Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy I
IV. The Fundamentals of Waldorf Education
11 November 1921, Aarau
When, after the collapse of Germany in 1918, a movement toward social renewal was born in Stuttgart with the aim of lifting the country out of the chaos of the times and guiding it toward a more hopeful future, one of the oldest friends of the anthroposophical movement, Emil Molt, conceived the idea of founding the Waldorf school in Stuttgart. Mr. Molt was in a position to implement that idea almost immediately, for he was in charge of an industrial enterprise employing a large number of workers. Thanks to the excellent relations existing between the management of that enterprise, the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory, and its workers, it proved possible to attract all of the workers’ children to the school. In this way, more than two years ago, the Waldorf School was founded, primarily for working class children.
During the past two years, however, the school has grown almost from month to month. Today we have not only the original pupils of the Waldorf school — whose guidance was put into my care — but also many other children from all social classes and backgrounds. Indeed, the number of pupils who have found their way into the Waldorf school from all quarters of the population is now considerably larger than the original number of founding pupils, the children of the factory workers.
This fact shows the Waldorf school to be in practice a school for children of all types, coming from different classes and cultures, all of whom receive the same teaching, based on our own methods.
The idea of the Waldorf school grew out of the anthroposophical movement, a movement that, nowadays, attracts a great deal of hostility because it is widely misunderstood. In tonight’s talk, and by way of introduction, I will mention only one such misunderstanding. This misunderstanding asserts that it is the aim of anthroposophy or spiritual science, particularly in its social aspects, to be revolutionary or somehow subversive, which is not at all the case. I must emphasize this because it is of special importance for our pedagogical theme. As anthroposophical spiritual science seeks to deepen and fructify the many branches of science that have developed in the cultural and spiritual sphere during the last three or four centuries, it has no intention whatever of opposing modern science in any way. Nor does it wish to introduce amateurism into modern science. It only wishes to deepen and to widen the achievements of modern science, including modern medicine.
Likewise, the education arising from anthroposophical spiritual science does not wish to oppose the tenets of recent educational theory as put forward by its great representatives. Nor does it wish to encourage amateurism in this field either. Acknowledging the achievements of modern natural science, anthroposophical spiritual science has every reason to appreciate the aims and the achievements of the great educators at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Anthroposophy has no wish to oppose them. It wishes only to deepen their work by what can be gained through anthroposophical research. It wishes to stand entirely on the ground of modern pedagogical thinking. However, it does find it necessary to expand the scope of modern pedagogical thinking and I shall endeavor to give a few outlines of how this is to be done.
Though the Waldorf school takes its starting point from anthroposophical spiritual science, it is nevertheless not an ideological school — and this I hope will be accepted as an important fact. The Waldorf school is not in the least concerned with carrying into the school anthroposophical dogma or anthroposophical convictions. It seeks to be neither ideological nor sectarian nor denominational, for this would not be in character with anthroposophical spiritual science. Unfortunately, the opposite is often erroneously believed.
The Waldorf school, which has its roots in anthroposophy, is a school applying specific methods and classroom practices, as well as pedagogical ideas and impulses drawn from anthroposophically- oriented spiritual science. When we founded the school, we were simply not in a position to insist on such radical demands as are frequently made by some modern educators who maintain, for instance, that, if one wants to educate children properly, one has to open boarding schools or the like in the country, away from cities. There are many such endeavors today, and we have no objection to them on our part. From their point of view, we fully understand the reasoning behind their demands. In the Waldorf school, however, we are not in the same happy position. We had to accept a given situation. The possibility was granted to us to place what was to become the Waldorf school in a city, in the very life of a city. There was no question of first insisting on the right outer conditions for the school. What mattered was to achieve what had to be achieved through the principles and methods of our education under given circumstances.
It is a characteristic feature of anthroposophical spiritual science that it can adapt itself to any outer conditions, for it wants to be able to work under all conditions of life. It has no wish to chase after utopian ideals, but wants to create something in harmony with the human potential of its members out of the immediate practical conditions and the practical needs of life in any given situation.
To repeat, no dogma is to be carried into the school. What a person standing within the anthroposophical movement does gain, however, is a way of knowing that involves our whole humanity. The educational life of our times tends to favor a certain intellectualism. Therefore there is no need to fear that the Waldorf school teaches its pupils that a human being consists not only of a physical body (as you can read in many anthroposophical writings) but also of an etheric body, supplying the formative and organic growing forces at work in the physical body, and also of an astral body that, during earthly life, carries what was developed during pre-earthly existence — prior to physical birth or, rather, conception, and so on — into the human physical organization. None of this is taught in the school. But, if we know that human beings, when observed with scientific accuracy, consist of body, soul, and spirit, and if we grasp how this is revealed in the child as a human being in the making, we gain a deeper and truer knowledge of the human being than is possible through present-day natural science.
We do not grasp this deeper knowledge of human beings and all that anthroposophical spiritual science can learn about them only with our powers of thinking: the whole human being — thinking, feeling, and willing — is involved. This, however, is not the substance from which the training methods for work in the Waldorf school are to be drawn. Rather, anthroposophical knowledge creates in our teachers the forces of will to do all that they can for growing children in accordance with the demands of each child’s organization. However paradoxical it might sound, the child is the teacher “par excellence” in the Waldorf school. For Waldorf teachers are fully convinced that what they meet in their children, week by week, year by year, is the outer manifestation of divine and spiritual beings who have come down to earth from a purely soul and spiritual existence in order to evolve in a physical body on earth between birth and death. They realize that each child’s being unites — by means of the stream of heredity coming through the parents and their ancestors — with what is bestowed physically and etherically. Waldorf teachers have an enormously deep reverence for the young human being who, in the first days after birth, already shows how an inner soul-being manifests in physiognomy, in the first limb movements, and in the first babblings that gradually grow into human speech. Anthroposophical knowledge of human beings creates a deep reverence for what the divine world has sent down to earth and that inner attitude of reverence is the characteristic feature of Waldorf teachers as they enter their classrooms every morning. From the daily revelations of this mysterious spirit and soul existence, they discover what they as teachers must do with their children.
This is the reason why one cannot formulate the methods of the Waldorf school in a few abstract rules. One cannot say: point one, point two, point three, and so on. Rather, one has to say that, through anthroposophical spiritual science, a teacher comes to know the growing human being and learns to observe what looks out of a child’s eyes and reveals itself in a child’s fidgety leg movements. Because teachers are thoroughly grounded in an understanding of the whole human being, their knowledge of anthroposophy fills not only their intellect, with its capacity to systematize, but embraces the whole human being who also feels and wills. These teachers approach their pupils in such a way that their methods acquire a living existence that they can always modify and metamorphose, even in larger classes, to suit each individual child.
Anyone hearing all of this in the abstract, might well respond, “These crazy anthroposophists! They believe that a human being does not only have a physical body which, as a corpse, may be carefully examined and investigated in physiology and biology; they also believe that human beings have etheric, and even astral, bodies; and they believe that we can know these if we practice certain soul exercises; they believe that if we strengthen our thinking to the point where the whole human being is transformed into a kind of ‘supersensible sense organ’ — if I may use Goethe’s expression — we can see more than we do in ordinary human life.” It is easy to poke fun at such “crazy anthroposophists,” who speak in these terms of supersensible beings in the sense-perceptible world. But if these convictions — based not on weird fantasies but on well-grounded knowledge — are carried into teaching, those whose task it is to educate the young are able to look upon growing children realistically as beings of body, soul, and spirit. And this is how children must be observed if our pupils’ innermost being is to be revealed.
I do not wish to say anything derogatory about what, today, is referred to as experimental psychology or experimental pedagogy. I appreciate what those scientific disciplines are capable of achieving and I acknowledge it. But, just because of those disciplines, we must deepen our educational life all the more. For, aside from their positive aspects, they demonstrate that we are not getting closer to children in a direct and natural way, but that, on the contrary, we have become more estranged from them than ever before. External experiments are made with children to ascertain how their thinking, their memory, and even their will function. From the ensuing statistics, rules and regulations are then drawn up. Certainly, such findings have their uses, especially if one is an anthroposophist. But, if we regard them as the “be-all and end-all” and a foundation for education, we only adduce proof that, in actual fact, we have not reached the child’s real being in any way. Why do we find it necessary to engage in experiments at all? Only because the direct, immediate relationship of teacher to child, which was there in ancient, Biblical times — if I may use this expression — has been lost under the influence of our modern materialistic culture. External experiments are made because there no longer exists a direct feeling and understanding for what actually happens within a child. The fact of these external experiments is in itself proof that we have lost a direct relationship with our children and that we should try to rediscover it with all available power.
When we study contemporary experimental psychology and pedagogy, it often seems as if the experimentalist were like someone observing a person riding a horse to see how he or she does on a smooth path as compared to more difficult terrain. From such observations, the experimentalist then compiles statistics: on the smooth path, such and such a distance in fifteen minutes; on a slippery path, so many miles; on an uneven path, so many more miles; and so on. This is the way of working that we also find, more or less, in experiments made to determine whether a child will remember something for a quarter of an hour, or whether a child omits so and so many of the words to be remembered, and so on. To return to our simile; if we were to compile statistical details about the rider, we would have to take into consideration not only the state of the paths but also what the horse was capable of doing on the particular paths observed, and so on. But we will never succeed by this method in discovering anything about the rider him- or herself (although it would of course be perfectly possible to include the rider in statistical observations as well). What really matters is not just that we carry out external experiments on those to be educated, but that, as teachers, we are in direct, natural contact with children through our understanding of their inner nature.
In anthroposophical spiritual science, one learns to know what is given when a baby is born. We learn that a child bears within itself not only what we can perceive with our senses but also a spirit-soul being that has united with the physical embryo. We learn to know exactly how this spirit-soul being develops, just as we learn from material science how the physical germ develops within the hereditary flow. We learn to recognize that, independent of the inherited traits, something of a supersensible spirit and soul nature enters. Without teaching it as a dogma — and I must emphasize this repeatedly — this perspective nevertheless becomes a means of orientation for the teacher — something that serves to guide a teacher’s observations of children even before they enter school.
In the case of a child learning to speak, the following premise is useful. We must observe not only what belongs to the stream of heredity but also what develops in the child from spiritual depths. Language is part of this. When one observes human beings in the light of anthroposophical spiritual science — discriminating between the more inward, astral body and the more outward etheric body — one comes to know the nature of the human will in quite a new way. One sees the will as more allied to the astral body while thinking, for instance, is seen to be more closely connected with the etheric body. One learns to know how these members interact in speaking. For in observing and experiencing life, we have to do not only with outer facts but with placing these facts in the right light.
Let us now take a well trained observer of life, someone schooled in anthroposophy to know human beings, and place this person beside a child who is going through the process of learning to speak. If we have really learned to look into a child’s soul life, recognizing the imponderables at play between adult and child, we can learn more about children’s psychology by observing real-life situations than, for example, the eminent psychologist Wilhelm Preyer did by means of statistical records. For instance, we learn to recognize the immense difference between, let us say, when we hear a mother or father speaking to a child to calm it down and saying, “Ee Ee,” and when we hear someone who is speaking to a child about something more outward in its immediate environment and says, “Hsh, hsh!” With every vowel sound, we speak directly to a child’s feeling life. We address ourselves to the innermost being of the child’s soul. With the help of spiritual science, we learn to know how to stimulate a particular soul area. And in this way, we bring about a certain connection between adult and child that generates a close relationship between teacher and pupil, allowing something to flow from the teacher directly to the child’s inmost feeling.
If, for example, we speak to a child about how cold it is outside, that child is taken into the realm of consonants (as in “Hsh-Hsh”), where we work directly on the child’s will. We can thus observe that we stimulate in one instance a child’s feeling life, and in another the child’s life of movement, which lives in will impulses.
With this example, I merely wanted to indicate how light can be shed upon everything, even the most elementary things, provided we have a comprehensive knowledge of life. Today, there exists a magnificent science of language from which education certainly can benefit a great deal. That science, however, studies language as if it were something quite separate from human beings. But, if we are schooled in anthroposophical spiritual science, we learn to look at language not as something floating above human beings who then take hold of it and bring it into their lives; we learn that language is directly connected with the whole human being, and we learn to use this knowledge in practical life. We learn how a child’s inner relationship to the vowel element is connected with a warming glow in the feeling life, whereas the consonantal element — whatever a child experiences through consonants — is closely linked to the movements of the will.
The point is that one learns to observe the child more intimately. This kind of observation, this empathy with the child, has gradually been lost. So often today, when attempts are made to educate young human beings, it is as if we were actually circumventing the child’s real being — as if our modern science of education had lost direct contact with the child to be educated.
We no longer recognize that speech is organically linked to all processes of growth and to all that happens in a child. Fundamentally, we no longer know that, in raising a child to become an imitator in the right way, we are helping it become inwardly warm and rich in feelings. Until the change of teeth, around the seventh year, children depend entirely on imitation and all upbringing and education during those early years depends basically upon this faculty. Only if we gain a clear understanding of this faculty of imitation during the first years of life and can follow it closely from year to year will the hidden depths of a child’s inner nature be revealed to us, so that we can educate our pupils in ways that, later on, will place them fully into life.
This is true not only of speech but of whatever we must teach our children before they enter school. As I say, until the second dentition, a child is, fundamentally speaking, wholly dependent on imitation. Anthroposophical spiritual science allows us to study the young child’s faculty of imitation in all spheres of life — and speech, too, develops entirely through imitation. But the study of the faculty of imitation enables us to look more deeply into the nature of the growing human being in other ways too. Although contemporary psychology constantly thinks around the problem of how the human soul or — as it is sometimes called — the human spirit is connected to the human physical body, it is not in a position to come to any exact idea of the relationship between the human soul and spirit on one side and the physical and bodily counterpart on the other. Basically, psychology only knows the physical aspects of the human being, when, like a corpse, the body is bereft of soul and spirit; on the other hand, it has distanced itself from the human soul and spirit as I have spoken of them. This situation can best be clarified with the help of a particular example. Contemporary science does not appreciate the importance of such phenomena as the second dentition occurring around the seventh year. But the kind of observation fostered by spiritual science reveals how a child’s soul forces change during this process. A child’s memory and ability to think, and also a child’s faculty of feeling, become very different during these years. Actually, one cannot see a child’s soul life develop before about the seventh year. But where was this emerging soul life with which we have to deal when the child enters school before the seventh year? Where was it previously?
The method employed by scientific thinking is perfectly appropriate in the inorganic realm. When physicists today study certain substances that emit heat after undergoing a particular process, they ascribe that heat to the warmth that was formerly contained within the substance as “latent” or hidden heat. Then they study how, when subjected to a particular process, that latent heat is liberated or released from the physical substance. They would not dream of concluding that the radiating heat had somehow come into the matter from outside, but they study the condition in which the heat existed while already present there. This way of thinking, inaugurated by physics, can be transferred to the more complicated realm of the human being.
If, from an anthroposophical point of view, we study how a child’s memory and will assume a particular configuration in the seventh year, we will not conclude that these new faculties have suddenly “flown into the child.” We will assume that they developed within the child itself. But where were they previously? They were active in the child’s physical organism. In other words, what the teacher must educate was previously a latent, hidden force in the child’s own being. That force has been liberated. As long as children need the forces that will culminate with the pushing out of the second teeth, those forces will be active in the child’s inner realm. With the shedding of the milk teeth and the emergence of the second teeth, those forces — like the latent heat in certain substances — are released from their task and reveal themselves as new soul and spiritual capacities. These we then actively engage in our teaching.
Only by studying examples from real life can we learn to understand how soul and body work together. We can engage in endless philosophical speculation about the relationship of soul and body to each other but, when studying early childhood up to the seventh year, we must observe the actual facts. Only then will we recognize that forces that have left the organic bodily realm after the change of teeth are free to be used by the teacher in quite a new way.
The same principle applies to the whole span of human life. All of the speculative theories about the relationship of soul and body that we can find in books on philosophy and physiology are useless unless they are based on a mode of observation that is exact according to proper scientific methods.
If we observe such things further, we realize that the forces in a child with which we deal as teachers are the same that were previously engaged in building up the organism. We know, too, that those forces must now assume another form and that, if we are to teach children, we must come to know those forces in their new form. But we must also get to know them in their original form — since they must be used for learning, we must be able to recognize them in their original task. Well, a lot more could be said about this. I will only point out that it is because of those forces, working in the depths of the organism, creating life, that a child imitates up to the seventh year. To understand a preschool child, we must always bear in mind this faculty of imitation.
For example, parents complain that their son has stolen money. They are looking for advice. You ask how old the child is and are told that he is four or five years old. It might sound surprising, but a child of four or five does not really steal. Such a child is still at the stage of imitation. And so, if you ask further questions, you discover, for instance, that the child has seen his mother taking money out of a cupboard every day. The child imitates this action and, consequently, he too takes money. I have even known a case in which a child took money out of a cupboard but, instead of buying sweets, bought things to give to other children. There was nothing immoral in this behavior, only perhaps something somewhat amoral, something imitative.
An incident like this makes us realize that, in educating children, we are dealing with imponderables. As teachers, we must realize that, when we stand before a child who is an imitator, we must be mindful even of our thoughts. Not only our actions but our thoughts too must be of a kind that a child can safely imitate. The entire upbringing of preschool children must be based on this principle of imitation. Even if it might sound strange, awareness of this principle must lie at the foundation of a really healthy form of early education.
The forces that make a child an imitator to such an extent that it imitates even the slightest hand movement appear when the child is about seven as the liberated forces with which educators and teachers have to deal. Looking more closely at this development, one recognizes that, whereas a child is a compulsive imitator up to the age of seven, during the next seven years, up to puberty, the pupil needs to experience a natural sense of authority in the teacher as the right guide on life’s path. The experience of authority becomes the main educational principle for children between the change of teeth and puberty — a principle that develops naturally to become the basic relationship between teacher and pupil.
It is all too easy to speak abstractly about this relationship based upon a natural sense of authority. If we wish to guide it in the right direction at every moment of our teaching life, we need anthroposophical knowledge of the human being.
Today, many people speak about the necessity and the importance of visual instruction, practical demonstration, and so forth — and they are in a certain sense quite right to do so. It is certainly right for some subjects. Anything that can be outwardly observed can be brought to the child by these methods. But we must consider, above all, the moral order of the world and human religious feelings — that is, everything pertaining to the spiritual nature of the world. The spiritual is imperceptible to outer senses and if we take the so-called visual instruction method too far, we lead children into believing in only what is sense perceptible — that is, into materialism. What really matters at this age is that through the natural relationship to the teacher, the child feels, “This adult, who is my guide, knows what is right and behaves in a way I long to emulate.” (If I describe such a feeling as an adult, it is naturally quite different from how a child would experience it.)
During the first seven years, then, a child’s activities mirror and imitate its surroundings — above all through gestures, including the subtle inner gestures that live in speech. But, during the next seven years, children develop under the influence of the words that come from the naturally accepted authority of their teacher. In order to appreciate the importance and value of this natural sense of authority, one must have a thorough foundation in true knowledge of the human being.
You would hardly expect someone like myself who, many years ago, wrote a book called Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom to support a reactionary social belief in authority. So it is not on the basis of any authoritarian intention but solely on educational grounds that I maintain that the most essential principle, the most important force in education, between the age of seven and puberty, lies in a pupil’s belief that the teacher, as an authority, knows what is right and does what is right. This must sink down into the child.
If students do not develop on the basis of this belief in the authority of the teacher, they will be unable, when older, to enter social life in a wholesome manner.
To understand this, we need only to know what it means for a child willingly to accept something on the basis of authority. I realize that this is for many people rather a controversial point but, actually, it is controversial only for those who, fundamentally speaking, lack the will to look at life in its entirety.
For instance, let us assume, say, that, in our second year of life nature did not dispose the form of our fingers so that they grow and develop — that nature made our fingers such that, as it were, they were cast in hard stereotyped forms. What would we do then! Insofar as we are human, then, we are growing, continuously changing beings. And as educators, likewise, this is the kind of essence that we must pour into children’s souls. We must not impose on our children anything that creates sharply contoured pictures, impressions, or will impulses in them. Just as our fingers do not retain the contours that they had when we were two but rather grow on their own, so all ideas, thoughts, and feelings that we pour into children during their school years must have the essence of growth in them.
We must be quite clear: what we bring to an eight-year-old cannot be clear-cut or sharply contoured. Rather, it must have an inner capacity for growth. By the time the person is forty, it will have become something quite different. We must be able to see the whole human being. Anyone who does not appreciate the principle of authority during these years of childhood has never experienced what it really means when, for instance, in the course of one’s thirty-fifth year, out of the dark recesses of memory, one understands some concept of history or geography — or some concept of life — that one accepted without understanding at the age of nine on the authority of a well loved teacher or parent, having taken it simply on faith. When such a concept emerges in the soul and is understood with the mature understanding of several decades later, this becomes an animating principle that calls up an indefinable feeling that need not be brought to full consciousness: something from one’s earliest years lives on in one’s soul. It is in this sense that we must be able to follow the forces of growth in nature.
Our educational principles and methods must not be tied up in fixed formulae. Rather, they must become a kind of refined, practical instinct for action in those who educate from a living knowledge of human beings. Teachers will then find the right way of dealing with children rather than merely artificially grafting something onto the souls in their care. This is not to deny what has been promulgated by the great pedagogues of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On the contrary, it is actually applying it in the right way.
Those who wish to become Waldorf teachers know quite well that they cannot join the school as amateurs, as dilettantes. They must be moved by all that nineteenth- and twentieth century education has brought forth. But, at the same time, they must also bring to the Waldorf school the living insight into human beings of which I have spoken. Here one feels prompted to quote Goethe’s dictum, “Consider well the what, but consider more the how.” You will find excellent expositions of the what — with regard to foundations and principles — in theoretical texts on education. Even quite idealistic thoughts are sometimes expressed there, but all of this represents only the what. The point is not to formulate abstract principles but to be able to apply them in a living way, with inner soul warmth.
I am fully convinced that if a group of people were to sit together — they need not even be outstandingly clever — to draft the blueprint for an ideal school, their schemes, put into order of priorities — first, second, third, and so forth — would be quite excellent. They would be so convincing that one could not improve on them. It is quite possible to think out the grandest ideals and turn them into slogans for great movements of reform and so on. But, in life as it is, all of this is of little value. What matters is to truly observe life, to bear in mind the living human being who is capable of doing what needs to be done under given circumstances. “Consider well the what, but consider more the how.”
And so, what matters is that love of the child lies at the root of all of our educational endeavors, and that all teaching be done out of an inner, living experience. Against this background, the foundations of our education become quite other than they usually are. With this in mind, then, I would like to put into words a fundamental underlying principle, once more in the form of an example.
A child is supposed to form an inner picture of a definite concept. It is capable of doing so but, in our attempts to communicate something abstract — something of an ethical and religious nature — we can proceed in different ways. For example, let us imagine that the teacher wants to convey to pupils — naturally in accordance with the children’s age and maturity — the idea of the immortality of the human soul. We can do this with a comparison. There are two ways in which we can do this. One would be as follows. As teachers, we can believe that we are terribly clever, whereas the child is still young and terribly ignorant. On this basis, we could invent a comparison and say, “Look at the chrysalis. The butterfly comes out of the chrysalis.” Then, after describing this process pictorially, we might say, “Just as the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, so the human soul, when a person passes through the portal of death, leaves the body and flies into the spiritual world.” This is one way of approaching the problem. Feeling greatly superior to the child, we think out a simile or comparison. But, if this is our underlying attitude, we will not be very successful. Indeed, this is a situation where imponderables play their part. For a teacher who has been schooled in anthroposophical spiritual science about the nature of the world and knows that there is spirit in all matter will not proceed from a feeling of being far more clever than the child. Consequently, he or she will not invent something for the child’s benefit. That is to say in this case the teacher will firmly believe that what on a higher level represents the human soul leaving the body at death is represented in the natural order on a lower level by the emergence of the butterfly from the chrysalis. The teacher will believe in the truth of this picture. To this teacher, the image is a sacred revelation. These are two entirely different approaches. If I speak to the child out of a sacred conviction, I touch the child’s innermost being in an imponderable way. I call forth in the child a living feeling, a living concept. This approach is generally true. We must neither underestimate nor overestimate what modern science has to say out of its exclusive interest in the external world.
Allow me to quote a somewhat far-fetched example to consolidate what I have been saying. As you know, there has been a great deal of talk about so-called “counting horses.” Those horses perform quite special feats. I myself have not seen the Elberfeld horses, but I did see Herr von Osten’s horse and witnessed how this horse, when questioned, stamped out the answers to simple arithmetical questions with one of its hooves. The horse stamped the correct number of times — one, two, three, four, five, six, and so on. In order to explain such a phenomenon and avoid falling into nebulous mysticism or mere rationalism, we need a certain ability to observe. Now, among the spectators of the counting horses was a certain private tutor in psychology and physiology who, having seen Herr von Osten’s horse performing its tricks, declared that the horse stamped when a specific number was called out because it was able to detect very subtle and refined expressions in Herr von Osten’s face. He claimed that when his master moved his face in a certain way after asking, “What are three times three?” the horse stopped stamping after nine stamps. Naturally, this learned gentleman had to prove that such looks or movements really existed in Herr von Osten’s face. But this he was unable to do. In his learned dissertation, he stated, “These looks are so subtle and infinitesimal that a human being cannot detect them, and even I myself” — he added — “am unable to say anything about them.” You see that all of his cleverness amounted to admitting his own lack of being able to discover the facial expressions that the horse was supposed to follow. In other words, the horse was more perceptive than this learned lecturer! A less biased spectator would have noticed that, while the horse stamped answers to arithmetical questions, Herr von Osten continually fed his horse with sugar lumps which he took from his rather capacious coat pocket. While apparently performing calculations, the horse was constantly relishing the sweet taste of the sugar lumps. I must ask you not to misunderstand me if I say that this way of treating the horse gave rise to a very specific form of a loving and intimate relationship, an inner relationship, and that this is really what was the root-cause of what was happening.
If one wants to discover this true relationship existing below the level of ordinary observation, one must begin with what the effect of such “love” can be. If one wants to understand such things properly, it is no good talking of hypnotism or suggestion in a general way, but one must understand the nature of such a subtle relationship. Neither nebulous mysticism nor mere rationalism will lead to one’s solving the mystery, but only a knowledge of the human, and in this case also the animal, soul.
This is what matters above all if we wish to found a living method of education, as distinct from one based on mere principles and intellectual theories. This living method of education then guides us to observe the child from year to year. It is this How, this individual treatment of each child even within a larger class, that matters. It is possible to achieve it. The Waldorf school has already demonstrated this fact during the first few years of its existence.
Here I can only give broad outlines, which can be supplemented by more detailed examples. First of all, we receive the child into our first grade, where it is supposed to learn writing and reading, perhaps also the beginnings of arithmetic and so on. Let us first discuss reading. Reading in our present culture is really quite alien to a young child. If we go back to ancient times, we find that a kind of picture writing existed in which each letter word still retained a pictorial connection with the object it represented. In our present system of writing or printing, there is nothing to link the child’s soul to what is written. For this reason, we should not begin by immediately teaching children writing when they enter primary school in their sixth or seventh year. In the Waldorf school, all teaching — and this includes writing, which we introduce before reading — appeals directly to a child’s innate artistic sense. Right from the start, we give our young pupils the opportunity of working artistically with colors, not only with dry crayons but also with water colors. In this simple way, we give the child something from which the forms of the letters can be developed. Such things have been done elsewhere, of course. But it is again a matter of how. The main thing is that we allow the child to be active without in any way engaging the forces of the intellect but by primarily activating the will. On the basis of drawing and painting, we gradually lead a child’s first will activities in writing toward a more intellectual understanding of what is written. We lead our children, step by step, developing everything in harmony with their own inherent natures. Even down to the arrangement of the curriculum, everything that we do at school must be adapted to the child’s evolving nature. But, for this, anthroposophical knowledge of human beings is necessary.
I would here like to point out how one can observe the harm done to children when one does not give them concepts and feelings capable of growth, but makes them aware of the difference between the outer material world of fixed forms and their own inner mobile soul life at too early an age. Until about the ninth year, a child does not yet clearly discriminate between him- or herself and the outer world. One must be careful not to believe in abstract concepts, as some people do today who say, “Well, of course, if a young child bumps into the corner of a table, it smacks the table because it thinks that the table is also a living thing.” This, of course, is nonsense. The child does not think that the table is a living object. It treats the table as if it were a child, too, simply because it cannot yet distinguish its own self from the table. Whether the table lives or not is beside the point. The child, as yet, has no such concept. We must always deal with realities, not with what we ourselves imagine intellectually. Until the ninth year, whatever we introduce to a child must be treated as if it had purely human qualities. It must be based on the assumption that the children’s relationship to the world is such that every thing is a part of them — as if it were a part of their own organism. One can, of course, point to certain obvious examples where a child will differentiate between something in the external world and its own being. But, between the seventh and ninth years, we cannot further the finer aspects of education unless we bring to life whatever we teach the child, unless we make everything into a parable, not in a dead, but a truly living form. Everything must be taught in mobile and colorful pictures, not in dead static concepts.
Between the ninth and tenth years, a most important, significant moment occurs: it is only then that children really become conscious of the difference between their inner selves and their surroundings. This is the age when we can first intellectually introduce children to the life of plants and animals, both of whom have an existence apart from human beings. Something truly profound is taking place in a child’s mind and soul at this time — a little earlier in the case of some children, a little later in others. Something is happening — fundamental changes are occurring — in the depths of their young souls; namely, they are learning to distinguish their inner selves from the outer world in a feeling way, but not yet by means of concepts. Therefore if teachers are aware of the right moment, and can find the appropriate words, they can — acting as the situation demands — do something of lasting value and importance for the whole life of these children aged between nine and ten. On the other hand, if they miss this significant moment, they can create an inner barrenness of soul or spiritual aridity in later life, and an attitude of everlasting doubt and inner dissatisfaction. But, if teachers are sufficiently alert to catch such a significant moment and if, by immersing themselves in the child’s being, they have the necessary empathy and know how to speak the right words and how to conduct themselves rightly, they can perform an immense service for their children, who will derive benefit for the rest of their lives. In Waldorf education, the observation of such key moments in the lives of children is considered to be of utmost importance.
After this special moment in the ninth-tenth year, while all subjects had previously to be “humanized,” teachers can begin to introduce simple descriptions of plants and animals in a more objective style. Then, between the eleventh and twelfth years, they can begin to introduce inorganic subjects, such as the study of minerals and physics. Certainly the lifeless world should be approached only after children have been fully immersed in the living world.
Thus the child is led — I mention only a few characteristic examples — to the age when school normally comes to an end, to the age of puberty.
How many countless discussions and arguments are going on these days about puberty from a psychoanalytical and from a psychological point of view! The main thing is to recognize that one is dealing here with the end of a characteristic life period — just as second dentition represented the end of an earlier period of development. Puberty in itself is only a link in an entire chain of metamorphoses embracing the whole of human life. What happened in the child at second dentition is that inner soul forces became liberated that had previously been working within the organism. Between the seventh and approximately fourteenth years, we try to guide the child in the ways I just described. With the onset of puberty, however, children enter the time of life when they can form their own judgments on matters concerning the world at large. Whereas, when younger, our children drew their inner being from the depths of their organism, as adolescents they now become capable of understanding the spiritual nature of the outer world as such. How to educate our children between their seventh and fourteenth years so that they are naturally guided to acquire an independent and individual relationship to the world — of which sexual life is only one expression — presents one of the greatest challenges to teachers. This is one of the most important problems of a truly living education. The sexual love of one person for another is only one aspect, one part of the whole fabric of human social life.
We must lead our adolescents to the point where they develop the inner maturity necessary to follow outer events in the world with caring interest. Otherwise, they will pass them by unheeded. As teachers, we must aim at turning our young human beings into social beings by the time of puberty. We must also try to cultivate in them religious feelings, not in a bigoted or sectarian way, but in the sense that they acquire the seriousness necessary to recognize that the physical world is everywhere permeated by spirit. They should not feel inwardly satisfied with merely observing the outer sense world but should be able to perceive the spiritual foundations of the world everywhere.
During prepubescence, when pupils open their inner being to us, believing in our authority, we must be what amounts to the whole world for them. If they find a world in us as their teachers, then they receive the right preparation to become reverent, social people in the world. We release them from our authority, which gave them a world, into the wide world itself.
Here, in only a few words, I touch on one of the most important problems of cognition. If we train children to make their own judgments too early, we expose them to forces of death instead of giving them forces of life. Only teachers whose natural authority awakens the belief that what they say and do is the right thing, and who in the eyes of the child become representatives of the world, will prepare their pupils to grow into really living human beings when, later on, they enter life. Such teachers prepare their pupils not by controlling their intellect or their capacity to form judgments but by setting the right example as living human beings. Life can evolve only with life. We make our students into proper citizens of the world by presenting the world to them in a human being — the teacher — not through abstract intellectual concepts.
I can characterize all of this in a few sentences, but what I am suggesting presupposes an ability to follow in detail how growing children evolve from day to day. By the power of his or her example, the way in which a teacher carries something through the door into the classroom already helps a child to develop further toward finding its own way in life. If we know this, we need not make amateurish statements, such as that all learning should be fun. Many people say this today. Try to see how far you get with such an abstract principle! In many respects learning cannot bring only joy to the child. The right way is to educate children by bringing enough life into the various subjects that they retain a curiosity for knowledge, even if it does not reward them immediately with pleasure. How a teacher proceeds should be a preparation for what pupils must learn from them.
This leads quite naturally to cultivation of the pupils’ sense of duty. We touch here upon a sphere that extends far beyond what belongs to the field of education. We touch on something where a method and practice of education based on spiritual foundations directly fructifies the whole of cultural life.
We all of us surely look up to Schiller and Goethe as leading spirits. To have studied and written about them for more than forty years, as I have, leaves one in no doubt as to one’s full, warm appreciation of their work and gifts. There is, however, just one point that I would like to make in this context.
When, in the 1790s, Schiller, having distanced himself from Goethe for all kinds of personal reasons renewed an intimate friendship with him, he wrote his famous — and sadly too little appreciated — Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man. Schiller wrote these letters under the influence of how Goethe worked, thought, and viewed the world. In those letters, which are about aesthetic education, we find a strange sentence: “Only when we play are we fully human, and we play only when we are human in the truest sense of the word.” With that sentence, Schiller wanted to point out how ordinary life essentially chains us into a kind of slavery, how the average person, forced to live under the yoke of necessity, suffers under the burden of outer life. In general, people are free to follow their own impulses only when engaged in artistic activities, when creating and enjoying art, or when behaving like children at play, acting only in accordance with their own impulses. What Schiller describes in his aesthetic letters is a beautiful and genuine conception of what it is to be human.
On the other hand, the letters show that with the advance of our modern scientific, technological civilization and for the sake of human dignity, exceptional persons like Schiller and Goethe found it necessary to demand that human beings should be allowed freedom from the daily round of duties. To become fully human, people should be relieved of the coercion of work so that they can be free to play. If we bear in mind the social conditions imposed on us by the twentieth century, we realize that we have completely changed our attitude toward life. Realizing that everyone must accept the demands of life, we feel that we carry an intolerable burden of responsibility upon our shoulders.
We must learn how to make life worthwhile again, from both the social and individual points of view, not only by introducing more play but by taking up our tasks in a more human way. This is the reason why the social question is today first of all a question of education. We must teach young people to work in the right way. The concept of duty must be brought into school, not by preaching, but in the right and natural way — which can be achieved only through a thorough, well grounded, and correct knowledge of human nature.
If we do so, we shall be founding schools for work, not schools following the attitude that teaching and learning are merely be a kind of “playing about.” In our school, where authority plays its proper part, pupils are expected not to shy away from the most demanding tasks. In Waldorf schools, students are encouraged to tackle whole heartedly whatever is to be mastered. They are not to be allowed to do whatever they feel like doing.
It is with this in view that the Waldorf school has been founded. Children are to learn to work in the right way; they are to be introduced to life in the world in the full human sense. This demands work for social reasons and also that, as human beings, the students should learn to face one another and, above all, themselves in the right way. For this reason, apart from conventional gymnastics, which originally evolved from human physiology and hence has its values, we have also introduced eurythmy — a new art of movement, cultivating body, soul and spirit; a visible form of language and music — into the Waldorf school.
You can find out more about eurythmy in Dornach. Just as there are speech and music that you can hear, so there also is a kind of language and music that uses the medium of gestures and movements evolved from the organization of the human body, but not as is done in dance or mime. It can be performed by groups of people who express in this new way the kind of content that is usually expressed through audible speech and music. Since its introduction in the Waldorf school some two years ago, we have already been able to observe that pupils from the lowest to the highest grades take to eurythmy lessons with the same natural ease with which little children take to speaking, provided that the lessons are given properly, in a way suited to each age group.
Once, during an introductory talk before a eurythmy performance in Dornach, I spoke about eurythmy to an audience that happened to include one of the most famous physiologists of our times (you would be surprised if you heard his name). After saying that we had no wish to denigrate the value of gym in schools, but that the time would come when such matters would be judged with less prejudice and that eurythmy, with its movements involving a person’s soul and spirit, would then come into its own, the famous physiologist approached me and said, “You said that gymnastics has its own beneficial value in modern education and that it is based on human physiology. As a physiologist, I consider gymnastics to be sheer barbarism!” It was not I who expressed this view, it was one of the best-known physiologists of our times!
Such an incident can lead us to appreciate the saying: “Consider well the what, but consider more the how.” There are occasions when, reading books on educational theory and applied teaching, one feels like shouting for joy. What the great educationalists have achieved! But what matters is the right how. One has to find ways and means of implementing the ideas into practical life in the right way.
Every Waldorf teacher must seek this anew each day, for anything that is alive must be founded on life. Spiritual science eventually leads each one of us to an understanding of fundamental truths that, although they are always the same, nevertheless inspire us ever anew. Regarding our ordinary knowledge based on material things, we depend on our memory. What has been absorbed is remembered, to be recalled later from the store of memory. What we have once learned, we possess; it is closely linked to us. In everyday life, we certainly need our store of memory. Our intellect depends on memory, but living processes do not need memory — not even on the lower levels of our existence. Just imagine for a moment that you thought that what you ate once as a small child sufficed for the rest of your life. You have to eat anew every day because eating is a part of a living process and what has been taken up by the organism must be thoroughly digested and transformed. Spiritual substance likewise must be taken up in a living way and an educational method based on anthroposophy must work out of this living process.
This is what I wanted to describe to you in brief outline, merely indicating here what has been described in further detail in anthroposophical books, particularly those dealing with education. I wanted to draw your attention to the educational principles of the Waldorf school, a pioneering school founded by our friend Emil Molt, a school that has no desire to rebel against contemporary education. It seeks only to put into practice what has often been suggested theoretically. Anyone who surveys the kind of life which humanity, particularly in Europe, lives today will recognize the need to deepen many aspects of life. During the second decade of this twentieth century, following the terrible catastrophe that destroyed most of what was best in humanity, one must admit the importance of giving the coming generations soul-spiritual and physical-bodily qualities different from those received by our contemporaries who have had to pay so dearly in human life. Those who, as parents, must care for the well-being of their sons and daughters and who, most of all, have the right to see how education relates to life, will view our efforts without prejudice. Those among them who, as parents, have experienced the great catastrophes of our times, will doubtlessly welcome every attempt that, based on deeper social and spiritual awareness, promises the coming generations something better than what has been offered to many at the present time. The people who have most reason to hope for an improvement of conditions prevailing in contemporary education are the parents and they, above all, have the right to expect and demand something better from the teachers. This was the thinking and the ideal that inspired us when we tried to lay the educational foundations of the Waldorf school.
FROM THE DISCUSSION
Dr. Steiner has spoken to us about the importance of authority in education, but this is something with which our young people want nothing to do. Every teacher, not to mention every priest, experiences it. Various currents run through our younger generation and one can certainly notice an aloofness on their part toward anything connected with the question of authority, be the authority in the parental home or authority regarding spiritual matters. Parents sometimes have the feeling that they no longer have any say in anything and that one must simply let these young people go their own way. On the other hand, one sometimes also witnesses the disillusionment of such an attitude and it is then painful to see young people not finding what they were seeking. There is something in the air that simply seems to forbid a respectful attitude toward older people, something that is like a deep-seated sting, ever ready to strike against authority in whatever form. Perhaps Dr. Steiner would be kind enough to tell us something about the reasons for this strange ferment among the younger generation. Why are they not happy? Why do they take special pleasure in complaining? It saddens us that we are no longer able to reach them. I have sought help by studying books dealing with this problem, but I have so far not found a single one that could show me the way forward. I would therefore be very happy if Dr. Steiner could say something to give us insight into the soul of a young person.
This is, of course, a subject that, unfortunately, were I were to deal with it in any depth, would require a whole lecture of at least the same length as the one I have just given you — I say unfortunately because you would have to listen to me for such a long time! I would, however, like to say at least a few words in response to the previous speaker’s remarks.
During my life, which by now can no longer be described as short, I have tried to follow up various life situations related to this question. On one hand, I have really experienced what it means to hear, in one’s childhood, a great deal of talk about a highly esteemed and respected relative whom one had not yet met in person. I have known what it is to become thoroughly familiar with the reverence toward such a person that is shared by all members of the household, by one’s parents as well as by others connected with one’s upbringing. I have experienced what it means to be led for the first time to the room of such a person, to hold the door handle in my hand, feeling full of awe and reverence. To have undergone such an experience is of lasting importance for the whole of one’s life. There can be no genuine feeling for freedom, consistent with human dignity, that does not have its roots in the experience of reverence and veneration such as one can feel deeply in one’s childhood days.
On the other hand, I have also witnessed something rather different. In Berlin, I made the acquaintance of a well-known woman socialist, who often made public speeches. One day I read, in an otherwise quite respectable newspaper, an article of hers entitled, “The Revolution of our Children.” In it, in true socialist style, she developed the theme of how, after the older generation had fought — or at least talked about — the revolution, it was now the children’s turn to act. It was not even clear whether children of preschool age were to be included in that revolution. This is a different example of how the question of authority has been dealt with during the last decades.
As a third example, I would like to quote a proposal, made in all seriousness by an educationalist who recommended that a special book be kept at school in which at the end of each week — it may have been at the end of each month — the pupils were to enter what they thought about their teachers. The idea behind this proposal was to prepare them for a time in the near future when teachers would no longer give report “marks” to their pupils but pupils would give grades to their teachers.
None of these examples can be judged rightly unless they are seen against the background of life as a whole. This will perhaps appear paradoxical to you, but I do believe that this whole question can be answered only within a wider context. As a consequence of our otherwise magnificent scientific and technical culture — which, in keeping with its own character, is bound to foster the intellect — the human soul has gradually become less and less permeated by living spirit. Today, when people imagine what the spirit is like, they usually reach only concepts and ideas about it. Those are only mental images of something vaguely spiritual. This, at any rate, is how the most influential philosophers of our time speak about the spiritual worlds as they elaborate their conceptual theories of education. This “conceptuality” is, of course, the very thing that anthroposophical spiritual science seeks to overcome. Spiritual science does not want its adherents merely to talk about the spirit or to bring it down into concepts and ideas; it wants human beings to imbue themselves with living spirit. If this actually happens to people, they very soon begin to realize that we have gradually lost touch with the living spirit. They recognize that it is essential that we find our way back to the living spirit. So-called intellectually enlightened people in particular have lost the inner experience of living spirit. At best, they turn into agnostics, who maintain that natural science can reach only a certain level of knowledge and that that level represents the ultimate limit of what can in fact be known. The fact that the real struggle for knowledge only begins at this point, and that it leads to a living experience of the spiritual world — of this, generally speaking, our educated society has very little awareness.
And what was the result, or rather what was the cause, of our having lost the spirit in our spoken words? Today, you will find that what you read in innumerable articles and books basically consists of words spilling more or less automatically from the human soul. If one is open-minded and conversant with the current situation, one often needs to read no more than the first few lines or pages of an article or book in order to know what the author is thinking about the various points in question. The rest follows almost automatically out of the words themselves. Once the spirit has gone out of life, the result is an empty phrase-bound, cliché-ridden language, and this is what so often happens in today’s cultural life. When people speak about cultural or spiritual matters or when they wish to participate in the cultural spiritual sphere of life, it is often no longer the living spirit that speaks through their being. It is clichés that dominate their language. This is true not only of how individuals express themselves. We find it above all in our “glorious” state education. Only think for a moment of how little of real substance is to be found in one or another political party that offers the most persuasive slogans or “party-phrases.” People become intoxicated by these clichés. Slogans might to some degree satisfy the intellect, but party phrases will not grasp real life. And so it must be said that what we find when we reach the heights of agnosticism — which has already penetrated deeply into our society — is richly saturated with empty phrases. Living so closely with such clichés, we no longer feel a need for what is truly living in language. Words no longer rise from profound enough depths of the human soul. Change will occur only if we permeate ourselves with the spirit once more. Two weeks ago, I wrote an article for The Goetheanum under the heading, “Spiritual Life Is Buried Alive.” In it, I drew attention to the sublime quality of the writing that can still be found among authors who wrote around the middle of the nineteenth century. Only very few people are aware of this. I showed several people some of these books that looked as if they had been read almost continually for about a decade, after which they seemed to have been consigned to dust. Full of surprise, they asked me, “Where did you find those books?” I explained that I am in the habit, now and then, of poring over old books in second-hand bookshops. In those bookshops, I consult the appropriate catalogs and ask for certain chosen books to be delivered to wherever I am staying. In that way I manage to find totally forgotten books of all kinds, books that will never be reprinted but that give clear evidence of how the spirit has been “buried alive” in our times, at least to a certain extent.
Natural science is protected from falling into such clichés simply because of its close ties to experimentation and observation. When making experiments, one is dealing with actual spiritual facts that have their place in the general ordering of natural laws. But, excepting science, we have been gradually sliding into a life heavily influenced by clichés and phrases, by-products of the overspecialization of the scientific, technological development of our times. Apart from many other unhappy circumstances of our age, it is to living in such a phrase-ridden, clichéd language that we must attribute the problem raised by the previous speaker. For a child’s relationship to an adult is an altogether imponderable one. The phrase might well flourish in adult conversations, and particularly so in party-political meetings, but if one speaks to children in mere phrases, clichés, they cannot make anything of them. And what happens when we speak in clichés — no matter whether the subject is religious, scientific, or unconventionally open-minded? The child’s soul does not receive the necessary sustenance, for empty phrases cannot offer proper nourishment to the soul. This, in turn, lets loose the lower instincts. You can see it happening in the social life of Eastern Europe, where, through Leninism and Trotskyism, an attempt was made to establish the rule of the phrase. This, of course, can never work creatively and in Soviet Russia, therefore, the worst instincts have risen from the lower regions. For the same reason, instincts have risen up and come to the fore in our own younger generation. Such instincts are not even unhealthy in every respect, but they show that the older generation has been unable to endow language with the necessary soul qualities. Basically, the problems presented by our young are consequences of problems within the adult world; at least when regarded in a certain light, they are parents’ problems. When meeting the young, we create all too easily an impression of being frightfully clever, making them feel frightfully stupid, whereas those who are able to learn from children are mostly the wisest people. If one does not approach the young with empty phrases, one meets them in a totally different way. The relationship between the younger generation and the adult world reflects our not having given it sufficient warmth of soul. This has contributed to their present character. That we must not blame everything that has gone wrong entirely on the younger generation becomes clearly evident, dear friends, by their response to what is being done for our young people in the Waldorf school, even during the short time of its existence.
As you have seen already, Waldorf education is primarily a question of finding the right teachers. I must confess that whenever I come to Stuttgart to visit and assist in the guidance of the Waldorf school — which unfortunately happens only seldom — I ask the same question in each class, naturally within the appropriate context and avoiding any possible tedium, “Children, do you love your teachers?” You should hear and witness the enthusiasm with which they call out in chorus, “Yes!” This call to the teachers to engender love within their pupils is all part of the question of how the older generation should relate to the young. In this context, it seems appropriate to mention that we decided from the beginning to open a complete primary school, comprising all eight classes in order to cover the entire age range of an elementary school. And sometimes, when entering the school building, one could feel quite alarmed at the apparent lack of discipline, especially during break times. Those who jump to judgment too quickly said, “You see what a free Waldorf school is like! The pupils lose all sense of discipline.” What they did not realize was that the pupils who had come to us from other schools had been brought up under so-called “iron discipline.” Actually, they have already calmed down considerably but, when they first arrived under the influence of their previous “iron discipline,” they were real scamps. The only ones who were moderately well-behaved were the first graders who had come directly from their parental homes — and even then, this was not always the case. Nevertheless, whenever I visit the Waldorf school, I notice a distinct improvement in discipline. And now, after a little more than two years of existence, one can see a great change. Our pupils certainly won’t turn into “apple-polishers” but they know that, if something goes wrong, they can always approach their teachers and trust them to enter into the matter sympathetically. This makes the pupils ready to confide. They may be noisy and full of boisterous energy — they certainly are not inhibited — but they are changing, and what can be expected in matters of discipline is gradually evolving. What I called in my lecture a natural sense of authority is also steadily growing.
For example, it is truly reassuring to hear the following report. A pupil entered the Waldorf school. He was already fourteen years old and was therefore placed into our top class. When he arrived, he was a thoroughly discontented boy who had lost all faith in his previous school. Obviously, a new school cannot offer a panacea to such a boy in the first few days. The Waldorf school must be viewed as a whole — if you were to cut a small piece from a painting, you could hardly give a sound judgment on the whole painting. There are people, for instance, who believe that they know all about the Waldorf school after having visited it for only one or two days. This is nonsense. One cannot become fully acquainted with the methods of anthroposophy merely by sampling a few of them. One must experience the spirit pervading the whole work. And so it was for the disgruntled boy who entered our school so late in the day. Naturally, what he encountered there during the first few days could hardly give him the inner peace and satisfaction for which he was hoping. After some time, however, he approached his history teacher, who had made a deep impression on him. The boy wanted to speak with this teacher, to whom he felt he could open his heart and tell of his troubles. This conversation brought about a complete change in the boy. Such a thing is only possible through the inner sense of authority of which I have spoken. These things become clear when this matter-of-fact authority has arisen by virtue of the quality of the teachers and their teaching. I don’t think that I am being premature in saying that the young people who are now passing through the Waldorf school are hardly likely to exhibit the spirit of non-cooperation with the older generation of which the previous speaker spoke. It is really up to the teachers to play their parts in directing the negative aspects of the “storm and stress” fermenting in our youth into the right channels.
In the Waldorf school, we hold regular teacher meetings that differ substantially from those in other schools. During those meetings, each child is considered in turn and is discussed from a psychological point of view. All of us have learned a very great deal during these two years of practicing Waldorf pedagogy. This way of educating the young has truly grown into one organic whole.
We would not have been able to found our Waldorf school if we had not been prepared to make certain compromises. Right at the beginning, I drafted a memorandum that was sent to the education authorities. In it, we pledged to bring our pupils in their ninth year up to the generally accepted standards of learning, thus enabling them to enter another school if they so desired. The same generally accepted levels of achievement were to be reached in their twelfth and again in their fourteenth year. But, regarding our methods of teaching, we requested full freedom for the intervening years. This does constitute a compromise, but one must work within the given situation. It gave us the possibility of putting into practice what we considered to be essential for a healthy and right way of teaching. As an example, consider the case of school reports. From my childhood reports I recall certain phrases, such as “almost praiseworthy,” “hardly satisfactory” and so on. But I never succeeded in discovering the wisdom behind my teachers’ distinction of a “hardly satisfactory” from an “almost satisfactory” mark. You must bear with me, but this is exactly how it was. In the Waldorf school, instead of such stereotyped phrases or numerical marks, we write reports in which teachers express in their own style how each pupil has fared during the year. Our reports do not contain abstract remarks that must seem like mere empty phrases to the child. For, if something makes no sense, it is a mere phrase. As each child gradually grows up into life, the teachers write in their school reports what each pupil needs to know about him- or herself. Each report thus contains its own individual message, representing a kind of biography of the pupil’s life at school during the previous school year. Furthermore, we end our reports with a little verse, specially composed for each child, epitomizing the year’s progress. Naturally, writing this kind of report demands a great deal of time. But the child receives a kind of mirror of itself. So far, I have not come across a single student who did not show genuine interest in his or her report, even if it contained some real home truths. Especially the aptly chosen verse at the end is something that can become of real educational value to the child. One must make use of all means possible to call forth in the children the feeling that their guides and educators have taken the task of writing these reports very seriously, and that they have done so not in a onesided manner, but from a direct and genuine interest in their charges. A great deal depends on our freeing ourselves from the cliché-ridden cultivation of the phrase so characteristic of our times, and on our showing the right kind of understanding for the younger generation. I am well aware that this is also connected with psychological predispositions of a more national character, and to gain mastery over these is an even more difficult task.
It might surprise you to hear that in none of the various anthroposophical conferences that we have held during the past few months was there any lack of younger members. They were always there and I never minced my words when speaking to them. But they soon realized that I was not addressing them with clichés or empty phrases. Even if they heard something very different from what they had expected, they could feel that what I said came straight from the heart, as all words of real value do. During our last conference in Stuttgart in particular, a number of young persons representing the youth movement were again present and, after a conversation with them lasting some one-and-a-half or two hours, it was unanimously decided to actually found an anthroposophical youth group, and this despite the fact that young people do not usually value anything even vaguely connected with authority, for they believe that everything has to grow from within, out of themselves, a principle that they were certainly not prepared to abandon.
What really matters is how the adults meet the young, how they approach them. From experience — many times confirmed — I can only point out that this whole question of the younger generation is often a question of the older generation. As such, it can perhaps be best answered by looking a little less at the younger generation and looking a little more deeply into ourselves.
A PERSON FROM THE AUDIENCE:
Perhaps, at this point, a member of the younger generation might be allowed to speak up. Please forgive my speaking plainly, but the truth is that we younger people have lost all respect for authority, for older people. Why? because our parents, too, have lost it. When talking to them or to other adults, we find that all that they can do is to criticize all kinds of unimportant, niggling things in others — thus showing their own generation in a bad light. We young people sometimes feel that those who are trying to educate us have become walking compromises, incapable of making up their minds on which side they stand, unable to state from the fullness of their hearts what their opinions are, unable to stand up for what they believe in. And we all the time have the feeling that our parents and educators do not in fact want to learn what we young are really like. Instead, they keep criticizing and condemning us. I need only to think of how we in our youth circle work together and what kind of things we study. For instance, we have read and discussed together Blüchner and Morgenstern. Just imagine those two polar opposites! This sort of thing happens with us all the time. Events in the world buffet us and nowhere can we find a center to give us a firm grasp. Nowhere can we find a really living person who can stand above it all with a comprehensive viewpoint — not even a person who can do so conceptually. How is it possible to teach unless behind everything that is taught there is a real living human being, whom one can feel coming through his or her teaching? . . . If that were to happen, it would rouse our enthusiasm. But, as long as our teachers do not approach us as human beings, as long as they are afraid even, sometimes, to laugh at themselves, we simply cannot feel the necessary confidence in them. I can say with complete conviction that we young people are really seeking adults to whom we can look up as authorities. We are looking for a center, for a firm grip with which we can pull ourselves up and that would enable us to grow into the kind of life that has an inner reality. That is why we throw ourselves into everything new that appears on the horizon: we always hope to discover something that could have a real meaning for us. But whenever this happens, we find nothing but a confusion of opinions and attitudes. We find judgments that are not real judgments at all, but are at best only criticisms.
If I may say something to the first speaker, who asked for a book to explain why young people behave as they do, I say: Don’t read a book. To find an answer, read us young people! If you want to talk to the younger generation, you must approach them as living human beings. You must be ready to open yourself to them. Young people will then do the same and young and old will become clear about what each is looking for.
As a teacher, I would like to ask Dr. Steiner whether he himself does not believe what the first speaker in today’s discussion brought up; namely, that a quite new mood and spirit are stirring among young people today. This might perhaps be more evident in the larger cities, where even teachers with a deeply human attitude are no longer able to cope with difficulties as they were able to some fifty years ago. The source of the problem has been rightly sought in the older generation. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that today’s youth, under the influence of social-democratic ideas, is pervaded by skepticism to the extent that a teacher of Dr. Steiner’s persuasion might not be able to imagine the kind of insolence and arrogance with which we have to put up. Socialistic contradictions are rife among the young, creating a false urge for independence in them that makes the teachers’ tasks far more difficult than they were some time ago. Indeed, our job is now often almost impossible. What Dr. Steiner said gave the impression that the behavior of our youth merely reflects the shortcomings of their teachers. Certainly, teachers must take their share of the blame, but is it all the teachers’ fault? Are all teachers to blame? That is the question. Is it not the case that the few good teachers, who are not to blame, nevertheless bluntly state that a new and different kind of youth has appeared and that lack of faith and skepticism among them makes the teacher’s task far more difficult?
Well, if you put the question in this way, it is impossible to move forward. Putting it thus will not produce anything fruitful. It is the wrong way to begin. To declare that young people have changed and that it might have been easier to deal with them fifty years ago is not the point at all; the crux of the matter is to find ways and means of coping with the problem. After all, the younger generation is there, growing up in our midst. Nor is it productive to speak of our youth as being led into skepticism by social-democratic prejudices. That is as futile as if one were to criticize something in nature because it was growing in an undesirable way — and that is what is happening with the young. They are growing up among us like products of nature. Rather than stating the fact that the young have changed, and that perhaps it was easier to deal with them fifty years ago, the only way forward is to find ways and means of enabling the older generation to cooperate with the young again. We shall find no answer if we merely point out that today’s youth is different from what it was fifty years ago, as if this were something to be accepted more or less fatalistically. That kind of attitude will never lead us to find an answer to this problem. Of course, the young have changed! And, if we observe life, we can see that the change has its positive aspects, too — that we could speak of it as a change toward something greater. Let me remind you, for instance, of the generational conflicts that we find expressed in literature. You can read them or see them performed on the stage. You still sometimes come across performances of plays from the late 1880s when the relationship between the younger and older generation was vividly portrayed. You will see that what we are discussing is an age-old problem. It has been regarded for centuries as a kind of catastrophe. By comparison, what is happening today is mere child’s play! But, as I said before, merely to state facts will not lead us further.
The question everywhere is how to regain the lost respect for authority in individual human beings that will enable you as teachers and educators to find the right relationship to the young. That it is generally correct to state that young people do not find the necessary conditions for such a respect and sense of authority in the older generation and that they find among its members an attitude of compromise is in itself, in my opinion, no evidence against what I have said. This striving for compromise can be found on a much wider scale even in world events, so that the question of how to regain respect for human authority and dignity could be extended to a worldwide level. I would like to add that — of course — I realize that there exist good and devoted teachers as described by the last speaker. But the pupils usually behave differently when taught by those good teachers. If one discriminates, one can observe that the young respond quite differently in their company.
We must not let ourselves be led into an attitude of complaining and doubting by judgments that are too strongly colored by our own hypotheses, but must be clear that ultimately the way in which the younger generation behaves is, in general, conditioned by the older generation. My observations were not meant to imply that teachers were to be held solely responsible for the faults of the young. At this point, I feel rather tempted to point to how lack of respect for authority is revealed in its worst light when we look at some of the events of recent history. Only remember certain moments during the last, catastrophic war. There was a need to replace older, leading personalities. What kind of person was chosen? In France, Clemenceau, in Germany, Hertling — all old men of the most ancient kind who carried a certain authority only because they had once been important personalities. But they were no longer the kind of person who could take his or her stance from a direct grasp of the then current situation. And what is happening now? Only recently the prime ministers of three leading countries found their positions seriously jeopardized. Yet all three are still in office, simply because no other candidate could be found who carried sufficient weight of authority! That was the only reason for their survival as prime ministers. And so we find that, in important world happenings, too, a general sense of authority has been undermined, even in leading figures. You can hardly blame the younger generation for that! But these symptoms have a shattering effect on the young who witness them.
We really have to tackle this whole question at a deeper level and, above all, in a more positive light. We must be clear that, instead of complaining about the ways in which the young confront their elders, we should be thinking of how we can improve our own attitude toward young. To continue telling them how wrong they are and that it is no longer possible to cooperate with them can never lead to progress. In order to work toward a more fruitful future, we must look for what the spiritual cultural sphere, and life in general, can offer to help us regain respect and trust in the older generation. Those who know the young know that they are only too happy when they can have faith in their elders again. This is really true. Their skepticism ceases as soon as they can find something of real value, something in which they can believe. Generally speaking, we cannot yet say that life is ruled by what is right. But, if we offer our youth something true, they will feel attracted to it. If we no longer believe this to be the case, if all that we do is moan and groan about youth’s failings, then we shall achieve nothing at all.