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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Essentials of Education
GA 308

Lecture Two

9 April 1924, Stuttgart

Yesterday I spoke of the teacher’s encounter with the children. Today I will try to describe the child, as a growing being, and the experience of encountering the teacher. A more exact observation of the forces active in the development of the human being shows that at the beginning of a child’s earthly life we must distinguish three distinct stages of life. After we have gained a knowledge of the human being and the ability to perceive the characteristics of these three stages, we can begin to educate in a way that is true to the facts—or rather, an education that is true to the human being.

The Nature of Proof in Spiritual Matters

The first stage of life ends with the change of teeth. Now I know that there is a certain amount of awareness these days concerning the changes that occur in the body and soul of children at this stage of life. Nevertheless, it is not sufficient to enable perception of all that happens in the human being at this tender age; we must come to understand this in order to become educators. The appearance of teeth—not the inherited, baby teeth—is merely the most obvious sign of a complete transformation of the whole human being. Much more is happening within the organism, though not as perceptible outwardly; its most radical expression is the appearance of the second teeth.

If we consider this we can see that contemporary physiology and psychology simply cannot penetrate the human being with any real depth, since their particular methods (excellent though they may be) were developed to observe only outer physical nature and the soul as it manifests in the body. As I said yesterday, the task of anthroposophic spiritual science is to penetrate in every way the whole human development of body, soul, and spirit.

First, however, we must eliminate a certain assumption. This preconception is inevitably a stumbling block to anyone who approaches the Waldorf education movement without a basic study of anthroposophy. I do not mean for a moment that we simply ignore objections to this kind of education. On the contrary. Those who have a spiritual foundation such as anthroposophy cannot be the least bit fanatical; they will always fully consider any objections to their viewpoints. Consequently, they fully understand the frequent argument against anthroposophic education. But, these things still must be proven.

Now, people have a lot to say about proofs with no clear idea of what that means. I cannot present a detailed lecture on the methods of proof in the various spheres of life and knowledge; but I would like to be clear about a certain comparison.

What do people mean when they say that something requires “proof”? The whole trend of human evolution since the fourteenth century has been to validate judgments through visual observation—that is to say, through sense perception. It was a very different matter before the current era, or before the fourteenth century. But we fail to realize today that our ancestors had a very different view of the world. In a certain sense we feel proud when we consider the development that has occurred in recent centuries. We look condescendingly at what people did during the Middle Ages, for example, considering them childish and primitive. But it is an age about which we really know nothing and call the “Dark Ages.” Try to imagine how our successors will speak of us—if they are as arrogant in their thinking as we are! If they turn out to be so conceited, we will seem just as childish to them as medieval people appear to us.

During the ages before the fourteenth century, humans perceived the world of the senses, and also comprehended with the intellect. The intelligence of the medieval monastic schools is too often underestimated. The inner intelligence and conceptual faculty was much more highly developed than the modern and chaotic conceptual faculty, which is really driven by, and limited to, natural phenomena; anyone who is objective and impartial can observe this. In those days, anything that the intellect and senses perceived in the universe required validation from the divine, spiritual realm. The fact that sense revelation had to be sanctioned by divine revelation was not merely an abstract principle; it was a common, very human feeling and observation. A manifestation in the world of the senses could be considered valid only when knowledge of it could be proven and demonstrated in terms of the divine, spiritual world.

This situation changed, gradually at first, one mode of knowledge replacing the other. Today, however, it has come to the point where we only acknowledge the validity of something—even in the spiritual world—when it can be proven through the senses. Something is validated when statements about spiritual life can be confirmed by experiment and observation. Why does everyone ask for a demonstration of matters that are really related to spirit? People ask you to make an experiment or sense observation that provides proof.

This is what people want, because they have lost faith in the reality of the human being’s inner activity; they have lost faith in the possibility that intuitions can emerge from the human being when looking at ordinary life, at sensory appearances and the intellect. Humanity has really weakened inwardly, and is no longer conscious of the firm foundation of an inner, creative life. This has had a deep influence on all areas of practical life, and most of all on education.

Proofs, such as external sensory appearances, through observation and experiment, may be compared to a man who notices that an unsupported object falls, and that it is attracted by the Earth’s gravity and therefore must be supported until it rests on solid ground. And then this man says, “Go ahead, tell me that the Earth and the other heavenly bodies hover freely in space, but I cannot understand it. Everything must be supported or it will fall.” Nevertheless, the Earth, Sun, and other heavenly bodies do not fall. We must completely change our way of thinking, when we move from earthly conditions into the cosmos. In cosmic space, heavenly bodies support one another; the laws of Earth do not apply there.

This is also true of spiritual facts. When we speak of the material nature of plants, animals, minerals, or human beings, we must prove our statements through experiment and sense observation. This kind of proof, like the example mentioned, suggests that an object must be supported. In the free realm of the spirit, however, truths support one another. The only validation required is their mutual support. Thus, in representing spiritual reality, every idea must be placed clearly within the whole, just as Earth or any other heavenly body moves freely in cosmic space. Truths must support one another. Anyone who tries to understand the spiritual realm must first examine truths coming from other directions, and how they support the one truth through the free activity of their “gravitational force” of proof, as it were. In this way, that single truth is kept free in the cosmos, just as a heavenly body is supported freely in the cosmos by the countering forces of gravity. A capacity to conceive of the spiritual in this way must become an essential inner quality of human beings; otherwise, though we may be able to understand and educate the soul aspect, we will be unable to understand and educate the spirit that also lives and moves in the human being.

The Individual’s Entry into the World

When human beings enter the physical world of sensation, their physical body is provided by the parents and ancestors. Even natural science knows this, although such discoveries will become complete only in the remote future. Spiritual science teaches that this is only one aspect of the human being; the other part unites with what arises from the father and mother; it descends as a spirit and soul being from the realm of spirit and soul.

Between the previous earthly life and the present one, this being passed through a long period of existence from the previous death to rebirth; it had experiences in the spiritual world between death and rebirth, just as on Earth, between birth and death, we have bodily experiences communicated through the senses, intellect, feelings, and will. The essence of these spiritual experiences descends, unites at first only loosely with the physical nature of the human being during the embryonic period, and hovers around the person, lightly and externally like an aura, during the first period of childhood between birth and the change of teeth. This being of spirit and soul who comes down from the spiritual world—a being just as real as the one who comes from the body of the mother—is more loosely connected with the physical body than it is later in human life. This is the why the child lives much more outside the body than an adult does.

This is only another way of expressing what I said in yesterday’s lecture, namely, that during the first period of life the child is in the highest degree and by its whole nature a being of sense. The child is like a sense organ. The surrounding impressions ripple, echo and sound through the whole organism because the child is not so inwardly bound up with its body as is the case in later life, but lives in the environment with its freer spiritual and soul nature. Hence the child is receptive to all the impressions coming from the environment.

Now, what is the relation between the human being as a whole and what we receive from the father and mother strictly through heredity? If we study the development of the human being with vision that truly creates ideas instead of mere proofs as described—a vision that looks at the spiritual and the evolution of the human being—we find that everything in the organism depends on hereditary forces in exactly the same way as the first, so-called baby teeth do. We only need to perceive, with precise vision, the difference in the ways the second teeth and the first are formed. In this way, we have a tangible expression of the processes occurring in the human being between birth and the change of teeth.

During this stage the forces of heredity hold sway in the physical body, and the whole human being becomes a kind of model with which the spirit and soul element work, imitating the surrounding impressions. If we place ourselves in the soul of a child relative to the environment and realize how every spiritual impulse is absorbed into the whole being—how with every movement of the hand, every expression, every look in the eyes of another the child senses the spirit inherent in the adult and allows it to flow in—then we will also perceive how, during the first seven years, another being is building itself on the foundation of the model provided by heredity. As human beings, the earthly world actually gives us, through hereditary forces, a model on which to build the second human being, who is really born with the change of teeth. The first teeth in the body are eliminated by what wants to replace them; this new element, which belongs to the human being’s individuality, advances and casts off heredity. This is true of the whole human organism. During the first seven years of life, the organism was a product of earthly forces and a kind of model. As such it is cast off, just as we get rid of the body’s outgrowths by cutting our nails, hair, and so on. The human being is molded anew with the change of teeth just as our outer form is perpetually eliminated. In this case, however, the first being, or product of physical heredity, is completely replaced by a second, who develops under the influence of the forces that the human being brings from pre-earthly life. Thus, during the period between birth and the change of teeth, the human hereditary forces related to the physical evolutionary stream fight against the forces of a pre-earthly existence, which accompany the individuality of each human being from the previous earthly life.

The Religious Nature of Childhood

It is essential not to merely understand these things theoretically, which is the habitual way of thinking today. This is the kind of fact that must be understood by the whole inner human being from the perspective of the child, and only then from the standpoint of the educator. If we understand what is happening from the perspective of a child, we find that the soul-being of the child—with everything brought from preearthly life from the realm of soul and spirit—is entirely devoted to the physical activities of human beings in the surroundings. This relationship can be described only as a religious one. It is a religious relationship that descends into the sphere of nature and moves into the outer world. It is important, however, to understand what is meant by such term.

Ordinarily, one speaks of “religious” relationships today in the sense of a consciously developed adult religion. Relevant to this is the fact that, in religious life, the spirit and soul elements of the adult rise into the spiritual element in the universe and surrender to it. The religious relationship is a self-surrendering to the universe, a prayer for divine grace in the surrender of the self. In the adult, it is completely immersed in a spiritual element. The soul and spirit are yielded to the surroundings.

To speak of the child’s body being absorbed by the environment in terms of a religious experience thus seems like we are turning things around the wrong way. Nevertheless, it is a truly religious experience—transposed into the realm of nature. The child is surrendered to the environment and lives in the external world in reverent, prayerful devotion, just as the eye detaches itself from the rest of the organism and surrenders to the environment. It is a religious relationship transferred to the natural realm.

If we want a picture, or symbol, of the spirit and soul processes in the adult’s religious experience, we should form a real idea in our souls of the child’s body up to the change of teeth. The life of the child is “religious,” but religious in a way that refers to the things of nature. It is not the soul of the child that is surrendered to the environment, but the blood circulation, breathing activities, and the nutritional process through the food taken in. All of these things are surrendered to the environment—the blood circulation, breathing, and digestive processes pray to the environment.

The Priestly Nature of Teaching

These expressions may seem contradictory, but their very contradiction represents the truth. We must observe such things with our whole being, not theoretically. If we observe the struggle unfolding in the child before us—within this fundamental, natural religious element—if we observe the struggle between the hereditary forces and what the individual’s forces develop as the second human being through the power brought from pre-earthly life, then, as teachers, we also develop a religious mood. But, whereas the child with a physical body develops the religious mood of the believer, the teacher, in gazing at the wonders that occur between birth and the change of teeth, develops a “priestly” religious attitude. The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life—not with a sacrificial victim to be led to death, but with the offering of human nature itself, to be awakened to life. Our task is to ferry into earthly life the aspect of the child that came from the divine spiritual world. This, with the child’s own forces, forms a second organism from the being that came to us from the divine spiritual life.

Pondering such things awakens something in us like a priestly attitude in education. Until this priestly feeling for the first years of childhood has become a part of education as a whole, education will not find the conditions that bring it to life. If we merely try to understand the requirements of education intellectually, or try to rationally design a method of education based on external observations of a child’s nature, at best we accomplish a quarter education. A complete educational method cannot be formulated by the intellect alone, but must flow from the whole human nature—not merely from the part that observes externally in a rational way, but the whole that deeply and inwardly experiences the secrets of the universe.

Few things have a more wonderful effect on the human heart than seeing inner spirit and soul elements released day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, during the first period of childhood. We see how, beginning with chaotic limb movements, the glance filled with rapture by the outer, the play of expressions that do not yet seem to belong to the child, something develops and impresses itself on the surface of the human form that arises from the center of the human being, where the divine spiritual being is unfolding in its descent from pre-earthly life. When we can make this divine office of education a concern of the heart, we understand these things in such a way that we say: “Here the Godhead Who has guided the human being until birth is revealed again in the impression of the human organism; the living Godhead is there to see; God is gazing into us.” This, out of the teacher’s own individuality, will lead, not to something learned by rote, but to a living method of education and instruction, a method that springs from the inner being.

This must be our attitude to the growing human being; it is essential to any educational method. Without this fundamental attitude, without this priestly element in the teacher (this is said, of course, in a cosmic sense), education cannot be continued. Therefore, any attempt to reform the methods of education must involve a return of the intellectual element, which has become dominant since the fourteenth century, to the domain of soul and feelings, to move toward what flows from human nature as a whole, not just from the head. If we look at the child without preconceptions, the child’s own nature will teach us to read these things.

The Effects of a Teacher’s Inner Development on the Child

Now, what has been the real course of civilization since the fourteenth century? As a result of the great transition, or cultural revolution, that has occurred since then, we can only perceive what is exprEssentialEd, as it were, from internal to external existence. Grasping at externals has become a matter of course for modern human beings to the degree that we are no longer aware of any other possibility. We have arrived at a condition in historical evolution that is considered “right” in an absolute sense—not merely a condition that suits our time.

People can no longer feel or perceive in a way that was possible before the fourteenth century. In those days, people observed matters of the spirit in an imbalanced way, just as people now observe the things of nature. But the human race had to pass through a stage in which it could add the observation of purely natural elements to an earlier human devotion to the world of spirit and soul that excluded nature. This materializing process, or swing downward, was necessary; but we must realize that, in order that civilized humanity not be turned into a wasteland in our time, there must be a new turn, a turning toward spirit and soul. The awareness of this fact is the essence of all endeavors such as that of Waldorf school education, which is rooted in what a deeper observation of human evolution reveals as necessary for our time. We must find our way back to the spirit and soul; for this we must first clearly recognize how we removed ourselves from them in the first place. There are many today who have no such understanding and, therefore, view anything that attempts to lead us back to the spirit as, well, not really the point, shall we say.

We can find remarkable illustrations of this attitude. I would like to mention one, but only parenthetically. There is a chapter (incidentally, a very interesting chapter in some ways) in Maurice Maeterlinck’s new book The Great Riddle. Its subject is the anthroposophic way of viewing the world. He describes anthroposophy, and he also describes me (if you will forgive a personal reference). He has read many of my books and makes a very interesting comment. He says that, at the beginning of my books, I seem to have a level-headed, logical, and shrewd mind. In the later chapters, however, it seems as if I had lost my senses. It may very well appear this way to Maeterlinck; subjectively he has every right to his opinion. Why shouldn’t I seem levelheaded, logical and scientific to him in the first chapters, and insane in later ones?

Of course, Maeterlinck has a right to think this way, and nobody wants to stop him. The question is, however, whether such an attitude is not really absurd. Indeed, it does become absurd when you consider this: I have, unfortunately, written a great many books in my life (as you can see from the unusual appearance of the book table here). No sooner have I finished writing one, than I begin another. When Maurice Maeterlinck reads the new book, he will discover once again that, in the first chapters I am shrewd, levelheaded and scientific, and lose my senses later on. Then I begin to write a third book; the first chapters again are reasonable and so forth. Consequently, if nothing else, I seem to have mastered the art of becoming at will a completely reasonable human being in the early part of a book and—equally by choice—a lunatic later, only to return to reason when I write the next book. In this way, I take turns being reasonable and a lunatic. Naturally, Maeterlinck has every right to find this; but he misses the absurdity of such an idea. A modern man of his importance thus falls into absurdities; but this, as I say, is only an interpolation.

Many people are completely unaware that their judgments do not spring from the source of human nature but from elements implanted in our outer culture since the fourteenth century as a result of the materialistic system of life and education. The duty of teachers, of educators—really the duty of all human beings that have anything to do with children—is to look more deeply into the human being. In other words, we need to become more aware of how anything acting as a stimulus in the environment continues to vibrate in the child. We must be very clear that, in this sense, we are dealing with imponderables.

Children are aware, whenever we do something in their environment, of the thoughts behind a hand-gesture or facial expression. Children intuit them: they do not, obviously, interpret facial features, since what operates instead is a much more powerful inner connection between the child and adult than will exist later between adults. Consequently, we must never allow ourselves to feel or think anything around children that should not be allowed to ripple on within the child. The rule of thumb for all relationships in early education must be this: Whether in perception, feeling, or thought, whatever we do around children must be done in such a way that it may be allowed to continue vibrating their souls.

The psychologist, the observer of souls, the person of broad practical experience, and the doctor thus all become a unity, insofar as the child is concerned. This is important, since anything that makes an impression on the child, anything that causes the soul’s response, continues in the blood circulation and digestion, becoming a part of the foundation of health in later years. Due to the imitative nature of the child, whenever we educate the spirit and soul of the child, we also educate the body and physical nature of the child. This is the wonderful metamorphosis—that whatever approaches children, touching their spirit and soul, becomes their physical, organic organization, and their predisposition to health or illness in later life.

Consequently, we can say that if Waldorf schools educate out of spirit and soul, it is not because we choose to work in an unbalanced way with only the soul and spirit; rather, it is because we know that this is how we physically educate the inner being in the highest sense of the word. The physical being exists within the envelope of the skin.

Perhaps you recall yesterday’s examples. Beginning with the model supplied by the human forces of heredity, the person builds a second human being, experienced in the second phase of life between the change of teeth and puberty. During the initial phase of life, human beings win for themselves a second being through what resulted of a purely spiritual life between death and rebirth. During the second stage of life, however, between the change of teeth and puberty, the influences of the outer world struggle with what must be incorporated into the individuality of the human being.

During this second stage, external influences grow more powerful. The inner human being is strengthened, however, since at this point it no longer allows every influence in the environment to continue vibrating in the body organization as though it were mainly a sense organ. Sensory perception begins to be more concentrated at the surface, or periphery, of the being. The senses now become more individual and autonomous, and the first thing that appears in the human being is a way of relating to the world that is not intellectual but compares only to an artistic view of life.

The Teacher as Artist

Our initial approach to life had a religious quality in that we related to nature as naturally religious beings, surrendered to the world. In this second stage, however, we are no longer obligated to merely accept passively everything coming from our environment, allowing it to vibrate in us physically; rather, we transform it creatively into images. Between the change of teeth and puberty, children are artists, though in a childish way, just as in the first phase of life, children were homo religiosus—naturally religious human beings.

Now that the child demands everything in a creative, artistic way, the teachers and educators who encounter the child must present everything from the perspective of an artist. Our contemporary culture demands this of teachers, and this is what must flow into the art of education; at this point, interactions between the growing human being and educators must take an artistic form. In this respect, we face great obstacles as teachers. Our civilization and the culture all around us have reached the point where they are geared only to the intellect, not to the artistic nature.

Let us consider the most wonderful natural processes—the description of embryonic life, for example, as portrayed in modern textbooks, or as taught in schools. I am not criticizing them, merely describing them; I know very well that they had to become the way they are and were necessary at a certain point in evolution. If we accept what they offer from the perspective of the spiritual force ready to reawaken today, something happens in our feeling life that we find impossible to acknowledge, because it seems to be a sin against the maturity attained by humanity in world-historical evolution. Difficult as it may be, it would be a good thing if people were clear about this.

When we read modern books on embryology, botany, or zoology, we feel a sense of despair in finding ourselves immediately forced to plunge into a cold intellectuality. Although the life and the development of nature are not essentially “intellectual,” we have to deliberately and consciously set aside every artistic element. Once we have read a book on botany written according to strict scientific rules, our first task as teachers is to rid ourselves of everything we found there. Obviously, we must assimilate the information about botanical processes, and the sacrifice of learning from such books is necessary; but in order to educate children between the change of teeth and puberty, we must eliminate what we found there, transforming everything into artistic, imaginal forms through our own artistic activity and sensibility. Whatever lives in our thoughts about nature must fly on the wings of artistic inspiration and transform into images. They must rise in the soul of the child.

Artistically shaping our instruction for children between the change of teeth and puberty is all that we should be concerned with in the metamorphosis of education for our time and the near future. If the first period of childhood requires a priestly element in education, the second requires an artistic element. What are we really doing when we educate a person in the second stage of life? The I-being journeying from an earlier earthly life and from the spiritual world is trying gradually to develop and permeate a second human being. Our job is to assist in this process; we incorporate what we do with the child as teachers into the forces that interwove with spirit and soul to shape the second being with a unique and individual character. Again, the consciousness of this cosmic context must act as an enlivening impulse, running through our teaching methods and the everyday conditions of education. We cannot contrive what needs to be done; we can only allow it to happen through the influence of the children themselves on their teachers.

Two extremes must be avoided. One is a result of intellectualizing tendencies, where we approach children in an academic way, expecting them to assimilate sharply outlined ideas and definitions. It is, after all, very comfortable to instruct and teach by definitions. And the more gifted children learn to parrot them, allowing the teacher to be certain that they retain what has been taught them in the previous lesson, whereas those who don’t learn can be left behind.

Such methods are very convenient. But it’s like a cobbler who thinks that the shoes made for a three-year-old girl should still fit the ten-year-old, whereas only her toes fit into the shoes but not the heels. Much of a child’s spiritual and psychic nature is ignored by the education we give children. It is necessary that, through the medium of flexible and artistic forms, we give children perceptions, ideas, and feelings in pictorial form that can metamorphose and grow with the soul, because the soul itself is growing. But before this can happen, there must be a living relationship between child and teacher, not the dead relationship that arises from lifeless educational concepts. Thus, all instruction given to children between approximately seven and fifteen must be permeated with pictures.

In many ways, this runs counter to the ordinary tendencies of modern culture, and we of course belong to this modern culture. We read books that impart much significant substance through little squiggles we call a, b, c, and so on. We fail to realize that we have been damaged by being forced to learn these symbols, since they have absolutely no relationship to our inner life. Why should a or b look the way they do today? There is no inner necessity, no experience that justifies writing an h after an a to express a feeling of astonishment or wonder.

This was not always the situation, however. People first made images in pictographic writing to describe external processes, and when they looked at the sheet or a board on which something had been written, they received an echo of that outer object or process. In other words, we should spare the child of six or seven from learning to write as it is done today. What we need instead is to bring the child something that can actually arise from the child’s own being, from the activities of his or her arms and fingers. The child sees a shining, radiant object and receives an impression; we then fix it with a drawing that represents the impression of radiance, which a child can understand.

If a child strokes a stick from top to bottom and then makes a stroke on the paper from top to bottom, the meaning is obvious. I show a fish to a child, who then follows the general direction of the form, followed by the front and back fins that cross in the opposite direction. I draw the general form of the fish, and this line across it, and say to the child, “Here, on the paper, you have something like a fish.” Then I go into the child’s inner experience of the fish. It contains an f, and so I draw a line crossed by another line, and thus, out of the child’s feeling experience, I have a picture that corresponds to the sound that begins the word fish. All writing can be developed in this way—not a mere copying of the abstract now in use, but a perception of the things themselves as they arise from a child’s drawing and painting. When I derive writing from the drawing and painting, I am working with the living forces of an image.

It would be enough to present the beginning of this artistic approach; we can feel how it calls on the child’s whole being, not just an intellectual understanding, which is overtaxed to a certain extent. If we abandon the intellectual element for imagery at this age, the intellect usually withdraws into the background. If, on the other hand, we overemphasize the intellect and are unable to move into a mode of imagery, the child’s breathing process is delicately and subtly disrupted. The child can become congested, as it were, with weakened exhalation. You should think of this as very subtle, not necessarily obvious. If education is too intellectual between the ages of seven and fourteen, exhalation becomes congested, and the child is subjected to a kind of subconscious nightmare. A kind of intimate nightmare arises, which becomes chronic in the organism and leads in later life to asthmas and other diseases connected with swelling in the breathing system.

Another extreme occurs when the teacher enters the school like a little Caesar, with the self-image of a mighty Caesar, of course. In this situation, the child is always at the mercy of a teacher’s impulsiveness. Whereas extreme intellectualism leads to congested exhalation, the metabolic forces are thinned by overly domineering and exaggerated assertiveness in the teacher. A child’s digestive organs are gradually weakened, which again may have chronic effects in later life. Both of these excesses must be eliminated from education—too much intelectualizing and extreme obstinateness.

We can hold a balance between the two by what happens in the soul when we allow the will to pass gently into the child’s own activity and by toning down the intellect so that feelings are cultivated in a way that does not suppress the breathing, but cultivates feelings that turn toward imagery and express the buoyant capacity I described. When this is done, the child’s development is supported between the change of teeth and puberty.

Thus, from week to week, month to month, year to year, a true knowledge of the human being will help us read the developing being like a book that tells us what needs to be done in the teaching. The curriculum must reproduce what we read in the evolutionary process of the human being. Specific ways that we can do this will be addrEssentialEd in coming lectures.