Education for Adolescents
19 June 1921, Stuttgart
During our reflections on education, we have had to emphasize that our work as teachers depends on the manner in which we ourselves develop and find our way to the world. And we have had to single out the frequently characterized age of thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years — for which our own correct preparation for our lessons is especially important.
But we also have to organize all our educational activities in such a way that we prepare the children for this age. Everything depends on their developing a definite relation to the world. This relation to the world announces itself especially at the age we are now discussing, when both girls and boys begin to incline toward ideals, toward something in life that is to be added to the physical, sense-perceptible world. Even in their obnoxious teenage behavior we can see this inclination toward a supersensible, ideal life — toward, as it were, a higher idea of purpose: Life must have a meaning! This is a deeply seated conviction for the human being. And we have to reckon with this “Life must have a meaning, a purpose!”
It is especially important at this age that we do not channel this basic inner maxim — life must have a purpose — into the wrong direction. Boys at this age are often seen as being filled with all sorts of ideas and hope for life, so that they easily get the notion that this or that has to be so or so. Girls get into the habit of making certain judgments about life. They are, especially at this age, sharply critical of life, convinced that they know what is right and wrong, fair and unfair. They make definite judgments and are convinced that life has to offer something that, coming from ideas deep down in human nature, must then be realized in the world. This inclination toward ideals and ideas is indeed strongly present at this age.
It is up to us whether, during the whole of the elementary school years beginning in first grade, we manage to allow the children to grow into this life of ideals, this imaginative life. A necessary condition is that we ourselves be able to permeate our whole being with such principles that allow us a correct understanding of the way children develop. Through anthroposophy we get a theoretical knowledge of the three most important aspects. Up to the seventh year, when the change of teeth occurs, children are essentially imitators. They develop, we may say, by doing what they see done in their environment. All their activities are basically imitations. Then during the time of the change of teeth, children begin to feel the need for an authority, the need to be told what to do. Thus, while before the change of teeth children accept the things that are done in the environment as a matter of course, copying the good and the bad, the true and the false, now they no longer feel the need to imitate but know that they can carry out what they are told to do and not to do. Then again, at puberty the children begin to feel that they can now make judgments themselves, but they still want to be supported by authorities of their own choosing: “This person may be listened to; I can accept his or her opinions and judgments.”
It is important that we allow the children to grow into this natural relation to authority in the right way. To do this we must understand the meaning and significance of the imitative instinct. What does it actually tell us? The imitative instinct cannot be understood if we do not see children as coming from the spiritual world. An age that limits itself to seeing children as the result of hereditary traits cannot really understand the nature of imitation. It cannot arrive at the simplest living concepts, concepts capable of life.
The science of this age sees the chemical, the physical world, how the elements, enumerated in chemistry, analyze and synthesize; it discovers, in progressing to the sphere of life — but working with it in a synthetic and analytic way — processes that correspond identically with those in the human corpse. Such a science, applying the same process that can be observed during the natural decomposing of the corpse, finds the same elements in the living organism: carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and the rest. And it discovers these elements living in the form we know as albumen. The scientists now try to discover how the carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen in the albumen can be synthesized in a living way. And they hope to discover one day how these elements — \(C\), \(N\), \(H\), and \(O\) — develop a definite structure by virtue of being together in albumen.
But this procedure will never lead to an understanding of albumen as the basis of life. In characterizing albumen in the cell in this way we follow a wrong direction. The reality is quite different. The natural, instinctive forces that hold the substances together, that bring about specific forms in, for example, a mountain crystal, a cube of pyrite, or other minerals, change to a chaotic condition during the creation of albumen. We should, in our study of albumen, instead of paying attention to more complicated laws, observe how these forces in their reciprocal relation paralyze themselves, cease to be active in the albumen, are no longer in it. Instead of structure, we should look for chaos, dissolution. We should tell ourselves: The substances in their reciprocal activities change to a chaotic condition when they pass to the stage in which they appear as albumen; then they enter an undefined, vague stage, cease to influence one another, enter a stage in which they become open to another influence.
In the general life processes, this chaotic condition is still kept somewhat in check through the mineral processes in the organism. The cells in our brain, lungs, and liver, as far as they are albumen, are still affected by the forces we receive from our food. There the chaotic condition is not present. But in the cells that later become our reproductive cells, the cell substance is protected from the influence of food, protected from the forces we receive from food. In our reproductive cells there is almost complete chaos; all mineral substances are completely destroyed, ruined. Reproductive cells are produced in human beings, in animals, and in plants by virtue of the fact that the terrestrial effects, the mineral activities, are through a laborious process destroyed, ruined. This process allows the organism to become receptive to the work of the cosmos. Cosmic forces can now work into the organism from every direction. These cosmic forces are initially influenced by the reproductive cells of the other sex, adding the astral to the etheric. We may say that as the mineral elements demineralize themselves, the possibility arises for the cosmic laws to enter on this detour through the chaotic condition of the albumen, whereas ordinarily in the mineral world we find the terrestrial influencing the terrestrial.
Natural science will never comprehend the nature of albumen as long as it endeavors to find in the organic molecule a structure that is simply more complicated than that which occurs in the inorganic molecule. Today’s chemistry and physiology are mainly concerned with discovering the structure of atoms in different bodies, atoms which assume ever more complex forms, culminating in that of the albumen. The molecule of albumen does not tend toward greater complexity, however, but toward the dissolution of mineral structure, so that extraterrestrial — and not terrestrial — forces can influence it.
Our thinking is here confused by modern science. We are led to a thinking that is — in its most important aspects — in no way connected to reality. Our modern knowledge of the properties of albumen prevents us from raising our thoughts to the reality that something enters the human being that does not come from heredity but via the detour from the cosmos. Today’s idea of albumen leaves no room for the concept of the pre-existence of the human being.
We have to understand the tremendous importance of learning, as teachers, to distance ourselves from the basic tenets of modern science. With the basic tenets of modern science one can bamboozle people, but one cannot teach with them. Our universities do not teach at all. What do they do? There is a faculty that enforces its position through the power of unions or associations. The students have to congregate there, in order to prepare themselves for life. Nobody would do this. Neither the old nor the young would do this, if it were left to them to develop their innate forces and potential. In order to make them study, compulsion is necessary. They are forced into this situation, incarcerated for a while, if they wish to prepare themselves for a profession. And because of this, these institutions do not think of relaxing their power. It is a childish notion to believe such institutions, the last outposts at which compulsory membership clings — the compulsory membership of all the other unions no longer existing — it is hard to believe such institutions are in the forefront of progress. They are the last place of recourse for finding answers. Everywhere else the enforced measures and rules of the Middle Ages have been done away with. In the way today’s universities are conducted, they are in no way different from the guilds of the Middle Ages. Our universities are the last remnants of the guilds. And since those concerned with these things have no longer any knowledge, any feeling about this development, they enlist the help of show business, especially during such highlights as graduation ceremonies — caps, gowns, and so forth. It is important to see behind these things.
One who today wishes to educate and teach must find other ways in which to become a true human being; one must acquire new ideas of the basic principles. Then one will arrive at the correct understanding of the nature of imitation during early childhood.
During the time in the spiritual world, before conception, the child’s soul accepts everything from its spiritual surroundings as a matter of course. After birth the child continues this activity that the soul became used to in the spiritual world. In the child’s imitating we can see that this habit from before birth has not been lost; it has only taken a different turn. Before conception the child was concerned with development from within; now the world outside is confronted. We may use the following picture to help us understand this difference. Before conception the child was as though within a ball; now the child looks at this ball from outside. The world one sees with one’s physical eyes is the outside of what one saw previously from within. Imitation is an instinctive urge for the child in all activities, a continuation of the child’s experience in the spiritual world; it is through imitation that the child develops an initial relation to the spiritual world in the physical world.
Just think what this means! Keep in mind that the very young child wants to face the outer world according to the principles that are valid in the spiritual world. During these early years, the child develops a sense for the true and, connecting to the world in this way, arrives at the conviction: “Everything around me is as true as the things I so clearly perceived in the spiritual world.” The child develops the sense for the true before beginning school. We still observe the last phases of this conviction when the child enters school, and we must receive the child’s sense for the true in the right way. Otherwise we blunt it instead of developing it further.
Consider now the situation of children entering first grade and forced to adapt to the conventional way people read and write today — an activity that is external to human nature. Our modern way of reading and writing is abstract, external to human nature. Not so long ago, the forms of the letters were quite different. They were pictures — that is, they did not remind one of the reality, but they depicted the reality. But by teaching the Roman alphabet, we take the children into a quite foreign element, which they can no longer imitate.
If we show the children pictures, teach them how to draw artistic, picture-like forms, encourage them to make themselves into pictures of the world through a musical element that is adapted to child nature, we then continue what they had been doing by themselves before starting school. If, on the other hand, we teach by instructing them to copy an abstract “I” or “O,” the children will have no cause to be interested, no cause for inwardly connecting with our teaching. The children must in a certain way be connected with what they are doing. And the sense of imitation must now be replaced by the sense of beauty. We must begin to work from all directions toward the healthy separation from imitation, to allow the children’s imitation to give way to a correct, more outer relation to the world. The children must grow into beings who copy the outer world beautifully. And we must now begin to consider two as yet rather undifferentiated aspects — namely, the teaching of physical skills and the teaching of such things that are more concerned with knowledge, with the development of concepts.
What are children actually doing when they sing or make eurythmic movements? They disengage themselves from imitating, yet the imitating activity continues in a certain way. The children move. Singing and listening to music are essentially inner movements — the same process as in imitation. And when we let children do eurythmy, what are we actually doing then? Instead of giving them sticks of crayon with which to write an “A” or an “E” — an activity with which they have a purely cognitive connection — we let the children write into the world, through their own human form, what constitutes the content of language. The human being is not directed to abstract symbols but allowed to write into the world what can be inscribed through his or her organism. We thus allow the human being to continue the activity of prenatal life. And if we then do not take recourse to abstract symbols when we teach reading and writing, but do this through pictures, we do not distance ourselves from the real being when we must activate it, we do not let the human being get fully away from it. Through effort and practice we employ the whole of the human being.
I want you to be aware of what we are doing with the children in regard to their activities. On the one hand, we have the purely physiological physical education lessons. There the children are trained and tamed — we merely use different methods — as animals are. But spirit and soul are excluded from our considerations. On the other hand, we have lessons that are unconnected with the human body. We have progressed to the point at which, in writing and reading, the more delicate movements of the fingers, arms, and eyes are made so active that the rest of the organism is not participating in them. We literally cut the human being in half.
But when we teach eurythmy, when the movements contain the things the children are to learn in writing, we bring these two parts — body and soul/spirit — closer together. And in the children’s artistic activities, when the letters emerge from pictures, we have one and the same activity — now, however, tinged by soul and spirit — as in eurythmic movements or in listening to singing, a process in which the children’s own consciousness is employed. We join body, soul, and spirit, allowing the child to be a totality.
By proceeding in this way, we shall, of course, find ourselves reproached by parents in parent/teacher meetings. We only have to learn to deal with them appropriately when they ask us, for example, to transfer their sons to a class with a male teacher. They would, so they say, have a greater respect for a male teacher. “My son is already eight years old and cannot spell correctly.” They blame the female teacher for that, believing that a male teacher would be more likely to drill the child in this subject.
Such erroneous opinions, which keep being voiced in our school community, must be checked; we have to correct them and enlighten the parents. But we must not shock them. We cannot speak to them in the way we speak among ourselves. We cannot say to them: “You ought to be grateful for the fact that your son cannot read and write fluently at the age of nine. He will as a result read and write far better later on. If he could read and write to perfection already at age nine, he would later turn into an automaton, because he would have been inoculated with a foreign element. He would turn into an automaton, a robot.”
Children whose writing and reading activities are balanced by something else will grow into full human beings. We have to be gentle with today’s grown-ups, who have been influenced by modern culture. We must not shock them; that would not help our cause at all. But we must, tactfully and gently, find a way to convince them that if their child cannot yet read and write fluently at the age of nine, this does not constitute a sin against the child’s holy spirit.
If in this way, we guide the child correctly into life — if we don’t “cut the child in half” but leave the child’s whole being intact, we shall observe an extraordinarily important point in the child’s life at the age of nine. The child will relate quite differently to the world outside. It is as though the child were waking up, were beginning to have a new connection to the ego. We should pay attention to this change, at the very beginning. In our time, it is possible for this change to happen earlier. We should observe the new relation to the environment — the child showing surprise, astonishment. Normally this change occurs between the ninth and the tenth years.
If, thoughtfully and inwardly, we ask ourselves what it is that has led to this condition, we shall receive an answer that cannot be accurately expressed in words but can be conveyed by the following analogy. Previously, had we given the child a mirror and had the child seen his or her reflection in it, the child would not have seen it very differently from any other object, would not have been especially affected by it. Imagine a monkey to whom you give a mirror. Have you observed this? The monkey takes hold of the mirror and runs to a place where it can look at it undisturbed, quite calmly. The monkey becomes fascinated by its reflection. Should you try to take the mirror away, that would not be to your advantage. The monkey is absolutely bent on coming to grips with what it sees in the mirror. But you will not notice the slightest change in the monkey afterward. It will not have become vain as a result; the experience does not influence the monkey in this way. The immediate sense impression of the reflected picture fascinates the monkey, but the experience does not metamorphose into anything. As soon as the mirror is taken away, the monkey forgets the whole thing; the experience certainly does not produce vanity.
But a child at the characterized age looking at his or her reflection would be tempted to transform his or her previous way of feeling, to become vain and coquettish. This is the difference between the monkey, satisfied with just seeing itself in the mirror, and the child. Regarding the monkey, the experience does not permanently affect its feeling and will. But for the nine-and-one-half-year-old child, the experience of seeing himself or herself in the mirror produces lasting impressions, influences his or her character in a certain way.
An actual experiment would confirm this result. And a time that wishes to make education into an experimental science — because it cannot think of any other way of dealing with it, because it has lost all inner connection to it — could well feel inclined to make experiments in order to discover the nature of the transition from the ninth to the tenth year. Children would be given mirrors, their reactions would be recorded, learned books would be written, and so forth. But such a procedure is no different for the soul and spirit than the assumption that our ordinary methods cannot solve the mystery of the human being. In order to get answers, we must decide on killing somebody every year, in order to discover the secrets of life at the moment of death. Such scientific experiments are not yet permitted in the physical, sense-perceptible world. But in the realm of soul and spirit, we have progressed to the point that experiments are allowed which paralyze the unhappy victims, paralyze them for life — experiments that ought to be avoided.
Take any of the available books on education and you will find thoughts the very opposite of ours. You will, for example, read things about memory and the nature of sensation, the application of which you ought to avoid in your lessons. Experimental pedagogy occupies itself precisely with such experiments that should be abolished. Everything that should be avoided is experimented with. This is the destructive practice of our current civilization — the wish to discover the processes in the corpse rather than those in life. It is the death processes that experimental pedagogy wishes to study, instead of making the effort to observe life: the way children, in a delicate, subtle way arrive at being astonished at what they see around them, because they are beginning to see themselves placed into the world. It is only at this stage that one arrives at self consciousness, the awareness of one’s ego. When one sees it reflected, rayed back from everywhere in the environment, from plants and animals, when one begins to experience them in one’s feeling, one relates consciously to them, develops a knowledge through one’s own efforts.
This awareness begins to awaken in children at the age of nine and ten. It does not awaken if we avoid the formative activities, if we avoid the meaningful movements in, for example, eurythmy. This is not done today. Children are not educated to do meaningful, sensible things. Like little lambs in a pasture, they are taken to the gymnasium, ordered to move their arms in a certain way, told how to use the various apparati. There is nothing of a spiritual element in such activities — or have you noticed any? Certainly, many beautiful things are said about such activities, but they are not permeated by spirit.
What is the result? At an age that affords the best opportunities for infusing the sense of beauty in children, they do not receive it. The children wish so very much to stand in awe, to be astonished, but the forces for this response are squashed. Take a book on current curricula and their tendencies. The six- and seven-year-old children, on entering school, are treated in a way that makes them impervious to the experiences they ought to have in their tenth year. They don’t experience anything. Consequently, the experiences they ought to have pass into the body, instead of into the consciousness. They rumble deep down in the unconscious regions and transform into feelings and instincts of which individuals have no knowledge. People move about in life without being able to connect with it, without discovering anything in it. This is the characteristic of our time. People do not observe anything meaningful in life, because they did not learn as children to see the beautiful in it. All they are to discover are things that in the driest possible sense somehow increase their knowledge. But they cannot find the hidden, mysterious beauty that is present everywhere, and the real connection to life dies away.
This is the course culture is taking. The connection of human beings to nature dies away. If one is permeated by this, if one observes this, then one knows how everything depends on finding the right words, words that will allow children at the age of nine to be astonished. The children expect this from us. If we do not deliver, we really destroy a great deal.
We must learn to observe children, must grow into them with our feelings, be inside them and not rest content with outer experimentation. The situation is really such that we have to say that the development of the human being includes a definite course of life that begins at the moment when in a lower region, as it were, from language, there emerge the words: “I am an ‘I.’” One learns to say “I” to oneself at a relatively early age in childhood, but the experience is dreamlike and continues in this dreamy way. The child then enters school. And it is now our task to change this experience. The child wishes, after all, to take a different direction. We must direct the child to artistic activities. When we have done this for a while, the child retraces his or her life and arrives again at the moment of learning to say “I” to himself or herself. The child then continues the process and later, through the event of puberty, again passes through this moment.
We prepare the children for this process by getting them at the age of nine and ten to the point that they can look at the world in wonder, astonishment, and admiration. If we make their sense of beauty more conscious, we prepare the children for the time at and after puberty in such a way that they learn to love correctly, that they develop love in the right way. Love is not limited to sex; sex is merely a special aspect of love. Love is something that extends to everything, is the innermost impetus for action. We ought to do what we love to do. Duty is to merge with love; we should like what we are duty-bound to do. And this love develops in the right way only if we go along with the child’s inner development. We must, therefore, pay attention to the correct cultivation of the sense of beauty throughout the elementary school years. The sense of truth the children have brought with them; the sense of beauty we have to develop in the way I have described.
That the children have brought the sense of truth with them can be seen in the fact that they have learned to speak before entering school. Language, as it were, incorporates truth and knowledge. We need language if we wish to learn about the world. This fact has led people like Mauthner to assume that everything is already contained in language. People like Mauthner — who wrote the book Critique of Language — actually believe that we harm human beings by taking them beyond the point at which they learn to speak. Mauthner wrote his Critique of Language because he did not believe in the world, because of his conviction that human beings should be left at a childlike stage, at the time when they learn to speak. Were this idea to become generally accepted, we would be left with a spiritual life that corresponds to that of children at the time when they have learned to speak. This manner of thinking tends toward producing such human beings who remain at the stage of children who have just learned to speak. Everything else is nowadays rejected as ignorance.
What now matters is that we can enter the concept of imitation with our feeling and then to understand the concept of authority as the basis, between us and the children, for the development of the sense for the beautiful. If we manage to do this up to the time of puberty, then as the children are growing into their inclinations toward ideals, the sense for the good is correctly developed. Before puberty it is through us that the children are motivated to do the good; through the reciprocal relationship we must affect the children in this way. It is necessary for the eleven-, twelve-, and thirteen-year-old girls and boys to have the teacher’s authority behind them, to feel their teacher’s pleasure and satisfaction when they are doing something that is good. And they should avoid bad actions because they feel their teacher would be disappointed. They should be aware of the teacher’s presence and in this way unite with him or her. Only at puberty should they emancipate themselves from the teacher.
If we consider the children to be already mature in first grade, if we encourage them to voice their opinions and judgments as soon as they have learned to speak — that is, if we base everything on direct perception [Anschauung] — we leave them at the stage of development at which they have just learned to speak, and we deny them any further development. If, in other words, we do not address ourselves to the very real changes at puberty — that the children then leave behind what they were used to doing through our authority — they will not be able later in life to do without it. Children must first experience authority. Then at puberty they must be able to grow beyond it and begin to make and depend on their own judgments.
At this time we really must establish such a connection to the students that each one of them may choose a “hero whose path to Mt. Olympus can be emulated.” This change is, of course, connected with some unhappiness and even pain. It is no longer up to the teacher to represent the ideal for the children. The teacher must recognize the change and act accordingly. Before puberty the teacher was able to tell the children what to do. Now the students become rather sensitive to their teachers in their judgments, perceive their weaknesses and shortcomings. We must consciously expose ourselves to this change, must be aware of the students’ criticism of their teachers’ unwarranted behavior. They become especially sensitive at this age to their teachers’ attitudes. If, however, our interest in the students is honest and not egotistical, we shall educate and teach with exactly these possibilities of their feelings in mind. And this will result in a free relationship between us and them.
The effect will be the students’ healthy growth into the true that was given to them by the spiritual world as a kind of inheritance, so that they can merge with, grow together with, the beautiful in the right way, so that they can learn the good in the world of the senses, the good they are to develop and bring to expression during their lives. It is really a sin to talk about the true, the beautiful, and the good in abstractions, without showing concretely their relation to the various ages.
Such a short reflection, my dear friends, can of course give us no more than a small segment of what the future holds for us. We can only gradually grow into the tasks we are given. But it really is true that we shall in a certain way grow into them as a matter of course, provided we let ourselves be guided in our work by the forces we can acquire if we see the physical, sense-perceptible world from the standpoint of soul and spirit and if, in observing the world, we do not forget the human being. These things we must do, especially as teachers to whom the young are entrusted.
We really must feel ourselves as a part of the whole universe, wherein the evolution of humankind is playing a major role. For this reason, I would always — at the beginning of the school year — like to see our feelings permeated, as it were, with a healthy sensing of our great task, so that we may in all humility feel ourselves as missionaries in human evolution. In this sense, I always wish such talks to contain also something of a prayer-like element by which we may raise ourselves to the spirit, so that we evoke it not merely intellectually but as a living reality. May we be conscious of the spirit spreading among us like a living cloud that is permeated by soul and spirit; may we feel that the living spirits themselves are called upon through the words we speak among ourselves at the beginning of a new school year, that these living spirits themselves are called forth when we beseech them: “Help us. Bring living spirituality among us. Insert it into our souls, our hearts, so that we may work in the right way.”
If you have the sensitivity to appreciate that our words at the beginning of the school year should also be a feeling experience, you will be open to the intention that is connected with our talks. So let me add for you this short meditative formula, to be spoken as follows:
We resolve to do our work by letting flow into it what from the spiritual world wishes to become human being in us, by way of the soul and spirit as well as of the corporealphysical organization.
[Wir wollen arbeiten, indem wir einfliessen lassen in unsere Arbeit dasjenige, was aus der geistigen Welt heraus auf seelisch-geistige Weise und auch auf leiblich-physische Weise in uns Mensch werden will.]