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Practical Course for Teachers

Schmidt Number: S-3841

On-line since: 15th September, 2012

YOU will have seen from these lectures, which lay down methods of teaching, that we are gradually nearing the mental insight from which should spring the actual timetable. Now I have told you on different occasions already that we must agree, with regard to what we accept in our school and how we accept it, to compromise with conditions already existing. For we cannot, for the time being, create for the Waldorf School the entire social world to which it really belongs. Consequently, from this surrounding social world there will radiate influences which will continually frustrate the ultimate ideal time-table of the Waldorf School. But we shall only be good teachers of the Waldorf School if we know in what relation the ideal time-table stands to the time-table which we will have to use at first because of the ascendancy of the social world outside. This will result for us in the most vital difficulties which we must therefore mention before going on, and these will arise in connection with the pupils, with the children, immediately at the beginning of the elementary school period and then again at the end. At the very beginning of the elementary school course there will, of course, be difficulties, because there exist the time-tables of the outside world. In these time-tables all kinds of educational aim are required, and we cannot risk letting our children, after the first or second year at school, fall short of the learning shown by the children educated and taught outside our school. After nine years of age, of course, by our methods our children should have far surpassed them, but in the intermediate stage it might happen that our children were required to show in some way, let us say, at the end of the first year in school, before a board of external commissioners, what they can do. Now it is not a good thing for the children that they should be able to do just what is demanded to-day by an external commission. And our ideal time-table would really have to have other aims than those set by a commission of this kind. In this way the dictates of the outside world partially frustrate the ideal time-table. This is the case with the beginning of our course in the Waldorf School. In the upper classes [Dr. Steiner refers to the beginning of the Waldorf School when the higher classes were from the ages of 12 to 14.] of the Waldorf School, of course, we are concerned with children, with pupils who have come in from other educational institutions, and who have not been taught on the methods on which they should have been taught.

The chief mistake attendant to-day on the teaching of children between seven and twelve is, of course, the fact that they are taught far too intellectually. However much people may hold forth against intellectualism, the intellect is considered far too much. We shall consequently get children coming in with already far more pronounced characteristics of old age — even senility — than children between twelve and fourteen should show. That is why when, in these days, our youth itself appears in a reforming capacity, as with the Scouts (Pfadfinder) and similar movements, where it makes its own demands as to how it is to be educated and taught, it reveals the most appalling abstractness, that is, senility. And particularly when youth desires, as do the “Wandervögel,” to be taught really youthfully, it craves to be taught on senile principles. That is an actual fact to-day. We came up against it very sharply ourselves in a commission on culture, where a young Wandervögel, or member of some youth movement, got up to speak. He began to read off his very tedious abstract statements of how modern youth desires to be taught and educated. They were too boring for some people because they were nothing but platitudes; moreover, they were platitudes afflicted with senile decay. The audience grew restless, and the young orator hurled into its midst: “I declare that the old folks to-day do not understand youth.” The only fact in evidence, however, was that this half-child was too much of an old man because of a thwarted education and perverted teaching.

Now this will have to be taken most seriously into account with the children who come into the school at twelve to fourteen, and to whom, for the time being, we are to give, as it were, the finishing touch. The great problems for us arise at the beginning and end of the school years. We must do our utmost to do justice to our ideal time-table, and we must do our utmost not to estrange children too greatly from modern life.

But above all we must seek to include in the first school year a great deal of simple talking with the children. We read to them as little as possible, but prepare our lessons so well that we can tell them everything that we want to teach them. We aim at getting the children to tell again what they have heard us tell them. But we do not adapt reading-passages which do not fire the fantasy; we use, wherever possible, reading-passages which excite the imagination profoundly; that is, fairy tales. As many fairy tales as possible. And after practising for some time with the child this telling of stories and retelling of them, we encourage him a little to tell very shortly his own experiences. We let him tell us, for instance, about something which he himself likes to tell about. In all this telling of stories, and telling them over, and telling about personal experiences, we guide, quite un-pedantically, the dialect into the way of educated speech, by simply correcting the mistakes which the child makes — at first he will do nothing but make mistakes, of course; later on, fewer and fewer. We show him, by telling stories and having them retold, the way from dialect to educated conversation. We can do all this, and in spite of it the child will have reached the standard demanded of him at the end of the first school year.

Then, indeed, we must make room for something which would be best absent from the very first year of school and which is only a burden on the child's soul: we shall have to teach him what a vowel is, and what a consonant is. If we could follow the ideal time-table we would not do this in the first school year. But then some inspector might turn up at the end of the first year and ask the child what “i” is, what “l” is, and the child would not know that one is a vowel and the other a consonant. And we should be told: “Well, you see, this ignorance comes of Anthroposophy.” For this reason we must take care that the child can distinguish vowels from consonants. We must also teach him what a noun is, what an article is. And here we find ourselves in a real dilemma. For according to the prevailing time-table we ought to use German terms and not say “artikel.” We have to talk to the child, according to current regulations, of “Geschlechtswort” (gender-words) instead of “artikel,” and here, of course, we find ourselves in the dilemma. It would be better at this point not to be pedantic and to retain the word “artikel.” Now I have already indicated how a noun should be distinguished from an adjective by showing the child that a noun refers to objects in space around him, to self-contained objects. You must try here to say to him: “Now take a tree: a tree is a thing which goes on standing in space. But look at a tree in winter, look at a tree in spring, and look at a tree in summer. The tree is always there, but it looks different in winter, in summer, in spring. In winter we say: ‘It is brown.’ In spring we say: ‘It is green.’ In summer we say: ‘It is leafy.’ These are its attributes.” In this way we first show the child the difference between something which endures and its attributes, and say: “When we use a word for what persists, it is a noun; when we use a word for the changing quality of something that endures it is an adjective.” Then we give the child an idea of activity: “Just sit down on your chair. You are a good child. Good is an adjective. But now stand up and run. You are doing something. That is an action.” We describe this action by a verb. That is, we try to draw the child up to the thing, and then we go from the thing over to the words. In this way, without doing the child too much harm, we shall be able to teach him what a noun is, an article, an adjective, a verb. The hardest of all, of course, is to understand what an article is, because the child cannot yet properly understand the connection of the article with the noun. We shall flounder fairly badly in an abstraction when we try to teach him what an article is. But he has to learn it. And it is far better to flounder in abstractions over it because it is unnatural in any case, than to contrive all kinds of artificial devices for making clear to the child the significance and the nature of the article, which is, of course, impossible.

In short, it will be a good thing for us to teach with complete awareness that we are introducing something new into teaching. The first school year will afford us plenty of opportunity for this. Even in the second year a good deal of this awareness will invade our teaching. But the first year will include much that is of great benefit to the growing child. The first school year will include not only writing, but an elementary, primitive kind of painting-drawing, for this is, of course, our point of departure for teaching writing. The first school year will include not only singing, but also an elementary training in the playing of a musical instrument. From the first we shall not only let the child sing, but we shall take him to the instrument. This, again, will prove a great boon to the child. We teach him the elements of listening by means of sound-combinations. And we try to preserve the balance between the production of music from within by song, and the hearing of sounds from outside, or by making them on the instrument.

These elements, painting-drawing, drawing with colours, finding the way into music, will provide for us, particularly in the first school year, a wonderful element of that will-formation which is almost quite foreign to the school of to-day. And if we further transform the little mite's physical training into Eurhythmy we shall contribute in a quite exceptional degree to the formation of the will.

I have been presented with the usual time-table for the first school year. It consists of:

Religion — two hours a week.

The mother tongue — eleven hours a week.

Writing — there is no figure given for the number of hours, for it is included in the mother tongue.


Local geography — two hours a week.

Arithmetic — four hours a week.

Singing and gymnastics together — one hour a week.

[The word hours is the translation of Schulstunden — 50 mts. with intervals between.]

We shall not be guilty of this, for we should then sin too gravely against the well-being of the growing child. But we shall arrange, as far as ever it is in our power, for the singing and music and the gymnastics and Eurhythmy to be in the afternoon, and the rest in the morning, and we shall take, in moderation — until we think they have had enough — singing and music and gymnastics and Eurhythmy with the children in the afternoon. For to devote one hour a week to these subjects is quite ludicrous. That alone proves to you how the whole of teaching is now directed towards the intellect.

In the first year in the elementary school we are concerned, after all, with six-year-old children or with children at the most a few months over six. With such children you can quite well study the elements of painting and drawing, of music, and even of gymnastics and Eurhythmy; but if you take religion with them in the modern manner you do not teach them religion at all; you simply train their memory and that is the best that can be said about it. For it is absolutely senseless to talk to children of six to seven of ideas which play a part in religion. They can only be stamped on his memory. Memory training, of course, is quite good, but one must be aware that it here involves introducing the child to all kinds of things which have no meaning for the child at this age.

Another feature of the time-table for the first year will provoke us to an opinion different from the usual one, at least in practice. This feature reappears in the second year in a quite peculiar guise, even as a separate subject, as Schönschreiben (literally, pretty writing = calligraphy). In evolving writing from “painting-drawing” we shall obviously not need to cultivate “ugly writing” and “pretty writing” as separate subjects. We shall take pains to draw no distinction between ugly writing and pretty writing and to arrange all written work — and we shall be able to do this in spite of the outside time-table — so that the child always writes beautifully, as beautifully as he can, never suggesting to him the distinction between good writing and bad writing. And if we take pains to tell the child stories for a fairly long time, and to let him repeat them, and pay attention all the time to correct speaking on our part, we shall only need to take spelling at first from the point of view of correcting mistakes. That is, we shall not need to introduce correct writing, Rechtschreiben (spelling), and incorrect writing as two separate branches of the writing lesson.

You see in this connection we must naturally pay great attention to our own accuracy. This is especially difficult for us Austrians in teaching. For in Austria, besides the two languages, the dialect and the educated everyday speech, there was a third. This was the specific “Austrian School Language.” In this all long vowels were pronounced short and all short vowels long, and whereas the dialect quite correctly talked of “Die Sonne” (the sun), the Austrian school language did not say “Die Sonne” but “Die Sohne,” and this habit of talking becomes involuntary; one is constantly relapsing into it, as a cat lands on his paws. But it is very unsettling for the teacher too. The further one travels from north to south the more does one sink in the slough of this evil. It rages most virulently in Southern Austria. The dialect talks rightly of “Der SÅ«Å«n”; the school language teaches us to say “Der Son.” So that we say “Der Son” for a boy and “Die Sohne” for what shines in the sky. That is only the most extreme case. But if we take care, in telling stories, to keep all really long sounds long and all short ones short, all sharp ones sharp, all drawn-out ones prolonged, and all soft ones soft, and to take notice of the child's pronunciation, and to correct it constantly, so that he speaks correctly, we shall be laying the foundations for correct writing. In the first year we do not need to do much more than lay right foundations. Thus, in dealing with spelling, we do not yet need to let the child write lengthening or shortening signs, as even permitted in the usual school time-table — we can spend as long as we like over speaking, and only in the last instance introduce the various rules of spelling. This is the kind of thing to which we must pay heed when we are concerned with the right treatment of children at the beginning of their school life.

The children near the end of the school life, at the age of thirteen to fourteen, come to us maltreated by the intellectual process. The teaching they have received has been too much concerned with the intellect. They have experienced far too few of the benefits of will- and feeling-training. Consequently, we shall have to make up for lost ground, particularly in these last years. We shall have to attempt, whenever opportunity offers, to introduce will and feeling into the exclusively intellectual approach, by transforming much of what the children have absorbed purely intellectually into an appeal to the will and feelings. We can assume at any rate that the children whom we get at this age have learnt, for instance, the theorem of Pythagoras the wrong way, that they have not learnt it in the way we have discussed. The question is how to contrive in this case not only to give the child what he has missed but to give him over and above that, so that certain powers which are already dried up and withered are stimulated afresh as far as they can be revived. So we shall try, for instance, to recall to the child's mind the theorem of Pythagoras. We shall say: “You have learnt it. Can you tell me how it goes? Now you have said the theorem of Pythagoras to me. The square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.”

But it is absolutely certain that the child has not had the experience which learning this should give his soul. So I do something more. I do not only demonstrate the theorem to him in a picture, but I show how it develops. I let him see it in a quite special way. I say: “Now three of you come out here. One of you is to cover this surface with chalk: all of you see that he only uses enough chalk to cover the surface. The next one is to cover this surface with chalk; he will have to take another piece of chalk. The third will cover this, again with another piece of chalk.” And now I say to the boy or girl who has covered the square on the hypotenuse: “You see, you have used just as much chalk as both the others together. You have spread just as much on your square as the other two together, because the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.” That is, I make it vivid for him by the use of chalk. It sinks deeper still into his soul when he reflects that some of the chalk has been ground down and is no longer on the piece of chalk but is on the board. And now I go on to say: “Look, I will divide the squares; one into sixteen, the other into nine, the other into twenty-five squares. Now I am going to put one of you into the middle of each square, and you are to think that it is a field and you have to dig it up. The children who have worked at the twenty-five little squares in this piece will then have done just as much work as the children who have turned over the piece with sixteen squares and the children who have turned over the piece with nine squares together. But the square on the hypotenuse has been dug up by your labour; you, by your work, have dug up the square on one of the two sides, and you, by your work, have dug up the square on the other side.” In this way I connect the child's will with the theorem of Pythagoras. I connect at least the idea with an exercise rooted significantly in his will in the outside world, and I again bring to life what his cranium had imbibed more or less dead.

Now let us suppose the child has already learnt Latin or Greek. I try to make the children not only speak Latin and Greek but listen to one another as well, listen to each systematically when one speaks Latin, another Greek. And I try to make the difference live vividly for them which exists between the nature of the Greek and Latin languages. I should not need to do this in the ordinary course of teaching, for this realization would result of itself with the ideal time-table. But we need it with the children from outside, because the child must feel: when he speaks Greek he really only speaks with the larynx and chest; when he speaks Latin there is something of the whole being accompanying the sound of the language. I must draw the child's attention to this. Then I will point out to him the living quality of French when he speaks that, and how it resembles Latin very closely. When he talks English he almost spits the sounds out. The chest is less active in English than in French. In English a tremendous amount is thrown away and sacrificed. In fact, many syllables are literally spat out before they work. You need not say “spat out” to the children, but make them understand how, in the English language particularly, the word is dying towards its end. You will try like this to emphasize the introduction of the element of articulation into your language teaching with those children of twelve to fourteen whom you have taken over from the schools of to-day.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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