Friday, January 22, 2021
The Consecration of Teaching. The Primary Task of Education. Lecture 1 of 14 of "The Study of Man"
Rudolf Steiner to the first Waldorf teachers just before the opening of the first Waldorf school, Stuttgart, August 21, 1919:
My dear friends,
We will begin by making a preliminary survey of our educational task; and to this I would like to give you a kind of introduction today. Of necessity our educational task will differ from those which mankind has set itself hitherto. Not that we are so vain or proud as to imagine that we, of ourselves, should initiate a new worldwide order in education, but because from anthroposophical spiritual science we know that the epochs of human evolution as they succeed each other must always set humanity fresh tasks. The task of mankind in the first Post-Atlantean epoch was different, it was different again in the second, and so on down to our fifth Post-Atlantean epoch. And we must realise that, in actual fact, what has to be accomplished in any one epoch of human evolution does not enter into the consciousness of mankind until some time after this epoch has begun.
The epoch of evolution in which we live today began in the middle of the fifteenth century. And only now is there coming forth, from spiritual depths as it were, a perception of what has to be done in this epoch, particularly in the realm of education.
Hitherto, even with the best will in the world, men's work in education has been done in the light of the old education; I mean in the sense of the education of the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch. Now much will depend on our placing ourselves in the right relation to our task at the outset. We must learn to understand that we have to give a very definite guidance to our age — guidance which is of importance not because it is considered valid for the whole evolution of humanity but because it is valid just for this age of ours. For, among other things, materialism has brought it about that men have no idea of the particular tasks of a particular age. Please do understand this at the very beginning: particular epochs have their own particular tasks.
You will have to take over children for their education and instruction — children who will have received already (as you must remember) the education, or mis-education, given them by their parents. Indeed our intentions will only be fully accomplished when we, as humanity, will have reached the stage where parents, too, will understand that special tasks are set for mankind today, even for the first years of the child's education. But when we receive the children into the school we shall still be able to make up for many things which have been done wrongly, or left undone, in the first years of the child's life. For this we must fill ourselves with the consciousness through which alone we can truly teach and educate.
In devoting yourselves to your task do not forget that the whole civilization of today, even into the sphere of the most spiritual life, is founded on the egoism of humanity. In the first place, consider with an open mind that domain of spiritual life which receives men's reverence today: the domain of religion. Ask yourselves if our present civilization, particularly in the religious sphere, is not so constituted as to appeal to man's egoism. It is typical of all sermons and preaching of our time that the preacher tries to reach men through their egoism. Take for example that question which should concern people most deeply: the question of immortality. You will see how almost everything today, even in sermons and exhortations, is directed by the preachers to appeal to man's egoism in the supersensible sphere. Egoism impels man to cling to his own being as he passes through the gate of death, to preserve his ego. This is a form of egoism, however refined. And today every religious denomination appeals largely to this egoism when treating of immortality. Hence official religion mostly forgets one end of our earthly existence in addressing man, and takes account only of the other. It fixes its gaze on death and forgets birth. Though these things may not be openly acknowledged, they are nevertheless underlying tendencies.
We live in a time when this appeal to human egoism must be combated in every domain, if the life of mankind is not to decline further and further on its present downward course. We must become more and more conscious of the other end of man's development on Earth, namely birth. We must consciously face this fact: that man evolves through a long period between death and a new birth and that then, within this evolution, he reaches a point where he dies, as it were, for the spiritual world — where conditions of his life in the spiritual world oblige him to pass over into another form of existence. He receives this other form of existence in that he lets himself be clothed with the physical and etheric body. What he has to receive by being clothed with the physical and etheric body he could not receive if he were simply to go on evolving in a straight line in the spiritual world. Hence although from his birth onwards we may only look upon the child with physical eyes, we will all the time be conscious of the fact: “This too is a continuation.” And we will not only look to what human existence experiences after death, i.e. to the spiritual continuation of the physical; but we will be conscious that physical existence here is a continuation of the spiritual, and that we, through education, have to carry on what has hitherto been done by higher beings without our participation. This alone will give the right mood and feeling to our whole system of teaching and education, if we fill ourselves with the consciousness: here, in this human being, you, with your action, have to achieve a continuation of what higher beings have done before his birth,
In this age when men have lost connection with the spiritual worlds in their thought and feeling, we are often asked an abstract question which in the light of a spiritual conception of the world has no real meaning. We are asked how so-called pre-natal education should be conducted. There are many people today who take things abstractly, but, if one takes them concretely, then in certain domains one simply cannot continue asking questions in an arbitrary manner. I once gave this example: On a road we see tracks. We can ask: Why are they there? Because a carriage has been driven over the road. Why was the carriage driven? Because its occupants wanted to reach a certain destination. Why did they want to reach a certain destination? The asking of questions must come to a stop somewhere in reality. If we remain in abstractions we can continue for ever asking why. We can go on turning the wheel of questions without end. Concrete thought will always find an end, but abstract thought goes on running around like a wheel for ever.
And so it is with the questions that are asked about domains that do not lie so close at hand. People begin thinking about education and then they ask about pre-natal education. But, my dear friends, before birth the human being is still in the protection of beings who stand above the physical. It is to them that we must leave the immediate and individual relationship between the world and the human being. Hence a pre-natal education cannot be addressed to the child itself. It can only be an unconscious result of what the parents — especially the mother — achieve. If until birth the mother behaves in such a way that she brings to expression in herself what is morally and intellectually right, in the true sense of the word, then of its own accord what the mother achieves in this continuous self-education will pass over to the child. The less we think of beginning to educate the child before it sees the light of the world and the more we think of leading a right and proper life ourselves, the better will it be for the child. Education can only begin when the child becomes a true member of the physical world — and that is when he begins to breathe the external air.
Now, when the child has come forth on to the physical plane, we must realize what has really happened for him in the transition from a spiritual to a physical plane. Firstly, we must recognize that the human being is really composed of two members. Before the human being comes down to Earth a union is entered into between the spirit and the soul — meaning by "spirit" what for the physical world of today is still entirely hidden, and what in Spiritual Science we call Spirit-Man, Life-Spirit, Spirit-Self. These three members of man's being are present in a certain way in the supersensible sphere to which we must now work our way through. And between death and a new birth we do already stand in a certain relationship to Spirit-Man, Life-Spirit, Spirit-Self.
Now, the force which proceeds from this trinity permeates the Soul element in man: Consciousness Soul, Intellectual or Mind Soul, and Sentient Soul. And if you were to observe the human being when, having passed through the existence between death and a new birth he is just preparing to descend into the physical world, then you would find the spiritual which we have just described united with the soul. Man descends, as it were, as Spirit-Soul or Soul-Spirit from a higher sphere into earthly existence. He clothes himself with earthly existence.
In a similar way we can describe the other member of man's being which unites itself with the one just described. We can say: down there on the Earth the Spirit-Soul is met by what arises through the processes of physical inheritance. And now the Soul-Spirit or Spirit-Soul meets with the Life-Body in such a way that two trinities are united with two other trinities. In the Spirit-Soul: Spirit-Man, Life-Spirit, and Spirit-Self are united with that which is soul, namely: Consciousness-Soul, Intellectual Soul, and Sentient Soul. These two trinities are united with one another, and descend into the physical world, where they are now to unite with the Sentient or Astral body, Etheric body, and Physical body. But these in turn are united — first in the body of the mother and then in the physical world — with the three kingdoms of the physical world: the mineral, the plant, and the animal kingdoms. So that here again, two trinities are united with one another.
If you regard with an open mind the child who has found his way into earthly life, you will observe that here in the child, Soul-Spirit or Spirit-Soul is as yet dis-united from the Life-Body. The task of education conceived in the spiritual sense is to bring the Soul-Spirit into harmony with the Life-Body. They must come into harmony with one another. They must be attuned to one another; for when the child is born into the physical world, they do not as yet fit one another. The task of the educator, and of the teacher too, is the mutual attunement of these two members.
Let us now consider this task more concretely. Among all the relationships which man has to the external world, the most important of all is breathing. We begin breathing at the very moment we enter the physical world. Breathing in the mother-body is still, if I may put it so, a preparatory breathing: it does not yet bring the being into a complete connection with the external world. The child only begins to breathe in the right sense of the word when he has left the mother-body.
Now, this breathing signifies a very great deal for the human being, for in this breathing there dwells already the whole threefold system of physical man. You know that among the members of the threefold physical human system we reckon, in the first place, the digestion and metabolism. But the metabolism, the assimilation, is intimately connected at one end with the breathing. The breathing process is connected with the blood circulation through metabolism. The blood circulation receives into the human body the substances of the external world which are introduced by another path, so that on the one hand the breathing is connected with the whole metabolic system or digestive system.
On the other hand the breathing is also connected with the nerve-sense life of man. As we breathe in, we are continually pressing the cerebro-spinal fluid into the brain: and, as we breathe out, we press it back again into the body. Thus we transplant the rhythm of breathing to the brain. And as the breathing is connected on the one hand with digestion and assimilation, so on the other hand it is connected with the life of nerves and senses. We may say: the breathing is the most important mediator between the outer physical world and the human being who is entering it.
But we must also be aware that this breathing cannot yet, by any means, function so as fully to maintain the life of the body. This applies particularly to the one side of breathing. At the beginning of his physical existence man has not yet achieved the right harmony, the right connection, between the breathing process and the nerve-sense process. Observation of the nature of the child will show us that he has not yet learnt to breathe in such a way that breathing maintains the nerve-sense process rightly. In this lies the finer characterization of what we really have to do with the child. We must first gain an Anthropological-Anthroposophical understanding of the human being. Thus, the most important measures in education will consist in paying attention to all that rightly organizes the breathing process into the nerve-sense process. In the higher sense the child has to learn to take up into his spirit what is bestowed on him in that he is born to breathe.
This part of education will, you see, tend to the side of the soul and spirit. By harmonizing the breathing with the nerve-sense process we draw all that is soul and spirit into the physical life of the child. To express it roughly we may say: the child cannot yet breathe in the right inner way, and education will have to consist in teaching the child to breathe rightly.
But there is yet another thing which the child cannot do rightly, and this must be taken in hand, in order that a harmony may thereby be created between the two members of the child's being — between the bodily corporeality and the Spirit-Soul. What the child cannot do properly at the beginning of his existence is this: he cannot yet accomplish the alternation between waking and sleeping in the way proper to man. It will strike you that what we have to emphasize from the spiritual side generally appears to be in contradiction to the external world-order. Externally speaking it is of course possible to say: “But the child can sleep perfectly well: indeed he sleeps far more than the human being at a later stage of life. The child sleeps his very way into life.” Nevertheless, what inwardly underlies sleeping and waking, this the child cannot yet do. The child experiences all sorts of things on the physical plane. He uses his little limbs: he eats, drinks, and breathes. He alternates between sleeping and waking, but he is not able to carry into the spiritual world in sleep all that he experiences on the physical plane — all that he sees with his eyes, and hears with his ears, and does with his little hands, and the way he kicks and tosses with his little legs. All this he is not able to carry into the spiritual world and work upon there, carrying the results of this work back again on the physical plane.
The child's sleep is characterized by the very fact that it is a different sleep from that of the grown-up person. What distinguishes the sleep of the adult is that his experiences during waking life are then worked upon, are metamorphosed. The child is not yet able to carry into his sleep what he has experienced between waking and falling asleep again. Thus in sleep the child still lives his way into the universal world order without being able to take with him what he has experienced externally in the physical world. It is this that a rightly guided education must accomplish: it must enable the human being to carry over his experiences on the physical plane into what the Soul-Spirit or Spirit-Soul is engaged upon during sleep.
We, as teachers and educators, cannot really teach the child anything about the higher world. For what enters the human being from the higher world enters in during the time between falling asleep and waking again. All we can do is to use the time which the human being spends on the physical plane in such a way that he gradually becomes able to carry over into the spiritual world what we have done with him here; and that, in carrying it over, he can receive and bring back with him power from the spiritual world which will help him to be a true human being in physical existence.
Thus you see that all our activity of teaching and education is first directed to a very lofty domain — namely to the teaching of right breathing, and to the teaching of the right rhythm in the alternation of sleeping and waking. Needless to say, my dear friends, in our educational practice there will be no question of direct training of the breathing, or of direct training of sleeping and waking. All this will only be in the background. What we have to learn will be concrete measures of educational practice. But we must be conscious of what we are doing, right down to the foundations. When we teach this subject or that, we must be fully aware that we are working either in the one direction to bring the Spirit-Soul more into the earthly body, or in the other direction to bring the bodily nature into the Spirit-Soul.
Do not let us underestimate the importance of what has now been said. For you can only become good teachers and educators if you pay attention not merely to what you do, but also to what you are. It is really for this reason that we have Spiritual Science with its anthroposophical outlook: to perceive the significance of the fact that man is effective in the world not only through what he does, but above all through what he is. Truly, my dear friends, it makes a very great difference whether one teacher of the school or another comes through the classroom door to any group of children. There is a big difference; and the difference is not merely that the one teacher is more skilful in his practice than the other. No, the main difference — the one that is really influential in teaching — lies in what the teacher bears within him, as his constant trend of thought, and carries with him into the classroom.
A teacher who occupies himself with thoughts of the evolving human being will work very differently upon his pupils from a teacher who knows nothing of all these things, and never gives them a thought. Once you begin to know the cosmic significance of the breathing process and of its transformation through education, and the cosmic significance of the rhythm between sleeping and waking — what is it that happens? The moment you have such thoughts something in you is combating your purely personal nature. The moment you have such thoughts the very basis of this spirit of personality is of less effect. In that moment all that enhances a personal spirit is damped down, all that man possesses through the fact that he is a physical man. If you have quenched this personal spirit, then, as you enter the classroom, it will come about through inner forces that a relationship is established between the pupils and yourself.
Now, it may be that at first external facts will contradict this. You enter the school and perhaps you find yourself faced with scamps, both boys and girls, who make fun of you. Now you must be so strengthened with such thoughts as we shall here cultivate that you do not pay any attention to their ridicule but accept it as something perfectly external. Accept it, shall I say, like the external circumstances that when you go out without an umbrella it suddenly begins to rain. Undoubtedly this is an unpleasant surprise. But we usually make a distinction between being ridiculed and being taken by surprise in a shower when we have no umbrella. This distinction must not be made. We must evolve thoughts so strong that the distinction is not made — that we take ridicule like a good shower of rain. If we are permeated by these thoughts and have real faith in them, then (perhaps after a week, or a fortnight, or maybe longer still), we shall certainly find that however much the children may laugh at us, we have nevertheless established a relationship with them such as we would wish.
Through what we make of ourselves we must come to this relationship, even in the face of difficulty and resistance. And we must above all become conscious of this first of educational tasks: that we must first make something of ourselves, so that a relationship in thought, an inner spiritual relationship, may hold sway between the teacher and the children. So that we enter the classroom with the conscious thought: this spiritual relationship is present — not only the words, not only all that I say to the children in the way of instruction and admonition, not only my skilfulness in teaching. These are externals which we must certainly cultivate, but we shall only cultivate them rightly if we establish the importance of the relation between the thoughts that fill us and the effects of our teaching on the children, in body and soul.
Our whole conduct and bearing as we teach will not be complete unless we keep this thought in our minds: the human being was born. Thereby the possibility was given him to do what he could not do in the spiritual world. We have to teach and educate first of all so as to give the breathing its right harmony in relation to the spiritual world. The human being could not accomplish the rhythmical alternation between waking and sleeping in the same way in the spiritual world as in the physical world. By education, by teaching, we must regulate this rhythm in such a way that the bodily nature in the human being becomes properly membered with the Soul-Spirit. Needless to say, this is not something that we should have before us as an abstraction, and apply it as such directly to our teaching, but this thought about the human being must be our rule and guide.
This is what I wanted to give you in this present introduction. Tomorrow we will begin with the subject of education proper.