"Spirit Triumphant! Flame through the impotence of faltering, fainthearted souls! Burn up selfishness, kindle compassion, so that selflessness, the lifestream of humanity, may flow as the wellspring of spiritual rebirth!" — Rudolf Steiner
The Spiritual Ground of Education. Lecture 4 of 9.
Rudolf Steiner, Oxford, England, August 19, 1922:
It might perhaps appear as if the art of education described in these lectures would lead away from practical life into some remote, purely spiritual region: as though this art of education laid too much stress on the purely spiritual domain. From what I have said so far in describing the spiritual foundation of education, this might appear to be the case. But this is only in appearance. For in reality the art of education which arises from this philosophy has the most practical objects in view. Thus it should be realized that the main object of speaking of spiritual facts here is to answer the educational question: how can we best develop the physical organism in childhood and youth?
That a spiritual philosophy should consider firstly the development of the physical organism may seem to be a fundamental contradiction. The treatment of my theme in the next few days, however, will do more toward dispelling this contradiction than any abstract statements I could make at the outset. Today I would merely like to say that when one speaks on educational questions at the present day one finds oneself in a peculiar situation. For if one sees much that needs reforming in education, it is as much as to say that one is not satisfied with one's own education. One implies that one's own education has been exceedingly bad. And yet, as a product of this very bad education, of this education in which one finds so much to criticize — for otherwise why be a reformer? — one sets up to know the right way to educate! This is the first thing that involves a contradiction. The second thing is one which gives one a slight feeling of shame in face of an audience when speaking on education — for one realizes that one is speaking of what education ought to be and how it must be different from present-day practice. So that it amounts to saying: you are all badly educated. And yet one is appealing to those who are badly educated to bring about a better education. One assumes that both the speaker and the audience know very well what good education should be in spite of the fact that they have been exceedingly badly educated.
Now this is a contradiction, but it is one which life itself presents us, and it can really only be solved by the view of education which is here being described. For one can perfectly well know what is the matter with education and in what respects it should be improved, just as one can know that a picture is well painted without possessing the faintest capacity for painting a picture oneself. You can consider yourself capable of appreciating the merits of a picture by Raphael without thinking yourself capable of painting a Raphael picture. In fact it would be a good thing today if people would think like this. But they are not content with merely knowing, where education is concerned: they claim straightaway to know how to educate; as though someone who is no painter and could not possibly become a painter, should set up to show how a badly painted picture should be painted well.
Now it is here contended that it is not enough to know what good education is but that one must have a grasp of the technique and detail of educational art, one must acquire practical skill. And for this, knowledge and understanding are necessary. Hence yesterday I tried to explain the elementary principles of guidance in this ability, and I will now continue this review.
It is easy to say man undergoes development during his lifetime, and that he develops in successive stages. But this is not enough. Yesterday we saw that man is a threefold being: that his thinking is entirely bound up physically with the nerve-senses system of his organism, his feeling is bound up with the rhythmic system, particularly the breathing and circulation system, and that his will is bound up with the system of movement and metabolism.
The development of these three systems in man is not alike. Throughout the different epochs of life they develop in different ways. During the first epoch, which extends to the change of teeth — as I have repeatedly stated — the child is entirely sense organ, entirely head, and all its development proceeds from the nerve-senses system. The nerve-senses system permeates the whole organism; and all impressions of the outside world affect the whole organism, work right through it, just as, later in life, light acts upon the eye.
In other words, in an adult light comes to a standstill in the eye, and only sends the idea of itself, the concept of light, into the organism. In a child it is as if every little blood corpuscle were inwardly illumined, were transfused with light — to express it in a somewhat exaggerated and pictorial way. The child is as yet entirely exposed to those etheric essences (effluvia), which in later life we arrest at the surface of our bodies, in the sense organs — while we develop inwardly something of an entirely different nature. Thus a child is exposed to sense impressions in a far greater degree than is the adult.
Observe a concrete instance of this: take a person who has charge of the nurture of a very young child, perhaps a tiny baby; a person with his own world of inner experience. Let us suppose the person in charge of the child is a heavy-hearted being, one to whom life has brought sorrow. In the mature man the physical consequences of the experiences he has been through will not be obvious, but will leave only faint traces. When we are sad our mouth is always a little dry. And when sadness becomes a habitual and continuous state, the sorrowful person goes about with dry mouth, with parched tongue, with a bitter taste in the mouth and even a chronic catarrh. In the adult these physical conditions are merely faint undertones of life.
The child who is growing up in the company of the adult is an imitator; he models himself entirely on the physiognomy of the adult, on what he perceives: — on the adult's sad manner of speaking, his sad feelings. For there is a subtle interplay betwixt child and adult, an interplay of imponderables. When we have an inner sadness and all its physical consequences, the child, being an imitator, takes up these physical effects through inward gestures: through an inward mimicry he takes up the parched tongue, the bitter taste in the mouth; and this — as I pointed out yesterday — flows through the whole organism. He absorbs the paleness of the long sad face of the adult. The child cannot imitate the soul content of the sorrow, but it imitates the physical effects of the sorrow. And the result is that, since the spirit is still working into the child's whole organism, his whole organism will be permeated in such a manner as to build up his organs in accordance with the physical effects which he has taken up into himself. Thus the very condition of the child's organism will make a sad being of him. In later life he will have a particular aptitude for perceiving everything that is sad or sorrowful. Such is the fine and delicate knowledge that one must have in order to educate in a proper way.
This is the manner of a child's life up to the changing of the teeth. It is entirely given up to what its organism has absorbed from the adults around it. And the inner conflict taking place here is only perceptible to spiritual science; this struggle which goes on can only be described as the fight between inherited characteristics and adaptation to environment.
We are born with certain inherited characteristics. — This can be seen by anybody who has the opportunity of observing a child during its first weeks or years. Science has produced an extensive teaching on this subject. — But the child has more and more to adapt itself to the world. Little by little he must transform his inherited characteristics until he is not merely the bearer of a heredity from his parents and ancestors, but is open in his senses and soul and spirit to receive what goes on at large in his environment. Otherwise he would become an egotistic man, a man who only wants what accords with his inherited characteristics.
Now, we have to educate men to be susceptible to all that goes on in the world: men who each time they see a new thing can bring their judgment and their feelings to meet this new thing. We must not educate men to be selfishly shut up within themselves, we must educate men to meet the world with a free and open mind, and to act in accordance with the demands of the world.
This attitude is the natural outcome of such a position as I described yesterday.
Thus we must observe in all its details the inner struggle which takes place during the child's early years between heredity and adaptation to environment. Try to study with the utmost human devotion the wonderful process that goes on where the first teeth are replaced by the second. The first teeth are an inherited thing. They seem almost unsuitable for the outer world. They are inherited. Gradually above each inherited tooth another tooth is formed. In the modeling of this tooth the form of the first tooth is made use of, but the form of the second tooth, which is permanent, is a thing adapted to the world.
I always refer to this process of the teeth as characteristic of this particular period of life, up to the seventh year. But it is only one symptom. For what takes place in the case of the teeth conspicuously, because the teeth are hard organs, is taking place throughout the organism. When we are born into the world we bear within us an inherited organism. In the course of the first seven years of our life we model a new organism over it. The whole process is physical. But while it is physical, it is the deed of the spirit and soul within the child. And we who stand at the child's side must endeavor so to guide this soul and spirit that it goes with and not against the health of the organism. We must therefore know what spiritual and psychic processes have to take place for the child to be able to model a healthy organism in the stead of the inherited organism. We must know and do a spiritual thing in order to promote a physical thing.
And now, if we follow up what I said to you today in the introduction, we come to something else. Suppose that as a teacher or educator we enter a classroom. Now, we must never think that we are the most intelligent of human beings, men at the summit of human intelligence — that, indeed, would mean that we were very bad teachers. We really should think ourselves only comparatively intelligent. This is a sounder state of mind than the other. Now, with this state of consciousness we enter the classroom. But as we go in we must say to ourselves: there may be among the children a very intelligent being, one who in later life will be far more intelligent than we. Now if we, who are only comparatively intelligent, should bring him up to be only as intelligent as ourselves, we should be making him a copy of ourselves. That would be quite wrong. For the right thing would be so to educate this very intelligent individual that he may grow up to be far more intelligent than we are ourselves or ever could be. Now, this means that there is something in a man which we may not touch, something we must regard with sensitive reverence if we are to exercise the art of education rightly. And this is part of the answer to the question I asked.
Often, in earlier life, we know exceedingly well what we ought to do — only we cannot carry it out. We feel unequal to it. What it is that prevents us from doing what we ought to do is generally very obscure. It is always some condition of the physical organism — for example, an imitated disposition to sadness such as I spoke of. The organism has incorporated this, it has become habitual. We want to do something which does not suit an organism with a bent to sadness. Yet such is our organism. In us we have the effects of the parched tongue and bitter taste from our childhood; now we want to do something quite different, and we feel difficulty.
If we realize the full import of this we shall say to ourselves: the main task of the teacher or educator is to bring up the body to be as healthy as it possibly can be; this means, to use every spiritual measure to ensure that in later life a man's body shall give the least possible hindrance to the will of his spirit. If we make this our purpose in school we can develop the powers which lead to an education for freedom.
The extent to which spiritual education works healthily upon the physical organism, and thus upon man as a whole, can be seen particularly well when the great range of facts provided by our magnificent modern natural science is brought together and coordinated in a manner only possible to spiritual science. It then becomes apparent how one can work in the spirit for the healing of man. To take a single instance: an English doctor, Dr. Clifford Albert, has said a very significant thing about the influence of grieving and sadness in human beings upon the development of their digestive organs, and — in particular — upon the kidneys. People who have a lot of trouble and grief in life show signs after a time of malformation of the kidneys, deformed kidneys. This has been very finely demonstrated by the physician Dr. Clifford Albert. That is a finding of natural science.
The important thing is that one should know how to use a scientific discovery like this in educational practice. One must know, as a teacher or educator, that if one lets the child imitate one's own sorrow and grief, then through one's sorrowful bearing one is damaging the child's digestive system to the utmost degree. Insofar as we let our sorrow overflow into the child, we damage its digestive system. You see, this is the tragedy of this materialistic age, that it discovers many physical facts — if you take the external aspect — but it lacks the connections between them; it is this very materialistic science which fails to perceive the significance of the physical and material. What spiritual science can do is to show, on all hands, how spirit — and what is spiritual — work within the physical realm. Then instead of yearning in dreamy mysticism for castles in the clouds, one will be able to follow up the spirit in all its details and singular workings. For one is a spiritual being only when one recognizes spirit as that which creates, as that which everywhere works upon and shapes the material: — not when one worships some abstract spirit in the clouds like a mystic, and for the rest, holds matter to be merely the concern of the material world.
Hence it is actually a matter of coming to realize how in a young child, up to the seventh year, nerve-senses activity, rhythmic breathing and circulation activity, and the activity of movement and metabolism are everywhere interplaying: — only the nerve-senses activity predominates, it has the upper hand; and thus the nerve-senses activity in a child always affects his breathing. If a child has to look at a face that is furrowed with grief, this affects his senses to begin with; but it reacts upon the manner of his breathing, and hence in turn, upon his whole movement and metabolic system.
If we take a child after the change of teeth, that is after about the seventh year, we find the nerve-senses system no longer preponderating; this has now become more separate, more turned toward the outer world. In a child between the change of teeth and puberty it is the rhythmic system which preponderates, which has the upper hand. And it is most important that this should be borne in mind in the primary school. For in the primary school we have children between the change of teeth and puberty. Hence we must know here: the essential thing is to work with the child's rhythmic system, and everything which works upon something other than the rhythmic system is wrong. But now what is it that works upon the rhythmic system? It is art that works upon the rhythmic system, everything that is conveyed in artistic form.
Consider how much everything to do with music is connected with the rhythmic system. Music is nothing else but rhythm carried over into the rhythmic system of the human being himself. The inner man himself becomes a lyre, the inner man becomes a violin. His whole rhythmic system reproduces what the violin has played, what has sounded from the piano. And as in the case of music, so it is also, in a finer, more delicate way, in the case of plastic art, and of painting. Color harmonies and color melodies also are reproduced and revived as inner rhythmic processes in the inner man. If our instruction is to be truly educational we must know that throughout this period everything that the child is taught must be conveyed in an artistic form. According to Waldorf School principles the first consideration in the elementary school period is to compose all lessons in a way that appeals to the child's rhythmic system.
How little this is regarded today can be seen from the number of excellent scientific observations which are continuously being accumulated and which sin directly against this appeal to the rhythmic system. Research is carried on in experimental psychology to find out how soon a child will tire in one activity or another; and the instruction must take account of this fatigue. This is all very fine, splendid, as long as one does not think spiritually. But if one thinks spiritually the matter appears in a very different light. The experiments can still be made. They are very good. Nothing is said here against the excellence of natural science. But one says: if the child shows a certain degree of fatigue in the period between its change of teeth and puberty, you have not been appealing, as you should do, to the rhythmic system, but to some other system. For throughout life the rhythmic system never tires. Throughout the whole of life the heart beats night and day. It is in his intellectual system and in his metabolic system that a man becomes tired. When we know that we have to appeal to the rhythmic system we know that what we have to do is to work artistically. The experiments on fatigue show where we have gone wrong, where we have paid too little attention to the rhythmic system. When we find a child has got overtired we must say to ourselves: How can you contrive to plan your lesson so that the child shall not get tired? It is not that one sets up to condemn the modern age and says: natural science is bad, we must oppose it. The spiritual man has no such intention. He says rather: we need the higher outlook because it is just this that makes it possible to apply the results of natural science to life.
If we now turn to the moral aspect, the question is how we can best get the child to develop moral impulses. And here we are dealing with the most important of all educational questions. Now, we do not endow a child with moral impulses by giving him commands, by saying: you must do this, this has to be done, this is good — by wanting to prove to him that a thing is good, and must be done. Or by saying: that is bad, that is wicked, you must not do that — and by wanting to prove that a certain thing is bad. A child has not as yet the intellectual attitude of an adult toward good and evil, toward the whole world of morality, — he has to grow up to it. And this he will only do on reaching puberty, when the rhythmic system has accomplished its essential task and the intellectual powers are ripe for complete development. Then the human being may experience the satisfaction of forming moral judgment in contact with life itself. We must not engraft moral judgment onto the child. We must so lay the foundation for moral judgment that when the child awakens at puberty he can form his own moral judgment from observation of life.
The last way to attain this is to give finite commands to a child. We can achieve it, however, if we work by examples, or by presenting pictures to the child's imagination: for instance through biographies or descriptions of good men or bad men; or by inventing circumstances which present a picture, an imagination of goodness to the child's mind. For, since the rhythmic system is particularly active in the child during this period, pleasure and displeasure can arise in him — not judgment as to good and evil, but sympathy with the good which the child beholds presented in an image, or antipathy to the evil which he beholds so presented. It is not a case of appealing to the child's intellect, of saying ‘Thou shalt’ or ‘Thou shalt not,’ but of fostering aesthetic judgment, so that the child shall begin to take pleasure in goodness, shall feel sympathy when he sees goodness, and feel dislike and antipathy when he beholds evil. This is a very different thing from working on the intellect, by way of precepts formulated by the intellect. For the child will only be awake for such precepts when it is no longer our business to educate him, namely, when he is a man and learns from life itself. And we should not rob the child of the satisfaction of awakening to morality of his own accord. And we shall not do this if we give him the right preparation during the rhythmic period of his life; if we train him to take an aesthetic pleasure in goodness, an aesthetic dislike of evil; that is, if also here, we work through imagery.
Otherwise, when the child awakens after puberty he will feel an inward bondage. He will not perhaps realize this bondage consciously, but throughout his subsequent life he will lack the important experience: morality has awakened within me, moral judgment has developed. We cannot attain this inner satisfaction by means of abstract moral instruction; it must be rightly prepared by working in this manner for the child's morality.
Thus it is everywhere a case of ‘how’ a thing is done. And we can see this both in that part of life which is concerned with the external world and that part of life concerned with morality: both when we study the realm of nature in the best way, and when we know how best morals can be laid down in the rhythmic system — in the system of breathing and blood circulation. If we know how to enter with the spirit into what is physical, and if we can come to observe how spirit weaves continuously in the physical, we shall be able to educate in the right way.
While a knowledge of man is sought in the first instance for the art of education and instruction, yet in practice the effect of such a spiritual outlook on the teacher's or educator's state of mind is of the greatest importance. And what this is can best be shown in relation to the attitude of many of our contemporaries.
Every age has its shadow side, no doubt, and there is much in past ages we have no wish to revive; nevertheless, anyone who can look upon the historical life of man with certain intuitive sense will perceive that in this our own age many men have very little inner joy; on the contrary, they are beset by heavy doubts and questions as to destiny. This age has less capacity than any other for deriving answers to its problems from out of the universe, the world at large: "Though I may be very unhappy in myself, and with good reason, yet there is always a possibility of finding something in the universe which can counterbalance my unhappiness." But modern man has not the strength to find consolation in a view of the universe when his personal situation makes him downcast. Why is this? Because in his education and development modern man has little opportunity to acquire a feeling of gratitude: gratitude namely that we should be alive at all as human beings within this universe. Rightly speaking, all our feelings should take their rise from a fundamental feeling of gratitude that the cosmic world has given us birth and given us a place within itself. A philosophy which concludes with abstract observations and does not flow out in gratitude toward the universe is no complete philosophy. The final chapter of every philosophy, in its effect on human feeling at all events, should be gratitude toward the cosmic powers. This feeling is essential in a teacher and educator, and it should be instinctive in every person who has the nurture of a child entrusted to him. Therefore the first thing of importance to be striven for in spiritual knowledge is the acquiring of thankfulness that a child has been given into our keeping by the universe.
In this respect reverence for the child, reverence and thankfulness, are not to be sundered. There is only one attitude toward a child which can give us the right impulse in education and nurturance, and that is the religious attitude, neither more nor less. We feel religious in regard to many things. A flower in the meadow can make us feel religious when we can take it as the creation of the divine spiritual order of the world. In face of lightning flashes in the clouds we feel religious if we see them in relation to the divine spiritual order of the world. And above all we must feel religious toward the child, for it comes to us from the depths of the universe as the highest manifestation of the nature of the universe, a bringer of tidings as to what the world is. In this mood lies one of the most important impulses of educational technique. Educational technique is of a different nature from the technique devoted to unspiritual things. Educational technique essentially involves a religious moral impulse in the teacher or educator.
Now you will perhaps say: nowadays, although people are so terribly objective in regard to many things — things possibly of less vital importance — nowadays we shall yet find some who will think it a tragic thing that they should have a religious feeling for a child who may turn out to be a ne'er-do-well. But why must I regard it as a tragedy to have a child who turns out a ne'er-do-well? Today, as we said before, there are many parents, even in this terribly objective age, who will own that their children are ne'er-do-wells, whereas this was not the case in former times; then every child was good in its parents' eyes. At all events this was a better attitude than the modern one. — Nevertheless we do get a feeling of tragedy if we receive as a gift from spiritual worlds, and as a manifestation of the highest, a difficult child. But we must live through this feeling of tragedy. For this very feeling of tragedy will help us over the rocks and crags of education. If we can feel thankfulness even for a naughty child, and feel the tragedy of it, and can rouse ourselves to overcome this feeling of tragedy, we shall then be in a position to feel a right gratitude to the divine world; for we must learn to perceive how what is bad can also be a divine thing — though this is a very complicated matter. Gratitude must permeate teachers and educators of children throughout the period up to the change of teeth: it must be their fundamental mood.
Then we come to that part of a child's development which is based principally on the rhythmic system, in which, as we have seen, we must work artistically in education. This we shall never achieve unless we can join to the religious attitude we have toward the child a love of our educational activity; we must saturate our educational practice with love. Between the change of teeth and puberty nothing that is not born of love for the educational deed itself has any effect on the child. We must say to ourselves with regard to the child: clever a teacher or educator may be, the child reveals to us in his life infinitely significant spiritual and divine things. But we, on our part, must surround with love the spiritual deed we do for the child in education. Hence there must be no pedagogy and didactics of a purely intellectual kind, but only such guidance as can help the teacher to carry out his education with loving enthusiasm.
In the Waldorf School what a teacher is is far more important than any technical ability he may have acquired in an intellectual way. The important thing is that the teacher should not only be able to love the child but to love the method he uses, to love his whole procedure. Only to love the children does not suffice for a teacher. To love teaching, to love educating, and love it with objectivity — this constitutes the spiritual foundation of spiritual, moral, and physical education. And if we can acquire this right love for education, for teaching, we shall be able so to develop the child up to the age of puberty that by that time we can really hand him over to freedom, to the free use of his own intelligence.
If we have received the child in religious reverence, if we have educated him in love up to the time of puberty, then our proper course after this will be to leave the youth's spirit free, and to hold intercourse with him on terms of equality. We aim, that is, not to touch the spirit but to let it be awakened. When the child reaches puberty we shall best attain our aim of giving the child over to free use of his intellectual and spiritual powers if we respect the spirit and say to ourselves: you can remove hindrances from the spirit — physical hindrances and also, up to a point, hindrances of the soul. What the spirit has to learn it does learn, because you have removed the impediments. If we remove impediments the spirit will develop in contact with life itself even in very early youth. Our rightful place as educators is to be removers of hindrances.
Hence we must see to it that we do not make the children into copies of ourselves, that we do not seek forcibly and tyrannically to perpetuate what was in ourselves in those who in the natural course of things develop beyond us. Each child in every age brings something new into the world from divine regions, and it is our task as educators to remove bodily and psychical obstacles out of its way; to remove hindrances so that his spirit may enter in full freedom into life. These then must be regarded as the three golden rules of the art of education, rules which must imbue the teacher's whole attitude and all the impulse of his work. The golden rules which must be embraced by the teacher's whole being, not held as theory, are: reverent gratitude to the world in the person of the child which we contemplate every day, for the child presents a problem set us by divine worlds; thankfulness to the universe: love for what we have to do with the child; respect for the freedom of the child — a freedom we must not endanger, for it is to this freedom we educate the child, that he may stand in freedom in the world at our side.
Washed in the Blood of the Lamb are We
Awash in a Sonburst Sea
You—Love—and I—Love—and Love Divine:
We are the Trinity
You—Love—and I—We are One-Two-Three
Two—Yes—and One—Yes—and also Three:
One Dual Trinity