aware of these chemical elements—that they exist, even though this theory has recently come under attack. But we have absorbed this knowledge, carry it within us, the knowledge that there are these one hundred or so elements, that through their synthesis and analysis everything in the world comes about. We even develop a world conception on this basis. And this is the farce, that during the last third of the nineteenth century a world conception was constructed on the basis of the then seventy chemical elements. This prompted the question: How could the planets, everything that solidified, arise through chemical and physical changes? How did abiogenesis come about through an especially complicated chemical synthesis? It was the wish to comprehend the whole world with thoughts that had their roots in such elements.

The Greeks would have thought of this one-sided intellectual (head) approach to the world as nonsense, as inhuman. If they had been told to imagine the world as the result of the synthesis and analysis of these one hundred elements, they would have felt, deep down, as though the human being would disintegrate into dust during the process. The Greeks would not have been able to comprehend it. What indeed would a human being do with such a world that consists of these elements that synthesize and analyze? What does it mean? What would happen? The world could well be there, be a gigantic cosmic test tube, but the human being, how would the human being exist in it? Is is as though we were to put a large test tube in a room, allow all sorts of elements to boil in it, and then open a door and push a human being through an opening into the tube, into this mixture of salts and acids. This the Greeks would have imagined if they had been asked to think of the world as structured by these elements. They would not have accepted this idea, their feelings would have resisted it. The picture I have just characterized would have arisen instinctively in their minds.

But we are not merely heads. It was only at fairgrounds that living, talking heads used to be shown as exhibits. No, we don’t exist as head only but as complete human beings. And if we wish to develop such ideas with only the head, if our life of feeling, of will, and of the whole physical organism were to be so constituted that we could believe in a world made up of such stuff, we would have to feel very differently, would have something different in our fingertips than what the Greeks had, the Greeks who would have dismissed such a notion as pure nonsense. One feels differently about, places oneself differently into, a world if one believes that the world is something that is fit for a test tube but not for the universe. The same point applies with regard to the social life in ancient Greece. We must consider these things.

We don’t just think that the world consists of one hundred elements. We carry this feeling into everything we do during the day—even when we wash and dry our hands. The fact that it is possible for our head to have such an inhuman world conception while we wash ourselves—thinking in this way impresses a definite quality into our feelings. And then—when we can think and feel in this way, when there is no room for the human being in such a world conception—when we then confront the fifteen-year-old girls and boys with this thinking and feeling, it should come as no surprise that we cannot reach them, that we don’t know what to do with our feeling and thinking. With this world conception we can lecture in universities and colleges, teaching what we believe to be right, but we cannot live with it. The graduates of our universities then become teachers who have no idea of their connection with the young. This is the terrible abyss that has opened up before us.

But as far as human beings are concerned, there is something in us at the age of fifty or fifty-five that bears a certain resemblance to today’s teaching of chemistry and physics. We then have become sclerosed to the extent that our inner organism faintly resembles the world outside. The cosmic powers are gradually doing something with us during the course of our lives on earth. We, too, harden in our physical organism in older age. At about fifty, we become dissociated; we, as it were, disintegrate inwardly into dust. But this dissolution is a gradual, slow process, not as cruel as what would be happening to us in a test tube. Neither does it go that far—although it has the same tendency; it is a more humane process. But at the age when we approach death something does begin to be active in us that is synonymous with the teaching of modern science. Our world conception is such that only the very old may comprehend it. Nature is kind. It compensates the old by making them childish.

Talking about such things in this way may make it seem as though one wishes to poke fun at the world. No, it is not a matter of humor; it is a matter of the deepest tragedy. It is true. We are describing the world today as processes that are synonymous with those in human corpses, no more. After our death something similar takes place. In older age, we have a presentiment of the processes in our physical body after death. And we describe nothing else in our modern sciences. Our cultural institutions are full with such knowledge that applies to the physical human being after death. But such knowledge does not live in our limbs. Such are the feelings we absorb from the thoughts given us today. And the traditional theological beliefs have become mere words, because they have no place in the teaching of natural science about the human corpse.

As long as we limit this teaching to a theory of knowledge, it is more or less harmless. If, however, we consider the human being as a totality and ask what happens to the human being when he or she is influenced by such a life, the question is one of life and death. And this we must not ignore, must not evade. The forces active in the children in our classrooms are quite different from those we learned about. We no longer know anything of what is active in them; we are separated from them by a gulf.

Yes, the Greeks would have considered our talk about the elements nonsensical. What did they say? They believed not that the structure of the world consists of some one hundred elements but that four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—are interacting in it. Our academics, our professors, the leaders of our culture and education will tell us: “This is a childish world conception. We left it behind and no longer bother with it.” Someone who has begun to think a little will tell us: “Oh well, we too are working with these things. Today we call them aggregate conditions—solid, gaseous, liquid. We see warmth differently from the naive way the Greeks did. Yes, we have them all, but we have developed them correctly. Of course, we admire the Greeks for their knowledge.” This is a benevolent, patronizing, condescending attitude: “We are fortunate in having progressed so far, in having discovered all these elements, whereas the ancients used to practice all sorts of animism and talked of earth, air, fire, and water.”

But these leaders are wrong. There is a deeper meaning to the conception of the Greeks. When the Greeks spoke of earth, air, fire, and water, they did not look at them as we do today. If you had asked one of those people who lived within the Greek world conception—and there were still a good number of them in the fifteenth century, the later ones having read about it in books; our modern people sometimes take a look at it without understanding it—if you had asked one of them: “What is your idea of fire, of warmth?” the Greek would have answered: “I think of fire as being warm and dry.” “What about air?” “I see air as warm and damp.” The Greek did not think of the physical properties in fire and air but rather formed an idea. This idea contained the sub-ideas: warm and dry, warm and damp. The Greeks did not limit themselves to the physical appearance but imagined the elements as inner qualities. One had to raise oneself to something that could not be seen by physical eyes, that had to be grasped by thinking, in order to get to a knowledge of the elements, of what one then called the elements.

What did they achieve by this? They arrived at an understanding that corresponded to the etheric in the human being—the etheric body in its effectiveness. This understanding of the elements as inner qualities allowed them to experience the etheric body. Their experience was not that of being in the etheric body but rather in how the etheric body worked in the physical. It is not possible to achieve this understanding merely by studying the interactions of oxygen and carbon intellectually. It is impossible to arrive at an understanding of the way the etheric body is working in the physical if one only studies the interactions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. Such studies take one away from the activities of the etheric, keep one within the physical. This means that one remains in the sphere in which the processes in the human being take place after death. The life processes, in which the etheric body is working in the physical, can only be understood by imagining warm and dry, cold and damp, warm and damp—by inwardly grasping the qualities with which the etheric body takes hold of the physical, by having this living comprehension of nature in the four elements. This is not a childish idea that regards only the physical but one that regards the working of the etheric. And this idea was lost in later times. But this has an effect on the whole of the human being. Think about it. People are growing up, are told that the world consists of one hundred or so elements—iodine, sulfur, selenium, tellurium, and so forth—all whirling into each other. This affects our feelings, to the extent that we, as human beings, are removed from the process. The elements are there, and we are not part of any of them.

One could have the justified idea of being a part of the other way of looking at the world, of looking at the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—in the ancient Greek way: earth as cold and dry, air as warm and damp, fire as warm and dry, water as cold and damp. When one imagines these qualities and makes them live in oneself, they grip one—qualitatively. One becomes permeated by them, they take hold of the limbs; they take hold of us. Such ideas that reach as far as into the limbs make us into beings different from beings for whom the ideas affect the limbs only after death. The corpses in the graves may well feel in line with the one hundred or so elements that combine according to chemical laws. But such a concept does not do anything for the life of human beings. By contrast, in having this idea of the four elements, we perceive ourselves in our etheric bodies.

You see from such reflections that education has really become quite unnecessary today for us human beings. We have a culture, an education, that at best prepares us to be able to function outwardly, mechanically, to maintain the status quo in society. For this we are prepared. As human beings we get nothing. Our education does not reach our limbs but remains stuck in the intellect. It does not affect our feelings and will.

If we wish to have any effect at all, we must resort to sermons and the like. We must approach people from without. But we do not give them anything that affects their inner life. The way we deal with the young today involves a terrible untruth. We tell them to be good without providing the means whereby they can be good. All they can do is to obey us as their authority. If we can manage to cow people throughout their lives in one way or another, some order can be maintained. The police will deal with the recalcitrants.

Head knowledge has no meaning for the inner life. This is the reason for our impotence in relating to the young at the important time in their lives when they are supposed to connect the spirit and soul to the physical/corporeal, to bring them into a reciprocal relationship. What indeed are today’s adults to do with the young who wish to relate spirit and soul to the physical, to the life around them?

This is the situation we shall take as our starting point in tomorrow’s talk, when we shall further acquaint ourselves with this problem. My intention today has been to evoke in you the feeling that as soon as we are supposed to find a way to the hearts of children at a definite and important time in their lives, we are dealing with the important issue of a world conception.