Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, January 24, 1907:
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Education in the Light of Spiritual Science
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, January 24, 1907:
When we discuss subjects such as that of today's lecture, we must keep before our mind's eye mankind's whole evolution. Only then can we understand the evolution of the individual, and guide the young through education. At the center of education is the school. We shall attempt to understand what is required of education on the basis of human nature and a person's evolution in general.
We see a person's being as consisting of four distinct members: physical body, ether or life body, astral body, and at the center of the being, the “I.” When an individual is born, only the physical body is ready to receive influences from the external world. Not until the time of the change of teeth is the ether body born, the astral body not until puberty is reached. The faculties of the ether body, such as memory, temperament, and so on, are, up to the change of teeth, protected by an etheric sheath, just as the physical senses of eyes and ears are protected before physical birth by the material body. The educator must during this time leave undisturbed what should develop naturally of itself.
Jean Paul expressed it by saying that no world traveller learns as much on his far-flung journeys as the little child learns from his nurse before the age of seven. Why then must we have schools for children?
What only evolves after the physical birth has taken place is in need of a protective covering just as the embryo needs the protection of the maternal body. Not until a certain stage of development is reached does the human being begin a life that is entirely new. Up to then his life is a repetition of earlier epochs. Even the embryo repeats all primordial stages of evolution up to the present. And after birth, the child repeats earlier human evolutionary epochs.
Friedrich August Wolf [ Friedrich August Wolf (1759–1805) was a philologist. ] describes the stages through which a human being evolves from childhood onwards as follows: The first epoch, lasting up to the third year, he calls the "golden, gentle, harmonious age" corresponding to the life of today's Indian and South Sea Islander. The second epoch, up to the sixth year, reflects the Asiatic wars and their repercussions in Europe, and also the Greek heroic age, as well as the time of the North American savage. The third epoch, up to the ninth year, corresponds to the time from Homer [ Homer (8th centure B.C.) was a Greek epic poet who wrote the Iliad and Odyssey. ] to Alexander the Great. [ Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) was king of Macedonia and conqueror of the Persian Empire. ] The fourth epoch, up to the twelfth year, corresponds to the time of the Roman Empire. The fifth epoch, up to the fifteenth year, when the inner forces should be ennobled through religion, corresponds to the Middle Ages. The sixth epoch, up to the eighteenth year, corresponds to the Renaissance. The seventh epoch, up to the twenty-first year, corresponds to the Reformation, and in the eighth epoch, lasting up to the twenty-fourth year, a human reaches the present.
This system is on the whole a valuable spiritual foundation, but it must be widened considerably to correspond to reality. It must include the whole of a human being's evolutionary descent. A person does not stem from the animal kingdom, though certainly from beings who, in regard to physical development, were far below what human beings are today. Yet in no way did they resemble apes.
Spiritual science points back to a time when human beings inhabited Atlantis; [ Atlantis is a mythical continent, said to have sunk into the sea. Plato describes it in the Timaeus and Critias, and Steiner mentions it frequently. ] compared with modern human beings the Atlantean's soul and spirit were differently constituted. Their consciousness could be termed somnambulistic; the intellect was undeveloped — they could neither count nor write, and logical reasoning did not exist. But they beheld many aspects of the spiritual world. The will that flowed through their limbs was immensely strong. The higher animals such as apes were degenerate descendants of the Atlanteans.
Our dream consciousness is a residue of the Atlantean's normal pictorial consciousness, which could be compared with that of a person experiencing vivid dreams during sleep. But the pictures of the Atlantean were animated, more vivid than those of today's most fertile imagination. Furthermore, an Atlantean was able to control his pictures, which were not chaotic. We see an echo of this consciousness when young children play, investing their toys with pictorial content.
The human being first descended into physical bodies during Lemurian time. A person repeats that event during physical birth. At that time, having descended into a physical body, a person begins developing through soul and spirit to ever higher levels. The Lemurian and Atlantean epochs are repeated in a child's development up to the seventh year. Between the change of teeth and puberty that epoch of evolution is repeated in which great spiritual teachers have appeared among men. Buddha, [ Buddha, Guatama (c. 563–483 B.C.) the founder of Buddhism. ] Plato, [ Plato (c. 427–347 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who founded the academy where Aristotle studied. ] Pythagoras, [Pythagorus (c. 570–c. 500 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who founded the Pythagorean school. ] Hermes, [ Hermes was a Greek god and messenger of the gods. He was the god of roads, commerce, invention, cunning, and theft. Identified by the Romans with Mercury. ] Moses, [ Moses (c. 13th century B.C.) was a Hebrew lawgiver and prophet who led the Israelites out of Egypt. ] and Zarathustra [ Zarathustra (c. 6th century B.C.) was a Persian. The religion Zoroastrianism is based an his teachings. ] are some of the latter. In those days, the influence of the spiritual world was much greater, a fact we find preserved in heroic legends and sagas. It is therefore important that what is taught during this period of the child's life conveys the spirit of the earlier cultural epochs.
The period between the seventh and fourteenth years corresponds in the child to the time up to the twelfth century, the time when cities were founded. The main emphasis must now be on authority and community. The children should experience something of the power and glory that surrounded the early leaders. The most important issue that concerns a school is therefore the teacher. The teacher's authority must be self-evident for the children, just as what was taught by the great teachers was self-evident to the human soul. It is bad; it does great harm if the child doubts the teacher. The child's respect and reverence must be without reservation, so that the teacher's kindness and good will — which he naturally must have — seem to the child like a blessing. What is important is not pedagogical methods and principles, but the teacher's profound psychological insight. The study of psychology is the most important subject of a teacher's training. An educator should not be concerned with how the human being ought to develop, but with the reality of how the student in fact does develop.
As every age makes different demands, it is useless to lay down general rules. It is not knowledge or proficiency in pedagogical methods that matter in a teacher, but character and a certain presence that makes itself felt even before the teacher has spoken. The educator must have attained a degree of inner development, and must have become not merely learned, but inwardly transformed. The day will come when a teacher will be tested, not for knowledge or even for pedagogical principles, but for what he or she is as a human being.
For the child the school must be its life. Life should not just be portrayed; former epochs must come to life. The school must create a life of its own, not draw it from outside. What the human being will no longer be able to receive later in life he must receive at school. Pictorial and symbolic concepts must be fostered. The teacher must be deeply aware of the truth that: “Everything transient is but a semblance.” When the educator presents a subject pictorially the teacher should not be thinking that it is merely allegory. If the teacher fully participates in the life of the child, forces will flow from his or her soul to that of the child. Processes of nature must be described in rich imaginative pictures. The spiritual behind the sense-perceptible must be brought to life. Modern teaching methods fall completely in this respect, because only the external aspects are described. But a seed contains not only the future plant, it contains forces of the sun, indeed of the whole cosmos. A feeling for nature will awaken in the child when the capacity for imagery is fostered. Plants should not merely be shown and described, the child should make paintings of them; then happy human beings for whom life has meaning will emerge from their time at school.
Calculators ought not to be used; one must do sums with the children on living fingers. Vigorous spiritual forces are to be stimulated. Nature study and arithmetic train the power of thinking and memory; history the life of feeling. A sense for what is noble and beautiful awakens love for what is worthy of love. But what strengthens the will is religion; it must permeate every subject that is taught. The child will not immediately grasp everything it is capable of absorbing; this is true of everyone. Jean Paul made the remark that one should listen carefully to the truth uttered by a child, but to have it explained one must turn to its father. In our materialistic age too little is expected of memory. The child first learns; only later does it understand, and only later still will it grasp the underlying laws.
Between the seventh and fourteenth years is also the time to foster the sense for beauty. It is through this sense that we grasp symbolic meaning. But most important is that the child is not burdened with abstract concepts; what is taught should have a direct connection with life. The spirit of nature, in other words the facts themselves existing behind the sense-perceptible, must have spoken to the child; it should have a natural appreciation of things before abstract theories are introduced, which should only be done after puberty. There is no need for concern that things learnt may be forgotten once school days are over; what matters is that what is taught bears fruit and forms the character. What the child has inwardly experienced it will also retain; details may vanish but the essential, the universal, will remain and will grow.
No education can be conducted without a religious foundation; without religion a school is an illusion. Even Haeckel's Riddle of the Universe contains religion. No theory can ever replace religion, nor can a history of religion. A person who is basically of a religious disposition, who has deep conviction, will also be able to convey religion. The spirit that lives in the world also lives in humans. The teacher must feel that he or she belongs to a spiritual world-order from which a mission is received.
There is a saying that a person's character is formed partly by study and partly by life. But school and education should not be something apart from life. Rather should it be said that a person's character will be rightly formed when study is also life.