Monday, November 2, 2015
The Kingdom of Childhood
Rudolf Steiner, August 12, 1924:
It affords me the deepest satisfaction to find that here in England you are ready to consider founding a school on Anthroposophical lines. [“The New School,” Streatham Hill, London, S.W.16, was opened in January 1925. In 1935 the name was changed to “Michael Hall.” In 1945 the school was moved to Kidbrooke Park, Forest Row, Sussex.] This may truly signify a momentous and incisive event in the history of Education. In pronouncing such words as these one may well be accused of lack of humility, but there really is something very special underlying all that is to come about for the Art of Education as based on Anthroposophy. And I am overjoyed that an impulse has arisen to form the first beginnings of a College of Teachers, teachers who from the depths of their hearts do indeed recognise the very special quality of what we call Anthroposophical Education. It is no fanatical idea of reform that prompts us to speak of a renewal in educational life, but we are urged to do so out of our whole feeling and experience of how mankind is evolving in civilisation and cultural life.
In speaking thus we are fully aware of the immense amount that has been done for education by distinguished persons in the course of the nineteenth century, and especially in the last few decades. But although all this was undertaken with the very best intentions and every possible method has been tried, we are bound to state that a real knowledge of the human being was lacking. These ideas about education arose at a time when no real knowledge of man was possible owing to the materialism that prevailed in all departments of life and indeed had done so since the fifteenth century. When, therefore, people expounded their ideas on educational reform they were building on sand or on something even less stable; rules of education were laid down based on all sorts of emotions and opinions as to what life ought to be. It was impossible to know man in his wholeness and to ask the question: How can we bring to revelation in a man what lies, god-given, within his nature after he has descended from pre-earthly life into earthly life? This is the kind of question which can be raised in an abstract way, but which can only be answered concretely on the basis of a true knowledge of man in body, soul and spirit.
Now this is how the matter stands for present-day humanity. The knowledge of the body is highly developed. By means of Biology, Physiology and Anatomy we have acquired a very advanced knowledge of the human body; but as soon as we wish to acquire a knowledge of the soul, we, with our present-day views, are confronted with a complete impasse, for everything relating to the soul is merely a name, a word. For even with regard to such things as thinking, feeling and willing we find no reality in the ordinary Psychology of today. We still use the words thinking, feeling and willing, but there is no conception of what takes place in the soul in reference to these things. What the so-called psychologists have to say about thinking, feeling and willing is in reality mere dilettantism. It is just as though a physiologist were to speak in a general way of the human lungs or liver, making no distinction between the liver of a child and that of an old person. In the science of the body we are very far advanced. No physiologist would fail to note the difference between the lungs of a child and the lungs of an old man, or indeed between the hair of a child and the hair of an old man. He will note all these differences. But thinking, feeling and willing are mere words which are uttered without conveying any sense of reality. For instance it is not known that willing, as it appears in the soul, is young, while thinking is old; that in fact thinking is willing grown old, and willing is a youthful thinking in the soul. Thus everything pertaining to the soul contains youthfulness and old age, existing in man simultaneously.
Naturally, even in the soul of a young child we have the old thinking and the young willing together at the same time. There they are contemporaneous, and indeed these things are realities. But today no one knows how to speak of these realities of the soul in the same way as he can of the realities of the body, so that as teachers of children we are quite helpless. Suppose you were a physician and yet were unable to distinguish between a child and an old man! You would of course feel helpless. But as there is no science of the soul the teacher is unable to speak about the human soul as the modern physician can of the human body. And as for the spirit, there is no such thing! One cannot speak of it, there are no longer even any words for it. There is but the single word “spirit,” and that does not convey much. There are no other words in which to describe it.
In our present-day life we cannot therefore venture to speak of a knowledge of Man. Here one may easily feel that all is not well with our education; certain things must be improved upon. Yes, but how can we improve matters, if we know nothing at all of Man? Therefore all the ideas for the improvement of education may be inspired by the best will in the world, but they possess no knowledge of Man.
This can even be noticed in our own circles. For it is Anthroposophy which at the present time can help men to acquire this knowledge of man. I am not saying this from any sectarian or fanatical standpoint but it is so that he who seeks knowledge of man must find it in Anthroposophy. It is obvious that knowledge of the human being must be the basis for a teacher's work; that being so, he must acquire this knowledge for himself, and the natural thing will be that he acquires it through Anthroposophy. If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education should be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is at the back of it.
There is an old German proverb which says: Please wash me but don't make me wet! Many projects are undertaken in this spirit but we must above all both speak and think truthfully. So if anyone asks you how to become a good teacher you must say to him: Make Anthroposophy your foundation. You must not deny Anthroposophy, for it is only by this means that you can acquire your knowledge of Man.
We have no knowledge of Man in our present cultural life. We have theories, but no living insight, either into the world, life or men. A true insight will lead to a true practice in life, but we have no such practical life today. Do you know who are the most unpractical people at the present time? It is not the scientists, for although they are clumsy and ignorant of life, these faults can be clearly seen in them. But in those who are the worst theorists and who are the least practical in life these things are not observed. These are the so-called practical persons, the commercial and industrial men and bankers, the men who rule the practical affairs of life with theoretical thoughts. A bank today is entirely composed of thoughts arising from theories. There is nothing practical in A; but people do not notice this, for they say: It must be so, that is the way practical people work. So they adapt themselves to it, and no one notices the harm that is really being done in life because it is all worked in so unpractical a way. The “practical life” of today is absolutely unpractical in all its forms.
This will only be noticed when an ever increasing number of destructive elements enter our civilisation and break it up. If this goes on the World War will have been nothing but a first step, an introduction. In reality the World War arose out of this unpractical thinking, but that was only an introduction. The point now at stake is that people should not remain asleep any longer, more particularly in the domain of teaching and education. Our task is to introduce an education which concerns itself with the whole man, body, soul and spirit; and these three principles should be known and recognised.
Now in so short a course as that to be given here, we can only speak of the most important aspects of body, soul and spirit, in such a way as will give a direction to education and teaching. That is what we shall do. But the first requirement, as will be seen from the start, is that my hearers shall really endeavour to direct their observation, even externally, to the whole man.
How are the basic principles of education composed in these days? The child is observed, and then we are told, the child is like this or like that, and must learn something. Then one thinks how best to teach so that the child can learn such and such a thing quickly. But what is a child, in reality? A child remains a child for at most twelve years, or possibly longer, but that is not the point. The point is that he must always be thought of as becoming an older human being some day. Life as a whole is a unity, and we must not only consider the child but the whole of life; we must look at the whole human being.
Suppose I have a pale child in the school. A pale child should be an enigma to me, a riddle to be solved. There may be several reasons for his pallor, but the following is a possible one. The child may have come to school with some colour in his cheeks, and have become pale under my treatment of him. I must admit this, and be able to judge as to why he has become pale; I may perhaps come to see that I have given this child too much to learn by heart. I may have worked his memory too hard. If I do not admit this possibility, if I am a short-sighted teacher, having the idea that a method must be carried through regardless of whether the child grows rosy or pale thereby, that the method must just be persevered with, then the child will remain pale.
If, however, I were able to observe this same child at the age of fifty, I should probably find him suffering from terrible sclerosis or arterial hardening, the cause of which will be unknown. This is the result of my having overloaded the memory of the child when he was eight or nine years old. For you see, the man of fifty and the child of eight or nine belong together, they are one and the same human being. We must know what the result will be, forty or fifty years later, of our management of the child; for life is a unity, it is all connected. It is not enough merely to know the child, we must know the human being.
Again, I take great trouble to give a class as good definitions as I can, so that the concepts shall be firmly grasped, and the child will know: this is a lion, that is a cat, and so on. But is the child to retain these concepts to the day of his death? In our present age there is no feeling for the fact that the soul too must grow! If I furnish a child with a concept that is to remain “correct” (and “correctness” is of course all that matters!), a concept which he is to retain throughout his life, that is just as though I bought him a pair of shoes when he was three years old, and each successive year had shoes made of the same size. The child will grow out of them. This however is something that people notice and it would be considered brutal to try and keep his feet small enough to go on wearing the same sized shoes! Yet this is what we are doing with the soul. We furnish the child with ideas which do not grow with him. We give him concepts which are intended to be permanent; we worry him with fixed concepts that are to remain unchanged, whereas we should be giving him concepts capable of expansion. We are constantly squeezing the soul into the ideas we give the child.
These are some of the ways in which we may begin to answer the challenge that in education we must take the whole human being into consideration, the growing, living human being, and not just an abstract idea of man.
It is only when we have the right conception of man's life as a connected whole that we come to realise how different from each other the various ages are. The child is a very different being before shedding its first teeth from what it becomes afterwards. Of course, you must not interpret this in crudely formed judgments, but if we are capable of making finer distinctions in life, we can observe that the child is quite different before and after the change of teeth.
Before the change of teeth we can still see quite clearly at work the effects of the child's habits of life before birth or conception, in its pre-earthly existence in the spiritual world. The body of the child acts almost as though it were spirit, for the spirit which has descended from the spiritual world is still fully active in a child in the first seven years of its life. You will say: A fine sort of spirit! It has become quite boisterous; for the child is rampageous, awkward and incompetent. Is all this to be attributed to the spirit belonging to his pre-earthly life? Well, my dear friends, suppose all you clever and well-brought-up people were suddenly condemned to remain always in a room having a temperature of 144° Fahrenheit? You couldn't do it! It is even harder for the spirit of the child, which has descended from the spiritual worlds, to accustom itself to earthly conditions. The spirit, suddenly transported into a completely different world, with the new experience of having a body to carry about, acts as we see the child act. Yet if you know how to observe and note how each day, each week, each month, the indefinite features of the face become more definite, the awkward movements become less clumsy and the child gradually accustoms himself to his surroundings, then you will realise that it is the spirit from the pre-earthly world which is endeavouring to make the child's body gradually more like itself. We shall understand why the child is as he is, if we observe him in this way, and we shall also understand that it is the descended spirit which is acting as we see it within the child's body.
Therefore for one who is initiated into the mysteries of the spirit there is nothing that can fill him with such wonder and delight as to observe a little child. In so doing one learns not of the earth, but of heaven; and this not only in the so-called “good children.” In their case, as a rule, the bodies have already become heavy, even in infancy. The spirit cannot properly take hold of the body; such children are quiet; they do not scream and rush about, they sit still and make no noise. The spirit is not active within them, because their bodies offer such resistance. It is very often the case that the bodies of the so-called good children offer resistance to the spirit.
In the less well-behaved children who make a great deal of healthy noise, who shout properly, and give a lot of trouble, the spirit is active, though of course in a clumsy way, for it has been transported from heaven to earth; but the spirit is active within them. It is making use of the body. We may even regard the wild screams of a child as most enthralling, simply because we thereby experience the martyrdom the spirit has to endure when it descends into a child-body.
Yes, my dear friends, it is easy to be a grown-up person — easy for the spirit, I mean, for the body has then been made ready, it no longer offers the same resistance. It is quite easy to be a full-grown person but extremely difficult to be a child. The child himself is not aware of this because his consciousness is not yet awake. It is still asleep, but if the child possessed the consciousness he had before descending to earth he would soon notice this difficulty: if the child were still living in this pre-earthly consciousness his life would be a terrible tragedy, a really terrible tragedy. For you see, the child comes down to earth; before this he has been accustomed to a spiritual substance from which he drew his spiritual life. He was accustomed to deal with that spiritual substance. He had prepared himself according to his Karma, according to the result of previous lives. He was fully contained within his own spiritual garment, as it were. Now he has to descend to earth. I should like to speak quite simply about these things, and you must excuse me if I speak of them as I would if I were describing the ordinary things of the earth. One can speak of them thus because they are so. Now when a human being is to descend, he must choose a body on the earth.
And indeed this body has been prepared throughout generations. Some father and mother had a son or a daughter, and these again a son or a daughter, and so on. Thus through heredity a body is produced which he must now occupy. He must draw into it and dwell therein; but in so doing he is suddenly faced with quite different conditions. He clothes himself in a body that has been prepared by a number of generations.
Of course, even from the spiritual world the human being can work on the body so that it may not be altogether unsuitable, yet as a rule the body received is not so very suitable after all. For the most part one does not fit at all easily into such a body. If a glove were to fit your hand as badly as the body generally fits the soul, you would discard it at once. You would never think of putting it on. But when you come down from the spiritual world needing a body, you just have to take one; and this body you retain until the change of teeth. For it is a fact that every seven or eight years our external physical substance is completely changed, at least in the essentials though not in all respects. Our first teeth for instance are changed, the second set remain. This is not the case with all the members of the human organism; some parts, even more important than the teeth, undergo change every seven years as long as a man is on the earth. If the teeth were to behave in the same way as these we should have new teeth at seven, fourteen, and again at twenty-one years of age, and so on, and there would be no dentists in the world.
Thus certain hard organs remain, but the softer ones are constantly being renewed. In the first seven years of our life we have a body which is given to us by outer nature, by our parents and so on; it is a model. The soul occupies the same relation to this body as an artist to a model which he has to copy. We have been gradually shaping the second body out of the first body up to the change of teeth. It takes seven years to complete the process. This second body which we ourselves have fashioned on the model given us by our parents only appears at the end of the first seven years of life, and all that external science says today about heredity and so forth is mere dilettantism compared to the reality. In reality we receive at birth a model body which is there with us for seven years, although during the very first years of life it begins to die out and fall away. The process continues, until at the change of teeth we have our second body.
Now there are weak individualities who are weakly when they descend to earth; these form their second body in which they live after the change of teeth, as an exact model of the first. People say that they take after their parents by inheritance, but this is not true. They make their own second body according to the inherited model. It is only during the first seven years of our life that our body is really inherited, but naturally we are all weak individualities and we copy a great deal. There are, however, also strong individualities descending to earth, and they too inherit a good deal in the first seven years. That one can see in the teeth. Their first teeth are still soft and subject to heredity, but when children have good strong second teeth that can crack things easily, then they are strong individualities, developing in the proper way. There are children who at ten years of age are just like children of four — mere imitators. Others are quite different, the strong individuality stirs within them. The model is used, but afterwards they form an individual body for themselves.
Such things must be noted. All talk of heredity will not lead you far unless you realise how matters stand. Heredity, in the sense in which it is spoken of by science, only applies to the first seven years of man. After that age, whatever he inherits he inherits of his own free will, we might say; he imitates the model, but in reality the inherited part is thrown off with the first body at the change of teeth.
The soul nature which came down from the spiritual world is very strong in us, and it is clumsy at first because it has to become accustomed to external nature. Yet in reality everything about a child, even the worst naughtiness, is very fascinating. Of course we must follow the conventions to some extent and not allow all naughtiness to pass unreproved; but we can see better in children than anywhere else how the spirit of man is tormented by the demons of degeneracy which are there in the world. The child has to enter a world into which he so often does not fit. If we were conscious of this process, we should see what a terribly tragic thing it is. When one knows something of Initiation, and is able to see consciously what lays hold of this body in the child, it really is terrible to see how he must find his way into all the complications of bones and ligaments which he has to form. It really is a tragic sight. The child himself knows nothing of this, and that is a good thing, for the Guardian of the Threshold protects him from any such knowledge.
But the teacher should know of it. He must look on with the deepest reverence, knowing that here a being whose nature is of God and the spirit has descended to earth. The essential thing is that we should know this, that we should fill our hearts with this knowledge, and from this starting point undertake our work as educators.
There are great differences between the manner of man which one is in the spiritual-soul life before descending to earth, and that which one has to become here below. The teacher should be able to judge of this because he has before him the child in whom are the after-effects of the spiritual world. Now there is one thing which the child has difficulty in acquiring, because the soul had nothing of this in the spiritual life.
On earth man is very little able to direct his attention to the inner part of his body; that is only done by the natural scientists and the physicians. They know exactly what goes on inside man within the limits of his skin, but you will find that most people do not even know exactly where their heart is! They generally point to the wrong place, and if in the course of his social life today it were required of a man to explain the difference between the lobes of the right and left lungs, or to describe the duodenum, very curious answers would be given. Now before he comes down into earthly life a man takes but little interest in the external world, but he takes so much the more interest in what he may call his spiritual inner being. In the life between death and a new birth man's interests are almost entirely centred on his inner spiritual life. He builds up his Karma in accordance with experiences from previous earth-lives and this he develops according to his inner life of spirit. This interest which he takes in it is very far removed from any earthly quality, very far removed from that longing for knowledge which, in its one-sided form, may be called inquisitiveness. A longing for knowledge, curiosity, a passionate desire for knowledge of the external life was not ours before our birth or descent to earth; we did not know it at all. That is why the young child has it only in so slight a degree.
What he does experience, on the other hand, is to live right in and with his environment. Before descending to earth we live entirely in the outer world. The whole world is then our inner being and there exist no such distinctions as outer and inner world. Therefore we are not curious about what is external, for that is all within us. We have no curiosity about it, we bear it within us, and it is an obvious and natural thing which we experience.
So in the first seven years of life a child learns to walk, to speak and to think, out of the same manner of living which he had before descending to earth. If you lay stress on arousing curiosity in a child with regard to some particular word, you will find that you thereby entirely drive out the wish he had to learn that same word. If you count on a longing for knowledge or curiosity you drive out of the child just what he ought to have. You must not reckon on a child's curiosity, but rather on something else, namely that the child becomes merged into you as it were, and you really live in the child. All that the child enjoys must live and be as though it were his own inner nature. You must make the same impression on the child as his own arm makes on him. You must, so to say, be only the continuation of his own body. Then later, when the child has passed through the change of teeth and gradually enters the period between the seventh and fourteenth years, you must observe how little by little curiosity and a longing for knowledge begin to show themselves; you must be tactful and careful, and pay attention to the way in which curiosity gradually stirs into being within him.
The small child is still but a clumsy little creature, who does not ask questions, and one can only make an impression upon him by being something oneself. He questions his environment as little as a sack of flour. But just as a sack of flour will retain any impressions you make upon it (especially if it is well ground), so too does the little child retain all his impressions, not because he is curious, but because you yourself are really one with him and make impressions on him as you would do with your fingers on a sack of flour.
It is only at the change of teeth that the situation alters. You must now notice the way the child begins to ask questions. “What is that? What do the stars see with? Why are the stars in the sky? Why have you a crooked nose, grandmother?” The child now asks all these questions; he begins to be curious about the things around him. You must have a delicate perception and note the gradual beginnings of curiosity and attention which appear with the second teeth. These are the years in which these qualities appear and you must be ready to meet them. You must allow the child's inner nature to decide what you ought to be doing with him; I mean, you must take the keenest interest in what is awakening with the change of teeth.
A very great deal is awakening then. The child is curious, but not with an intellectual curiosity for as yet it has no reasoning powers; and anyone who appeals to the intellect of a child of seven is quite on the wrong lines; but it has fantasy and this it is with which we must deal. It is really a question of developing the concept of a kind of “milk of the soul” For you see, after birth the child must be given bodily milk. This constitutes its food and every other necessary substance is contained in the milk that the child consumes. And when he comes to school at the age of the changing of the teeth it is again milk that you must give him, but now, milk for the soul. That is to say, your teaching must not be made up of isolated units, but all That the child receives must be a unity; when he has gone through the change of teeth he must have “soul milk.” If he is taught to read and write as two separate things it is just as though his milk were to be separated chemically into two different parts, and you gave him one part at one time and the other at another. Reading and writing must form a unity. You must bring this idea of “soul milk” into being for your work with the children when they first come to school.
This can only come about if, after the change of teeth, the children's education is directed artistically. The artistic element must be in it all. Tomorrow I will describe more fully how to develop writing out of painting and thus give it an artistic form, and how you must then lead this over artistically to the teaching of reading, and how this artistic treatment of reading and writing must be connected, again by artistic means, with the first simple beginnings of Arithmetic. All this must thus form a unity. Such things as these must be gradually developed as “soul milk” which we need for the child when he comes to school.
And when he reaches the age of puberty he will require “spiritual milk.” This is extremely difficult to give to present-day humanity, for we have no spirit left in our materialistic age. It will be a difficult task to create “spiritual milk,” but if we cannot succeed in creating it we shall have to leave our boys and girls to themselves at the so-called hobbledehoy stage, for there is no “spiritual milk” in our present age.
I just wanted to say these things by way of introduction and to give you a certain direction of thought; tomorrow we will continue these considerations and go more into details.