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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Roots of Education
GA 309

Lecture One

13 April 1921, Bern

New Education and the Whole Human Being

Here in Bern, I have spoken to you often about anthroposophy in general. And it is a special pleasure to be able now to speak to you in the spirit of anthroposophy about education—the sphere of life that must lie closest to the human heart. We must develop an art of education that can lead us out of the social chaos into which we have fallen during the last few years and decades. Our chances of overcoming this chaos are very slight. In fact, one is tempted to say that there is no escaping this chaos unless we find a way to bring spirituality into human souls through education, so that human beings may find a way to progress and to further the evolution of civilization out of the spirit itself.

We feel confident that this is the right way to proceed, because in our hearts we know that the world is created in spirit and arises from spirit. Therefore, human creation will be fruitful only when it springs from the fountainhead of spirit itself. To achieve such fruitful creation from spirit, however, people must also be educated and taught in the spirit. I believe that anthroposophy in fact has much to say about the nature of education and teaching, therefore, it gives me great satisfaction that I can present these lectures here.

There are many all over the world who feel that a new impetus of some kind is needed in education and teaching. It is true that the nineteenth century was full of progressive ideas and much was done to further schooling and education. However, a recent tendency of our civilization has been that individuals are seldom brought into touch with their own humanity. For many centuries we have been able to record the most wonderful progress in the realm of natural science and in its resulting technology.

We have also seen that a certain worldview has gradually crystallized out of that scientific progress. The world as a whole—which includes the human being—seems to be viewed exclusively in terms of what the senses tell us about natural phenomena, and what the intellect, which is related to the brain, tells us about the realm of the senses. Nevertheless, all of our recently acquired knowledge about the natural world does not, in fact, lead us to the human being; this is not clearly recognized today. Although many people feel this to be the situation, they are unprepared to acknowledge that—regardless of all that the modern age has provided us in terms of information about the natural world—we are still no closer to understanding the human being.

This impossibility is most likely to be felt when we attempt to understand the growing human being, the child. We sense a barrier between the teacher and the child. Anthroposophy, which is based on a real and comprehensive understanding of the human being, would hear this heartfelt appeal coming from all sides—not by establishing theories on education, but by showing men and women as teachers how to enter the school’s practical life. Anthroposophic education is really the practical life of the school, and our lectures should provide practical details about how to deal with the various details of teaching.

Something else must come first, however; for if we were to begin by speaking of practical details in this way, then the spirit that gives birth to all this could not reveal itself. Therefore, you must kindly permit me to speak today of this spirit of anthroposophic education as a kind of introduction. What we have to say about it will be based on a comprehensive, truly penetrating knowledge of the human being—the active force of anthroposophy in education.

A penetrating knowledge of the human being—what does this mean to us? If a growing human being, a child, stands before us, it is not enough, as I have said, to make certain rules for teaching and educating this child, merely conforming to rules as one would when dealing with a technical problem. This will not lead to good teaching. We must bring an inner fire and enthusiasm to our work; we must have impulses that are not transmitted intellectually from teacher to child according to certain rules, but ones that pass intimately from teacher to child. An educator’s whole being must be at work, not just the thinking person; the person who feels and the person who wills must also play their roles.

Recently, the thinking and worldview of natural science have taken hold of people more deeply and closer to the marrow than they like to think. Even those not specifically trained as scientists think, feel, and act scientifically. This is not acceptable for teachers, since scientific thinking provides an understanding of only one member of the whole human being—the physical body, or body of the senses. But this is only one member of the entire human being, and anthroposophy shows us that when we have genuine knowledge of the human being, we see that the human being possesses three clearly distinguished members—physical body, soul, and spirit.

We see the whole human being only when we have enough wisdom and knowledge to recognize the soul’s true nature as clearly as we recognize the physical body. We must also be able to recognize the human spirit as an individual being. Nevertheless, the connections among the body, soul, and spirit in the child are not the same as in the adult; and it is precisely a loosening of the connection with the physical body that allows us to observe the soul and spirit of the child as the greatest wonder of knowledge and practical life in human existence.

The First Stage of Childhood

Let’s look for a moment at the tiny child and see how that child is born into the world. Here we see a genuinely magical process at work. We see how spirit, springing from the innermost being of the little child, flows into undefined features, chaotic movements, and every action, which seem still disjointed and disconnected. Order and form come into the child’s eyes, facial expressions and physical movements, and the child’s features become increasingly expressive. In the eyes and other features, the spirit manifests, working from within to the surface, and the soul—which permeates the entire body—manifests.

When we look at these things with a serious, unbiased attitude, we see how they come about by observing the growing child; in this way we may gaze reverently into the wonders and enigmas of cosmic and human existence. As we watch in this way while the child develops, we learn to distinguish three clearly differentiated stages. The only reason such stages are not generally distinguished is because such discernment depends on deep, intimate knowledge; and people today, with their crude scientific concepts, are not going to trouble themselves by acquiring this kind of intimate knowledge.

Soul and Spirit Build the “Second” Human Being

The first significant change in a child’s life occurs around the seventh year when the second teeth appear. The outer physical process of the change of teeth is itself very interesting. First we have the baby teeth, then the others force their way through as the first are pushed out. A superficial look at this process will see no farther than the actual change of teeth. But when we look into it more deeply (through means I will describe later in these lectures) we discover that this transformation can be observed throughout the child’s body, though more delicately than the actual change of teeth. The change of teeth is the most physical and basic expression of a subtle process that in fact occurs throughout the body.

What really happens? Anyone can see how the human organism develops. We cut our nails, our hair, and we find that our skin flakes off. This demonstrates how physical substance is cast off from the surface as it is constantly pushed out from within. This pushing from within—which we observe in the change of teeth—is present throughout the whole human body. More exacting knowledge shows us that indeed the child gradually forced out the body received through inheritance; it was cast out. The first teeth are forced out, and likewise the child’s whole initial body is forced out.

At the change of teeth, a child stands before us with a body that—in contrast to the body at birth—is entirely formed anew. The body from birth has been cast out as are the first teeth, and a new body is formed. What is the nature of this more intimate process? The child’s first body was inherited. It is the result of a collaboration between the father and mother, so to speak, and it is formed from the earthly physical conditions. But, just what is this physical body? It is the model that the Earth provides to the person as a model for true development as a human being. The soul and spirit aspect of a human being descends from a realm of soul and spirit where it lived prior to conception and birth. Before we became earthly beings in a physical body, we were all beings of soul and spirit in a soul and spirit realm. What we are given by our parents through inherited physical substance unites in embryonic life with what descends from a higher realm as pure spirit and soul. Spirit and soul take hold of the physical body, whose origin is in the stream of inheritance. This physical body becomes its model, and on this model an entirely new human organism is formed, while the inherited organism is forced out.

Thus, when we consider a child between birth and the change of teeth we can say that the physical body’s existence is due to physical inheritance alone. But, two other forces then combine to work on this physical body. First is the force of those elements the human being brought with it to Earth; the second is assimilated from the matter and substance of the Earth itself. By the time the teeth change, the human being has fashioned a second body modeled after the inherited body, and that second body is the product of the human soul and spirit.

Having arrived at such conclusions by observing the human being more intimately, one will naturally be aware of objections that may be raised; such objections are obvious. One is bound to ask: Can’t you see that a likeness to the parents often appears after the change of teeth—that, therefore, a person is still subject to the laws of inheritance, even after the change of teeth? One could raise a number of similar objections.

Let’s consider just this one: We have a model that comes from the stream of inheritance. On this model the spirit and soul develop the second human being. But when something is built from a model we don’t expect to find a complete dissimilarity to the model; thus, it should be clear that the human spirit and soul use the model’s existence to build up the second human organism in its likeness.

Nevertheless, when you can perceive and recognize what really occurs, you discover something. Certain children come into their second organism between nine and eleven, and this second body is almost identical to the initial, inherited organism. With other children, one may notice a dissimilarity between the second organism and the first, and it is clear that something very different is working its way from the center of their being. In truth, we see every variation between these two extremes. While the human spirit and soul aspect is developing the second organism, it tries most of all to conform to the being it brings with it from the realm of spirit and soul.

A conflict thus arises between what is intended to built as the second organism and what the first organism received through inheritance. Depending on whether thy have had a stronger or weaker spiritual and soul existence (in the following lectures we shall see why this is), human beings can either give their second organism an individual form that is strongly impregnated with soul forces, or, if they descend from the spiritual world with weaker forces, stay as closely as possible to the model.

Consider what we must deal with to educate children during the first period of life between birth and the change of teeth. We are inspired with great reverence when we see how divine spiritual forces work down from supersensible realms! We witness them working daily and weekly, from month to month and year to year, during the first phases of children’s lives, and we see how such work carries them through to forming a second individual body. In education we participate in this work of spirit and soul; for human physical existence, we continue what divine spiritual forces began. We participate in divine labor.

The Child as a Sense Organ

These matters require more than strictly intellectual understanding; one’s whole being must comprehend them. Indeed, when we are brought face to face with the creative forces of the world, we may sense the magnitude of our task in education, especially during the early years. But I would like to point out to you that the way spirit and soul enter the work of creating a second human organism shows us that, in the child, the formation of the body, the activity of the soul, and the creation of the spirit are a unity. Whatever happens while forming a new organism and pushing out the old involves a unity of spirit, soul, and body.

Consequently, children reveal themselves very differently than do adults. We may observe this clearly in individual instances. As adults, when we eat something sweet, it is the tongue and palate that perceive its sweetness; a little later, the experience of sweetness ceases when the sweet substance has gone into another part of the body. As adults, we do not follow it farther with our taste. This is very different for a child, in whom taste permeates the whole organism; children do not taste only with the tongue and palate but with the whole organism. The sweetness is drawn throughout the organism. In fact, the whole child is a sensory organ.

In essence, what is a sensory organ? Let’s consider the human eye. Colors make an impression on the eye. If we properly consider what is involved in human seeing, one has to say that will and perception are one in the human eye. The surface is involved—the periphery of the human being. During the first years of life, however, between birth and the change of teeth, such activity permeates the whole organism, though in a delicate way. The child’s whole organism views itself as one all-inclusive sense organ. This is why all impressions from the environment affect children very differently than they would an adult. An expression of the soul element in the human being—the element of human morality—is occurring in the environment, and this can be seen with the eye.

The Effects of the Teacher’s Temperament on Children

Subconsciously—even unconsciously—children have a delicate and intimate capacity for perceiving what is expressed in every movement and act of those around them. If a choleric person expresses fury in the presence of a child and allows the child to see this in the unconscious way I described, then, believe me, we are very mistaken to believe that the child sees only the outer activity. Children have a clear impression of what is contained within these moral acts, even when it is an unconscious impression. Sense impressions of the eye are also unconscious. Impressions that are not strictly sensory impressions, but expressions of the moral and soul life, flow into a child exactly the way colors flow into the eye, because the child’s organism is a sense organ.

This organism, however, has such a delicate structure that every impression permeates all of it. The first impression a child receives from any moral manifestation is a soul impression. For a child, however, the soul always works down into the bodily nature. Whether it be fear or joy and delight that a child experiences in the environment, all this passes—not crudely but in a subtle and delicate way—into the processes of growth, circulation, and digestion. Children who live in constant terror of what may come their way as expressions of fury and anger from a choleric person, experience something in the soul that immediately penetrates the breathing, the circulation of the blood, and even the digestive activities. This is tremendously significant. In childhood we cannot speak only of physical education, because soul education also means educating the body; everything in the soul element is metamorphosed into the body—it becomes body.

We will realize the significance of this only when, through genuine knowledge of the human being, we do more than merely look at children and imprint certain educational maxims on them, and instead consider all of human earthly life. This is more difficult than merely observing children. We may record observations regarding memory, thinking powers, sensory functions of the eye, ear, and so on, but such records are made for the moment or, at most, for a short while. But this has not helped us in any way toward true knowledge of the human being as such.

When we look at a plant, something is already contained there in the seed that takes root and, after a long time, will appear as blossom and fruit. Similarly, in children before the change of teeth, when the bodily nature is susceptible to the soul’s influences, there are seeds of happiness and unhappiness, health and sickness, which will affect all of life until death. As teachers and educators, whatever we allow to flow into children during their first phase of life will work down into the blood, breathing, and digestion; it is like a seed that may come to fruition only in the form of health or sickness when they are forty or fifty years old. It is in fact true that the way educators act toward the little child creates the predispositions for happiness or unhappiness, sickness or health.

This is particularly noticeable when we observe in detail the effects of teachers on the children, based on actual life events. These phenomena may be observed just as well as the phenomena of botany or physics in laboratories, but we seldom see this. Let us consider individual examples. Let us consider, for instance, the teacher’s relationship to a child in school. Consider the teacher’s temperament. We may know that, due to temperament, a choleric teacher may be energetic, but also quick-tempered and easily angered. A melancholic teacher may be the kind of person who withdraws into the self—an introvert who is self-occupied and avoids the world. A sanguine teacher may be quick to receive outer impressions, flitting from one impression to the next. Or, we may find a phlegmatic person who allows things to slide, someone indifferent to everything, who remains unaffected by outer impressions, generally gliding over things.

Let’s imagine for the moment that a teachers’ training college did nothing to moderate these temperaments and prepare teachers to function well in the school life—that these temperaments were allowed full and total expression with no restraint. The choleric temperament—let us imagine that, before the change of teeth, a child is exposed to a choleric temperament. If a teacher or educator lets loose with a temperament of this kind, it permanently affects the child’s soul, leaving its mark on the circulatory system and all that constitutes the inner rhythmic life. Such effects do not initially penetrate very deeply; really, they are only there in seed, but this seed grows and grows, as all seeds do. It sometimes happens that, at forty or fifty years of age, circulatory disorders of the rhythmic system appear as a direct result of a teacher’s unrestrained choleric temperament. Indeed, we do not educate children only for childhood, but for their whole earthly existence and even, as we shall see later, for the time beyond.

Or, let’s imagine a melancholic giving rein to that particular temperament—someone who was not motivated during teacher training to harmonize it and find an appropriate way to channel it into working with children. Such teachers succumb to their own melancholy in their interactions with children. But by living, feeling, and thinking such inner melancholy, such a person continually withholds from children exactly what should flow from teacher to child—that is, warmth. This warmth, which is so often missing in education, acts first as a warmth of soul, and then passes into the body, primarily into the digestive system. This quickens the seed of certain tendencies that appear later in life as all kinds of disorders and blood diseases.

Or consider the phlegmatic, a person who is indifferent to interactions with the child. A very peculiar relationship arises between them—not exactly a coldness, but an extremely watery element is active in the soul realm between the child and such a teacher. The foundation is not strong enough for the proper interplay of soul between teacher and child. The child is insufficiently aroused to inner activity. If you observe someone who developed under the influence of a phlegmatic person, and if you follow the course of that person’s life into later years, you will often notice a tendency to brain weakness, poor circulation in the brain, or a dulling of brain activity.

And now let us look at the effects of sanguine people on the child—those who allow their sanguine nature to get out of hand. Such an individual responds strongly to every impression, but impressions pass quickly. There is a kind of inner life, but the person’s own nature is taken right out into the surroundings. Children cannot keep up with such a teacher, who rushes from one impression to the next, and fails to stimulate the child properly. In order to arouse sufficient inner activity in a child, the teacher must lovingly hold that child to one impression for a certain period of time. If we observe a child who has grown up under the influence of an uncontrolled sanguine nature, we see in later life that there is a certain lack of vital force—an adult life that lacks strength and content.

Thus, if we have the ability to see it (and education depends on a capacity for subtle perception), we recognize various types of people in their fortieth or fiftieth year of life, and we are able to say whether a person has been influenced by the temperament of an educator who was melancholic, phlegmatic, choleric, or sanguine.

The Lasting Effects of a Teacher’s Actions

I mention these things in introducing my lectures, not to give instructions on how to work out these things for training teachers, but to show you how actions meant to affect the child’s soul life do not just remain in the soul, but go all the way into the physical nature. To educate the soul life of children means to educate them for their whole earthly life, even in their bodily nature.

Anthroposophy is often criticized for wanting to speak of spirit as well as soul. There are many today who become very critical and antagonistic whenever they even hear the word spirit, and anthroposophy is easily assumed to be a kind of fantasy. Anthroposophists are accused of reducing the reality of the sense world to a kind of vague abstraction, and those who speak rationally of spiritual things should naturally be unconcerned with such abstraction.

In fact, what anthroposophy attempts in education is to apply the correct principles for bodily education, since we understand that precisely during the first stage of life, the entire physical nature of a child is influenced by soul impulses. Anyone who consciously tries to discover how all physical activity is based fundamentally on soul and spirit can still choose to be a materialist when working on child development between birth and the change of teeth. The way matter works in a child is contained in a unity of soul and spirit. No one can understand matter in a child unless soul and spirit are considered valid. Indeed, soul and spirit are revealed in the outer appearance of matter.

The ability to educate necessitates a sense of responsibility. The considerations I have presented to you strongly arouse one’s sense of responsibility as a matter of heartfelt concern. If you take up educational work knowing what affects the young child and that it will continue through all of life as happiness or unhappiness, sickness or health, such knowledge may initially seem like a burden on the soul; but it will also spur you on to develop forces and capacities and above all, as a teacher, a mental attitude that is strong enough to sow “seeds” of soul in the young child that will blossom only later in life, even in old age.

This knowledge of the human being is what anthroposophy presents as the basis for an art of education. It is not merely knowledge of what we find in a human being in a single stage of life—for example, in childhood; it springs from contemplating all of human earthly life. What, in fact, is a human life on Earth? When we view a person before us at any given moment, we may speak of seeing an organism, since each detail is in harmony with the formation of the whole.

To gain insight into the inner connections of size or form in the individual members of the human organism—how they fit together, how they harmonize to form both a unity and a multiplicity—let us look, for example, at the little finger. Although I am only looking at the little finger, I also get some idea of the shape of the earlobe, since the earlobe’s form has a certain connection with the form of the little finger, and so on. Both the smallest and the largest members of the human organism receive their shape from the whole, and they are also related in form to every other member. Consequently, we cannot understand, for example, an organ in the head unless we see it in relation and in harmony with an organ in the leg or foot. This also applies to the spatial organism—the organism spread out in space.

Besides having a spatial organism, however, the human being has also a time organism. We have seen that within the space organism, the earlobe receives its form from the body as a whole, as well as from the form of, say, the little finger or knee; but the time organism must also be considered. The configuration of a person’s soul in the fiftieth year—the person’s physical health or sickness, cheerfulness or depression, clarity or dullness of mind—is most intimately connected with what was present there in the tenth, seventh, or fourth year of life. Just as the members of a spatial organism have a certain relationship to one another, so do the members of a time organism separated from one another by time.

From one perspective, it may be asserted that when we are five years old, everything within us is already in harmony with what we will be at forty. Of course, a trivial objection may be raised that one might die young, but it doesn’t apply, since other considerations enter in. Additionally, as a spatial organism, a human being is also organized in time. And if you ever find a finger lying around somewhere, it would have to have been very recently dislodged to look like a finger at all—very soon, it would no longer be a finger. A limb separated from the organism soon shrivels and ceases to be a human limb. A finger separated from the human organism is not a finger at all—it could never live apart from the body, but becomes nothing, and since it cannot exist on its own, it is not real. A finger is real only while united with the whole physical body between birth and death.

Such considerations make it clear that in all our teaching, we must consider the time organism. Imagine what would happen to the space organism if it were treated the way people often treat their time-organism. Let say, for example, that we put some substance into a man’s stomach, and it destroys his head. Imagine, however, that we examined only the stomach and never looked at what happened to this substance once it dispersed into the organism, where it eventually reached the head. To understand the human organism, we must be able to examine the process that the substance goes through in the human stomach and also see what it means for the head. In passing from the stomach to the head the substance must continually alter and change; it must be flexible.

In the time organism, we continually sin against children. We teach them to have clear, sharp ideas and become dissatisfied if their ideas are flexible and not sharply defined. Our goal is to teach children in such a way that they retain in their mind what we teach them, so they can tell us just what we told them. We are often especially gratified when a child can reproduce exactly what we taught several years later. But that’s like having a pair of shoes made for a child of three and expecting them to fit when the child is ten years old. In reality, our task is to give children living, flexible ideas that can grow in the soul just as the outer physical limbs grow with the body. It is much less trouble to give a child definitions of various things to memorize and retain, but that is like expecting the shoes of a three-year- old to fit a child of ten.

We ourselves must take part in the inner activities of children’s souls, and we must consider it a joy to give them something inwardly flexible and elastic. Just as their physical limbs grow, so can their ideas, feelings, impulses, and soon they themselves are able to make something new out of what we gave them. This cannot happen unless we cultivate inner joy in ourselves toward growth and change. We have no use for pedantry or sharply defined ideas of life. We can use only active, life forming forces—forces of growth and increase. Teachers who have a feeling for this growing, creative life have already found their relationship to the children because they contain life within themselves, and such life can then pass on to the children who demand it of them. This is what we need most of all. Much that is dead in our pedagogy and educational systems must be transformed into life. What we need, therefore, is a knowledge of the human being that doesn’t say only that a human being is like this or like that. We need knowledge of the human being that affects the whole human being, just as physical nourishment affects the blood. Blood circulates in human beings, and we need human knowledge that gives blood to our souls also; it would not only make us sensible, clever, and intelligent, but also enthusiastic and inwardly flexible, able to enkindle love in us. This would be an art of education that springs from true knowledge of the human being, borne by love.

These have been the introductory remarks I wanted to present about the essential ideas that an art of education must get from anthroposophy. In future lectures we will see how the spirit of anthroposophic education can be realized in the practical details of school.