The Roots of Education
17 April 1921, Bern
Three Divisions in the Middle Period of Childhood
When we consider the time from the change of teeth to puberty (this important period really sets the standard for our education as a whole), we see that it is divided again into smaller stages. During the first of these, up to the ninth year, children are not in a position to distinguish clearly between self and the outside world; even in the feeling life, the experience of the world as distinguished from I-being is unclear. People today do not generally regard these things correctly. They may observe that a child bumps into the corner of a table and then immediately strikes the table. People then say, “This child thinks the table is alive, and because of this, the child hits it in return.” People speak in terms of “animism” as they do in relation to cultural history, but in reality this is not the situation.
If you look into the child’s soul you can see that the table is not seen as alive; not even living things are considered to be alive as they will be later on. But, just as children see their arms and hands as members of their own being, they view what occurs beyond the self as a continuation of their own being. Children do not yet distinguish between self and world. Consequently, during this stage — the first third of the time between change of teeth and puberty — we must bring everything to the child through fairy tales and legends so that, in everything children see, they will find something that is not separate, but a continuation of their own being.
From a developmental standpoint, the transition from the ninth to the tenth year is vitally important for children, though the precise moment varies from child to child, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. You will notice that around this time, children grow somewhat restless; they come to the teacher with questioning eyes, and these things require that you have a fine feeling. Children will ask things that startle you, very different from anything they had asked before. Children find themselves in a strange situation inwardly. Now it is not a question of giving them all sorts of admonitions in a pedantic and stilted way; it is our task, above all, to feel our way into their own being.
At this stage, something appears in the subconscious being of a child. It is not, of course, anything that the child could express consciously, but we may characterize it in this way: until this time, children unquestioningly accepted as truth, goodness, and beauty whatever the authority, or revered teacher, presented as true, good, and beautiful. They were completely devoted to the one who was their authority. But at this point between the ninth and tenth year something comes over children — in the feelings, not in thinking, since they do not yet intellectualize things. Something comes over them, and it awakens in the soul as a kind of faint, dreamlike question: How does the teacher know this? Where does it come from? Is my teacher really the world? Until now, my teacher was the world, but now there is a question: Does not the world go beyond the teacher?
Up to this point, the teacher’s soul was transparent, and the child saw through it into the world; but now this adult has become increasingly opaque, and the child asks, out of the feelings, what justifies one thing or another. The teacher’s whole bearing must then very tactfully find what is right for the child. It is not a matter of figuring out ahead of time what to say, but of knowing how to adapt to the situation with inner tact. If right at this moment one can find the appropriate thing for the child through an inner, imperceptible sympathy, it will have an immense significance for that child’s whole life right up to the time of death. If a child at this stage of inner life can say of the teacher, “This person’s words arise from the secrets and mysteries of the world,” this will be of great value to the child. This is an essential aspect of our teaching method.
Cause and Effect and Education as a Healing Art
At this point in life, children experience the difference between the world and the I-being. Now you can progress from teaching about plants, as I described yesterday, to teaching about animals. If you do this as I described it, you will make the correct approach to a child’s feeling for the world. Only in the third period — beginning between the middle of the eleventh year and toward the twelfth — will a child acquire any understanding for what we might call a “feeling of causality.” Prior to the twelfth year, you can speak to children as cleverly as you like about cause and effect, but you will find them blind to causality at that age. Just as the term color-blind is coined from color, we may coin the term cause-blind. Connections between cause and effect are not formed in the human being before the twelfth year. Therefore, it is only at this age that we can begin to teach children what they need to know about the physical, mineral realm, which of course involves physics and chemistry, thus going beyond a purely pictorial presentation. Before that age, not only would it be useless but would in fact be harmful.
This also shows us how to approach history lessons. Initially, history should be presented in terms of individual figures through a kind of “painting” of the soul, if I may call it that. Until a child’s twelfth year, you should give the children only living pictures. Anything else would harden their being — it would bring about a kind of sclerosis of the soul. If before the eleventh year you speak to children of the way one epoch prepared another through certain impulses and so on, you create in them a sclerosis of the soul. People who have an eye for such things often see old men and women who learned about cause and effect in history much too early. This can even go into the physical body at this age through the same principles I have described. Physical sclerosis in old people can be traced back to, among other causes, the fact that they were taught too much about causality as children.
We must notice such connections and understand them. They constitute a demand of our civilization and lead us back to what could at one time be found through an instinctive knowledge of human nature — a knowledge that we can no longer use in these times of conscious thought. If we go back to earlier eras, however, even only as far as the early Greek times, we find that the words educator and healer were very closely related to each other, because people knew that when human beings enter this earthly life they have not yet reached their full height; they are beings who have yet to be brought to their highest potential.
This is why the idea of the Fall has such validity — that souls really enter earthly existence as subhuman beings. If they were not subhuman, we not need to educate them any more than we must educate a spider so that later on it can make a web. Human beings must be educated because they must be brought into their full humanity. And if you have the proper idea of how we must lead a person in body, soul, and spirit to become truly human, you will see that this must be done according to the same principles that bring an abnormal human being back to the right path. In the same way, ordinary education has the task of healing a person whose humanity has been injured. Only when we recognize again the natural and spiritual relationship between these two activities will we be able to fructify our education properly through an ethical physiology.
It is extraordinary to think how recently — and how thoroughly — these ideas have been lost. For example, Herder’s Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind (1791) describes with real inner devotion how illness can teach one to observe the inner human being. When people become ill, it is an attack on their normal course of being, and the way an illness manifests and how it leaves a person demonstrate the laws of human nature. Herder is delighted to discover that through instances of mental as well as of physical illness, he can learn about the inner structure of the human being. He is still clearly aware of the relationship between medicine and pedagogy. It is not so long ago, then, when the old principle still applied — the principle that when a human being enters the world, it is really due to illness caused by sin, and we must heal, or educate, that individual. Admittedly, this is expressed somewhat in the extreme, but there is real truth at its basis. This must be recognized as a demand of contemporary civilization, so that the widespread practice of creating abstractions, which has even penetrated education, will end, and so that we can truly move away from the things I have seen practiced.
Recently, I had to show a man round the Waldorf school, a man who had an important position in the world of education. We discussed the specifics of several pupils, and then this man summarized what he had observed in a somewhat strange way. He said, “If this is what we need to do, then teachers should study medicine.” I replied that such an absolute judgment was unjustified. If it becomes necessary to bring a certain amount of medical knowledge to education, then we must do it. But it is impossible to rely on old traditions and decide that one thing or another must apply. It will happen; it will become a requirement of society that “cultural medicine” and “cultural pedagogy” be brought closer together so they become mutually more beneficial. In many ways, everything that is currently needed is troublesome and awkward, but even life itself has become increasingly troublesome, and the cure will also be a troublesome matter.
In any case, teaching about minerals should, in practice, begin only between the eleventh and twelfth year, and history should also be treated only pictorially before then. During the eleventh or twelfth year, you can begin to consider cause and effect by connecting the various historical eras, and thus present children with a comprehensive survey. You will be able to observe the correctness of this method in this way: If you present causality in describing historical processes too soon, you will find that children do not listen; but if you do it at the proper time, they meet you with inner joy and eager participation.
Indeed, it is impossible to teach anything at all without a child’s inner cooperation. In all education, we must bear in mind how a child will enter life at puberty. Of course, there are also those young ladies and gentlemen who continue their education, and in the Waldorf school we have a university standard, with twelve classes that take them on to their eighteenth or nineteenth year or even farther. But even with these children, we must recognize that after puberty they really do go out into life, and our relationship to those students must be very different from what it was before. We must make every effort to educate in such a way that the intellect, which awakens at puberty, can then find nourishment in the child’s own nature.
If during the early school years children have stored up an inner treasury of riches through imitation, through a feeling for authority, and from the pictorial nature of the teaching, then at puberty those inner riches can be transformed into intellectual activity. From that point on, the individual will be faced with the task of thinking what was willed and felt previously. And we must take the very greatest care that this intellectual thinking does not manifest too early; for a human being can experience freedom only when, rather than being poured in by teachers, the intellect can awaken from within on its own. It must not awaken in an impoverished soul, however. If there is nothing present in a person’s inner being that was acquired through imitation and imagery — something that can rise into thinking from deep in the soul — then, as thinking develops at puberty, that individual will be unable to find the inner resources to progress; thinking would reach only into an emptiness. Such a person will find no anchorage in life; and at the very time when a person should really have found a certain inner sense of security, there will be a tendency to chase trivialities. During these awkward years, adolescents will imitate many things that seem pleasant (usually they are not exactly what would please their elders, who have a more utilitarian perspective); they imitate these things now, because they were not allowed to imitate in an appropriate and living way as younger children. Consequently, we see many young people after puberty wandering around looking for security in one thing or another, thus numbing their experience of inner freedom.
Educating for All of Life and Beyond
In every stage of life we must make sure that we do not educate only for that stage, but educate for all of a person’s earthly life — and, in fact, beyond. People can arrive most beautifully at an understanding of their own immortal human being; after puberty, they can experience for themselves how what poured into their soul as images through imitation is now freed from the soul and rises into spirit. People can feel how it continues to work, from time into eternity, passing through birth and death. It is exactly this welling up of what was instilled in the human soul through the proper education that provides an inner experience of immortality; primarily, it is life experience itself that shows us we had existence before coming down into the physical world. And what the child takes in as picture and imitates through religious feeling, unites with what that child was before descending into the physical realm; thus an inner experience of the kernel of immortality arises.
I use the word immortality, which is in current use; but even though people still believe in it, it is really only half of the question. When we speak of immortality today, we do so out of a certain self-centeredness; it is true, of course, because it represents the fact that we do not perish at death, but that our life continues. But we fail to mention the other side — the “unborn.” In ancient times, those who possessed an instinctive spiritual knowledge still recognized the two sides of eternity — the undying and the unborn. We will understand eternity only when we are able to understand both of these concepts. Eternity will be experienced when children are properly educated. Here again we are confronted by something where materialism should not be considered theoretically.
As I have already shown you, it is bad enough that all kinds of monists go around spreading various materialistic theories. But that is not in any sense the worst. The least harmful is what people only think; the worst is what flows into life to become life itself. And since the art of education has also fallen into the clutches of materialistic thinking, children are unable to experience the things I have mentioned — the experience of time passing into eternity. In this way, they lose their relationship to the eternal aspect of their own being. You can preach as much materialism as you like to those who have been correctly educated, and it will not affect them greatly. They will reply, “I have the sense that I am immortal, and unfortunately this is something that you and your proofs have overlooked.”
It is always a matter of comprehending life itself, and not merely the thoughts. Furthermore, this may seem contradictory, but an indication and a symptom of the materialism of our present age is the very fact that people today are so eager for theories and world philosophies based on ideas and concepts. If we really perceive spirit, we never leave matter. If you pursue your study of anthroposophy, you will see how it makes its way into psychology and physiology, how it speaks of material things and processes in every detail. Anthroposophic physiology addresses the activity of the liver, the spleen, or the lung very differently from today’s abstract physiology.
Abstract physiology thinks it sees the facts, but it really views facts in the same way a man might who, for example, finds a magnet. He does not know what it is, nor what forces are concealed within it, but he finds the magnet while with a woman who knows what a magnet is. He says to himself, “I’ll take this home; it will make a good horseshoe.” The woman says, “You can’t use that as a horseshoe; that is a magnet.” But the man only laughs.
Similarly, a natural scientist laughs when one speaks of the spiritual basis of the liver, spleen, or heart — if one says that spirit in fact lives within those organs. But people who laugh at such things can never deeply enter the reality of material substance. The most harmful aspect of materialism is not that it fails to understand spirit. That will be corrected eventually. The worst thing about materialism is that it is completely ignorant of matter and its activity, because it fails to find spirit in matter.
There was never a time when people knew less about matter than they do now; for you cannot find material substance in the human being without a knowledge of spirit. Consequently, I would say that the error of materialism in education is demonstrated in life when people have no feeling or inner experience of their own eternal nature. If a person has been educated in the right way — that is, if the principles of the education have been read from human nature itself — death will be experienced as an event in life and not merely its end. In this way, one learns that in the relationship between teacher and child (and later between the teacher and the young man or woman) there are not only external things at work; even in the very small child, as I have already told you, intangible forces are at work — things we can neither see nor weigh and measure.
Punishment in the Classroom
We must bear this in mind when we consider punishment as a means of education. (A question was raised in regard to this.) We cannot simply ask ourselves whether or not we should punish. How can we possibly deal with all the mischievous things children do if we completely eliminate punishment? The question of whether to punish or not is really an individual matter. Various methods can be used with some children, whereas others may respond only to punishment. The manner of punishment, however, really depends on the teacher’s temperament.
We must remember that we are not dealing with carved wooden figures but with human beings. Teachers must consider their own nature, as well as the nature of the children. The important thing is not so much what we do, but how — that the only effective punishment is inflicted by a teacher with complete inner calm and deliberation. If a punishment arises from anger, it will be completely ineffective. Here, of course, a teacher can accomplish a great deal through self-development. Otherwise, something like this may happen: A girl makes a mess, and the boy next to her gets upset with her. The teacher then begins to scold the boy, saying, “You should not get angry like that! The child replies, “But grown-up people get angry when unpleasant things happen to them.” Then the teacher says, “If you get angry I’ll throw something at you!”
If you punish in anger this way, you may get a scene like this: a teacher comes into a classroom of fairly young children who are playing. She says, “What an awful commotion you are all making! What are you doing? Why are you shouting and making so much noise?” Finally one child gets up enough courage to say, “You are the only one shouting.” Now, in terms of punishment or admonition, everything depends on the soul mood of the one punishing or admonishing. Whenever a child has done something very naughty, you can even take the precaution of ignoring it for the time being; you could sleep on it and take it up again the next day. At least in this way you may find the necessary inner calm, and however you decide to deal with that child, your admonition or your punishment will be far more effective than anything you do while angry. This method may have its drawbacks as well, but you must always weigh one thing against another and not become too one-sided.
“Reading” the Child
You can see that in this method of teaching and education, based as it is on anthroposophic principles, each particular age of the child must be read, as it were. We must see more in a human being than present scientific thinking wants to see. Of course, such scientific thinking has contributed to wonderful progress, but in terms of human beings, it is as though they had something written in front of them and began to describe the letters of that writing. It is certainly useful and beautiful to have the letters described, but that is not the point; we must read. We do not need to describe the organs and how the soul works in them, which is the modern method, but we must have the capacity to read the human being. Such “reading” for a teacher may be understood by imagining that you have a book in your hand, and, no matter how interesting it may be, if you cannot read it but only look at the printed letters, it will not arouse you very strongly to any inner activity. If, for example, someone has a very interesting novel, but can only describe the letters, then nothing will happen within that person. So it is with the art of education — nothing happens in a person who merely describes the individual organs or the various aspects of the human soul. Educators who can read will find in every child a “book of the soul.”
Children can become reading material of the soul for their teachers, even in very large classes. If this happens, a teacher will sense when, before the ninth or tenth year, children do not differentiate between the world and their own I-being; they will sense how, before this time, children are unable, out of themselves, to write anything in the way of a composition. At most, they will be able to retell something they have heard in fairy tales or legends. Only when children are nine or ten can you gradually begin to present images and thoughts that they can in turn write about from their own free feelings and ideas. The inner thought structure needed by a child before being able to write an essay is not yet present before the twelfth year; they should not be encouraged to write essays before then. (I am speaking of this, because someone asked about it.) If they do this too soon, they will begin to suffer not from “sclerosis” of the soul in this case, but from “rickets” of the soul. Later in life, such a child will become inwardly weak and ineffective.
Only when our study of the human being can lead us to an a unique knowledge of each child will we be able to educate them in the appropriate way; the correct education must enable children to take their place socially in the everyday world. Indeed, children belong to this world, and must enter more and more deeply into it as long as they live on Earth; and after death they will be able to live on properly in the spiritual realm. This experience is indeed a real condition for life in the world beyond the gate of death.
The Capacity to Meet Other Human Beings
Human beings become hardened when they cannot discover how to meet other people in a truly human way; they harden themselves for the life that will face them after death. People have lost the capacity for meeting one another in a human way, and this is yet another dark side to the picture of our time. Nowhere do we find people who can enter with loving feeling into another human being. This is clearly evident due to the amount of talk about social demands these days. Why is this?
The obvious basis of social life — the power to truly feel and experience with another person — has been sadly lost. Whenever demands are urgently presented in any given age, those very demands show us what is missing in that time, because whatever people lack, they demand. Real social life is missing, and this is why the social ideal is so vehemently discussed in our current era. But education for social life is hardly touched, although many enlightened people speak of it. It has retreated increasingly into the background, and in many respects, human beings meet and pass each other without any understanding of one another.
It is indeed a grievous feature of present-day life that when one human being meets another, there is no mutual understanding. You can find clubs and societies with one or another common aim, where people have worked together for years, but they really do not know each other at all. People know nothing about the inner life of those they work with, because they lack a living interest, a living devotion, a living sympathy in relation to the other. But such living interest, devotion, and sympathy will be present if, at the right age, we permeate every area of teaching and education with the principle of imitation and, in its proper place, the principle of authority. This social feeling and understanding for others depends, in a most intimate way, on whether or not we have any sense of what in our world participates in the spiritual realm.
There was a time when human beings knew very little about the Earth; the tools they used were simple and primitive, and the way they represented natural objects in art was sometimes very talented but remarkably undeveloped. We now live in an age when we use complicated tools to master nature, and the most minute details are painstakingly copied, for example, in our works of art. But what we lack today is the power to enter the spirit of nature, the spirit of the cosmos, and the universe as a grand whole. That power must be reclaimed.
Above all, in the astronomical realm we have lost sight of our relationship to the universe. If you look at a plant, you can see how it takes root in the ground — how it arises from a seed, unfolds its first leaves and stem, more leaves and a blossom, and how it then gathers itself together again in the fruit. Goethe described it this way: In the plant you see how it draws out into space, rotates, and then contracts. Goethe was unable to go far enough. He described this expansion and contraction of the plant, but could not come to the point of knowing why this happens. It happens because the plant is exposed to the forces of the Moon and Sun. Whenever the Sun’s forces are active, the plant expands and opens its leaves; when Moon forces act on it, plant life contracts — it develops the stem and then the seed, where the whole plant life is drawn together in a single point. Thus, when we consider this expansion and contraction as Goethe has shown it to us, we see in it the alternation of Sun and Moon forces, and we are led out into the distant spaces of the cosmos. When we can see how the stars are at work in the plant, we do not remain bound and limited.
These Sun and Moon forces that influence plants act in a more complicated way on the human being, and this leads us to think that the human being is not just a citizen of Earth, but of the cosmos as well. We know that when we eat — for example, cabbage or venison — or drink something, whatever relates to life pursues its own course within us. We nevertheless know about such things, because can perceive them. But we have no knowledge of how we are connected with the starry worlds in our soul and spirit — how the forces of contraction live in the sphere of the Moon, the forces of expansion in that of the Sun; we do not know that these forces maintain the balance more or less perfectly in a human being — that melancholic tendencies have their roots in the Moon realm, sanguine tendencies of soul in the Sun, and balance and harmony are brought about by cosmic activity.
A detailed discussion of this in no way diminishes our concept of freedom, nor does it lead to preposterous ideas of any kind. This can all be examined with the same precision used in mathematics. But mathematics, though true, remains abstract. The knowledge of Sun and Moon that I mentioned leads us to see how we receive spiritual nourishment from what flows from the whole galaxy of stars; it becomes a strength within us, a driving force. If we can unite in this way with the spirit of the universe, we will become whole human beings, and the urge will no longer arise to bypass others without understanding, but as true human beings we will find the true human being in others. The more we describe only matter and apply those descriptions to human beings, the more we freeze the life of the soul; but if we can ally ourselves with the spirit, we can serve our fellow human beings with true warmth of heart. Thus, an education that seeks and finds the spirit in the person will lay the foundations for human love, human sympathy, and human service in the proper sense of the word.
In an organism, everything is at the same time a beginning and an end; this is also true of the whole life of the spirit. You can never know the world without practicing a knowledge of the human being — without looking into the self. For the human being is a mirror of the world; all the secrets of the universe are contained in the human being. The fixed stars work in the human being, the moving planets work in the human being, and all the elements of nature work there as well. To understand the human being — to see true being there — is also to find a place in the world in the right way.
Consequently, education must be permeated by a kind of golden rule that quickens all the teacher’s work with the children, something that gives life to that work, just as, in a physical sense, the blood gives life to the physical organism. So out of a worldview permeated with spirit, the lifeblood of the soul must enter the soul of the teacher. Then the soul’s lifeblood will set its imprint on all the methods and practice of the teaching effort and save them from becoming abstract principles. Something will thus live in the educator, which I would like to characterize through these concluding words, as a kind of education for life itself:
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.