The Spiritual Ground of Education. Lecture 9 of 9.
Rudolf Steiner, Oxford, England, August 25, 1922:
I alluded yesterday to what takes place when the boys and girls one is educating come to be 14 or 15 years old and reach puberty. At this stage, a teacher who takes his responsibilities seriously will encounter many difficulties. And these difficulties are particularly apparent in a school or college where the education is derived from the nature of man. Now, it is out of the question to overcome these difficulties by extraneous discipline. If they are repressed now, they will only reappear later in life in all manner of disguises. It is far better to look them squarely in the face as an intrinsic part of human nature and to deal with them. In a school like the Waldorf School where boys and girls are educated together and are constantly in each other's company such difficulties occur very frequently.
We have already referred to the difference between boys and girls which begins to appear about the 10th year. At this age girls begin to grow more vigorously and, particularly, to shoot up in height. Boys' growth is delayed until around about puberty. After that, the boys catch up with the girls. For one who observes the interplay between spirit, soul, and body from the standpoint of a true human knowledge, this is of great significance. For growing, the overcoming of the Earth's gravity by growth, engages the fundamental being of man, his essential manhood, whereas it is not essentially a concern of the human being whether a certain organic phenomenon appears at one stage or another of his life. For, actually, certain cosmic, extra-human influences which work in upon the human being from the external world affect the female organism more intensely between the 10th and 12th year than they do the male organism. In a certain sense the female organism between the 10th and 12th year partakes even bodily of the supersensible world.
Please realize the importance of this: between the 10th and 12th year, or the 13th and 14th, the female organism qua organism begins to dwell in a spiritual element. It becomes permeated by spirit at this period. And this affects the processes of the blood in girls in a very special way. During these years the blood circulation is, as it were, in contact with the whole universe. It must take its time from the whole world, from the universe, and be regulated by it. And experiments carried out to find the relationship between the rhythm of pulse and breath between 10 and 12 years, even if done with external instruments, would find the results among girls other than among boys.
The boy of 13 or 14 begins to show a nature hitherto unrevealed, and he also begins to grow more than the girls do. He grows in all directions. He makes up for the delay in his growing. At the same time his relationship to the outer world is quite other than it was in the earlier periods of his life. And so in boys it is the nervous system which is now affected, rather than the circulation of the blood. Thus, it can easily happen that the boy's nervous system gets overstrained if the instruction at school is not given him in the right way. For in these years, the form and content of language, or of the languages he has learned, have an enormous influence upon him. The ideas of men enshrined in language, or in foreign languages, press upon the boy, beset him as it were, while his body grows more delicate. And so at this age the whole world drones and surges within a boy — the world, that is, of this earthly environment.
Thus: in girls a year or two sooner is implanted something of the surrounding universe; in boys, earthly environment is implanted through the medium of language. This is apparent externally in the boy's change of voice. And indirectly, in connection with this transformation in the voice, enormously important things take place in the boy's whole organism. In the female organism, this rounding off of the voice is very slight. On the other hand in connection with the quickened growing, there has been a preparation in the organism, which is, as it were, a flowing into the maiden of supernal worlds. The recent advances of materialistic science of the world come into their own on a spiritual view.
You see, when people hear that a spiritual outlook or spiritual values are upheld somewhere, they are apt to say: Oh yes, those are queer cranks who scorn the Earth and all material things. And then comes the natural scientist and cites the marvelous advances of purely material science in recent centuries. And so people believe that anyone who advocates a thing so alien to the world — not that I mean that Anthroposophy is alien to the world — but that the world is alien to Anthroposophy — but when a strange thing like Anthroposophy appears, people think it is not concerned with material things, or with practical life. But it is precisely Anthroposophy which takes up the latest discoveries of the natural sciences, takes them up with immense love and saturates them with the knowledge that can be got from the spiritual world. So that it is precisely among those who support spiritual philosophy that there exists a true appreciation of materialism, a proper appreciation of materialism. The spiritualist can afford to be a materialist. But the pure materialist loses knowledge of matter when he loses the spirit: all he can observe is the outer appearance of matter. It is just the materialist who loses all insight into material happenings. I call attention to this, as it seems to me of great significance.
And you see, when you have the attitude of a Waldorf teacher toward the children, you look in quite a different way upon a child who has reached puberty — a child who has just passed through that stage of development which includes the organic changes I have alluded to — you look upon this child in quite a different way from that of a person who knows nothing of all this — who knows nothing of it, that is, from the spiritual point of view.
A boy of 14 or 15 years old echoes in his being the world around him. That is to say: words and their significant content are taken up unconsciously into his nervous system, and they echo and sound on in his nerves. The boy does not know what to do with himself. Something has come into him which begins to feel foreign to him now that he is 14 or 15. He comes to be puzzled by himself: he feels irresponsible. And one who understands human nature knows well that at no time and to no person, not even to a philosopher, does this two-legged being of the Earth called Anthropos seem so great a riddle as he does to a fifteen-year-old boy. For at this age all the powers of the human soul are beset by mystery. For now the will, the thing most remote from normal consciousness, makes an assault upon the nervous system of the 15- or 16-year-old boy.
With girls it is different. But when we aim, as we should aim, at equal treatment for both sexes, at an equal recognition — a thing which must come in the future — it is all the more important to have clearly in view the distinction between them. So, now, whereas for the boy his own self becomes a problem, he is perplexed by himself — for girls at this time the problem is the world about them. The girl has taken up into herself something not of the Earth. Her whole nature is developing unconsciously within her. And a girl of 14 or 15 is a being who faces the world in amazement, finding it full of problems; above all, a being who seeks in the world ideals to live by. Thus many things in the outer world become enigmatic to a girl at this age.
To a boy the inner world presents many enigmas. To a girl it is the outer world.
One must realize, one must come to feel, that one now has to deal with quite new children — not the same children as before. And this change in each child comes, in some cases, remarkably quickly — so that a teacher not alive to the transformation going on in the children in his charge may fail to perceive that he is suddenly confronting a new person.
You see, one of the most essential things in the training of the Waldorf School teachers themselves is receptivity to the changes in human nature. And this the teachers have acquired relatively quickly, for reasons which I shall explain. A Waldorf teacher — if I may express myself paradoxically — a Waldorf teacher has to be prepared to find a thing completely different tomorrow from what it was yesterday. This is the real secret of his training. For instance: one usually thinks in the evening: Tomorrow the Sun will rise and things will be the same as they are today. Now — to use a somewhat drastic mode of expression which brings out my meaning — the Waldorf teacher must be prepared for the Sun not to rise one day. For only when one views human nature afresh like this, without prejudice from the past, is it possible to apprehend growth and development in human beings. We may repose in the assurance that things out there in the universe will be somewhat conservative. But when it is a case of that transition in human nature from the early years of childhood into the 14th, 15th, and 16th year, why then, ladies and gentlemen, the Sun that rose earlier often does not rise. Here, in this microcosm, Man, in this Anthropos, so great a change has come about that we face an entirely new situation — as though nature upon some day should confront us with a world of darkness, a world in which our eyes were of no use.
Openness, a readiness to receive new wisdom daily, a disposition which can subdue past knowledge to a latent feeling which leaves the mind clear for what is new — this it is that keeps a man healthy, fresh, and active. And it is this open heart for the changes in life, for its unexpected and continuous freshness, which must form the essential mood and nature of a Waldorf teacher.
How the relationship between boys and girls of this age and their teachers is significantly affected by this change can be seen from an episode which occurred last year in the Waldorf School. One day when I was back once again at the Waldorf School for the purpose of directing the teaching and education — a thing I can only do intermittently — a girl of the top class came to me between lessons, in what I might call a mood of suppressed aggression. She was very moved, but she said to me with prodigious inner determination: ‘Can we speak to you today — it is very urgent — may the whole class speak to you today? (i.e. the top class). But we only want to do it if you wish it.’ You see, she had constituted herself leader of the class and wished to speak to me in the presence of the whole class. What was the reason? The reason was that the boys and girls had come to feel for their part that they were not in touch with the teachers; they found it hard to get in touch with the teachers, to make a right contact with them.
This had not arisen from any grudge against the teachers. For among the children of the Waldorf School there is no grudge against the teachers. On the contrary, even in the short time of the School's existence, the children have come to love their teachers. But these children of the top class, these boys and girls of 15 and 16, now had a terrible fear that owing to the new relationship which had come about between pupils and teachers they might lose this love, this love might diminish. They had a most extraordinary fear of this. And in this case I did not do what perhaps would have been done in past times if children had blurted out this sort of thing — namely snub them and put them in their place — but I went out to meet them and talked to them. And I spoke to the children — but at this age of course one should call them young ladies and gentlemen, as I said before — I spoke to them in such a way that they could realize I was prepared then and there to discuss the question with them, and together with them come to a conclusion: we will talk to one another without restraint and arrive at some decision together when we see what the matter is.
And then, what came out was what I have just described: a great anxiety lest they should be unable to love the teachers in the same way as before. For an enormous wonder, a great curiosity concerning certain things in the world had entered into the children. And since Waldorf School pedagogy is evolved day by day, every occurrence must be carefully studied, and educational measures are founded upon living experience.
Now, the children said a great deal that was rather remote from the issue, but it seemed immensely important to them, and they felt it deeply. Then I said a good many things to them, don't you know, of how one finds this or that in life as time goes on, to which the children eagerly assented. And all that was necessary was to arrange a slight shifting of teachers for the following school year. At the outset of the next school year, I allotted the teaching of languages to a different teacher; I changed the teachers 'round. What is more, we realized in the college of teachers that this was the method we should use throughout the school, to come to decisions from out of a working in common. But in order to stomach this new position — this meeting with young ladies and gentlemen of this age on equal terms, where one was formerly an authority — in order to be equal to this situation it is essential to have what the Waldorf teachers have: an open outlook on the world, to be a man of the world. We call it in German: to have a Weltanschauung (a world-outlook). Not merely to have taken a training in teaching methods, but to have one's own answers to questions as to the fate of humanity, the significance of historical epochs, the meaning of present-day life, etc. And these questions must not buzz in one's head, but must be borne in one's heart; then one will have a heartfelt experience of them in company with the children. For in the course of the last four or five hundred years of Western civilization we have entered deeply into intellectualism; this however is unnoticed by the majority of men. But intellectualism is a thing suited naturally only to men of advanced years. The child is naturally averse to intellectualism. And yet all our modern thinking is tinged with intellectualism. The only people who are not intellectual so far are the people over there in Asia and in Russia as far as Moscow. But west of Moscow, as far as America, intellectualism is universal. We are not aware of it, but insofar as we belong to the so-called cultured classes we think a kind of mental language that is incomprehensible to children. And this accounts for the gulf there is nowadays between grown-up people and children. This gulf must be bridged by teachers such as the Waldorf school teachers. (literally: this chasm must be filled up).
And it can be bridged only when one can see deeply into human nature. Allow me therefore to tell you something of a physiological nature which is not usually taken into account, since it can only be rightly appreciated when it confronts one as a fact of spiritual science, a fact of spiritual knowledge. Now, people think that it is a great accomplishment when a thing is put in the form of a concept, when there is an idea, a notion, of a thing. But only people who judge everything according to their heads believe this. Truths are often terribly paradoxical. For if we enter into the unconscious, into the heart nature, the feeling nature of man, we find that all concepts, all ideas are bound up for every man — even for a philosopher — with a slight feeling of antipathy; there is something distasteful, disgusting, in the formulating of ideas: whether one is conscious of it or not, there is always something distasteful. Hence it is so enormously important to know that one must not accentuate this hidden unconscious disgust in children by surfeiting them with concepts and ideas. Now, you see it comes from the fact that when a man has been thinking, when he has thought hard, the inside of his brain presents a curious formation — unfortunately I can only give you results in this account; it would take many lectures to demonstrate it to you physiologically; I can now only give the facts. Now, the brain is permeated throughout by deposits: compounds of phosphorus lie all about the brain. These have been deposited during the process of thought. Particularly if one is thinking oneself, thinking one's own thoughts, the brain becomes filled with unreason — forgive the word — full of deposited products such as phosphoric acid compounds; they litter the brain and beslime it. These excretions, these deposits, are only removed from the organism when a man sleeps or rests.
Thus, corresponding to the process of thought is not a process of growth or a process of digestion, but a catabolic process, a breaking down of substances. And when I follow a train of thought with someone of a certain degree of maturity, i.e. over 14, 15, or 16 years old, together with him I am setting up a catabolic process, a depositing of substance. It brings about the breaking down of substance. And in this separation, this eliminating of substance, he experiences his humanity. (Tr. Note: i.e. it provides a basis for self-consciousness).
Now if, on the other hand, I simply dictate ideas to him, if I give him finite concepts which have been formulated dogmatically, I put him into a peculiar state. For these finite concepts can get no hold in human nature: they jostle and press upon one another and can find no entry into the brain, but they beat up against the brain and thus cause it to use up over again in its nerve activity the old deposited substances which lie about.
The effect brought about by all finite intellectual concepts is to compel a man to use over again the cast-off substances which lie about within him; and this gives the human being a feeling of slight disgust, which remains unconscious, but which influences his whole disposition so much the more. You see, unless one knows these things, one cannot appreciate their importance. And people do not realize that thinking is a breaking down of substance (ein Absondern), and that thinking in mere ideas forces man to use once again what he has thrown off, to knead up over again all his cast-off phosphoric acid salts.
Now, this is of enormous importance in its application to moral education: if we give the child definite precepts in conceptual form, we oblige him to come to morality in the form of ideas, and then antipathy arises; man's inner organism sets itself against abstract moral precepts or commandments, it opposes them. But I can encourage the child to form his own moral sentiments direct from life, from feeling, from example, and subsequently lead him on to the breaking down, to the catabolic stage, and get him to formulate moral principles as a free autonomous being. In this case I am helping him to an activity which benefits his entire being. Thus, if I give a child moral precepts, I make morality distasteful, disgusting, to him, and this fact plays an important part in modern social life. You have no idea how much disgust human beings have felt for some of the most beautiful, the noblest, the most majestic of man's moral impulses, because they have been presented to them in the form of precepts, in the form of intellectual ideas.
Now, the Waldorf teacher comes to learn such things as this through spiritual science. It is indeed this that gives him insight into these material processes. Let me repeat: materialism takes its true place in life only when looked at from the spiritual standpoint. For this gives insight of what is really going on in man. Only through adopting the spiritual standpoint can one become a truly practical educator in the physical sphere.
But such a thing is possible only when the teacher or educator has himself a philosophy of life, when his own view of the world makes him feel the deep significance of the problem of the universe and of man's fate.
And here again I must say an abstract thing, but in reality it is a very concrete thing. It is only apparently abstract. You see, man confronts the riddle of the universe, and he seeks a solution to this riddle. But people suppose nowadays that the solution of the riddle could be put down in some book, stated and expressed in some form of ideas. Remember, however, that there are people — and I have met some of them — who have an extreme horror of such a solution of the riddle of the universe. For they say: if it should really happen that a solution of the riddle of life were discovered and written down in a book, what in Heaven's name are other people who come after them to do? It would be most terribly boring. All contributions to the solution of the world riddle are there to hand, they only require to be learned. And people think this would be colossally boring. I don't altogether blame them; the world really would be a boring place if someone wrote a book containing the answer to the riddle of the universe once and for all, and we could read the book, and then — why then, what indeed would remain for us to do in the world?
Now you see there must be something in existence which, when we have the key to it, the so-called solution, calls for further effort on our part, calls upon us to go on and to work on. The riddle of the universe should not be stated as a thing to be solved and done with: the solution of it should give one power to make a new start. And if world problems are rightly understood, this comes about. The world presents many problems to us. So many, that we cannot at once even perceive them all. By problems I do not only mean those things for which there are abstract answers, but questions as to what we shall do, as to the behavior of our will and feelings, as to all the many details of life. When I say the world sets us many problems, I mean such questions as these. What then is the real answer to these many problems? The real answer is none other than: man himself. The world is full of riddles, and man confronts them. He is a synthesis, a summary, and from man comes to us the answer to the riddle of the universe.
But we do not know man as he should be known. We must begin at the beginning. Man is an answer that takes us back to the beginning. And we must learn to know this answer to our problem: Man, this Oedipus. And this drives us to experience anew the mystery of our own selves. Every new man is a fresh problem to be worked at.
If one desires to be a Waldorf teacher, which means to work from a true philosophy of life, this mysterious relationship between man and the world must have become second nature (literal translation: it must become an unconscious wisdom of the feelings.) Certainly people take alarm today if one says: the Waldorf teachers start from Anthroposophy: this gives them their vision. For how if this Anthroposophy should be very imperfect? That may be. Produce other philosophies then, which you think are better. But a philosophy is a necessity to one who has to deal with human beings as an artist. And this is what teaching involves.
How far the anthroposophical attitude to things contains something helpful alike to education and teaching will be the subject of the third part of my lecture today.
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When I look back over these nine lectures, I find much to criticize, much that is imperfect, but the most regrettable thing about them is that I should have given them at all in the form in which I have given them. I would far rather not have had to give these lectures — paradoxical as this may sound. That I should have had to give them is in keeping with the spirit of the time — far too much so, for it seems to me that there is an incredible amount of talk about the nature of education and teaching in our age, far too much; people seem driven far too much to discuss the question: how shall we educate, how shall we teach? And when one has to enter into these questions oneself, even though it is from a different standpoint, one realizes how much too much of it there is.
But why is it there is so much talk today about education and teaching? Almost every little town you come to announces lectures on how to educate, how to teach. Now, how does it come about that there is so much discussion of this subject, so many conferences and talks everywhere? If we look back to earlier ages of human history we shall not find people talking nearly so much about education. Education was a thing people did naively, by instinct, and they knew what they were about.
Now, I have said that a truly healthy education, a healthy instruction, must be based on a knowledge of man, and that the staff of the Waldorf School has to acquire this knowledge of man in the way I have shown, and it may well be asked: did the men of earlier ages then possess a knowledge of man so infinitely greater than ours? Strange as it may seem, the answer is: yes. Certainly, men of former ages were not so enlightened in the domain of natural science as we are; but earlier men knew more about man in their own way than we do. I mentioned before in these lectures that man has gradually come to be regarded by us as a final product. We contemplate all the other creatures in the world and say: they have evolved up to man, the final product; and here we stop and we say extraordinarily little about man himself. Our physiology even tries to find explanations of man in the experiments done upon animals. We have lost the ability to give man a position in the world as a thing in himself. To a large extent we have lost the being of man.
Now, anthroposophy seeks to give mankind once more that knowledge of the world which shall not exclude man himself, which shall not regard him at most as the latest of the organisms. But a knowledge of the world where what one knows about the world truly gives a power to see into the real nature of man, to know him in soul, in body, and in spirit — further, that one shall be able to know what the spirit actually does in man — that one shall know: the intellectual form of the spirit breaks down substances, in the way I described — now, our present way of considering history does not attain this. It makes a halt on reaching man and classifies him with the animals. It formulates a biology, and connects this with physiology; but there is no grasp of what man is. As a result, men act today a great deal out of instinct; but as an object of knowledge, of science, there man is not favoured.
The teacher requires a science which will enable him to love man once more — because he can first love his own knowledge. There is much wisdom behind the fact that formerly men did not speak simply of acquiring knowledge, but they spoke of "philosophia," of a love of knowledge. Anthroposophy would bring it about that mankind should once more have knowledge which can lead to knowledge of man.
Now, when one knows the human being, when all knowledge and science centers in man, then one can find the answer to educational questions in every part of one's philosophy. The discoveries and the knowledge required, even about children, are to be found on all hands. And it is this that we need. It is because our ordinary science can tell us nothing about education or instruction that we make extra institutions and have to talk so much about education and teaching. Such lectures as these will only have achieved their object when they shall have become superfluous, namely, when there shall no longer be any necessity to treat this as a special theme, when we shall once again possess a philosophy, a knowledge of the world, in which education is implicit, so that a teacher having this knowledge is also possessed of the art of education, and can exercise it spontaneously, instinctively. Our need to talk so much about education shows how little impulse for education is contained in the rest of our knowledge.
We need a complete change of direction.
This is the real reason why the Waldorf teachers do not cultivate a definite and separate pedagogy and didactic, but cultivate a philosophy of life which by teaching them knowledge of man makes it possible for them to have spontaneous impulses for education, to be naive once more in education. And this explains why, in speaking of a Waldorf teacher, one must speak of man as a whole.
This also precludes there being anything fanatical about Waldorf School education. Fanaticism — which is so rife among men — is here ruled out. Fanaticism is the worst thing in the world, particularly in education — a fanaticism which makes a man press on in one direction and push ahead regardless of anything but his one aim, reduced to precise slogans.
But if one looks at the world without prejudice one will concede: views and opinions are but views and opinions. If I have a tree here and photograph it, I have one view of it; the view from here has a definite form; but the view is different from here, and again different from over there; so that you might think it was not the same tree if you only had the pictures to go by. In the same way there are points of view in the world, there are outlooks. Each one only regards one aspect of things. If you know that things must be looked upon from the most manifold standpoints, you avoid fanaticism and dwell in many-sidedness, in a universality.
Ladies and Gentlemen: if one realizes that what people say in the world is for the most part not wrong, only one-sided: that one needs to take the other view into consideration, that all that is necessary is to see the other side also — then one will find goodness everywhere. Hence it is so strange when one is talking of Waldorf education and A. comes and says: Yes, we do this already, but B. does it all wrong. And then B. comes and says: We do this, but A. does it badly. Now a Waldorf teacher would say A. has his good points and B. has his good points; and we seek to use what can be found universally. That is why one hears so often: Waldorf School pedagogy says the same things that we say ourselves. But this is not so: rather, we say things which others afterwards can assent to because we know that a fanatical pursuit of one definite line works the utmost damage. And it is essential for the Waldorf teacher to be free from any kind of fanaticism, and confront purely the reality of the growing child.
True, many people may say: there is an Anthroposophical movement, we have met many fanatics in it. But if they look into things more closely they will find: the aim of Anthroposophy is to make knowledge universal and to spiritualize it. That it is called Anthroposophy is a matter of indifference, as I have explained. Actually, it has no other object but the making universal once more what has become one-sided. If, nevertheless, people have found fanaticism, dogmatism, a swearing by definite precepts, within the Anthroposophical movement, this has come in from outside, it is not inherent in the movement; for much is caned into the movement which does not accord with its nature and being. Therefore when it is said that there is also a sect of some kind behind the Waldorf School principles, where people indulge all kinds of crazes, one should study the matter properly and find out the facts and what it is the Waldorf School lives by. Then one will see that Anthroposophy can indeed give life to education and teaching, and that, far from pursuing anything preposterous or falsely idealistic, it seeks only to realize the human ideal in living human beings.
And with this indication that the life that speaks through the Waldorf teacher is derived from this source I will bring these lectures to a close. And let me add that although I said that I regretted that these lectures had had to be given — nevertheless it has been a great joy to me to give them, and I thank the honorable audience for the attention and interest they have accorded them.