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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy II
GA 304a

XI. Educational Issues I

29 August 1924, London

First of all I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Mackenzie for her kind words of greeting, and to all of you who have made the effort to meet again, at Professor Mackenzie’s invitation, to discuss questions of education.

In the short time available little can be said about the educational methods based on anthroposophy, for their essence is in an educational practice that does not have fixed programs, nor clearly defined general concepts to encompass it. The main intention of Waldorf education is that its teachers should be able to look deeply into the nature of the child from a true and genuine knowledge of the human being, and that in the individuality of each child who has come down into the earthly realm, they should be able to experience a wondrous enigma, which the educator and the world can never hope to understand completely. The teacher’s practical task is to discern ways to approach the mystery, the enigma, that divine guiding spirits present us with each child who joins our contemporary society. The teacher’s task begins at the age when the child discards the baby teeth, around the seventh year, and extends until the eighteenth or nineteenth year when, as a young man or woman, the student either goes out into life or enters higher education.

A few years ago, due to the devastating war, many new ideals, and certainly many illusions as well, emerged in Germany. At that time, the industrialist Emil Molt saw an opportunity to do something important for the workers in his factory. He felt that, by opening a school for their children, he could to some extent help reconcile his workers with their destiny as factory workers, and above all do something about what was then the great social demand of the time—he wanted to begin a school for his employees’ children, where the children, although laborers’ children, would get the best possible education imaginable.

This should make it clear immediately that the education I am representing here was not hatched from some ideas or from any plan for reform; it was, instead, born as a direct answer to a practical life situation. Emil Molt simply declared, “My workers have a total of a hundred and fifty children, and these children must be educated in the best way possible.” This could happen within the anthroposophical movement because, as strange as it may sound to you, anthroposophists are neither theorists nor visionary dreamers, but practical people who take the pragmatic side of life seriously; indeed, we like to believe that practical matters are nurtured especially within the anthroposophical movement. In other words, the idea regarding this education was the direct result of a practical need.

In Stuttgart, where all this happened, the necessary conditions for starting such a school were soon created. At that time, a democratic legislation of schools did not yet exist; that came into force only with the subsequent democratically constituted assembly. We came just in time to begin the school before the emergence of a “free” school legislation, which forced a general levelling of all schools in Germany—paying lip service to freedom by enforcing fixed laws. So we were only just in time to open such a school. I must quickly add that the school authorities have always shown great understanding and cooperation ever since the school was founded. It was fortunately possible to begin “The Free Waldorf school” in complete freedom. Its name arose because of its association with the Waldorf-Astoria Factory.

I do not wish to imply in any way that state-trained teachers are inferior, and certainly not that they are poor teachers simply because they have passed a state exam! Nevertheless, I was granted freedom in my choice of teachers, regardless of whether they were state trained or not. It was left to my discretion whether my candidates would make good and efficient teachers, and it happens that most of the teachers at the Waldorf school, based on the educational principles I wish to speak about, are in fact not state trained.

However, the situation did not remain as it was then. The school was begun with a hundred and fifty students. In no time at all, anthroposophists living in Stuttgart also wanted to send their children to this school because the education it offered was supposed to be very good. Since then (only a few years ago) the school has grown to more than eight hundred children. Several grades, like our fifth and sixth grades, have three parallel classes.

A further step, perhaps not quite as practical (I don’t want to judge this) was that Emil Molt, after deciding to open the school, asked me to provide the school with spiritual guidance and methods. It was only possible to give this guidance based on the spiritual research and knowledge of the human being that I represent. Our fundamental goal is to know the complete human being as a being of body, soul, and spirit, as a person grows from childhood, and to be able to read in the soul of the child what needs to be done each week, month, and year. Consequently, one could say our education is a teaching based entirely on knowledge of the child, and this knowledge guides us in finding the appropriate methods and principles.

I can give only general and sketchy outlines here of what is meant by knowledge of the human being. There is much talk nowadays about physical education, about the importance of not sacrificing physical education to the education of the child’s mind and soul. However, to separate the physical aspect from that of the soul and spirit is in itself a great illusion, because in a young child, spirit, soul, and body form a unity. It is impossible to separate one realm from the other in early childhood.

To give an example, let us imagine a child at school; a child becomes more and more pale. The paling of the child is a physical symptom that the teacher should notice. If an adult becomes increasingly pale, one seeks the advice of a doctor, who will think of an appropriate therapy according to an understanding of the case. Teachers of an abnormally pale child must ask themselves whether this child was already that pale when entering the class, or if the child’s complexion changed afterward. Lo and behold, they may realize that they themselves were the cause of the child’s pallor, because of excessive demands on the child’s memory forces. Consequently they will realize that they must reduce the pressure in this respect. Here is a case where physical symptoms reveal problems in the sphere of the soul. The child becomes pale because the memory has been overtaxed.

Then again, teachers may be faced with a different type of child; this time the child does not turn pale; on the contrary, the complexion becomes increasingly ruddy. This child appears to lack good will, gets restless, and turns into what is usually called a “hyperactive” child. The child lacks discipline, jumps up and down and cannot sit still for a moment, constantly wanting to run in and out. It is now up to the teacher to find the cause of these changes, and, lo and behold, it may be found (not always, because individual cases vary greatly and have to be diagnosed individually) that the child had been given too little to remember. This can easily happen because the appropriate amount of material to be remembered varies greatly from child to child.

As it happens, government inspectors visit our school. The authorities make sure that they know what is happening in our school! At the time when socialism was flourishing, one local director of education came to inspect the school, and I took him around to the various classes for three days. I pointed out that our physical education was intended to develop the students’ spiritual capacities, and that we educate their mental-spiritual capacities in such a way that their physical bodies benefit, because the two form a unity. Thereupon the inspector exclaimed, “But in this case your teachers would have to know medicine as well, and that is not possible!” To which I answered, “I do not think so, but if it were indeed necessary, it would have to be done, because a teacher’s training must ensure that the teacher is capable of thorough insight into the physical and spiritual background of the growing child.”

Furthermore, if one has a child of the type just described, a child who becomes increasingly restless and who does not pale but, on the contrary, becomes flushed, one can think of all kinds of things to do. However, to help such a child, one has to make sure of the right treatment. And the right treatment may be very difficult to find, for insight into human nature must not limit its considerations to a certain period of time, such as from age seven to age fourteen, which is the time when the class teacher is with the children. One must realize that much of what happens during these seven years has consequences that manifest only much later. One might choose the comfortable ways of experimental psychology, which only considers the child’s present state of development to decide what to do, but if one endeavors to survey the child’s whole life from birth to death, one knows: When I give the child too little content to remember, I induce a tendency toward serious illness, which may not appear before the forty-fifth year; I may cause a layer of fat to form above the heart. One has to know what form of illness may be induced eventually through the education of the child’s soul and spirit. Knowledge of the human being is not confined to an experiment with a student in the present condition, but includes knowledge of the whole human being—body, soul, and spirit—as well as a knowledge of what happens during various ages and stages of life.

When these matters become the basis for teaching, one will also find them relevant in the moral sphere. You may agree with me when I say that there are some people who, in ripe old age, give off an atmosphere of blessing to those in their company. They needn’t say much, but nevertheless radiate beneficial influence to others merely by the expression in their eyes, their mere presence, arm gestures—saying little perhaps, but speaking with a certain intonation and emphasis, or a characteristic tempo. They can permeate whatever they say or do with love, and this is what creates the effect of blessing on those around them. What kind of people are they?

In order to explain this phenomenon with real insight into human life, one must look back to their childhood. One then finds that such people learned, in their childhood, to revere and pray to the spiritual world in the right way, for no one has the gift of blessing in old age who has not learned to fold his or her hands in prayer between the ages of seven and fourteen. This folding of the hands in prayer during the age of primary education enters deeply into the inner organization of the human being and is transformed into the capacity for blessing in old age. This example shows how different life stages are interrelated and interwoven in human life. When educating children, one educates for all of life—that is, during a person’s younger years one may cultivate possibilities for moral development in old age. This education does not encroach on human freedom. Human freedom is attacked primarily when a certain inner resistance struggles against a free will impulse. What I have been talking about is connected with freeing a person from inner impediments and hindrances.

This should suffice as an introduction to tonight’s theme. When one tries to achieve a more intimate knowledge of human nature, observing it not just externally but also with the inner gaze directed more toward the spiritual, one discovers that human beings pass through clearly defined life periods.

The first three periods of life are of particular importance and interest for education. The first one has a more homogeneous character and lasts from birth to age seven—that is, until the time of the change of teeth. The second period of life extends from the change of teeth to puberty, around age fourteen. The third begins at puberty and ends in the twenties. It is easy to notice external physical changes, but only a trained capacity for observation will reveal the more hidden aspects of these different life periods.

Such observation shows that during the first seven years, roughly from birth to the change of teeth, the child’s spirit, soul, and body are completely merged into a unity. Observe a child entering into this world, with open features still undifferentiated, movements uncoordinated, and without the ability to show even the most primitive human expressions, such as laughing or weeping. (A baby can cry, of course, but this crying is not really weeping; it does not spring from emotions of the soul because the soul realm has not yet developed independently.) All of this makes the child into a unique being, and indeed, the greatest wonder of the world. We observe a baby weekly and monthly; from an undefined physiognomy, something gradually evolves in the physical configuration of the little body, as if coming from a center. Soul qualities begin to animate not only the child’s looks, but also the hand and arm movements. And it is a wonderful moment when, after moving about on hands and knees, the child first assumes the vertical posture. To anyone who can observe this moment, it appears as a most wonderful phenomenon.

When we perceive all this with spiritual awareness, which can be done, it shows us the following: There, in this unskillful little body, spirit is living, spirit that cannot yet control limb movements. This is still done very clumsily, but it is the same human spirit that, later on, may develop into a genius. It is there, hidden in the movements of arms and legs, in questing facial expression, and in the searching sense of taste.

Then we find that, from birth until the second dentition, the young child is almost entirely one sense organ. What is the nature of a sense organ? It surrenders fully to the world. Consider the eye. The entire visible world is mirrored in the eye and is contained in it. The eye is totally surrendered to the world. Likewise the child, though in a different way, is surrendered fully to the environment. We adults may taste sweet, bitter, or acid tastes on the tongue and with the palate, but the tastes do not penetrate our entire organism. Although we are not usually aware of it, it is nevertheless true to say that when the baby drinks milk the taste of the milk is allowed to permeate the entire organism. The baby lives completely like an eye, like one large sense organ. The differentiation between outer and inner senses occurs only later. And the characteristic feature is that, when a child perceives something, it is done in a state of dreamy consciousness.

If, for example, a very choleric father, a man who in behaviors, gestures, and attitudes is always ready to lose his temper, and displays the typical symptoms of his temperament around a child, then the child, in a dreaming consciousness, perceives not only the outer symptoms, but also the father’s violent temperament. The child does not recognize temperamental outbursts as such, but perceives the underlying disposition, and this perception directly affects the finest vascular vessels right into the blood circulation and respiration. The young child’s physical and bodily existence is thus affected immediately by the spiritual impressions received. We may admonish a child, we may say all kinds of things, but until the seventh year this is all meaningless to the child. The only thing that matters is how we ourselves act and behave in its presence. Until the change of teeth, a child is entirely an imitating being, and upbringing and education can be effected only by setting the proper example to be imitated. This is the case for moral matters as well.

In such matters one can have some rather strange experiences. One day a father of a young child came to me in a state of great agitation because (so he told me) his son, who had always been such a good boy, had stolen! The father was very confused, because he was afraid this was a sign that his son would develop into a morally delinquent person. I said to him, “Let’s examine first whether your son has really stolen. What has he actually done?” “He has taken money out of the cupboard from which his mother takes money to pay household expenses. With this money he bought sweets, which he gave to other children.” I could reassure the father that his boy had not stolen at all, that the child had merely imitated what he had seen his mother do several times every day. Instinctively he had imitated his mother, taking money out of the cupboard, because Mother had been doing it.

Whether in kindergarten or at home, we educate the child only when we base all education and child rearing on the principle of imitation, which works until the second dentition. Speaking, too, is learned purely by imitation. Up to the change of teeth, a child learns everything through imitation. The only principle necessary at this stage is that human behavior should be worthy of imitation. This includes also thinking, because in their own way, children perceive whether our thoughts are moral or not. People do not usually believe in these imponderables, but they are present nevertheless. While around young children, we should not allow ourselves even a single thought that is unworthy of being absorbed by the child.

These things are all connected directly with the child as an imitator until the change of teeth. Until then all possibility of teaching and bringing up a child depends on recognizing this principle of imitation. There is no need to consider whether we should introduce one or another Froebel kindergarten method, because everything that has been contrived in this field belongs to the age of materialism. Even when we work with children according to the Froebel system, it is not the actual content of the work that influences them, but how we do it. Whatever we ask children to do without doing it first ourselves in front of them is merely extra weight that we impose on them.

The situation changes when the child’s change of teeth begins. During this stage the primary principle of early education is the teacher’s natural authority. Acceptance of authority is spontaneous on the child’s part, and it is not necessary to enforce it in any way. During the first seven years of life a child will copy what we do. During the second seven years, from the change of teeth until puberty, a child is guided and oriented by what those in authority bring through their own conduct and through their words. This relationship has nothing to do with the role of freedom in human life in a social and individual sense, but it has everything to do with the nature of the child between the second dentition and puberty. At this point it is simply part of a child’s nature to want to look up with natural respect to the authority of a revered teacher who represents all that is right and good. Between the seventh and fourteenth years, a child still cannot judge objectively whether something is true, good, or beautiful; therefore only through the guidance of a naturally respected authority can the students find their bearings in life. Advocating the elimination of a child’s faith in the teacher’s authority at this particular age would actually eliminate any real and true education.

Why does a child of this age believe something is true? Because the authority of the teacher and educator says so. The teacher is the source of truth. Why does something appeal to a child of this age as beautiful? Because the teacher reveals it as such. This also applies to goodness. At this age children have to gain abstract judgment of truth, goodness, and beauty by experiencing concretely the judgments of those in authority. Everything depends on whether the adult in charge exerts a self-evident authority on the child between seven and fourteen; for now the child is no longer a sense organ but has developed a soul that needs nourishment in the form of images or thoughts. We now have to introduce all teaching subjects imaginatively, pictorially—that is, artistically. To do so, teachers need the gift of bringing everything to children at this age in the form of living pictures.

As teachers, we ourselves must be able to live in a world of imagery. For example, let’s imagine that we have to teach a young child to read. Consider what this implies—the child is expected to decipher signs written or printed on paper. In this form they are completely alien to the child. Sounds, speech, and vowels that carry a person’s feelings and are inwardly experienced, are not alien to the child. A child knows the sense of wonder felt at seeing the sun rise. “Ah” (A) is the sound of wonder. The sound is there, but what does the sign that we write on paper have to do with it? The child knows the feeling of apprehension of something uncanny: “Oo” (U).

But what does the sign we write on the paper have to do with this sound? The child has no inner relationship to what has become modern abstract writing. If we return to earlier civilizations, we find that writing was different then. In ancient days, people painted what they wished to express. Look at Egyptian hieroglyphics—they have a direct relationship to the human soul. When introducing writing to the child, we must return to expressing what we wish to communicate in the form of pictures. This is possible, however, only when we do not begin by introducing the alphabet directly, nor reading as a subject, but when we start with painting.

Consequently, when young students enter our school, we introduce them first to the world of flowing colors with watercolor painting. Naturally, this can cause a certain amount of chaos and disorder in the classroom, but the teacher copes with that. The children learn how to work with paints, and through the use of color the teacher can guide them toward definite forms. With the necessary skill, the teacher can allow the shapes of the letters to evolve from such painted forms. In this way, the children gain a direct relationship to the various shapes of the letters. It is possible to develop the written vowels A or U so that first one paints the mood of wonder (or of fright), finally allowing the picture to assume the form of the appropriate letters.

All teaching must have an artistic quality based on the pictorial element. The first step is to involve the whole being of the child in the effort of painting, which is subsequently transformed into writing. Only later do we develop the faculty of reading, which is linked to the head system—that is, to only one part of the human being. Reading comes after writing. First a form of drawing with paint (leading the child from color experience to form), out of which writing is evolved. Only then do we introduce reading.

The point is that, from the nature of the child, the teacher should learn how to proceed. This is the right way of finding the appropriate method, based on one’s observation and knowledge of the child. Our Waldorf school has to do with method, not theory. It always endeavors to solve the wonderful riddle, the riddle of the growing child, and to introduce to the child what the child’s own nature is bringing to the surface. In using this method, one finds that between the second dentition and puberty one has to approach all teaching pictorially and imaginatively, and this is certainly possible. Yet, in order to carry the necessary authority, one has to have the right attitude toward what one’s pictures really represent. For example, it is possible to speak to one’s students even at a relatively early age about the immortality of the human soul. (In giving this example, I am not trying to solve a philosophical problem, but speak only from the perspective of practical pedagogy.) One could say to a child, “Look at the cocoon and its shape.” One should show it to a child if possible. “You see, the cocoon opens and a butterfly flies out! This is how it is when a human being dies. The human body is like the cocoon of a butterfly. The soul flies out of the body, even though we cannot see it. When someone dies, just as the butterfly flies out of the cocoon, so the soul flies out of the body into the spiritual world.”

Now, there are two possible ways that a teacher can introduce this simile. In one instance, the teacher may feel very superior to the “ignorant” student, considering oneself clever and the child ignorant. But this attitude does not accomplish much. If, in creating a picture for the child, one thinks that one is doing so only to help the child understand the abstract concept of immortality, such a picture will not convey much, because imponderables play a role. Indeed, the child will gain nothing unless the teacher is convinced of the truth of this picture, feeling that one is involved with something sacred. Those who can look into the spiritual world believe in the truth of this picture, because they know that, with the emerging butterfly, divine-spiritual powers have pictured in the world the immortality of the human soul. Such people know this image to be true and not a teacher’s concoction for the benefit of “ignorant” students. If teachers feel united with this picture, believing what they have put into it and thus identifying themselves with it, they will be real and natural authorities for their students. Then the child is ready to accept much, although it will appear fruitful only later in life.

It has become popular to present everything in simple and graphic form so that “even children can understand it.” This results in appalling trivialities. One thing, however, is not considered. Let’s assume that, when the teacher stands before the child as the representative and source of truth, beauty, and goodness, a child of seven accepts something on the teacher’s authority, knowing that the teacher believes in it. The child cannot yet understand the point in question because the necessary life experience has not occurred. Much later—say, at the age of thirty five—life may bring something like an “echo,” and suddenly the former student realizes that long ago the teacher spoke about the same thing, which only now, after having gained a great deal more life experience, can be understood fully.

In this way a bridge is made between the person who was eight or nine years old, and the person who is now thirty-five years old, and this has a tremendously revitalizing effect on such a person, granting a fresh increase of life forces. This fact is well-known to anyone with a deep knowledge of the human being, and education must be built on such knowledge.

Through using our educational principles in the Waldorf school in this and similar ways, we endeavor to attune our education of body, soul, and spirit to the innermost core of the child’s being. For example, there might be a phlegmatic child in a class. We pay great attention to the children’s temperaments, and we even arrange the seating order in the classrooms according to temperaments. Consequently we put the phlegmatic children into one group. This is not only convenient for the teachers, because they are always aware of where their young phlegmatics are sitting, but it also has a beneficial effect on the children themselves, in that the phlegmatics who sit together bore each other to death with their indifference. By overcoming some of their temperament, they become a little more balanced.

As for the cholerics who constantly push and punch each other when sitting together, they learn in a wonderfully corrective way how to curb their temperament, at least to some extent! And so it goes. If teachers know how to deal with the various temperaments by assuming, let us say, a thoroughly phlegmatic attitude themselves when dealing with phlegmatic children, they cause in these little phlegmatics a real inner disgust with their own temperament.

Such things must become a part of our teaching, in order to turn it into a really artistic task. It is especially important for students at this age. Teachers may have a melancholic child in their class. If they can look into the spiritual background, in an anthroposophical sense, they may want to find and think through some measure for the benefit of such a child. The education we speak of begins with the knowledge that spirit exists in everything of a physical-bodily nature. One cannot see through matter, but one can learn to know it by seeing its spiritual counterpart, thereby discovering the nature of matter. Materialism suffers from ignorance of what matter really is, because it does not see the spirit in matter.

To return to our little melancholic, such a student can cause us serious concern. The teacher might feel prompted to come up with very ingenious ideas to help the child overcome a particularly melancholic temperament. This, however, can often prove fruitless. Although such a situation may have been observed very correctly, the measures taken may not lead to the desired effect. If, on the other hand, teachers realize that a deterioration of the liver function is at the root of this melancholic nature, if they suspect that there is something wrong with the child’s liver, they will know the course of action necessary. They must contact the child’s parents and find out as much as possible about the child’s eating habits. In this way they may discover that the little melancholic needs to eat more sugar. The teachers try to win the parents’ cooperation, because they know from spiritual science that the beginnings of a degeneration in the liver function connected with melancholia can be overcome by an increased sugar intake. If they succeed in gaining the parents’ help, they will have taken the right step from an educational perspective. It would be necessary to know, through spiritual insight, that an increase of sugar consumption can heal or balance a pathological liver condition.

One must be able to perceive and know the growing child and even the individual organs. This is fundamental in our education. We do not insist on particular external circumstances for our schooling. Whether forest or heath, town or country, our opinion is that one can succeed in a fruitful education within any existing social conditions, as long as one really understands the human being deeply, and if, above all, one knows how the child develops.

These are only a few criteria that I may speak of today, which characterize the nature of Waldorf education and the methods used for its implementation, all of which are based on a spiritual- scientific foundation.

If one can approach the child’s being in this way, the necessary strength is found to help children develop both physically and morally, so that fundamental moral forces manifest also. Barbaric forms of punishment are unnecessary, because the teacher’s natural authority will ensure the proper inner connection between teacher and child. Wonderful things can happen in our Waldorf school to demonstrate this. For example, the following incident occurred a little while ago: Among our teachers there was one who imported all kinds of customary disciplinary measures from conventional school life into the Waldorf school. When a few children were naughty, he thought he would have to keep them in after school. He told them that they would have to stay behind as punishment and do some extra work in arithmetic. Spontaneously, the whole class pleaded to be allowed to stay behind and do arithmetic as well, because, as they called out, “Arithmetic is such fun!” What better things could they do than additional work in arithmetic? “We too want to be kept in,” they declared. Well, here you have an example of what can happen in the Waldorf school where teachers have implanted in their students the right attitude toward work. The teacher of course had to learn his own lesson: One must never use something that should be considered a reward as a punishment. This example is one of many that could be mentioned. It shows how one can create a real art of education based on knowledge of the human being.

I am extremely thankful to Mrs. Mackenzie for giving me the opportunity of at least outlining just some of the fundamentals of education based upon anthroposophical spiritual science. Our teaching is based on definite methods, and not on vague ideals born of mere fantasy. These methods answer the needs and demands of human nature and are the primary justification for our education. We do not believe in creating ideas of what ideal human beings should be so that they fit into preconceived plans. Our goal is to be able to observe children realistically, to hear the message sent to us through the children from the divine-spiritual worlds. We wish to feel the children’s inner affirmation of our picture of the human being. God, speaking through the child, says: “This is how I wish to become.”

We try to fulfil this call for the child through our educational methods in the best way possible. Through our art of education, we try to supply a positive answer to this call.