A Modern Art of Education
Educating Toward Inner Freedom
17 August 1923, Ilkley
The fact that we have both boys and girls at the Waldorf school seems to serve two purposes. One is to shape the teaching according to the needs of the whole human being, since with either boys or girls alone, education always tends to become one-sided. The other is to work toward the kind of human interrelationship required especially by today’s society, in which women have either gained their place in society or are trying to obtain it. The Waldorf art of education, therefore, deals with modern social struggles. Much that would remain remote from one gender or the other can thus be developed because boys and girls are educated together.
These lectures have shown that we attach great importance to the development of children’s whole being — in spirit, soul, and body, and not just spirit and soul. This is why we engage the children in physical activity — especially activities that enable them to go into life with understanding. During the handwork lessons in the Waldorf school, you find boys and girls sitting together, all knitting and crocheting. This is absolutely natural, which is proved by the fact that the boys learn to knit and even darn socks with some pleasure. It never occurs to them that such work is inappropriate for men. We do not include such things just so the boys know how to do them, but for the sake of a general understanding of life. One of the main faults of present social conditions is that people have so little understanding of what others do. We must really stop isolating ourselves as individuals and groups and face one another with complete understanding. The main purpose of this kind of handwork is to teach practical skill in many different areas.
Though it may seem inconceivable, in my opinion no one can be a real philosopher who is unable to darn socks or mend one’s clothes when needed. How can you have any intelligent concept of grand cosmic mysteries if you cannot even care for your own footwear? Can we really hope to enter cosmic mysteries, in a truly human sense, if we are incapable of dealing with the things right next to us? I realize that this may seem improbable, but I do believe that philosophers should have some understanding of how boots and such are made; otherwise, we simply adopt abstractions. This is an extreme example, perhaps, but I wanted to show that education must include both an ascent to the highest spiritual levels and descent into physical education and treatment.
From this kind of handwork, children can be guided to an ability to do manual work with intelligence and understanding. At the right age, which is relatively early, our children make their own toys and playthings. You have probably seen some on display here. They carve toys from wood, and thus we bring an element of art into their play. To lead play gradually into the creation of artistic forms, and then to the practical work, as just described, is completely in keeping with the needs of human nature. It is absorbing to find that the children’s artistic sculptural activity turns naturally into making toys. Again, we lead from art as such into art as an aspect of industry. Children are shown how to make simple implements for use in the house, and at the same time learn to use saws, knives, and other cabinetmaking and carpentry tools. In addition to their regular lessons, both boys and girls love to be in our workshops, at work with a knife or a saw or other tools, and they are delighted when they succeed in making something useful. Thus, we stimulate all their instincts for the practical side of life. On the one hand, we develop a sense for practicality, and on the other, for the arts.
It is interesting to observe children when they learn something about the human organism — for example, the sculptural formation of skeleton or muscle formation. If they are given an artistic concept of the structure and functions of the human body, they begin to express, in a sculptural way, their ideas of the shape of some limb, not in a strict sense of imitation, but freely and creatively. Our children are allowed great freedom, even in their practical work, and they are allowed to follow their own sense of discovery. Their souls create wonderful forms once they learn to observe certain things in people or in animals with a truly artistic feeling for nature.
We teach this way, so that whatever children know, they know it with their whole being. Our culture is calculated to make us know everything with our heads. Facts rest in the head as though sitting on a couch; they rest in the head as though in bed; they are asleep, “meaning” only one thing or another. We carry them around, stored up in so many little compartments, which we otherwise prefer to leave alone. In the Waldorf school, the children do not merely “have an idea” in their heads; they feel the idea, since it flows into their whole life of feeling. Their souls live in the sense of the idea, which is not merely a concept but becomes a shaped form. The whole complex of ideas eventually becomes the human form, and finally passes into their volition. Children learn to transform what they think into action. When this happens, we do not find thoughts arising in any one part of the human being, with the will in another part nourished only by instinct. Such a person is really like a wasp. There are wasps that have a head, then a long stalk, and below this the rest of the body. Outwardly, it symbolizes not the modern human physical nature, but the nature of soul and spirit. One has a head, then a long stalk, and one’s volition is an appendage to this. From the spiritual point of view, people today present a strange appearance — the head dangles in the air not knowing what to make of its own ideas.
This can be rectified by continually helping children to permeate their faculties of knowledge with feeling and volition. Modern systems of education have known for a long time that teaching has veered into one-sided intellectualism, that the head dangles in the air, and that a beginning must be made on the other side to develop practical skill and dexterity. But this does not really unite the two elements. Such a union is impossible unless knowledge of itself goes into practical skill, which is also permeated with the quality of thinking and inner understanding of the soul and spiritual participation.
Based on these principles, we can bridge the gap to moral and religious education. I already spoke of this and need only add that everything depends on giving all teaching and gymnastics in a form that makes children experience their physical nature as a revelation of spirit pouring willingly and creatively into their bodies. Children must never feel a separation between spirit and body. The moral and religious elements thus truly come to life in their feelings. The important thing to keep in mind is that, between the change of teeth and puberty, we must never indoctrinate morality and religion into children dogmatically, but by working on their feeling and perception according to this period of life. Children must learn to delight in goodness and to loathe evil, to love goodness and hate wickedness. In history lessons, the great historical figures and the impulses of various eras can be presented so that moral and religious sympathies and antipathies develop in the children. Thus we achieve something of supreme importance.
After puberty, around fifteen or sixteen, a change takes place in the children’s inner nature, leading them from dependence on authority to their own sense of freedom and, hence, to the faculty of independent discernment and understanding. This must claim our closest attention in teaching. If we have awakened in children, before puberty, a feeling for good and evil and for what is divine or not, these feelings will arise from their own inner being afterward. Their understanding, intellect, insight, and power of discernment remain uninfluenced, and they form independent judgments out of their own being. If we begin by telling children that they should do this or not do that, it stays with them throughout their life, and they will always think that such things are right or wrong. Convention will color everything. But those who have been educated properly will not stand within convention but use their own judgment, even regarding morality and religion, and this will develop naturally if it has not been engaged prematurely.
In a Waldorf school, children of fourteen or fifteen are allowed to find their own feet in life. We treat them as equals. They develop discernment, but look back to the authority that we represented and retain the affection they had for us when we were their teachers. Their power of discernment has not been limited if we have worked on their life of feeling properly. Therefore, once children reach fourteen or fifteen, we leave their soul nature and spirit free and, in the higher classes, appeal to their power of discernment and understanding. Such freedom in life cannot be achieved if we instill morality and religion in a dogmatic, canonical fashion. We must have worked solely on the children’s powers of feeling and perception at the right age — between the change of teeth and puberty. The main thing is to enable young adults to find their place in the world with real confidence in their own powers of discernment. Thus, they will sense their real humanity, because their education has been completely human. Those who been unfortunate enough to have lost a leg or an arm are conscious of the damage. Children of fourteen or fifteen who have been educated according to modern methods begin to be aware of a sense of injury if they are not permeated with the qualities of moral judgment and religious feeling. Something seems to be missing in their being. There is no better heritage in the moral and religious sense than to raise children to regard the elements of morality and religion as an integral part of their being, so that they feel fully human because they are permeated with morality and warmed by religious feelings.
This can be achieved only when we work, at the proper age, only on the life of feeling and perception, and do not prematurely give the children intellectual concepts of religion and morality. If we do this before twelve to fourteen, we bring them up to be skeptics — men and women who later develop skepticism instead of healthy insight into the dogmas instilled in them — and not just skepticism in their thinking (the least important), but in feeling, which injures their feeling life. And, finally, there will be skepticism of volition, which brings moral error with it. The point is that our children will become skeptics if we present moral and religious ideals to them dogmatically; such ideals should come to them only through the life of feeling. Then, at the right age, they will awaken their own free religious and moral sense, which becomes part of their very being. They feel that only this can make them fully human. The real aim at Waldorf schools is to raise free human beings who can direct their own lives.
The Waldorf school is an organism complete and whole in itself. If one does not think of it this way, many of its educational principles may be misunderstood. People may think, for example, that if they visit the school two or three times and see what is done on those days, this is enough; they have seen how we teach. Of course, this is not the situation. People will see nothing of any significance in this way. What they see is like a fragment of a picture, from which they then form an opinion of the whole. Suppose you take a fragment of some great picture and show it to someone. How can you form an opinion of the whole from a fragment? The essential feature of Waldorf education is that every activity has its place in the school as a whole. People can understand a Waldorf school much better by studying the principles, its structure, and the living connection between the eighth class and the fourth class, for instance, or between the first and the tenth, instead of looking at an isolated fragment of the teaching. The organization of the school is conceived so that each activity has its place and time and fits into the whole. Individual subjects of instruction are introduced into the school from this perspective.
Here is a brief example how, in principle, eurythmy is given a place in the whole work. It is no good setting out to discover things that may then be introduced into the school activities. It is, as a rule, a wrong principle to invent things that are “good” for children — as happened too often in the Fröbel kindergarten system — and then make them an essential part of education. Nothing should be introduced artificially to the school; everything should arise from life itself. Eurythmy was introduced to the Waldorf school not because we thought that children need gymnastic exercises, and thus set out to invent something. No, indeed! Eurythmy did not arise initially as an educational component at all. It came about around 1912 as the result of certain connections of destiny, but mainly as an art, not as an educational measure. We cannot understand eurythmy as applied in education if we think of it as a “educational” eurythmy, as opposed to eurythmy as an art. Consequently, I would have thought it better to give the eurythmy performances as an art here first, since that would have shown the underlying concept. Because eurythmy is an art, it is part of life, and this part of life has been put into a form that is suitable for educational purposes. Nobody can understand the eurythmy performed by children unless they realize what it will one day become as an art — and what it already is, perhaps more than many people think.
The Waldorf school began in 1919, and, because we found that eurythmy could be applied to educating children, we introduced it at the school. But this is secondary. This connection should be realized in everything else if we would understand the Waldorf school in relation to life. Teachers should have a free, unbiased view of life and be able to educate children for life. The more intimately teachers are connected with the life around them, the better it is for the school. Narrow-minded teachers who know nothing of life except the school itself can do little to develop the full humanity of their students. It is not a matter of a special method of teaching painting, for instance; if we want them to learn to paint, the principles of teaching should be drawn from the living art of painting, not from methods that have been invented especially for the purpose of education. The element of true art must be introduced into schools, not an intellectual substitute. And eurythmy makes it possible to again infuse art into human culture.
In addresses given before eurythmy performances, I explained the sense in which eurythmy is visible speech, expressed in movement. I just want to add something here about these figures, since this will further explain the relationship between eurythmy and art. The idea for the figures originally came from Miss Maryon, but they have been made in forms that I think correct according to the principles of eurythmy. Here (showing a figure), you have a picture of the sound “s.” The figure does in a sense represent a human being, but those who think in terms of today’s conventional notions of a beautiful human form will not find much beauty in this figure. They will see nothing of what would seem beautiful in someone they met in the street. When making such figures, we may also have an eye for beauty of the human form, but the purpose is to represent the expression of eurythmy — the human being in movement. And so, in these figures, we have ignored anything that does not belong to the essence and form of movement itself, the feeling corresponding to a particular movement, and penetrating the basic character expressed by and coloring the movement. When you sing, you take into your whole organism — in a physical sense — the elements that move the soul. The movement occurs entirely within the bounds of the skin and remains invisible, flowing fully into the tone one hears.
The figure you see here (another figure) expresses music in movement. The soul’s feeling is released from the human being, becomes spatial movement, and the artistic element is expressed as movement. We see what we otherwise only hear. Thus, these figures are intended only to suggest what a human being becomes while performing eurythmy, completely apart from any natural attributes. Each movement is indicated by the shape of the carving, and the wood is painted with a fundamental color. We have written on the back of these figures the Steiner’s sketch for a eurythmy figure “s” names of the colors that correspond to the movements themselves and to the feeling inherent in the movements. The way eurythmists on a stage manipulate their veils becomes a continuation of the movement. Once eurythmists have learned to do this with skill, the veil will float freely, be withdrawn, caught up, or given a certain form at the right moment. The movement performed by the limbs is behind the feeling that is also expressed by manipulating the veil; the feeling is expressed in the floating veil. If a eurythmist has true feeling for the movement of arms or legs, the quality will naturally pass into the manipulation of the veil, and the feeling that should accompany movement in the veil will be felt.
When this movement (pointing to the figure) is being performed, the eurythmist must be able to sense that the arm is stretched out lightly in this direction, as though hovering in the air with no inner tension. In the other arm, a eurythmist must feel as though summoning all of one’s muscular force and packing it tightly into the arm. One arm (the right) is held lightly upward; the left arm is tense, and the muscles almost throb. This is how the movement is given character, and this character makes an impression on the spectators. They can feel what the eurythmist is doing.
Now, when the people look at these figures, they may ask, where is the face and where the back of the head. But this has nothing to do with eurythmy. You will occasionally find those who are enthusiastic about the pretty face of a eurythmist, but I can assure you that this is not part of eurythmy. The face on this figure, which looks like it is turned to the left, is in fact facing you, and the color is used to emphasize the fact that the eurythmist should feel “eurythmic force” diffused lightly over the right side of the head, while the left side of the head is tense, imbued with inner strength. It is as though the head becomes asymmetrical — relaxed, as if “fluffed out,” on the one side, and taut on the other.
The movements receive their true character in this way. The figures here express what should become visible in eurythmy. The same principles hold true of all artistic work. One should be able to look away from the substance, content, or prose, and enter the artistic element. A beautiful face on a eurythmist really corresponds to the prose quality. The eurythmist expresses the real beauty in eurythmy when the right side of the head is lightly diffused with eurythmic forces and the left side tense. So we can conceive that a plain face may be beautiful in the sense of eurythmy, and a beautiful face ugly.
In eurythmy, then, we have elements that are true of every art form, as all artists will agree. A great artist is not merely one who can paint a beautiful young face in a pleasing way. A true artist must be able to paint an old, wizened, wrinkled face in such a way that it becomes artistically beautiful. This must underlie all art.
I wanted to add these remarks about the eurythmy you have seen performed here. Let me just say that we introduced eurythmy into our Waldorf school because it affords such a wonderful contrast to ordinary gymnastics. As mentioned, physical exercises are carried out adequately in a Waldorf school, but regarding ordinary physical gymnastics, we elaborate them in such a way that, with every exercise, the children are first given a sense of spatial directions, which are, of course, fundamental. The children feel the directions of space, and then their arms follow it. In their gymnastics, they surrender to space. This is the only healthy basis for gymnastic exercises. Space is conditioned in all directions. To an ordinary, abstract concept of space, there are three directions, which we cannot distinguish. They are present only in geometry. In fact, however, the head is above, the legs below, and this gives us above and below. Then we have right and left. We live in this direction of space when we stretch out our arms. The point is not to find some “absolute direction.” Of course, we can turn this way or that. Then we have a forward and backward direction, front and back. All other directions of space are oriented in relation to these. If we understand space in this way, we can discover truly healthy movements for gymnastics, in which a person surrenders to the laws of space.
In eurythmy, the nature of a movement is determined by the human organism, and we can ask what the soul experiences in one movement or another. This is the principle behind the eurythmy movements for various sounds. What happens as one’s forces flow into the limbs? In ordinary gymnastic exercises, we lend ourselves to space; in eurythmy we move in a way that expresses our being, according to the laws of our organism. The essence of eurythmy is to allow the inner to be expressed outwardly as movement. The essence of gymnastics is to fill the outer with the human being, so that one unites with the outer world.
To educate the whole human being, we can thus derive gymnastics from the polar opposite of eurythmy, in which the movements arise entirely from one’s inner being. In any case, however, even when applied to education, the element of eurythmy itself must be derived from a true grasp of its artistic principles.
In my opinion, the best gymnastic teachers have learned from art. The impulses behind the gymnastics of Greek schools and the Olympic Games were derived from art. And if the consequences of what I have said are fully realized, and all schoolwork is based primarily upon the element of art, we will also apply what I have described through the example of eurythmy to other areas of life and activity. We will not try to invent something for teaching, but imbue the school with real life. And then, out of the school, life will grow within society.
I have said that a school should be an organization in which each individual feature is an integral part of the whole. The threads of all the various activities necessary to the whole life of the Waldorf school are drawn together in the frequent teachers’ meetings. Over the year, I myself am present at the majority of these meetings. They are not held merely to prepare school reports, discuss administrative details, or talk about the punishments to be used when rules are broken. These meetings are really a living “higher education,” since the college of teachers is a kind of permanent training academy. This is because the teachers’ every practical experience in school becomes part of their own education. Teachers will always find something new for themselves and for the college of teachers if they educate themselves through their teaching, gaining a profound psychological insight into the practical side of education on the one hand, and on the other insights into the children’s qualities, characters, and temperaments. All the experiences and knowledge acquired from the teaching are pooled at these meetings. Thus, in spirit and soul, the college of teachers becomes a whole, in which each member knows what the others are doing, what experience has taught them, and what progress they have made as the result of their work in the classroom with the children. In effect, the college of teachers becomes a central organ from which the whole life of practical teaching flows, helping teachers to maintain their freshness and vitality. Perhaps the best effect of all is that the meetings enable teachers to maintain their inner vitality, instead of growing old in soul and spirit. It must be the teacher’s constant aim to maintain a youthful freshness of soul and spirit, but this cannot be done unless real life flows through a central organ, just as human blood flows into and out of the heart. This is concentrated as a system of soul and spirit forces in the life that teachers work for in their meetings at the Waldorf school. Those meetings are held each week, and, as I said, sometimes I am present.
Now I want to mention something that seems trivial, but is important. As I said, we have boys and girls together in our classes. It naturally happens that, in some classes, girls are in the majority, in others the boys, and there are others in which the numbers are equal. A rationalist may visit these classes and spout all sorts of intellectual opinions, which nevertheless usually fail to hit the nail on the head regarding real life. If we teach in a class in which girls are in the majority, matters are not at all the same as in those classes where the number of boys and girls is the same, or where boys are in the majority. The classes are not given their individual character according to what the boys and girls do together — perhaps also the silly things they do together — but by intangible elements that wholly escape external, intellectual observation. Very interesting things come to light when we study this intangible life in the class. Of course, the teachers must not enter their classes and, stepping back with folded arms, “study” their students. If teachers bring enough vitality and devotion to their work, then, by simply taking the students with them in the right way in sleep, they wake up the next morning with significant discoveries about the previous day’s events at school; they become aware of this process in a fairly short time, and all that should happen in this way will come about natually.
The very center and essence of the school are the teachers’ meetings; likewise, at the periphery, the parents’ evenings at the Waldorf school are extremely important. At least once a month — or regularly, anyway — we try to arrange evenings when the children’s parents can gather and meet with the teachers, so that a link can be established with the children’s home life. We think that the parents’ understanding of their children’s education is very important. Because we do not make up programs or schedules for our teaching but take it from life itself, we cannot adopt an attitude that claims to do the right thing, based on a schedule devised by some intelligent authority. We must come to sense what is right through our living interaction with the parents who sent their children to us. The echoes of these parents’ evenings touch the teachers and give them what they need to maintain their own inner vitality.
Living beings do not live merely within their skin; nor do human beings exist only within the space of their skin. We always have a certain amount of air within us, and before we breathed in, it was outside and belonged to the atmosphere. And it is soon breathed out again. A living being belongs to the whole as a member of the universe, and our existence is unthinkable apart from it. And human beings are not isolated units in society, but integral members of it. We cannot live unless we are related to society just as intimately as our physical organism is related to the air and water that surrounds it. And, in this sense, it requires little to show how much depends on the school.
To illustrate such things, I generally try to use examples from ordinary life instead of something made up. Two days ago I entered a room here and observed a report from the Sunday school teachers. The first sentence refers to a speech at the yearly meeting of the Sunday School Union, given by a chairperson, an eminent man. He said that the Sunday schools had gradually isolated themselves from other religions in the world — that, in general, there is too little knowledge of religions. I read this on the bulletin board in the next room, and it is an important indication of what society needs for its inner vitalization today. I might as easily find the same sentiments elsewhere or in some leaflet handed out in the street. Everything tells the same story — that men and women today are not brought up with a broad view of life.
A broad view of life is essential to the Waldorf teachers, however, and they must communicate this to their students, so that education leads to broad interests in life. Everyone is so enclosed and confined today. Just consider professional training, which causes people to become almost ashamed of knowing anything beyond the pigeonhole of their own profession. We are always told to seek out experts or specialists, but the most important thing is to be bighearted. People should be able to participate with their hearts and souls in culture and society as a whole. This is what we attempt through the principles of education. First we imbue our teachers — in a Waldorf school, the first thing has been to educate the teachers — and then the students through the teachers. The students are our great hope and goal; our purpose in every measure we adopt is that our students will carry its fruits into life in the right way.
That, my dear friends, is the attitude behind the art of education I have been describing. It is based fully on this principle. Our educational measures must arise from the human being, so that children develop fully in body, soul, and spirit, and as adults find their place in life, having grown, in body, soul, and spirit, within a religious, ethical, artistic, and intellectual life that enabled them to develop the virtues best suited to a life with other human beings. Essentially, every educational ideal must be based on this principle, and I am indeed grateful to those who made it possible for me to speak here on the subject. I am sure you realized now that, although the principles of Waldorf education arose in one country, there is no question of any nationalism; rather, it is a matter of internationalism in the best sense, because it is a matter of the universal human. Our aim is to educate human beings with broad, rich interests — not men and women who belong to a particular class, nation, or profession. So I think you will agree that, although this art of education emanates from one country, it is permissible to speak of it in other lands, too.
It is an even greater pleasure to discover that, in connection with the subject of these lectures, a committee was formed to establish a school and bring Waldorf education to this country in a truly practical way. When such schools are established today, we must create model schools as patterns, and this applies to Waldorf schools. This impulse cannot be truly fruitful until its principles are recognized by the broadest possible public opinion.
I recall that, in my early youth, I once saw in the comics a joke about architectural plans. (I mentioned something of the sort yesterday.) It said that one should not go to an architect, who would make all kinds of drawings and detailed calculations and then work to assemble the materials artistically. Rather, one should go to an ordinary mason who simply lays one brick upon another. This attitude still dominates the educational world. People tend to regard an architect’s work as abstract, and they would like to see bricks laid upon bricks, with no concern about the principles behind the whole structure.
In any case, I am sincerely grateful to find such wonderful understanding and interest among you who have attended these lectures. First, let me thank Miss Beverley and her helpers; then our Waldorf teachers and other friends who have worked so hard and with such deep understanding; and also those who have added an artistic element to our conference. I am indeed grateful to all those whose interest and sincerity have brought this conference into being, which I hope will bear fruit through the new committee. As this interest spreads, we will be better able to serve the true principles of education. Your living cooperation demonstrates the fact that you have this at heart. I have given these lectures not only from the intellect, but also from a profound interest in the principles of true education.
And thus I would like to close these lectures with a parting greeting to you all.