Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education
X. Children in the Tenth Year
1 January 1922, Stuttgart
Once children have completed the ninth year, an important moment then arrives in their development. To appreciate the significant change that takes place during the ninth and tenth years, we must keep in mind that the children’s inborn feeling for authority (which began with the change of teeth) was rather general and undifferentiated. Children accepted the dictates of authority as a matter of course and felt an inner need to conform without yet being concerned about the individual character of the adults. With the end of the ninth year, however, children want to feel inner justification for authority.
Do not misunderstand my meaning. Children would never reason inwardly about whether this or that authority is worthy. Yet something arises in the soul and seeks assurance that an adult’s authority will stand the test of quality — that it is properly based in life and that it carries a certain inner assurance. At this time of life, children have an acute awareness of these qualities, and this awareness manifests as a subtle, though objective, change in the soul’s condition. Any good educator must be able to notice such a change and act accordingly. Up until this time, children have been unable to discriminate fully between themselves and their surroundings; they experienced the world and the self as a unity.
When trying to describe such matters, we must occasionally become rather extreme, and I ask you to accept this with the right attitude. For example, when I say that, before the ninth year, children do not distinguish properly between humans, animals, plants, and rocks, and that everything around them seems alive in a general kind of way, it would be completely incorrect to dogmatically say that children could not appreciate the difference between a person and a lily. Yet, in a certain sense, this statement is correct. A true art of education can appreciate the meaning of such seemingly radical statements without turning them into dogmas. Everywhere, life itself shows us that there are no sharp, rigid contours, so popular among pedantic minds.
The end of the ninth year is also the end of a typical feature that is frequently misinterpreted by child psychologists. For example, when a child accidentally runs into a table, the response is to hit back. Psychologists explain this as “personifying” the table. According to child psychology, children endow an inanimate object with a living soul, which they want to punish. But this interpretation shows only a superficial understanding of children’s feelings. In truth, children do not personify tables at all but have not learned yet to discriminate between inanimate objects and living beings. Children respond to the situation this way because they cannot separate themselves yet from their environment.
Toward the end of the ninth year, a whole range of questions arise in children’s souls, and they all come from a new feeling of differentiation between self and the outer world, as well as from a feeling of separateness from their teacher as a person. This new way of confronting the world turns this age into a turning point in a child’s development. Until now, children were barely aware of whether a teacher was a clumsy sort person who might bump into desks and tables, or one who dropped pieces of chalk on the floor. It would not have occurred to children under nine to react to a situation, as, for example, a congregation once did during a church service. The preacher was in the habit of touching his nose every time he completed a sentence in his sermon, and this habit caused ripples of laughter in church. True, children would notice such an idiosyncrasy even before they completed the ninth year, but it would pass by without making a deeper impression. It would be wrong to think that children do not notice such things, but after the ninth year they become acutely aware of these things. One or two years later, by the tenth or eleventh year, children are far less attentive to such matters. But, at this particular age, such keen observations become wrapped up in an entire system of inner questions that burden their souls. Children may never voice these questions, but they are present nonetheless. Children wonder whether teachers are skillful in everything related to life, whether they know what they want, and, above all, whether they are firmly rooted in life. They are sensitive to the general background of a teacher’s personality. Consequently, teachers who are skeptics will make a totally different impression than those who are genuine believers, no matter what they say.
These are the kinds of things that concern children between the ninth and tenth years. Many individual features of adults play an important role. A strict Protestant teacher will arouse an entirely different impression in children than would a Catholic teacher, simply because of differences in their souls. Other factors also need to be considered, such as the fact that this turning point manifests at varying ages according to race and nationality, earlier in one and later in another. In each case this change may appear earlier or later, so that any generalizations might be misleading. All we can say is that it is up to the teacher to perceive this subtle change in the child’s soul. As in so many other aspects of education, much depends on a teacher’s keen and objective observation of all the students in a class.
This aspect is of special importance to us in the Waldorf school. In our regular teachers’ meetings, we discuss each student and try to learn as much as we can through each child’s individuality. Naturally, if our numbers continue to grow, we may have to make other arrangements. But it is certainly possible to learn a great deal in these meetings, especially if we endeavor to study the more hidden aspects of the growing human being. And here we can make rather surprising discoveries. For example, for awhile I made careful observations in our coeducational school regarding the effects of whether boys or girls were in the majority in the various classes, or whether their numbers were more or less balanced. Leaving aside more obvious features of the general class life of the students — features that could be explained rationally — I found that classes where the girls were in the majority had a completely different quality than those where there were more boys. Here, imponderables are very much at work in the social sphere. However, it would be very wrong to draw a convenient conclusion and suggest doing away with coeducation. Such a retrograde step would merely increase the problems. The only answer is to learn how to deal with the problems posed by the majority or minority of boys or girls in various classes.
The way in which teachers are able to observe each student as well as the class as a whole is always very important, and it raises deeply philosophical questions. For example, in the Waldorf school, we have observed that teachers made the best progress when they were able to relate in the right way to the lessons they were giving, and also that, with time, their way of teaching had to change. Here again, subconscious elements play a dominant part.
From all that has been said so far, you can see that children at this crucial point will approach teachers with all kinds of inner questions. Neither the substance of those questions nor the answers given are as important as a certain inner awareness that gradually dawns upon a child’s soul. This awareness springs from an indefinable element that, at this particular time, must develop between the teacher, as a guide, and the student. The student feels, “Until now I have always looked up to my teacher, but now I can’t do this unless I know that my teacher looks up to something even higher, something safely rooted in life.” Especially inquisitive children will even pursue their teachers beyond school time, noticing what they do outside school. Everything depends on teachers recognizing the significance of this stage and realizing that a child’s tender approach now longs for renewed confidence and trust. And the way a teacher responds to this situation may be a decisive factor for a child’s entire life. Whether children develop unstable characters or become strongly integrated into life may depend on whether teachers act with inner certainty and understanding during this crucial time.
If we realize the importance of a teacher’s conduct and response during the child’s ninth to tenth year, we may wonder in what ways human beings are dependent on their environment. However, we cannot answer this important question unless we include other fundamental factors in our deliberations, ones deeply linked with destiny, or karma — matters that will occupy us more toward the end of this conference. Nevertheless, what has been said here is absolutely relevant and true for any serious discussion on education. What matters is that, at this moment in life, children can find someone (whether one person or several people) whose picture they can carry with them through life.
Only a few people can observe a certain phenomenon of life that I would like to describe to you. During certain periods in a person’s life, the effects of childhood experiences surface again and again, and the images that arise from this particular turning point are of great importance. It is tremendously important whether they emerge only dimly in later life; whether they appear in dreams or in the waking state; or whether they are viewed with feelings of sympathy or antipathy. All this is important, not sympathy or antipathy in itself, but the fact that something passed through child’s soul that in one case evoked sympathy and in another case antipathy. I am not implying that these reminiscences of this turning point during the ninth to tenth year are experienced in clear consciousness. In some cases they remain almost completely hidden within the subconscious, but they are nevertheless bound to occur. People who have vivid dreams may regularly see a certain scene or even a person or guide who helped in childhood by admonishing, reassuring, and awaking a personal relationship. This is the kind of soul experience that everyone needs to have had between the ninth and the tenth year. It is all part of the objective change taking place in children, who were previously unable to distinguish themselves from their surroundings, and now feel the need to find their own identities, becoming separate individuals who can confront the outer world.
From what has been said, it follows that the material we teach children at this age must be adapted to this particular period in their development. In our time, especially, it will become increasingly necessary to deal with all educational matters through real insight into the human being. Just think for a moment of how many children, after their change of teeth, have the possibility of seeing all kinds of machines at work, such as railroad engines, metro trains, and so on. Here I can speak from personal experience, because as a young child I grew up in a small railroad station where, every day, I could watch countless trains pass by. And I have to say quite definitely that the worst thing for a child before the end of the ninth year is to gain mechanical understanding of a locomotive, a metro transport, or any other mechanical contrivance.
You will understand how such matters can affect the entire constitution right down to the physical body if you observe related phenomena. For example, just think of what it means to the life experience of several generations when a whole nation adopts a new language. Why, for instance, do the Bulgarians appear Slavic? Their racial origin is not Slavic at all, for racially they belong to the family of the Finns, or Huns. According to their race, they belong to the Mongol and Tartar stream. But early in their history they adopted a Slavic idiom, and because of this they gradually became a Slavic nation. All that they have taken in with their new language and culture penetrated their entire inner being. I have met people who considered the Bulgarians to be among the purest of all Slavic elements, which from the anthropological perspective they are definitely not. Too often we fail to realize the potent effects of soul and spiritual influences on children’s whole constitution, working right into the physical organization.
So I must make a rather radical comment. After the change of teeth, when children experience conceptual thinking, it is as if spikes were being driven through their whole being, especially when such concepts come from the inorganic, lifeless realm. Anything taken from the soulless realm will in itself estrange a child. Consequently, those whose task is to teach children of this age need an artistic ability that will imbue everything they bring with life; everything must be alive. Teachers must let plants speak, and they must let animals act as moral beings. Teachers must be able to turn the whole world into fairy tales, fables, and legends.
In this context, something else of great significance also must be considered. What would lazy teachers do when faced with such an educational challenge? They would most likely go to a library and look for books of legends, animal stories, and other similar subjects, then they would read through them for use in the classroom. Of course, sometimes you have to make do with inferior arrangements, but this method is far from ideal. Ideally, teachers would prepare themselves so well for this task — which does require thorough preparation — that a conversation between plants, or a fairy tale about a lily and a rose, comes to children as the teacher’s own creation. And ideally, a conversation between the sun and moon should be a product of the teacher’s unique imagination. Why should it work this way? Let me answer with an image. If you tell students what you found in books — no matter how lively you may be — if you tell them what you have read and perhaps even memorized, you will talk to them like a dry and desiccated person, as though you did not have a living skin but were covered with parchment, for there are always death-like traces in one’s own being of what was thus learned from the past. If, on the other hand, you are creative in your work as a teacher, your material will radiate with growing forces, it will be fresh and alive, and this is what feeds the souls of children.
If as teachers you want to reach children at this age, there has to be a creative urge to clothe the world of plants and animals and the sun and moon with living stories. Once you have engrossed yourself in such imaginative work (which demands a great deal of inner effort), you will hurry to school with steps betraying your eagerness to share this offering with your class, and the effects of such an endeavor will be wholesome for all the children. Such teachers know very well that their story will remain incomplete until they have seen the radiant faces of those young listeners.
Until the end of the ninth year, everything children learn about plants, animals, and stones, about the sun, moon, and stars, or about clouds, mountains, and rivers should be clothed in pictures, because children will feel at one with the world. In those young days, a child and the world are one whole.
With the arrival of the great change a new situation arises. Children now begin to experience themselves as self-contained. They learn to distinguish themselves from the environment, which offers the possibility — indeed, the necessity — of introducing them to the world in new terms. Now teaching should emphasize the fundamental difference between the plant world and that of the animals, because children need to be introduced to each of these two natural kingdoms in its own way. It is certainly possible to introduce children, during their tenth to twelfth years, to the plant and animal kingdoms, but these two subjects must be approached from different points of view.
Introducing students at this age to a plant by showing them a specimen pulled from the earth, as if it were complete in itself, is terrible thing to do. Right from the beginning, there should be a feeling that a single plant torn from the earth does not represent reality, like a human hair pulled from the body, which could never exist on its own. Likewise, once a plant has been pulled from the earth, it cannot exist independently. A plant belongs to the surface of the earth, just as a human hair belongs to the head. Plant and earth belong together. We will see in a moment that something else is needed here, but to begin with, we awaken children to a feeling of how plant and earth belong together. We let them experience how a plant is more earth-like in its root; a root adapts itself to the varying nature of the soil. Such an observation, however, must never be abstract, nor should it be taught simply as a fact, but students should gradually develop a feeling for how roots, for example, are different in dry or wet soil, or how they grow when close to towering rocks or near the sea. First of all, children must learn to see the plant as part the earth’s soul, and see all sprouting vegetation as arising from the soil.
Then we have to develop a feeling in children for the contrast between the earth-like root and the blossom and fruit, which are closely related to the sun. When talking about blossoms and fruit, we should lead children from the earth to the sun sphere. Students should get a feeling for how the blossom unfolds in the warmth and light of the sun’s rays, and how, in blossom and fruit, the plant is emancipated from the fetters of the earth. Earth, plant growth, and the sun’s influence all have to be seen as being part of a complete whole. I would even say that a child’s idea of the plant should be so steeped in feeling that, if we were to talk about it without speaking of both the earth as a whole and the sun, the child would experience an inner twinge of pain, like seeing the plant being torn from its earthly home.
Here again we must not see the subject we teach merely in the abstract but consider its social implications. Just think of what it means for the development of our civilization that a large portion of our population now lives in urban environments. This has the effect (and people who have left the country to live in towns will confirm this) that generations of city children have grown up who are unable to distinguish wheat from rye. Although this may sound like an exaggeration, in my opinion a person who has not learned to distinguish rye from wheat cannot be considered a full human being. I would even go as far as to say that a city dweller who knows the difference between these grains only through handling them still does not attain the ideal. Only one who has stood on the soil where rye and wheat were growing and learned to recognize them there has the right inner connection with those plants.
Now we can easily make a transition to geography if we present a picture of how plants grow from the earth, as from a living organism, and how plants adapt to various kinds of soil, different climates, and other influences. Other aspects of this subject will fit into the picture quite naturally. And yet, when talking about the earth, what kind of picture is usually presented today? Often, the earth’s green mantle, the realm of plants, is completely left out. People talk as though the earth were simply a globe moving through space and controlled by the laws of gravity, which explain the way heavenly bodies affect one another. It is as if this mathematical and mechanical aspect were all that mattered. But who has the right to isolate mathematical and mechanical laws of gravity from what belongs to the earth so intimately, the growing plants? When speaking of the earth as a sphere moving through the universe, one should give at least equal attention to what the earth contributes to the root of the plant and to the mathematical and mechanical relationships of gravity and so on.
As teachers we should avoid collecting specimens to show to our students in class. It would be far better to take the children out into nature, so that out there in the real, living places of earth, sun, and weather they can get an understanding of plant life. This would also give us an opportunity to show them something else important: what a potato really is. The potato is not part of the root, as it may seem; in reality, it is a bulbous stem. The dry soil, in which the potato plant grows, draws what is really part of the green leaves and stems back into the earth. Looking at these green parts of a plant, one should be able to recognize how much the plant’s growth is governed by the forces of the earth, and how much the soil makes its impulse felt in the plant. One should be able to experience how potato stalks demean themselves by creeping under the dry ground. Again one should have an eye for the way a moist meadow and the angle of the autumn sunlight create the lilac-colored cups of colchicum autumnale, the autumn crocus. It is important to let every lesson be filled with life. And, just as we relate the plant world to the earth’s surface, similarly, when introducing zoology, we should link animals to the human being.
When introducing ideas about the plant world as I described, teachers will notice all sorts of questions coming out of class conversations about the whys and wherefores of the world. It is really much healthier if such questions of causality come up while studying plants than if they are stimulated by mechanical concepts or the study of inorganic minerals. We should allow a feeling for causality to develop while studying plants, and similarly we should introduce the study of animals by comparing them with the human being, an analogy that remains valid throughout life. To facilitate a clear understanding of the principles behind the introduction to zoology, I would like to pass certain ideas on to you, ideas that are too often ignored today. However, these ideas are specifically addressed to adults and would have to be adapted for use with students at the ages of ten to twelve.
If we look at the human being in a morphological and physiological way, we see that externally the head appears more or less spherical. Within the head is the brain’s grey matter, which is only slightly differentiated from cellular ganglia, and more deeply within this is the fibrous white matter. Now, can we find an analogy to this formation of the human head in the animal world? And if so, where? We must look among the lowest of the animal kingdom. The human head is, of course, a highly complex organ, but its most characteristic feature is this soft mass enclosed within a hard outer shell, and this basic feature can be found in a much more primitive state among the lower animals. Anyone willing to look at nature without preconceptions will recognize in crustaceans the principle of the human head in its most primitive form, and consequently one can relate the human head to a shellfish. From this point of view, the human head resembles an oyster far more than it does an ape. If you look at any of the soft-fleshed animals encased within a hard shell, you see the human head in its simplest form.
Now, if we observe the human chest system, the part of our body that is influenced primarily by the spine, we are led to higher animals, for example fish. And what is the makeup of a fish? In a fish, the head is little more than a continuation of the spine, despite the fact that its head is more differentiated. The fish is essentially a “spine creature.” If we look the organization of the fish as a creature at the center of the animal kingdom, we would compare it with the human lymph system, the system at the center of the human being. If we look at still higher animals, the mammals, we must compare the high degree of development in them to the human metabolic-limb system. The whole being of a lion or camel, for example, is dominated by a specially developed organization of limbs and metabolism.
Looking at the animal kingdom from this point of view, a remarkable relationship emerges between the three animal groups and the human makeup:
This also gives us real insight into the evolution of human beings and animals. Human development began with what finally emerged as the head, and this happened during very ancient times when the outer conditions of earth were entirely different from what they are today. There was still plenty of time and opportunity during those early stages of the head — which was oyster-like and depended on impulses from the environment — to develop into what it has become. Like a parasite, the head sits on top of the rest of the organism and draws, like an oyster, from its environment.
During the course of evolution, human beings replaced the external earthly surroundings by developing the head as part of the human organism. We can follow this development by looking at human embryology and see, with regard to the head, that humankind has undergone a long evolution. The head began during an era still represented by mollusks. Today’s mollusks, however, are late arrivals in evolution. Because they have to develop under less favorable outer conditions today, they cannot achieve the density of the human head but remain a softbodied animal surrounded by a hard shell. In today’s completely different external conditions, they still represent early stages of the human head organization.
The constitution of fish, on the other hand, occurred during a later period of earthly evolution than that of the human being, and even then it met different outer conditions. At that time, human beings had already reached a stage where they could draw impulses from their own rhythmic system that a fish still had to draw from its surroundings. The makeup of the intermediate animal group was added to that of the evolving human being, who by that time had reached a certain stage of development. And finally, the higher animals began to appear on the earth when human beings began to develop the limb and metabolic system as it appears today — when the human metabolism had become differentiated, leaving only a residue in the head and chest organizations.
This perspective will enable you to understand that the current theory of human descent is correct. But it is correct only with regard to the head, since the head stems from forebears who had a remote resemblance to the lowest animals of today. Yet, these forebears were again quite different from our presentday crustaceans, because these creatures exist within such a different environment.
The makeup of the central system in human beings descended from forebears that were definitely on the way toward becoming human and, regarding their physical organization, resembled the fish. However, the fish species itself arrived too late and, consequently, lacked the time it needed to develop the head fully, especially since fish were limited to the watery element.
Thus we obtain a theory of human descent that accords with reality. On the other hand, if we do not consider the human threefold organization, we can gain only a onesided theory that, however ingenious it may be, does not stand up to a thorough investigation. So we can say that, in the ascending order of today’s animal species, we see a onesided development of one system of the human organization. The shellfish is a onesided “head animal,” the fishes are onesided “chest animals,” and the higher mammals are specialized through their development of the metabolic and limb system. We can understand every animal form by looking at each major animal group as having specialized, onesidedly, in one of the three main systems of human physiology.
Around 1900, there were still those who had a natural feeling for such ideas. But because there was insufficient knowledge to work with them thoroughly and realistically, only the underlying feelings were correct. Oken, a German natural philosopher now held much in contempt, was nevertheless an ingenious person. He once made a statement that seems grotesque — of course, it is easy to ridicule this today, but in a certain sense it was said from the right feeling. He said that the human tongue is an octopus. Well, a human tongue is certainly not an octopus, but it is easy enough to conclude such a thing. Behind Oken’s statement there was a general feeling that we must look at the lower animals if we want to understand the forms of various organs in the human head.
What I told you is for your own information, but it is possible to present such ideas so that children can understand them as well, because they are receptive to a morphological approach to the human being. One can study the various human forms and then find the appropriate analogy to forms in the animal world. In this way it is certainly possible to awaken children to a feeling that the entire animal kingdom could be described as a human being spread out into all the manifold animal forms, or that the human being is a synthesis of the whole animal kingdom.
In this way, teachers link the animal world to the human being, just as the plant world was related to the earth. By introducing each of these two subjects according to its own character, we awaken a healthy feeling for the world in children after the age of nine, when they have learned to distinguish between the inner and outer worlds. The goal is not for students to accumulate a great deal of knowledge, but to prepare the ground so they can acquire the right feeling for the world.
Just think of the things that are done in the name of education, regarding both students and the training of teachers. Awful things are happening in teacher education, wherein candidates are often expected to carry an unnecessary burden of factual knowledge in their heads just to pass examinations. In most instances, exam questions demand the kind of knowledge that one could simply look up in an encyclopedia. Memorized facts have little real value. What really matters is that examiners become convinced of the candidate’s ability to teach out of a true knowledge of the human being.
Memory and our attitude about its development in children is another point of great importance. We must not forget that, until the change of teeth, memory, or the ability to remember, is linked directly to children’s organic development. What a child of that age remembers so easily is brought about by forces also at work in the child’s process of nutrition and growth. Up to the change of teeth, soul-spiritual and physical forces in children are a simple unity. Therefore we would make a great mistake by trying to artificially strengthen the child’s memory before the change of teeth.
We must be clear that, before this change, children are also imitators in the way they develop memory. This means that, if we act properly in their presence, children will develop memory according to their predisposition toward physical growth and nutrition. Physical care (which we will speak about later on) and hygiene are the best means for cultivating memory forces in children.
One of the characteristic traits of our materialistic age is that people try to interfere with the natural development of young children by using artificial educational means. By appealing to their soul and spiritual element, people want to train children’s memory even before the seventh year. Some want to go even further, which just shows how out of touch a materialistic attitude can become. There are mothers (and I speak from personal experience) who ask how they can teach their children, before the change of teeth, in a way that is suitable only at a later age. Then they go even further by asking how to educate a child before birth. They ask how the embryo should be educated. All one can say is, let a mother look after herself and her conduct. If her life is healthy and she treats herself properly, the child will develop in a healthy way. The baby’s growth will have to be left to the creator. This may be an extreme way of putting it, but it is justifiable in view of the questions about sophisticated educational principles that really belong to educating children at an older age.
On the other hand, we must be clear that, with the change of teeth, the soul and spiritual part of children is freed from the physical to the degree that this is the right time to plan educational methods that will help their faculty of remembering. For this faculty, too, is freed at this stage. When children reach school age, it is right to do something about strengthening their memory, but this needs to be done according to a definite plan. If we burden their memory — that is, if we try to strengthen children by overloading them — their faculty of memory will only be weakened. Such misdirected efforts encourage a certain deep-seated rigidity in later life and a tendency toward prejudice that will be difficult to overcome. If, on the other hand, memory development is completely disregarded, children will be deprived of certain means of developing physical strength. If, when a child reaches school age, nothing is done to train the memory, the consequences will be a tendency toward inflammatory conditions in adolescence. Such a person often suffers from inflammations and is more likely to catch colds.
Causal links of this type again show how we have to consider both the physical and the soul-spiritual aspects together. Therefore, memory development demands a certain tact from teachers, who must avoid doing too much or too little. It would be just as wrong to drill children’s memory excessively as it would be to overlook the matter of memory altogether. We should neither damage children’s living interest by enforcing mechanical memorizing, nor neglect building memory altogether.
Let us look at ways of putting these ideas into practice. We can introduce children to the four rules of arithmetic as described in the previous lecture. We can give them some understanding of number relationships according to whether we subtract, divide, add, or multiply, as shown yesterday. But there is always an opportunity of letting students memorize multiplication tables, as long as these are related in the right way to the four rules. This also helps them deal with more complicated number relationships that will be introduced later.
In this sense, it is easy to err by introducing so-called object lessons. The calculator [abacus] has been introduced. I do not wish to be a fanatic, and the calculator may have its usefulness; from certain points of view, everything in life is justifiable. But much of what might be gained from the use of invented calculating machines can be achieved equally well by using the ten fingers or, for example, by using the number of students in the class. Do not misunderstand if I say that, when I see calculators in classrooms, from a spiritual point of view it strikes me as if I were in a medieval torture chamber. It really is not right to delegate learning processes to mechanical devices, simply to bypass seemingly mechanical memorization. Here we are facing an especially difficult task in the Waldorf school. I have told you that we aim to achieve soul economy in our teaching, and consequently we believe it would be beneficial for students if we restrict learning to the classrooms. This means that we give students as little homework as possible. This principle is prompted by yet another motive.
Certainly we should aim at developing in children a feeling of duty and responsibility, and later on we shall speak about how to bring this about. But it is very damaging to make certain demands on students that they do not then fulfill. And homework — as with any learning done at home — is very conducive to this effect. Parents often complain to us that their children are not given enough homework. But we have to consider the fact — and this is absolutely clear to anyone with sufficient insight — that too much homework causes some students to be overtaxed, while others are tempted to produce slipshod work or simply evade it altogether. Sometimes it is simply beyond their abilities to fulfill a teacher’s demands. But the worst thing is when children do not do what the teacher has told them to do. Therefore, it would be better to ask less than to risk letting them get away with not fulfilling their assignments. All expectations and demands regarding memory training as well as those involving homework need to be dealt with very tactfully by teachers. The development of the student’s memory depends especially on the sensitive perception of teachers, and the right relationship between them and their classes develops largely as a result of this quality.
Tomorrow we shall go into more details about the right attitude toward memory training.
DiscussionRudolf Steiner: Because so many questions have been handed in, perhaps it would be best to begin by trying to answer some of them. If there are other matters you wish to discuss, we could meet at another time during this conference.
It is certainly possible to believe that spreading a main lesson subject over a longer period of time could have drawbacks. Neither can one deny that it is difficult to engage the attention of children on the same subject for a longer time. Other opinions, representing official contemporary educational theory, also seem to speak against such an extension of a subject into block periods. Nevertheless, it was decided to introduce this method in the Waldorf school. The point is that the results of recent psychological experiments (the main reason for disapproval of our methods) do not represent the true nature of the human being. These methods do not penetrate the deeper layers of the human being.
Why are psychological experiments done at all? I do not object to them, inasmuch as they are justified within the proper sphere. Within certain limits, I am quite willing to recognize their justification. Nevertheless the question remains: Why perform experiments on the human psyche today?
We experiment with the human soul because, during the course of human evolution, we have reached a point where we are no longer able to build a bridge, spontaneously and naturally, from one soul to another. We no longer have a natural feeling for the various needs of children, of how or when they feel fatigued and so on. This is why we try to acquire externally the kind of knowledge that human beings once possessed in full presence of mind, one soul linked to the other. We ask, How do children feel fatigued after being occupied with one or another subject for a certain length of time? We compile statistics and so on. As I said, in a way we have invented these procedures just to discover in a roundabout way what we can no longer recognize directly in a human being.
But for those who wish to establish a close rapport between the soul of a teacher and that of a child, there is something far more important than asking whether we claim too much of our students’ powers of concentration by teaching the same subject for a longer period of time. If I understand the question correctly, it implies that, if we were to introduce more variety into the lesson by changing the subject more frequently, we would gain something of value. Well, something would be gained, all right; one cannot deny that. But these things affect students’ whole lives, and they should not be calculated mathematically. One ought to be able to decide intuitively. Do we gain something valuable when seen against the whole life development of an individual? Or is something lost in the long run?
It is an entirely different matter whether we teach the same subject for two hours (as in a main lesson) or teach one subject for an hour and then another for the second hour—or even change subjects after shorter periods of time. Although students will tire to a certain extent (for which teachers must make allowances), it is better for their overall development to proceed in this concentrated way than to artificially limit the lesson time just to fill the students’ souls with new and different material in another lesson.
What we consider most important in the Waldorf school is that teachers use their available lesson time in the most economical way—that they apply soul economy in relation to their students’ potential. If we build lessons along major lines of content that students can follow without becoming tired, or at least without feeling overcome by tiredness, and if we can work against any oncoming tiredness by introducing variations of the main theme, we can accomplish more than if we followed other methods for the sake of advantages they may bring.
In theory it is always possible to argue for or against such things, but it is not a question of preference. The only thing that matters is finding what is best for the overall development of children, as seen from a long-term viewpoint.
There is one further point to be considered. It is quite correct to say that children will tire if made to listen to the same subject too long. But nowadays there is so little insight into what is healthy or unhealthy for children that people see fatigue as negative and something to be corrected. In itself, becoming tired is just as healthy as feeling refreshed. Life has its rhythms. It is not a question of holding the students’ attention for half an hour and then giving them a five-minute break to recover from the strain (which would not balance their fatigue in any case) before cramming something else into their heads. It is an illusion to think that this would solve the problem. In fact, one has not tackled it at all, but simply poured something different into their souls instead of allowing the consequences of the organic causes of fatigue to fade. In other words, we have to probe into the deeper layers of the human soul to realize that it has great value for the overall development of children when they concentrate for a longer period on the same subject.
As I said, one can easily reach the opinion that more frequent changes of subjects offer an advantage, but one must also realize that a perfect solution will never be found in life as it is. The real issue is, relatively speaking, finding the best solution to a problem. Then one finds that short lessons of different subjects do not offer the possibility of giving children content which will unite deeply enough with their spiritual, soul, and physical organizations.
Perhaps I should add this; if a school, based on the principles I have been describing, were ever condemned to put up with boring teachers, we would be forced to cut the length of the lesson time. I have to admit that, if teachers were to give boring and monotonous lessons, it would be better to reduce the length of each lesson. But if teachers are able to stimulate their students’ interest, a longer main lesson is definitely better. For me, it is essential not to become fixed or fanatical in any way but always consider the circumstances. Certainly, if we expect interesting lessons at school, we must not engage boring teachers on the staff.
There may be good reasons for seeing eurythmy as a derivation of another art form rather than as a new form of art. But whenever one deals with an artistic medium or with the artistic side of life, it is not the what that matters, but the how. To me, there is no real meaning in the statement that sculpture, music, speech, rhythm, and so on are merely a means of expression, whereas the underlying ideas are the real substance. There seems to be little point in making such abstract distinctions in life. Naturally, if one is interested in finding unifying ideas in the abstract, one can also find different media through which they are expressed. But in real life, these media do represent something new and different. For example, according to Goethe’s theory of plant metamorphosis, a colored flower petal is, in the abstract, essentially the same as a green plant leaf. Goethe sees a metamorphosed green leaf in a flower petal. And yet, from a practical point of view, a petal is altogether different from a leaf.
Whether eurythmy is a new form of expression or a new version of another art form is not the point at all. What matters is that, during the course of human evolution, speech and singing (though singing is less noticeable) have increasingly become a means of expressing what comes through the human head. Again, this is putting it rather radically, but from a certain point of view it represents the facts. Today, human language and speech no longer express the whole human being. Speech has become thought directed. In modern cultures, it has become closely connected with thinking, and through this development, speech reveals what springs from egoism.
Eurythmy, however, goes back again to human will, so it engages the whole human being. Through eurythmy, human beings are shown within the entire macrocosm. For example, during certain primeval times, gesture and mime always accompanied speech, especially during artistic activities, so that word and gesture formed a single expression and became inseparable. But today, word and gesture have drifted far apart. So one senses the need to engage the whole human being again by including more of the volition and, thus, reconnecting humankind to the macrocosm.
There seems to be way too much theorizing these days, whereas it is so important to consider the practical aspects of life—especially now. Those who observe life from this point of view, without preconceived ideas, know that for every “yes” there is a “no” and that anything can be proved both right and wrong. Yet the real value does not lie in proving something right or wrong or in finding definitions and making distinctions; it is a matter of discovering ways to new impulses and new life in the world. You may have your own thoughts about all this, but spiritual scientific insight reveals the development of humankind, and today it is leaning toward overcoming the intellectuality of mere definitions, being drawn instead toward the human soul realm and creative activity.
And so, it does not really matter whether we see eurythmy as a version of another art form or as a new art. A little anecdote may illustrate this. When I studied at Vienna University, some of the professors there had been given a much coveted title of distinction; they were called “Privy Councillors” (Hofrat). In Germany I found that such professors received the title of “Confidential Councillors” (Geheimrat). In certain quarters, the distinction between these two titles seemed important. But to me, it was the person behind the title that mattered, not the title itself. This seems similar to the situation in which people engage in philosophical arguments (forgive me, for I really don’t wish to offend anyone) to determine the difference between an art form that has been transferred to a different medium or, for want of a better word, one referred to as a new dimension in the world of art.
I am not quite clear what this question means, but it seems to express a somewhat evangelical attitude. At best, discipline, as I have already said, can become a natural byproduct of ordinary classroom life. I have also told you how, during the last two years of the Waldorf school, discipline has improved remarkably, and I have given examples to substantiate this. With regard to this “sense of sin,” it seems that one’s moral attitude led to a belief in awakening this feeling in children for their own benefit. But let’s please look at this point without any religious bias. An awakening of an awareness of sin would pour something into the soul of children that would remain there in the form of a kind of insecurity throughout life. Putting this in psychoanalytical terminology, one could say that such a method could create a kind of vacuum, an inner emptiness, within the souls of children, which, in later life, could degenerate into a weakness rather than a more active and energetic response to life in general. If I have understood the question rightly, this is all I can say in answer to it.
In my opinion this question has already been answered by what I said during the first part of my lecture this morning. In general, we cannot say that at this particular age boys have to go through yet another crisis, apart from the one described this morning. There would be too many different grades of development if we were to speak of an emerging turbulence that affects all boys at this age. Perhaps some people are under delusions about this. If the inner change I spoke of this morning is not guided correctly by the teachers and educators, children (and not just boys) can become very turbulent. They become restless and inwardly uncooperative, so that it becomes very difficult to cope with them.
Events at this age can vary a great deal according to the temperament of the adolescent, a factor that needs to be taken into account. If this were done, one would not make generalizations of the sort that appears here in the first sentence. It would be more accurate to say that, unless children are guided in their development—unless teachers know how to handle this noticeable change around the ninth and tenth years—they become uncooperative, unstable, and so on. Only then does the situation arise that was mentioned in the question. It is essential for teachers and educators to fully consider this turning point in the children’s development.
What has been written here is perfectly correct and I believe that one needs to simply say “yes.” Of course, we need a certain amount of tact when talking about the human being with students between ten and twelve. If teachers are aware of how much they can tell students about the nature of the human being, then I certainly agree that we have to enter the individual life of the person concerned.
With regard to this question I would like to say that we must count on the possibility of a continually increasing interest in new methods for understanding the secrets of human nature, because spiritual research into the human being is more penetrating than the efforts of natural science. Of course, the possibilities of this study will not be available in every field, but where they do exist, they should be used. It is beneficial not only for teachers and educators, but also for, say, doctors, to learn to observe the human being beyond what outer appearances tell us. I think that, without causing any misunderstandings, we can safely say that only prejudice stands in the way of such methods, and that their development is to be desired. It really is true that much more could be achieved in this way if old, intellectual preconceptions did not bar the way to higher knowledge. My book How to Know Higher Worlds describes just the initial stages of such paths.
In the Waldorf school, mathematics definitely belongs to the main lesson subjects, and as such it plays its role according to the students’ various ages and stages. In no way is this subject relegated to classes outside the main lesson. This question is based on a misunderstanding.
Because of the impending departure of various conference members, there is a wish that the practical application of Waldorf principles be discussed first. Thus, it is surely appropriate for me to speak of the Waldorf school. Nevertheless, I want to broaden this subject, because I believe we need a great deal of strength and genuine enthusiasm in the face of present world conditions before our educational goals can be put into practice. It seems to me that, until we recognize the need to move toward the educational impulses described here, it will be impossible to achieve any sort of breakthrough in education. I am convinced that if you are willing to observe the recent development of humankind with an open mind, you must realize that we are living in the middle of a cultural decline and that any objection to such an assessment is based on illusions. Of course it’s very unpleasant and seems pessimistic, though in fact it is meant to be optimistic to speak as I do now. But there are many indications of a declining culture in evidence today, and the situation is really very clear. And the whole question of education arises properly in hearts and souls only when this is fully recognized. In view of this, I see the establishment of the Waldorf school as only the first example of a practical application of the education we have been talking about.
How did the Waldorf school come about? It owes its existence— this much can surely be said—to the realization of educational principles based on true knowledge of the human being. But what made it happen? The Waldorf school is an indirect result of the total collapse of society all over Central Europe in 1919. This general collapse embraced every area of society—the economic, sociopolitical, and spiritual life of all people. Perhaps we could also call it a collapse of economic and political life and a complete bankruptcy of spiritual life. In 1919 the stark realities of the situation made the entire public very much aware of this. Roughly halfway through 1919, there was a general and complete awareness of it.
Today there is much talk, even in Central Europe, about how humankind will recover, how it will eventually pull itself out of the trough again, and so on. But such talk is a figment of an all too comfortable way of thinking, and in reality such thoughts are only empty phrases. The fact is that this decline will certainly accelerate. Today, the situation in Central Europe is not unlike those who have known better days, when they bought plenty of good clothes. They still have those clothes and wear them down to their last threads. The fact that they cannot buy new clothes is certainly clear. And, although they realize they cannot replenish their stock, they nevertheless live under the illusion that all is well and that they will be adequately provided for. Similarly, the world at large fails to realize that it is no longer possible to obtain “new clothes” from its cultural past.
During the first half of 1919, the people of Germany were ready for a serious reassessment of the general situation. At that time, however, a Waldorf school had not yet begun, but it was the time when I gave lectures on social and educational issues, which addressed what I have been describing during this conference (though only in rough outline). Some people saw sense in what was said, and this led to founding the Waldorf school.
I emphasize this point, because the prerequisite for a renewal of education is an inner readiness and openness to assess the real situation, which will itself clearly indicate what needs to be done. At the founding of the Waldorf school, I remarked how good it is that this school will serve as a model, but this in itself it is not enough. As the only school of its kind, it cannot solve today’s educational problems. At least a dozen Waldorf schools must be started during the next three months if we are to take the first steps toward a solution in education. However, since this has not happened, we can hardly see our achievement in Stuttgart as success. We have only a model, and even this does not yet represent what we wish to see. For example, apart from our eurythmy room, which we finally managed to obtain, we badly need a gymnasium. We still do not have one, and thus anyone who visits the Waldorf school must not see its current state as the realization of our goals. Beyond all the other problems, the school has always been short of money. Financially it stands on extremely weak and shaky legs.
You see, hiding one’s head in the sand goes nowhere in such serious matters. Therefore, I must ask you to permit me to speak freely and frankly. Often, when I speak of these things, as well as my views on money, I am told, “In England we would have to go about this in a very different way; otherwise, we would merely put people off.” Now, in my opinion, two things must be done. First, the principles of this education—based as they are on a true picture of the human being—should be made widely known, and the underlying ideas need to be thoroughly taken in and understood. Everything possible should be done in this direction.
If we were to leave it at that, however, there would be little progress. Unless we make up our minds to overcome certain objections, we will never move forward at all. For instance, people say, “In England, people must see practical results.” This is precisely what the civilized world has been saying for the past five or six hundred years. Only what people see with their own eyes has been considered truly valuable, and this drags us down. And if we insist on this stance, we will never pull ourselves out of this chaos.
We are not talking about small, insignificant matters. It is absolutely necessary that we grasp our courage and give a new impulse. Well-meaning people often think that I cannot appreciate what they are saying when they state, “In England, we would have to do things very differently.” I understand this only too well, but this does not get to the root of the issue at all. If the catastrophic conditions of 1919 had not hit the people of Central Europe so hard—though this ill fortune was really a stroke of good luck in terms of beginning the Waldorf school—if that terrible situation had not opened people’s eyes, there would be no Waldorf school in Central Europe, even today. In Central Europe, and especially in Germany, there is every need for a new impulse, because there is an innate lack of any ability to organize and so little sense of structured social organization. When people outside Central Europe speak so highly of German organization, it does not reflect the facts. There is no assertive talent for organization in Germany. Above all, there is no articulated social organization; rather, real culture is carried by individuals, not by the general public. Look, for example, at German universities. They do not represent the real character of the German people at all. They are very abstract structures, and do not at all express what is truly German. The real German spirit lives only in individuals. Of course, this is only a hint, but it shows what would probably happen if we appealed to the national mood in Germany; one meets a void and a lack of understanding for what we have been speaking of here. In other words, the Waldorf school owes its existence to an “unlucky stroke of luck.”
Now, with regard to the second point, the most important thing, besides the need to build further on what was spoken of here, is that something like a Waldorf school should be established also in countries where the populations have not been jolted into action by abysmal, cataclysmic conditions, such as Germany experienced in 1919. If, for instance, some sort of Waldorf school could be opened in England, this would mark a significant step forward. Naturally, such a school would have to be adapted to the conditions and culture of that country.
I realized that the Waldorf educational movement was not going to spread its wings, because the original Waldorf school was, in fact, still the only one. So I tried to initiate a worldwide Waldorf school movement. I did this because, during the preceding years, there had been a tremendous expansion of the anthroposophic movement, at least in Central Europe. Today this movement is a fact to be reckoned with in Central Europe. As a spiritual movement, it has made its mark. But there is no organization to direct and guide this movement. It needs to said, and generally understood, that the Anthroposophical Society is not in a position to carry the anthroposophic movement. The Anthroposophical Society is riddled with a tendency toward sectarianism, and consequently it is not capable of carrying the anthroposophic movement as it has developed and exists today.
All the same, I had wanted to make a final appeal to the stronger elements within the Anthroposophical Society, because I was hoping that some individuals might respond by making a final effort to bring about a Waldorf movement. Well, this did not happen. The world school movement is dead and buried, because it is not enough simply to talk about such things; it must be accomplished in a down-to-earth and practical way. To implement such a plan, a larger body of people is needed.
The Waldorf school in Stuttgart is one of the results of the German revolution. It is not itself a revolutionary school, but the revolution was its matrix, so to speak. It would mean a big step forward if something like a Waldorf school were started in another country also (say, in England) because the general world situation was clearly recognized. Perhaps later, when time has been given to the discussion, a little more could be said about this.
Millicent MacKenzie (Professor at University College, Cardiff: At this point, I would like to add that, among the members of this conference, there are several people from England who recognize the needs of humankind and would be in a position to work in this direction. They are in a position to exert considerable influence in an effort to realize this educational impulse. As a first step, they would like to invite Dr. Steiner to come to England some time later this year, and they are eager to create the right attitude and context for such a visit, during which they hope a number of prominent individuals and educators would also be present to welcome Dr. Steiner.
Rudolf Steiner: I wish to add that such a step must be taken only in a practical sense, and that it would be harmful if we talk too much about it. Those of you who are in a position to take a step forward in this direction would have to prepare the ground, so that when the right time has come, the appropriate action may be taken.
I am sure that Mrs. MacKenzie and her friends will agree if there are conference members from other countries who might have ideas on this subject and wish to come forward to add their suggestions.
Mrs. K. Haag: Today we have heard a great deal about England. We are pleased about this and have found it useful. But there are various other matters that we, who come from our little Holland, have on our heart. In fact, we have come with a very guilty conscience because the idea of a World school movement was just discussed for the first time in Holland. Somehow we did not do what we might have done about it, partly because of misunderstandings and partly because of a lack of strength. But we have not been quite as inactive as people might think, and I can assure you that we are more than ready to make good on our failure, as far as possible. Despite our shortcoming, I would like to ask Dr. Steiner whether the plan he outlined for England could also be implemented in Holland. And since Dr. Steiner has promised to visit us in April, I would like to ask him if he might be willing to discuss this with a larger group of people who have a particular interest in education.
Rudolf Steiner: There is already a plan for Holland, which, as far as I know, is being worked out. From the fifth to the twelfth of April this year, an academic course will be held there that are similar to courses given elsewhere. It has the task, first and foremost, of introducing anthroposophy in depth.
After the need to work for anthroposophy in Holland was repeatedly pointed out, and after the lectures and performances there during February and the beginning of March last year, it has been somewhat discouraging to see a notable decline, not in an understanding of spiritual science, but certainly in terms of the inner life of the Anthroposophical Society in Holland. Therefore it seems to me very necessary, especially in Holland, that the anthroposophic movement make a new and vigorous beginning. From which angle this should be approached will depend on the prevailing conditions, but an educational movement could certainly be the prime mover.
Another question has been handed to me, which has a direct bearing on this point.
Question: According to Dutch law, it is possible to set up a free school if the government is satisfied that the intentions behind it are serious and genuine. If we in Holland were unable to raise enough money to begin a Waldorf school, would it be right for us to accept state subsidies, as long as we were allowed to arrange our curriculum and our lessons according to Waldorf principles?
Rudolf Steiner: There is one part of the question I do not understand, and another fills me with doubts. What I cannot understand is that it should be that difficult to collect enough money for a free school in Holland. Forgive me if I am naive, but I do not understand this. I believe that, if the enthusiasm is there, it should at least be possible to begin. After all, it doesn’t take so much money to start a school.
The other point, which seems dubious to me, is that it would be possible to run a school with the aid of state subsidies. For I seriously doubt that the government, if it pays out money for a school, would forego the right to inspect it. Therefore I cannot believe that a free school could be established with state subsidies, which imply supervision by inspectors of the educational authorities. It was yet another stroke of good luck for the Waldorf school in Stuttgart that it was begun just before the new Republican National Assembly passed a law forbidding the opening of independent schools. Isn’t it true to say that, as liberalization increases, we increasingly lose our freedom? Consequently, in Germany we are living in a time of progress, whereas it is quite unlikely that we could begin a Waldorf school in Stuttgart today. It was established just in time.
Now the eyes of the world are on the Waldorf school. It will be allowed to exist until the groups that were instrumental in instituting the so-called elementary schools have become so powerful that, out of mistaken fanaticism, they will do away with the first four classes of the Waldorf school. I hope this can be prevented, but in any case we are facing menacing times. This is why I continue to emphasize the importance of putting into action, as quickly as possible, all that needs to be done. A wave is spreading all over the world, and it is moving quickly toward state dictatorship. It is a fact that Western civilization is exposing itself to the danger of one day being inundated by an Asiatic sort of culture, one that will have a spirituality all its own. People are closing their eyes to this, but it will happen nevertheless.
To return to our point: I think it only delays the issue to think it is necessary to claim state help before starting a school. Somehow this does not look promising to me at all. But perhaps others have different views on this subject. I ask everyone present to voice an opinion freely.
Question: He states that, at the present time, it is impossible to establish a school in Holland without interference by the state, which would demand, for instance, that a certain set curriculum be formulated and so on.
Rudolf Steiner: If things had been any different, I would not have decided at the time to form a world school movement, because, as an idea, it borders on the theoretical. But because the situation stands as you have described it, I thought that such a movement would have practical uses. The matter is like this: Take the example of the little school we used to have here in Dornach. For the reason already mentioned several times, we managed to have only a very small school because of our continual “overabundant lack of funds.” Children around the age of ten came together in this school. Now, in the local canton of Solothurn, there is a strict law in education that is really not much different from similar laws all over Switzerland. This law is so fixed that, when the local education authorities found out that we were teaching children under the age of fourteen, they declared it completely unacceptable; it was simply unheard of. Whatever we might have done to arrive at some agreement, we would never have received permission to apply Waldorf methods in teaching children under fourteen.
Hindrances of this kind will, of course, be placed in our way all over the continent. I dare not say how this would work in England at the moment. But if turns out to be possible to begin a totally free school there, it would really mean a marvelous step forward. But because we meet resistance almost everywhere when we try to put Waldorf education into practice, I thought that a worldwide movement for the renewal of education might have some practical value. I had hoped that it might make an impression on people interested in education, thus creating possibilities for establishing new Waldorf schools. I consider it extremely important to bring about a movement counter to modern currents, which culminated in Russian Bolshevism. These currents find their fulfillment in absolute state dictatorship in education. We see it looming everywhere, but people won’t realize that Lunatscharski is merely the final result of what lies dormant all over Europe. As long as it does not interfere with people’s private lives, the existence of such thinking is conveniently ignored. Well, in my opinion, we should react by generating a movement against Lunatscharski’s principle that the state should become a giant machine, and that each citizen should be a cog in the machine. The goal of this countermovement should be to educate each person. It is this that is needed. In this sense, one can make most painful experiences even in the anthroposophic movement.
Today it would also be possible to give birth to a real medical movement on the basis of the anthroposophic movement. All the antecedents are there. But it would require a movement capable of placing this impulse before the eyes of the world. Yet everywhere we find a tendency to call those who are able to represent a truly human medicine “quacks,” thus putting them outside the law. As an example, and entirely unconnected with the anthroposophic medical movement, I would like to tell you what happened in the case of a minister in the German government who rigorously upheld a strict law against the freedom of the healing profession, a law that still operates today. However, when members of his own family fell ill, he surreptitiously called for the help of unqualified healers, showing that, for his own family, he did not believe in official medical science, but only in what the law condemned as “quackery.”
This is symptomatic of the root causes of sectarianism. A movement can free itself of such causes when it stands up to the world, while remaining fully within the laws of the land, so that there can be no confusion in terms of the legal aspects. And this is what I had in mind with regard to a world school movement. I wanted to create the right setting for introducing laws that allow schools based entirely on the need for educational renewal. Schools will never be established correctly by majority decisions, which is also why such schools cannot be run by the state.
That’s all I have to say about the planned world school movement, an idea that, in itself, does not appeal to me at all. I do not sympathize with it, because it would have led to an international association, a “world club,” and to the creation of a platform for the purpose of making propaganda. My way is to work directly where the needs of the times present themselves. All propaganda and agitation is alien to me. I abhor these things. But if our hands are tied and if there is no possibility to establish free schools, we must first create the right climate for ideas that might eventually lead to free education. Compromises may well be justified in various instances, but we live in a time when each compromise is likely to pull us still further into difficulties.
Question: How can we best work in the realm of politics?
Rudolf Steiner: I think that we should digress too much from our main theme if we were to look at these deep and significant questions from a political perspective. Unless today’s politics experience a regeneration—at least in those countries known to me on the physical plane—they hold little promise. It is my opinion that it is exactly in this area that such definite symptoms of decadence are most obvious, and one would expect society to recognize the need for renewal—the threefold social order. Such a movement would then run parallel to the anthroposophic movement.
Where has the old social order placed us? I will indicate this only very briefly and, thus, possibly cause misunderstandings. Where did the old social order, which did not recognize its own threefold nature, land us? It has led to a situation in which the destinies of whole populations are determined by political parties whose ideological backgrounds consist of nothing but phrases. No one today can maintain that the phrases used by the various political parties contain anything of real substance.
A few days ago I spoke of Bismarck, who in later life became a rigid monarchist, although in his younger years he had been something of a bashful, closet republican. This is how he described himself. This same Bismarck expressed opinions similar to those expressed by Robespierre. People can make all sorts of statements. What matters in the end is what comes to light when the real ideology of a party is revealed.
For some years, I taught at the Berlin Center for the Education of the Working Classes, a purely social-democratic institution. I took every opportunity to spread the truth wherever people were willing to listen, no matter what the political persuasion or program of the organizers of those institutions. And so, among people who were, politically, rigid Marxists, I taught a purely anthroposophic approach to life, both in courses on natural science and on history. Even when giving speech exercises to the workers, I was able to express my deepest inner convictions. The number of students grew larger and larger, and soon the social-democratic party leaders began to take notice. It led to a decisive meeting, attended not only by party leaders but also by all my adult students, who were unanimous in their wish to continue their courses. But three to four party leaders stolidly declared that this kind of teaching had no place in their establishment, because it was undermining the character of the social-democratic party. I replied that surely the party wanted to build for a future and that, since humankind was moving inevitably toward greater freedom, any future school or educational institution would have to respect human freedom. Then a typical party member rose and said, “We don’t know anything about freedom in education, but we do know a reasonable form of compulsion.” This was the decisive turning point that finally led to closing my courses.
It may seem rather silly and egotistic to say this, but I am convinced that, had this quickly growing movement among my students at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century been allowed to live and expand unhindered, conditions in Central Europe would have been different during the 1920s.
So you can see that I do not have much trust in working with political parties. And you will have the least success in bringing freedom into education when dealing with socialist parties. They, above all, will strive in most incredible ways for the abolition of freedom in education. As for the Christian parties, they are bound to clamor for independent schools, simply because of the constitution of the present German government. But if they were placed at the helm, they would immediately claim this freedom in education only to suit themselves. It is a simple fact that we will be unable to make progress in public life unless we first create the necessary foundations for a threefold social order, in which the democratic element prevails exclusively in the middle sphere of rights. This in itself would guarantee the possibility of freedom in education. We will never achieve it through electioneering.
Question: If children of the present generation were educated according to the principles of anthroposophic knowledge, would this in itself be enough to stem the tide of decadence and decay, or would it be necessary to send them out into the world with the stated intent of changing society to bring about a new social organism?
Rudolf Steiner: The ideas I tried to express in Towards Social Renewal are not fully understood. The reasons for writing this book are decades old. Humanity has reached a stage when, although someone might show up with the most promising ideas for improving society and people’s social attitudes, one could not implement them simply because there is a lack of practical possibilities for such purposes. The first step would be to create the right conditions for the possibility of implementing such ideas and insights into social life.
Consequently, I do not believe it is helpful to ask, If a generation were educated in the way we have described, would the desired social conditions automatically follow? Or, Would a change of the social order one way or another still be necessary? I would say, we must understand that the best we can do in practical life is to help as many people as possible of one generation to make progress through education based on knowledge of the human being. This in itself would obviate the second question, because the thoughts and ideas needed to change society would be exactly those developed by that generation. Since their human conditions would be different from those of the general public today, they would have very different possibilities for implementing their aims.
The point is, if we want to be practical, we have to think in practical terms rather than theories. To think practically means to do what is possible, not attempt to realize an ideal. Our most promising aim would be to educate as many as possible of one generation, working from knowledge of the human being, and then trust that, in their adult lives, they would be able to bring about a desirable society. The second question can be answered only through the actions of those who, through their education, have been prepared for the task you outlined. It cannot be answered theoretically.
Question: How can one make use of what we have heard in this course of lectures to educate profoundly mentally retarded children?
Rudolf Steiner: In answer to this question I should like to give you a real and practical example. When I was twenty-three or twenty-four, I was called to work as a tutor in a family of four boys. Three of the boys presented no educational difficulties, but one, who was eleven at that time, had a particular history. At the age of seven, a private tutor had tried in vain to teach him according to the accepted methods of an elementary school. Bear in mind that this happened in Austria, where anyone was free to teach children, because the only thing that mattered was that they could pass an examination at the end of each year, and students were allowed to take these exams at any state school. No one cared whether they had been taught by angels or by devils, as long as they passed their exam, which was seen as proof of a good education.
Among those four boys, one had four to nearly five years of private tutoring behind him. He was around eleven years old when his latest drawing book was presented to me, which he had brought home from his most recent annual exam. In all other subjects he had remained either completely silent or had talked complete nonsense, but he had not put anything down on paper. His drawing book was the only document he had handed in during his exam, and all it contained was a big hole in the first page. All he had done was scribble something and then immediately erase it, until only a big hole was left as evidence of his efforts and the only tangible result of his exam. In other respects, it proved impossible—sometimes for several weeks—to get him to say even a single word to anyone. For awhile, he also refused to eat at table. Instead, he went into the kitchen, where he ate from the garbage can. He would rather eat garbage than proper food.
I am describing these symptoms in detail so you can see that we are dealing with a child who certainly belonged to the category of “seriously developmentally disabled.” I was told that not much could be done, since everything has been tried already. Even the family doctor (who incidentally was a leading medical practitioner in Vienna and a greatly respected authority) had given up on the boy, and the whole family was very discouraged. One simply did not know how to approach that boy.
I asked that this child’s education, as well as that of his three brothers, be left entirely in my hands, and that I be given complete freedom in dealing with the boy. The whole family refused to grant me such freedom, except for the boy’s mother. From their unconscious depths, mothers sometimes have the right feeling for these things, and the boy was given into my care. Above all else, when preparing my lessons I followed the principle of approaching such a child—generally called “feebleminded”— entirely in terms of physical development. This means that I had to base everything on the same principles I have elaborated to you for healthy children. What matters in such a case is that one gains the possibility of looking into the inner being of such a child. He was noticeably hydrocephalic, so it was very difficult to treat this boy. And so my first principle was that education means healing and must be accomplished on a medical basis.
After two and a half years, the boy had progressed enough to work at the curriculum of a grammar school, for I had succeeded in teaching him with the strictest economy. Sometimes I limited his academic work to only a quarter or, at most, a half hour each day. In order to concentrate the right material into such a short time, I sometimes needed as much as four hours of preparation for a lesson of half an hour. To me, it was most important not to place him under any strain whatsoever. I did exactly as I thought right, since I had reserved the right to do so. We spent much time on music lessons, which seemed to help the boy. From week to week, the musical activity was increased, and I could observe his physical condition gradually changing. Admittedly, I forbid any interference from anyone. The rest of the family, with the exception of the boy’s mother, registered objections when, time and again, they noticed that the boy looked pale. I insisted on my rights and told them that it was now up to me whether I made him look pale, and even more pale. I told them that he would look ruddy again when the time came.
My guiding line was to base the entire education of this child on insight into his physical condition and to arrange all soul and spiritual measures accordingly. I believe that the details will always vary in each case. One has to know the human being thoroughly and intimately, and therefore I must repeatedly point out that everything depends on a real knowledge of the human being. When I asked myself, What is the boy’s real age and how do I have to treat him? I realized that he had remained a young child of two years and three months, and that I would have to treat him as such, despite the fact that he had completed his eleventh year, according to his birth certificate. I had to teach him according to his mental age. Always keeping an eye on the boy’s health and applying strictest soul economy, I initially based my teaching entirely on the principle of imitation, which meant that everything had to be systematically built on his forces of imitation. I then went on to what, today, I called “further structuring” of lessons. Within two and a half years, the boy had progressed enough that he was able to study grammar school curriculum. I continued to help when he was a student in grammar school. Eventually, he was weaned of any extra help. In fact, he was able to go through the last two classes of his school entirely on his own. Afterward, he became a medical doctor with a practice for many years. He died around the age of forty from an infection he had contracted in Poland during the World War.
This is just one example, and I could cite many others. It shows that, especially in the case of developmentally disabled children, we need to apply the same principles I elaborated here for healthy children. In the Waldorf school there are quite a number of slightly and profoundly “mentally-retarded children” (to use the phrase of the question). Naturally, more serious cases would disturb their classmates, so we have opened a special remedial class for such children of various ages, whose members are drawn from all our classes. This group is under the guidance of Dr. Schubert.
Whenever we have to decide whether to send a child into this remedial class, I have the joy (if I may say it this way) of having to fight with the child’s class teacher. Our class teachers never want to let a class member go. All of them fight to keep such children, doing their best to support them within the class, and often successfully. Although our classes are certainly not small, by giving individual attention, it is possible to keep such children in the class. The more serious cases, however, must be placed in our remedial group, where it is absolutely essential to give them individual treatment. Dr. Schubert, who is freed from having to follow any set curriculum, allows himself be guided entirely by the individual needs of each child. Consequently, he may be doing things with his children that are completely different from what is usually done in a classroom. The main thing is to find specific treatments that will benefit each child.
For instance, there may be some very dull-witted children in such a group, and once we develop the necessary sense for these things, we realize that their faculty of making mental pictures is so slow that they lose the images while making them. They lose mental images because they never fully make them. This is only one type of mental handicap. We can help these children by calling out unexpected commands, if they are capable of grasping their meaning. We have also children who are unable to follow such instructions, so one has to think of something else. For instance, one may suddenly call out, “Quickly hold your left earlobe between your right thumb and second finger. Quickly grip your right arm with your left hand!” In this way, if we let them orient themselves first through their own body geography and then through objects of the world outside, we may be able to make real progress with them. Another method might get them to quickly recognize what one has drawn on the blackboard (Steiner drew an ear on the board). It is not easy at all to get such a child to respond by saying “ear.” But what matters is this flash of recognition. One has to invent the most varied things to wake up such children. It is this awakening and becoming active that can lead to progress, though, of course, not in the case of those who display uncontrollable tempers. They have to be dealt with differently. But these examples may at least indicate the direction in which one has to move. What matters is the individual treatment, and this must spring from a real knowledge of the human being.