The Essentials of Education
11 April 1924, Stuttgart
In these five lectures my task has been to describe briefly some guidelines for Waldorf education. Here I have not tried to get into details but describe the spirit of this method as a whole, which should flow from anthroposophy. Perhaps even more than details — though they may be important — contemporary humanity needs a complete renewal and strengthening of all spiritual life. Aside from the spiritual substance that is of course necessary, all spiritual callings require a renewed enthusiasm that springs from knowledge of the world — a worldview that has been taken hold of in spirit. Today it is becoming obvious to a wide range of people that teachers — who must be soul-artists — need such enthusiasm more than anyone else. Perhaps people seek along paths that cannot lead to the goal, because people everywhere continue to fear a thorough investigation of spiritual matters. We base our educational method on the discovery of a teaching method — conditions that will make education viable through reading human nature itself; such reading will gradually reveal the human being so that we can adjust our education to what is revealed to every step of the curriculum and schedule.
Let’s for a moment go into the spirit of how we read the human being. We have seen that children are naturally completely open — in a religious attitude, as it were — to their immediate human surroundings; they are imitative beings, and they elaborate in themselves through will-imbued perception all that they experience unconsciously and subconsciously from their environment. Children’s bodily nature has a religious disposition, from the moment of entering the world until the change of teeth — of course, not in terms of substance, but in its constitution as a whole. The soul is initially spirit, which reveals itself outwardly as a natural creation. Human beings do not enter the world without predispositions — they do not arrive only with the physical forces of heredity from their ancestors but with forces individually brought from a previous earthly life. Consequently, they may at first be equally open to beauty and ugliness, to good and evil, to wisdom and foolishness, to skillfulness and unskillfulness. Our task, therefore, is to work around children — to the degree that we control our very thoughts and feelings — so that children may become beings who imitate goodness, truth, beauty, and wisdom.
When we think in this way, life flows into our interactions with children; education very obviously becomes a part of that life through our interactions with them. Education, therefore, is not something we work at in isolated activities, but something lived. Children develop in the right way in their growth to adulthood only when education is lived with children and not forced on them.
Morality and the Child’s Natural Religious Feeling
What we have educated in children very naturally in a priestly way — what is really a religious devotion — we must now be able to reawaken at a higher soul level during the second stage of life, between the change of teeth and puberty. We do this by transforming pictorially everything we bring them, by transforming education into an artistic activity; nevertheless, it is a truly subjective and objective human activity. We educate children so that, through their relationship to the teacher, they are devoted aesthetically to beauty and internalize the images. Now it becomes essential that, in place of the religious element, a naturally artistic response to the world arises. This naturally artistic human attitude (which must not be confused with the treatment of “art as a luxury,” which is so much a part of our civilization) includes what now would be seen as a moral relationship to the world.
When understood correctly, we realize that we will not get anything from children between the change of teeth and puberty by giving them rules. Prior to the change of teeth, moralizing won’t get us anywhere with children; moralizing is inaccessible to a child’s soul during the first period of life. Only the morality of our actions have access at that age — that is, the moral element children see exprEssentialEd in the actions, gestures, thoughts, and feelings of those around them. Even during the second period of life — between the change of teeth and puberty — moralistic rules will not get us very close to a child. Children have no inner relationship to what is contained in moral commands. To them, they are only empty sounds.
We get close to children during this stage of life only by placing them in the context of natural authority. Children who cannot yet understand abstractly beauty, truth, goodness, and so on may develop this impulse through a sense that the teacher acts as the incarnation of goodness, truth, and beauty. When we understand children correctly, we understand that they have not gained any abstract, intellectual understanding for the revelations of wisdom, beauty, and goodness.
Nevertheless, children see what lives in the teacher’s gestures, and they hear something revealed in how the teacher’s words are spoken. It is the teacher whom the child calls — without saying it — truth, beauty, and goodness as revealed in the heart. And this is the way it must be.
When a teacher corresponds to what the child needs at this age, two things gradually grow in the child. The first is an inner aesthetic sense of pleasure and displeasure in the moral realm. Goodness pleases children when our whole personality exemplifies it. We must plan education so that the natural need to take pleasure in goodness can develop — and, likewise, displeasure in evil. How do children ask questions? Children do not ask intellectually with words, but deep in their hearts. “May I do this?” or, “May I do that?” They will be answered, “Yes, you may,” if the teacher does it. “Should I leave this undone?” “Yes, because my teacher shows that it may be left undone.”
This is how children experience the world through the teacher — the world as goodness or evil, as beauty or ugliness, and as truth or falsehood. This relationship to the teacher — the activity of the hidden forces between the child’s heart and that of the teacher — is the most important aspect of the teaching method; the conditions for life in education are contained in this.
This is how pleasure in morality and displeasure in immorality should develop between the change of teeth and puberty. Then, however, something appears in the background of that growing moral feeling. What first existed naturally during the first period of the child’s life — as a religious surrender to the environment — is resurrected, as it were, in a different form in this moral development; and, if the teacher’s soul forces are equal to it, it is easy to relate what arises as pleasure in good and displeasure in evil to what flows as soul through the manifestations of nature. First a child is surrendered naturally to nature itself; since the moral element in the environment is perceived as a part of nature, a moral gesture is felt, imitated and made part of the child’s being. But as we unfold the child’s sense of pleasure in the good, this religious and natural attitude is transformed into a soul quality.
Now consider what this means. Until the change of teeth, through the magic of completely unconscious processes, we allow the child’s religious attitude to develop naturally, through pure imitation; thus, we ground the religious element while we cannot yet touch the force of the inner, free individuality. We educate through nature and do not interfere with the soul and spirit. And when we approach the soul element between the change of teeth and puberty — since it is then that we must approach it — we do not force a religious feeling but awaken the child, and thus evoke the I in the human being.
In this way, we are already practical philosophers of freedom, since we do not say: You must believe this or that of the spirit; rather, we awaken innate human beliefs. We become awakeners, not stuffers of the souls of children. This constitutes the true reverence we must have for all creatures placed in the world by the Godhead, and we owe this especially to the human being. And thus we see how the I arises in the human being, and how moral pleasure and displeasure assume a religious quality.
Teachers who learn to observe what was initially a purely natural religious aspect as it strives toward transformation in the soul, embody through their words something that becomes a pleasing image of goodness, beauty, and truth. The child hangs on to something in the adult’s words. Teachers and educators are still active in this, but their methods no longer appeal only to imitation but to something that exists behind imitation. It no longer stimulates outer bodily nature but the soul element. A religious atmosphere permeates moral pleasure and displeasure.
The Intellect after Puberty
The intellect becomes active in its own way once children reach puberty. Because of this, I have suggested that it is actually a matter of bringing human beings to the point where they find within themselves what they must understand — draw from their own inner being what was initially given as spontaneous imitation, then as artistic, imaginative activity. Thus, even during the later period, we should not force things on the human being so that there is the least feeling of arbitrary, logical compulsion.
It was certainly a great moment in the development of spiritual life in Germany when — specifically in reference to moral experience — Schiller opposed Kant’s concept of morality. When Kant said, “Duty, you sublime and powerful name — you who bear no enticements but demand stern submission,” Schiller stood against it. He opposed this concept of duty, which does not allow morality to arise from goodwill but only from subjection. Schiller replied to Kant’s idea of duty with the remarkable words containing a true moral motto: “I willingly serve my friend, but unfortunately I serve him from inclination; alas, I therefore lack virtue!”
Indeed, moral life as a whole arises from human nature in purity only when duty becomes a deep human inclination, when it becomes, in the words of Goethe, “Duty — that is, where people love what they tell themselves to do.” It was a great moment when morality was purged of Kant’s influence and made human again through Schiller and Goethe.
What came at that time from German spiritual life nevertheless became immersed in nineteenth-century materialism, as it still is today. Something appeared in civilization because we forgot this powerful action in the moral realm, and our task is now to raise humanity out of it. This rehabilitation of the human being as a fully human and moral being is the special task of those who have to teach and educate. In this consciousness, the impulse of living education will be able to arise. We may say that the sun of German spiritual life shining in Schiller and Goethe in the moral sphere should shine down especially in the actions of those teachers and educators of the present who understand the task of this their own age, and who seek to develop through education a really human relationship of human beings to their own being and to the real needs of the civilization of the age. The task of this educational conference was to speak of the position of education in regard to human individuality and the culture of the age. We shall only accomplish this task if we can think with gratitude of the impulses that flowed into the evolution of Central Europe through great and shining spirits like Goethe and Schiller. When we seek to comprehend our true situation in the world, it is not merely in order to develop a critical sense, but above all things a gratitude for what has already been accomplished by human beings before us.
One could say, of course, that self-education should refer only to the education people give themselves. However, all education is self-education, not just in this subjective sense, but in an objective sense as well — in other words, educating the self of another. To educate (erziehen) means to “draw out,” and it is related to “drawing” (ziehen). The essence of what we invoke is left untouched. We do not smash a stone in order to pull it out of the water. Education does not demand that we in any way injure or overpower those who have entered the world; on the contrary, we must guide them to experience particularly the stage of culture reached by humanity as a whole when it descended from the divine-spiritual worlds into the sensible world. All these ideas, felt and experienced, are a part of the teaching method. The people who least understand the situation of education in our time are those in whom such ideas do not live.
In the moral realm we allow pleasure in the good and displeasure in the evil to grow; we allow the religious element, which was originally natural in the child, to awaken in the soul. In the depths, however, between the change of teeth and puberty there develops the seed and foundation — something already was present — that becomes free understanding after the age of puberty. We prepare a free understanding of the world that includes the religious and moral spheres. It is great when a person can recognize how pleasure and displeasure were experienced as a permeation of the whole life of feeling as the moral qualities of good and evil during the second period of life.
Then the impulse arises: The good that pleased you — this is what you must do! And what displeased you, you must not do. This principle of morality arises from what is already present in the human I, and a religious devotion toward the world arises in the spirit, which had been a thing of nature during the first period, and a thing of the soul during the second. The religious sense — and will applied to the religious impulse — becomes something that allows human beings to act as though God were acting in them. This becomes the expression of the I, not something imposed externally. Following puberty, if the child has developed in accordance with a true understanding of the human being, everything seems to arise as though born from human nature itself.
As I have already suggested, in order that this can happen, we must consider the whole human being during the earthly pilgrimage from birth to death. It’s easy to say that one will begin education by employing the principle of simply observing the child. Today people observe the child externally and experimentally, and from what they perceive in the child they think they can discern the method of teaching. This is impossible, since, as we have seen, a teacher whose uncontrolled choleric temperament leads to angry behavior sows a seed that will remain hidden, and later develop as gout, rheumatism, and disease of the whole organism.
This is what happens in many other relationships; we must keep in mind the earthly life of the whole human being. We must remember this when we are concerned with an event in a particular life period. There are those who limit themselves to a triviality often known as “visual instruction.” They entrench themselves behind the rule — as obvious as it is foolish — that children should be shown only what they can comprehend, and they fall into absurdities that could drive a person crazy. This principle must be replaced by that deeper principle that helps us to understand what it means for the vitality of a person when, at the age of forty, a sudden realization occurs: For the first time I can understand what that respected authority thought and accomplished earlier. I absorbed it because, to me, that individual embodied truth, goodness, and beauty. Now I have the opportunity to draw from the depths what I heard in those days.
When things are reinvigorated in this way, there is an infinitely rejuvenating and vitalizing effect on later life. The human being is deprived of all this at a later age if the teacher fails to insure that there actually is something in the depths that will be understood only later on. The world becomes empty and barren, unless something can arise anew again and again from the essence of human nature — something that permeates outer perception with soul and spirit. Therefore, when we educate this way, we give the human being full freedom and vitality for the rest of life.
Materialism and Spirit in Education
At this point, let me mention something I have often spoken of. A true teacher must always keep in view all of human life. A teacher must, for example, be able to see the wonderful element that is present in many older people, whose very presence brings a kind of blessing without much in the way of words; a kind of blessing is contained in every gesture. This is a characteristic of many people who stand at the threshold of death. From where does this come? Such individuals have this quality because, during childhood, they developed devotion naturally. Such reverence and devotion during childhood later becomes the capacity to bless. We may say that at the end of earthly life, people cannot stretch out their hands in blessing if they have not learned to fold them in prayer during childhood. The capacity for blessing when one grows old and comes near the threshold of death originates with folding one’s hands in prayer with reverent, childhood devotion. Everything visible as a seed in the child will develop into good or evil fruit as the person progresses farther along in earthly life. And this is something else that must be continually within view in order to develop a genuine teaching method based on real life in education.
Thus — at least in rough outline — we have the foundation for an attempt to bring anthroposophy to fruit in education through Waldorf schools. This education conference should illuminate what has been attempted in this way and practiced for some years. It has been illuminated from various perspectives and we have shown what the students themselves have accomplished — though, in relation to this, much has yet to be demonstrated and discussed.
At the beginning of today’s lecture, I was addrEssentialEd with loving words from two sides, for which I am heartily grateful; after all, what could be done with impulses, however beautiful, if there were no one to realize them through devotion and selfsacrifice? Therefore, my gratitude goes to the Waldorf teachers who try to practice what needs to underlie this kind of renewal in education. My gratitude also goes out to today’s youth, young men and women who, through their own educational experiences, understand the true aims of Waldorf education. One would be happy indeed if the cordiality felt by young people for Waldorf education carried their message to our civilization and culture.
I believe I am speaking for the hearts of all of you when I respond with words of gratitude to those who have spoken so lovingly, because, more than anything else, education needs human beings who will accomplish these goals. A painter or sculptor can work in solitude and say that even if people do not see the work, the gods do. When a teacher performs spiritual actions for earthly existence, however, the fulfillment of such activities can be expected only in communion with those who help to realize them in the physical realm of the senses.
As teachers and educators, this impulse must live in our awareness, especially in our time. Therefore, as we conclude these lectures — this lecture must be the last, since I am wanted elsewhere and cannot remain in Stuttgart — allow me to point to something. Based on anthroposophy and not forcing it on people as a worldview — based on anthroposophy because it gives a true knowledge of the human being in body, soul, and spirit — let me conclude by saying that this education serves, in the most practical way possible, the deepest needs and conditions of our modern civilization. The people of Central Europe can hope for a future only if their actions and thoughts arise from such impulses.
What is our most intense suffering? By trying to characterize our education I repeatedly had to point out that we stand with reverent awe before the human I-being placed in the world by divine powers helping to develop that I. The human I is not truly understood unless it is understood in spirit; it is denied when understood only in matter. It is primarily the I that has suffered because of our contemporary materialistic life, because of ignorance, because of the wrong concept of the human I. This is primarily due to the fact that — while we have hammered away at perception of matter and at activity in matter — spirit has been shattered, and with it the I.
If we place limits on knowledge, as is common, saying that we cannot enter the realm of spirit, this implies only that we cannot enter the human realm. To limit knowledge means that we remove the human being from the world as far as knowing is concerned. How can a soul be educated if it has been eliminated by materialistic concepts? Elimination of the soul was characteristic of the kind of materialism we have just passed through, and it still prevails throughout human activity.
What has happened in the materialistic attitude of the more modern time? It is an attitude that, as I have said, was justified from a different perspective because it had to enter human evolution at some point, but now it must pass away. In expressing this attitude, we may say that the human being has surrendered the I to matter — connected it to matter. Consequently, however, the genuine, living method of teaching, the real life of education has been frozen; only external techniques can survive in a civilization bound by matter. But, matter oppresses people. Matter confines each person within the bodily nature, and each individual thus becomes more or less isolated in soul. Unless we find other human beings in spirit, we become isolated souls, since human beings cannot, in fact, be found in the body.
Thus, our civilization’s materialistic view has produced an age when human beings pass each other by, because their perceptions are all connected with bodily nature. People cry out for a social life out of the intellect, and at the same time develop in their feelings an asocial indifference toward one another as well as a lack of mutual understanding. Souls who are isolated in individual bodies pass one another by, whereas souls who awaken the spirit within to find spirit itself also find themselves, as human beings, in communion with other human beings. Real community will blossom from the present chaos only when people find the spirit — when, living together in spirit, they find each other.
The great longing of today’s youth is to discover the human being. The youth movement came from this cry. A few days ago when the young people here came together, it became evident that this cry has been transformed into a cry for spirit, through the realization that the human being can be found only when spirit is found; if spirit is lost, we lose one another.
Last evening, I tried to show how we can find knowledge of the world — how the human being living on earth in body, soul, and spirit can develop out of such knowledge. I tried to show how a worldview can develop into an experience of the cosmos, and the Sun and Moon may be seen in everything that grows and flourishes on Earth. When we educate young people with this kind of background, we will properly develop the experience of immortality, the divine, the eternally religious element in the growing child, and we implant in the child’s being an immortal aspect destined for further progress, which we must carry in spirit through the gate of death.
This particular aspect of education is not what we are discussing here. The relationship between education and the human I, as well as culture, is what we had to look at first. Nevertheless, we may be sure of one thing; if people are educated properly on Earth, the heavenly being will also be educated properly, since the heavenly being lives within the earthly being. When we educate the earthly being correctly, we also promote the true development of the heavenly being through the tiny amount of progress that we make possible between birth and death.
In this way we come to terms with a view that progresses, in the true sense, to a universal knowledge — a knowledge that understands the need for human cooperation in the great spiritual cosmos, which is also revealed in the realm of the senses. True education recognizes that human beings are coworkers in building humankind. This is what I meant yesterday when I described the view of life that I said must form the background of all teaching and education.
From this, it follows that we cannot understand the world as a one-sided subject of the head alone. It is untrue to say that we can understand the world through ideas and concepts. And it is equally false to say that the world can be understood through feeling alone. It has to be understood through ideas and feeling, as well as through the will; human beings will understand the world only when divine spirit descends into will. Humankind will also be understood then — not through one aspect, but through the whole being. We need a worldview not just for the intellect, but for the whole human being — for human thinking, feeling, and willing — a concept of the world that discovers the world in the human body, soul, and spirit.
Only those who rediscover the world in the human being, and who see the world in human beings, can have a true concept of the world; because, just as the visible world is reflected in the eye, the entire human being exists as an eye of spirit, soul, and body, reflecting the whole cosmos. Such a reflection cannot be perceived externally; it must be experienced from within. Then it is not just an appearance, like an ordinary mirrored image; it is an inner reality. Thus, in the process of education, the world becomes human, and the human being discovers the world in the self.
Working this way in education, we feel that the human race would be disrupted if all human experience were tied to matter, because, when they deny their own being, souls do not find one another but lose themselves. When we move to spirit, we find other human beings. Community, in the true sense of the word, must be established through spirit. Human beings must find themselves in spirit; then they can unite with others. If worlds are to be created out of human actions, then the world must be seen in human beings.
In conclusion, allow me to express what was in the back of my mind while I was speaking to you. What I said here was intended as a consideration of education in the personal and cultural life of the present time. Now, in conclusion, let me put this in other words that include all I have wanted to say.
To spend oneself in matter
is to grind down souls.
To find oneself in the spirit
is to unite human beings.
To see oneself in all humanity
is to construct worlds.