The Roots of Education
16 April 1921, Bern
Moral Development after the Change of Teeth
We have been speaking of ways to teach reading and writing according to the needs of the soul and spirit of children. If you can inwardly understand the relationship of soul and spirit to the physical body at the change of teeth, you not only see the truth of what has been said, but you will be also able to work it out in practical details. Until the change of teeth, a human being lives entirely in the senses. A child surrenders entirely to the environment and is thus by nature a religious being.
At the change of teeth, however, the senses, which the permeate a small child’s whole being, now come to the surface; they disengage from the rest of the organism and go their separate ways, so to speak. This means that the soul and spirit are freed from the physical body and the child can inwardly develop as an individual. Soul and spirit become independent, but you must bear in mind that the soul and spirit do not really become intellectual until puberty, because the intellect does not assume its natural place in a child’s development before then.
Before that time, a child lacks the forces to meet an appeal to the intellect. Between the change of teeth and puberty, the forces of comprehension and the whole activity of soul have a pictorial quality. It is a kind of aesthetic comprehension that may be characterized in this way: until the change of teeth children want to imitate what happens around them, what is done in front of them. Their motor systems are exerted in such a way — both in general and individually — that they enter an inner, loving relationship with all that surrounds them.
This alters at the change of teeth, when the child no longer goes by what is seen, but by what is revealed in the feelings and soul mood of the educator or teacher. The young child’s soul before the change of teeth is not yet guided by the authority of a teacher. Naturally, such transitions are gradual rather than sudden; but, typically, a small child pays little attention to the subject or meaning of what is said; a child lives much more in the sound of words — in the whole way the speech is formulated. Closer observation shows that when you simply lay down the law and say to a child, “You must not do this,” it makes very little impression. But when, with its own conviction, as it were, your mouth says, “Do this,” or another time, “Don’t do that,” there should be a noticeable difference in how these words are spoken. The child will notice the difference between saying “You should not do that” with a certain intonation, and “That’s right, you may do that.” The intonation reveals the activity of speech, which acts as a guide for the very young child.
Children are unconcerned with the meaning of words and, indeed, with any manifestation of the world around them, until after the change of teeth. Even then, it is not yet the intellectual aspect that concerns them, but an element of feeling. They take it in as one takes anything from acknowledged authority. Before puberty, a child cannot intellectually determine right and wrong. People may speculate about these things as much as they like, but direct observation shows what I have said to be true. This is why all moral concepts brought before a child must be pictorial in nature.
The subject being taught and moral training can thus be interwoven. If, for example, you are presenting examples of history — not in a stilted, pedantic way, with all kinds of moral maxims, but with simple feelings of like and dislike — you can show that what is moral is pleasing to you, and what is not moral is displeasing. Thus, during the time between the change of teeth and puberty, a child can acquire sympathy for what is good and antipathy toward what is bad. We do not begin by giving children commands, because commands will not have the desired effect. It may be possible to enslave children with commands, but we can never foster the moral life in this way, which instead must spring from the depths of the soul. We can do this only when, quite apart from commanding or forbidding, we are able to arouse a fine feeling for good and bad in the child — a feeling for beautiful and ugly and for true and false.
The teacher respected by the child as an authority should personify what is good, true, and beautiful. A child brought up on precepts can never become fully human, formed and developed from the whole of the child’s inner nature. Precepts consider only the development of the head. We can foster the development of the heart — indeed, the whole person — if we can arouse the feeling at that age that something is true, beautiful, or good, because the revered teacher thinks it to be true, beautiful, or good. In a person, in an actual human being, a child will look for manifestations of truth, beauty, and goodness. When the picture of truth, beauty, and goodness comes from the individuality of the educator, it affects the child with the most amazing intensity. The whole being of the child is exerted to find an inner echo of what the teacher says or otherwise makes perceptible. This is most important, therefore, in the educational methods we use for children between seven and fourteen.
Of course, there are obvious objections to such a statement; the idea of “object-lessons,” or teaching based on sense-perception, is so misunderstood these days that people believe they should give children only what they can understand, and since we live in an era of the intellect, such understanding is intellectual. It is not yet understood that it is possible to understand things with soul forces other than those of the intellect — and recommendations for so-called “object-lessons” can drive one nearly to despair.
It is a terrible mindset that wants to pin the teacher down to the children’s level of understanding all the time. If you really set up the principle of giving children only “what they can understand,” one cannot gain a concept of what it means for a child of six or seven to have accepted something based on the unquestioned authority of a teacher. Because the teacher thought something was true or beautiful, the child accepted it, and it will accompany that child throughout life. It grows with the child as the child grows. And at thirty or forty years of age — after more mature experiences — that individual may again find what was accepted at eight or nine based on the authority of a beloved teacher. It springs back into the adult’s life again, and now it can be understood because of adult experiences.
There is a most wonderful life-giving power, when things already contained within a person’s soul emerge and unite with the essence of what was acquired in the meantime. Such lifegiving forces can be born in the person only when what was accepted by the child on the authority of the teacher arises in the soul, through the maturity of subsequent experience. If memories are connected only with the intellect, then a child is robbed of life-giving forces. In these matters we must come to perceive the human being in a much more intimate way than is usual today.
Beginning with the Whole in Mathematics
It is essential that we make sure the child is not driven to a one-sided intellectuality. This will nevertheless be the situation if our teaching is permeated with intellectual thought. What I am saying here applies to everything children should be taught between the change of teeth and puberty. It is most important that mathematics, for example, should not be intellectualized; even in mathematics, we should begin with what is real.
Now imagine that I have ten beans here in front of me. This pile of \(10\) beans is the reality — it is a whole — but I can divide it into smaller groups. If I began by saying, “\(3+3+4\) beans \(= 10\) beans,” then I am starting with a thought instead of an actuality. Let’s do it the other way around and say, “Here are \(10\) beans. I move them around, and now they are divided into groups — \(3\) here, \(3\) again here, and another group of \(4\) that, together, make up the whole.”
When I begin this way with the total actually in front of me, and then go on to the numbers to be added together, I am sticking with reality; I proceed from the whole, which is constant, to its parts. The parts can be grouped in various ways — for example, \(10 = 2+2+3+3\) — but the whole is constant and invariable, and this is the greater reality. Thus, I must teach children to add by proceeding from the whole to the parts. Genuine knowledge of the human being shows us that, at this age, a child will have nothing to do with abstractions, such as addenda, but wants everything concrete; and this requires a reversal of the usual method of teaching mathematics. In teaching addition, we have to proceed from the whole to the parts, showing that it can be divided in various ways. This is the best method to help us awaken forces of observation in children, and it is truly in keeping with their nature. This applies also to the other rules of mathematics. If you say, “What must we take away from \(5\) in order to leave \(2\)?” you will arouse much more interest in children than if you say, “Take \(3\) from \(5\).” And the first question is also much closer to real life. These things happen in real life, and in your teaching methods you can awaken a sense of reality in children at this age.
A sense for reality is sorely lacking in our time, and this is because (though not always acknowledged) something is considered true when it can be observed and is logical. But logic alone cannot establish truth, because truth can arise only when something is not only logical but accords with reality. We hear some very strange ideas about this nowadays. For example, Einstein’s theory of relativity — which is brilliant and, from certain points of view, significant — presents ideas that, if one has a sense for reality at all, leave one feeling torn and disintegrated. You may recall his watch that travels out into space with the speed of light supposedly unchanged. But you only need to imagine what it would be like when it returned — completely pulverized, to say the least!
Something is placed before you that can be well-reasoned and very logical; the theory of relativity is as logical as can be, but in many of its applications, it does not accord with reality. Such things make a deep impression on people today, because we no longer have a fine feeling for reality. When we consider the needs of children during this second period of life it is most important to give them realities rather than abstractions. This is the only way we can prepare them properly for later life — not just in thinking, but in the forces of feeling and will. We must first recognize the true nature of the child before we can correctly tackle education, whether at school or at home.
The Natural Religious Feeling in Children
Before we become earthly beings, as I have told you before, we are beings of soul and spirit living in a world of soul and spirit. We come to earth and as beings of soul and spirit and unite with the physical and etheric seed; this physical, etheric seed arises partly through the activity of the soul and spirit itself, and partly through the stream of inheritance that passes through the generations, and finally, through the father and mother, approaches the human being who wishes to incarnate in a physical body. If we consider this soul and spirit descending to Earth, we cannot help but view it with reverence and awe. The unfolding of the child’s being must fill us as teachers with feelings of reverence — indeed, we could speak of priestly feelings; because, the way soul and spirit are unveiled in the child really does constitute a revelation of that soul and spirit within the physical and etheric realm.
This mood of soul allows us to see the child as a being sent down to Earth by the Gods to incarnate in a physical body. It arouses within us the proper attitude of mind for our work in the school. But we learn to perceive only through true observation of what gradually manifests prior to the change of teeth — by observing the building of a child’s body, the ordering of chaotic movements, the “ensouling” of gestures, and so on. We can see in all this, springing from the center of a child’s being, the effects of the human being’s experiences in the divine spiritual realm before coming to Earth.
Only on the basis of this knowledge can we correctly understand what expresses itself in the life and activities of children under seven. They simply continue in their earthly life a tendency of soul that was the most essential aspect of life before birth. In the spiritual realm, a human being surrenders completely to the spirit all around, lives outside itself, though more individually than on Earth. The human being wants to continue this tendency toward devotion in earthly life — wants to continue in the body the activity of pre-earthly life in the spiritual worlds. This is why the whole life of a small child is naturally religious.
Imagery after the Age of Seven
It is very different when we come to the change of teeth. Now, with their individuality, but on the model delivered by its inheritance, children make their own bodies. At this age, a child acquires for the first time a body formed from the individuality. Human beings come to Earth with a remembered tendency; this then develops into a more pictorial and plastic memory. Therefore, what is produced from the impulses of former earthly lives causes life between the change of teeth and puberty to seem familiar. It is very important for us to realize that a child’s experience at this age is like recognizing an acquaintance on the street.
This experience — lowered one level into the subconscious — is what happens in the physical and moral nature of a child at this age. The child experiences what is being learned as old and familiar. The more we can appeal to that feeling, recognizing that we are giving the child old and familiar knowledge, the more pictorial and imaginative we can make our teaching, and the better we will teach, because that individual saw these things as images in the spiritual life and knows that his or her own being rests within those images; they can be understood because they are already well known. The child has not yet developed any clearly defined or individual sympathies and antipathies, but has a general feeling of sympathy or antipathy toward what is found on the Earth, just as I might feel sympathy if I meet a friend or antipathy if I meet someone who once struck me on the head. If we keep in mind that these general feelings are there, and if we work on this hypothesis, our teaching will be on the right track.
The Individual after Puberty
Then a child reaches puberty, and an important change occurs. The more general feelings of sympathy and antipathy give way to individualized feelings. Each thing has or lacks value in the child’s eyes, but differently now. This is because at puberty, a human being’s true destiny begins to be felt. Before this time, children had more general feelings about life, viewing it as an old acquaintance. Now, having attained sexual maturity, a child feels that the individual experiences that arise are related to destiny. Only when a person views life in terms of destiny does it become one’s own individual life in the proper way. Therefore, what we experienced before must be recalled a second time in order to connect it with one’s destiny.
Before fourteen, everything must be based on the teacher’s authority, but if it is to become a part of a child’s destiny it must be presented again after fourteen, to be experienced in an individual way. This must in no way be ignored. With regard to moral concepts, we must bring the child before puberty to have a liking for the good and such a dislike for evil. Then, during the next period of life, things that were developed in sympathy and antipathy appear again in the soul, and the growing individual will make what was loved into precepts for the self, and what was repugnant, the person must now avoid. This is freedom, but as human beings we can find it only if, before we come to “Do this” and “Don’t do that,” we feel attracted to the good and repelled by the bad. A child must learn morality through feeling.
With regard to religion, we must be clear that young children are naturally religious. At the change of teeth, when the soul and spirit become more free of the body, this close relationship with nature falls away, and thus what was formerly natural religion must be lifted to a religion of the soul. Only after puberty does religious understanding arise, and then, once the spirit has become free, what was formerly expressed in imitation of the father or mother must be surrendered to the invisible, supersensible forces. Thus, what has always been present in the child as a seed gradually develops in a concrete way. Nothing is grafted onto the child; it arises from the child’s own being.
True Reform in Education
Here is an extraordinary fact you can verify for yourselves; with all relatively rational people — and nearly everyone is rational these days (and I mean that seriously) — you find that people have been educated only to be rational, only to work with their heads, and no more. To educate the whole person is not as easy. You only have to read what very sensible people have written about education, and you repeatedly encounter this sort of statement: “Nothing should be presented to a child from outside; but what is already there should be developed.” You can read that everywhere, but how is it done? That is the question. It is not a matter of establishing principles. Programmatic principles are easy to come by, but what matters is to live in reality. This is what we must aim for, but we will find ourselves nearly overwhelmed by the difficulties and dangers in our path.
Thirty, forty, or a hundred people can sit down together today and draft treatises on the best methods for teaching and education and other recommendations, and I am convinced that in most cases they do it very cleverly. I am not being ironic — our materialistic culture has reached its zenith. Everywhere societies are being established and principles elaborated. In themselves, these are splendid, but they accomplish nothing. That is why the Waldorf school came into being in such a way that there were no set principles or systems — only children and teachers. We have to consider not only the individuality of every single child, but the individuality of every single teacher as well. We must know our teachers. It is easy to draft rules and principles that tell teachers what to do and not do. But what matters is the capacities of individual teachers, and the development of their capacities; they do not need educational precepts, but a knowledge of the human being that takes them into life itself and considers whole persons in a living way. You see, our job must always be development, but we must know where to look for what we wish to develop. We must link religious feeling — and later, religious thinking — with imitation during the first stage of childhood, and moral judgment during the second.
It is most important to bear in mind the pictorial element in the period between the change of teeth and puberty. Artistic presentation is essential in teaching and education. Painting, music, and perhaps modeling as well, must all find their proper place in education in order to satisfy the inherent longings of children.
Children’s Relationship to the Earth
In other subjects we must also work according to these needs, not according to the demands of our materialistic age. Our materialistic age has fine things to tell us — for example, about how to distinguish one plant from another — but during this second stage, the teacher must know, above all, that the scientific method of classification and descriptions of individual plants does not belong in the education of children of this age. You must ask yourself whether a plant is, in effect, a reality. Can you understand a plant in isolation? This is impossible. Suppose you found a hair; you would not try to determine how this hair could have formed all by itself. It must have been pulled out or fallen out of someone’s head. You can think of it as a reality only in relation to the whole organism. The hair is nothing on its own and cannot be understood that way. It is a sin against one’s sense of reality to describe a hair in isolation, and it is just as much a sin against our sense of reality to describe a plant as an isolated unit.
It may seem fantastic, but plants are in fact the “hair” of the living Earth. Just as you can understand what a hair is really like only when you consider how it grows out of the head — actually out of the whole organism — so in teaching about nature you must show the children how the Earth exists in a most intimate relationship to the world of plants. You must begin with the soil and, in this way, evoke an image of Earth as a living being. Just as people have hair on their head, the Earth as a living being has the plants on it. You should never consider the plants apart from the soil. You must never show the children a plucked flower as something real, since it has no reality of its own. A plant can no more exist without the soil than a hair can exist without the human organism. The essential thing in your teaching is to arouse the feeling in the child that this is so.
When children have the feeling that the Earth has some formation or another, and from this arises one or another blossom in the plant — when in fact they really experience the Earth as a living organism — they will gain the proper and true relationship to the human being and to the whole great Earth spread out before them. One would never arrive at this view by considering the plants in isolation from the Earth.
Children will be capable of acquiring the right view (which I have characterized in a somewhat abstract way) at about ten years of age. This may be seen through intimately observing what develops in a child. But up to this age, our teaching about plants — springing as they do from the living body of the Earth — must be in the form of an image. We should clothe it in fairy tales, in pictures, and in legends. Only after the tenth year, when the child begins to feel like an independent personality, can we speak of plants individually. Before then, a child does not discriminate between the self and the environment. The I is not completely separated from the surrounding world. So we must speak of plants as though they were little human beings or little angels, we must make them feel and act like human beings, and we must do the same thing with the animals. Only later in school life do we speak of them objectively as separate units.
You must not pass too abruptly from one thing to another, however; for the true reality of the living Earth from which the plants spring has another side to show us — the animal realm. Animals are typically studied by placing one beside the other, dividing them into classes and species according to their similarities. At best, one speaks of the more perfect as having developed from the less perfected, and so on. In this way, however, we fail to bring the human being into any relationship with the environment. When you study animal forms without preconceptions, it soon becomes clear that there are essential differences in the nature of, for example, a lion and a cow.
When you observe a cow you find in her a one-sided development of what in human beings is the digestive system. The cow is completely a system of digestion, and all the other organs act as appendages more or less. This is why it is so interesting to watch a cow chewing the cud; she lies on the meadow and digests her food with great enthusiasm, such bodily enthusiasm. She is all digestion. Just watch her and you will see how the substances pass over from her stomach to the other parts of her body. You can see from her sense of ease and comfort, from the whole soul quality of the cow, how all this comes about.
Now look at the lion. Do you not feel that, if your own heart were not prevented by your intellect from pressing too heavily into the limbs, your own heart would be as warm as that of the lion? The lion is a one-sided development of the human breast quality; the lion’s other organs are merely appendages. Or consider birds. We can see that a bird is really entirely head. Everything else about a bird is stunted; it is all head. I have chosen these particularly striking examples, but you can discover that every animal embodies some aspect of humankind in a onesided way.
In the human being everything is brought into harmony; each organ is developed so that it is modulated and harmonized by the other organs. For animals, however, each species embodies one of these human qualities in a specialized way. What would the human nose be like if it were not held in check by the rest of the organization? You can find certain animals with highly developed noses. What would the human mouth become if it were free and were not subdued by the other organs? So you find in all animal forms a one-sided development of some part of the human being.
In ancient times, humankind had an instinctive knowledge of these things, but that has been forgotten in our materialistic era. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, echoes of such knowledge could still be found, but now we must come to it anew. Schelling, for example, based himself on an old tradition in his sense that an animal form lives in every human organ, and he made a rather extraordinary statement: What, he asked, is the human tongue? The human tongue is a “cuttlefish.” The cuttlefish found in the sea is a tongue developed in a one-sided way. In this statement there is something that can really bring us knowledge of our relationship to the animal world spread out before us.
It is really true that — once you have detached this from the abstract form in which I have presented it to you, when you have grasped it inwardly and transformed it into a picture — it will link in a wonderful way to fables and stories about animals. If you have previously told children stories in which animals act like humans, now you can divide the human being into the entire animal kingdom. In this way you can move beautifully from one to the other.
Thus, we get two kinds of feeling in children. One is aroused by the plant world and wanders over the fields and meadows gazing at the plants. The child muses: “Below me is the living Earth, living its life in the plant realm, which gives me such delight. I am looking at something beyond myself that belongs to the Earth.” Just as a child gets a deep, inner feeling that the plant world belongs to the Earth — as indeed it does — so also the child deeply feels the true relationship between the human and the animal world — the human being built up by a harmonization of the whole animal kingdom spread out over the Earth.
Thus, in natural history children see their own relationship to the world, and the connection between the living Earth and what springs forth from it. Poetic feelings are awakened, imaginative feelings that were slumbering in the child. In this way, a child is truly led through the feelings to find a place in the universe, and the subject of natural history at this age can be something that leads the child to moral experiences.
It is really true that education cannot consist of external rules and techniques, but must arise from a true knowledge of the human being; this will lead to experiencing oneself as a part of the world. And this experience of belonging to the world is what must be brought to children by educators.