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Spiritual Ground of Education

Schmidt Number: S-4949

On-line since: 26th August 2004



My first words shall be to ask your forgiveness that I cannot speak to you in the language of this country. But as I lack practise I must needs formulate things in the language I can use. Any disadvantage this involves will be made good, I trust, in the translation to follow.

In the second place, allow me to say that I feel extra-ordinarily grateful to the distinguished committee which enables me to hold these lectures at this gathering in Oxford. I feel it an especial honour to be able to give these lectures here, in this venerable town. It was here, in this town, that I myself experienced the grandeur of ancient tradition, twenty years ago.

And now that I am about to speak of a method of education which in a sense may be called new, I should like to say: In our day novelty is sought by many simply qua novelty, but whoever strives for a new thing in any sphere of human culture must first win the right to do so by knowing how to respect what is old.

Here in Oxford I feel how the power of what lives in these old traditions inspires everything. And one who can feel this has perhaps the right also to speak of what is new. For a new thing, in order to maintain itself, must be rooted in the venerable past. Perhaps it is the tragedy and the great failing of our age that there is a constant demand for this new thing and that new thing, while so few people are inclined worthily to create the new from out of the old.

Therefore, I feel such deep thankfulness to Mrs. Mackenzie, the organiser of this conference, in particular, and to the whole committee who undertook to arrange the lectures here. I feel deep gratitude because this makes it possible to give expression to what, in a sense, is indeed a new thing in the environment of that revered antiquity which alone can sponsor it.

I am equally grateful for the very kind words of introduction which Principal Jacks spoke in this place yesterday.

And now I have already indicated, perhaps, the stand-point from which these lectures will be given: what will be said here concerning education and teaching is based on that spiritual-scientific knowledge which I have made it my life's work to develop.

This spiritual science was cultivated to begin with for its own sake; in recent years friends have come forward to carry it also into particular domains of practical life. Thus it was Emil Molt, of Stuttgart, who having acquaintance with the work in spiritual science going forward at the Goetheanum — (in Dornach, Switzerland) — wished to see it applied in the education of children at school. And this led to the founding of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart.

The pedagogy and didactic of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart was founded in that spiritual life which, I hold, must lead to a renewal of education in conformity with the spirit of our age: a renewal of education along the lines demanded by the spirit of the age, by the tasks and the stage of human development which belong to this epoch.

The education and curriculum in question is based entirely upon knowledge of man. A knowledge of man which spans man's whole being from his birth to his death. But a knowledge which aims at comprising all the super-sensible part of man's being between birth and death, all that bears lasting witness that man belongs to a super-sensible world.

In our age we have spiritual life of many kinds, but above all a spiritual life coming down to us from ancient times, a spiritual life handed down by tradition. Alongside of this spiritual life and in ever diminishing contact with it, we have the life that flows to us from the magnificent discoveries of modern natural science. In an age which includes the life-time of the great natural scientists, the leading spirits in natural science, we cannot, when speaking of spiritual life neglect the potent contribution to knowledge of man made by natural science itself.

Now this natural science can give us insight into the bodily nature of man, can give us insight into bodily, physio-logical functions during man's physical life. But this same natural science conducted as it is by experiment with external tools, by observation with external senses has not succeeded, for all its great progress, in reaching the essentially spiritual life of man. I do not say this in disparagement. It was the great task of natural science as systematised, for example, by such a personality as Huxley — it was the great service it rendered that for once it looked at nature with complete disregard of everything spiritual in the world.

Neither, therefore, can the knowledge of man we have in psychology and anthropology help us to a practical grasp of what is spiritual. We have, in our modern civilisation a life of the spirit, and the various religious denominations maintain and spread this life of the spirit. But this spiritual culture is not capable of giving answers to man's questions as to the nature of that eternity and immortality, the super-sensible life, to which he belongs. It cannot give us conviction. Conviction, when the isolation of our worldly life and worldly outlook makes us ask: “What is the eternal, super-sensible reality underlying the world of sense-perception?”

We may have beliefs as to what we were before birth in the womb of divine, super-sensible worlds. We may form beliefs as to what our souls will have to go through after passing the portal of death. And we may formulate such beliefs into a cult. This can warm our hearts and cheer our spirits. We can say to ourselves: “Man is a greater being in the whole universe than in this physical life between birth and death.” But what we achieve in this way remains a belief, it remains a thing we think and feel. It is becoming increasingly difficult to put in practice the great findings and tenets of natural science while still holding such spiritual beliefs. We know of the spirit, we no longer understand how to use the spirit, how to do anything with it, how to permeate our work and daily life with spirit.

What domain of life most calls for a dealing with the spirit? The domain of teaching and education. In education we must comprehend man as a whole; and man in his totality is body, soul and spirit. We must be able to deal with spirit if we would educate. In all ages it has been incumbent on man to take account of the spirit and work by its power: now above all, because we have made such advances in external science, this summons to work with the spirit is the most urgent. Hence the social question to-day is first and foremost a question of education. For to-day we may justly ask: What must we do to give rise to social organisation and social institutions less tragic than those of the present day, less full of menace? We can give ourselves no answer but this: First we must place into practical life, into the social community, men who are educated from out of the spirit, by means of a creative activity of the spirit.

The kind of knowledge we are describing pre-supposes a continuous doing in life, a dealing with life; hence it must seek out the spirituality within life and make this the basis of education throughout the differing life-epochs. For in a child the spirit is closer to the body than it is in the adult. We can see in a child how physical nature is formed plastically by the spirit. What precisely is the brain of a child when it is first born, according to our modern natural science? It is something like the clay which a sculptor takes up when he prepares a model. And now let us look at the brain of a seven year old child when we begin his primary education; it has become a wonderful work of art, but a work of art which must be worked upon further, worked upon right up to the end of school life. Hidden spiritual powers are working at the moulding of the human body. And we as educators are called upon to contribute to that work. Are called upon not only to observe the bodily nature, but — while we must never neglect the bodily nature — to observe in this bodily nature how the spirit is at work upon it. We are called upon to work with the unconscious spirit — to link ourselves not only with the natural, but with the divine ordering of the world.

When we confront education earnestly it is demanded of us not only to acknowledge God for the peace of our soul, but to will God's will, to act the intentions of God. To do this however, we need a spiritual basis for education. Of this spiritual basis for education I will speak to you in the following days.

We must feel when we observe child life how necessary it is to have a spiritual insight, a spiritual vision if we are adequately to follow what takes place in the child day by day, what takes place in his soul, in his spirit. We should consider how child life in its very earliest days and weeks differs totally from later childhood, let alone adulthood. We should call to mind what a large proportion of sleep a child needs in the early days of its life. And we must ask ourselves what takes place in that interchange between spirit and body when a child in early childhood needs nearly 22 hours sleep? The current attitude to such things, both in philosophy and practical life, is: Well it is not possible to see into the soul of a child, any more than one can see into the soul of an animal or of a plant; here we encounter limits of human knowledge.

The spiritual view which we are here representing does not say: Here are limits of human knowledge, of human cognition. It says: We must bring forth from the depths of human nature powers of cognition equal to observing man's complete nature, body, soul and spirit; just as we can observe the arrangement of the human eye or the human ear in physiology.

If in ordinary life we have not so far got this knowledge owing to our natural scientific education, we must set about building it up. Hence I shall have to speak to you of the development of a knowledge which can guarantee a genuine insight into the inner texture of child life. And devoted and unprejudiced observation of life itself goes far to bring about such an insight.

We look at a child. If our view is merely external we cannot actually find any definite points of development from birth on to about the twentieth year. We look upon everything as a continuous development.

It is not so for one who comes to the observation of child life equipped with the knowledge of which I shall have to speak in the next few days. Then the child is fundamentally a different being up to his seventh year or eighth year, — when the change of teeth sets in — from what he is later in life, from the change of teeth to about the fourteenth year, to puberty. And infinitely significant problems confront us when we endeavour to sink deep into the child's life and to ask. How does the soul and spirit work upon the child up to the change of teeth? How does the soul and spirit work upon the child when we have to educate and teach him in the elementary or primary school? How must we ourselves co-operate here with the soul and spirit?

We see for example how speech is developed instinctively during the first period of a child's life up to the change of teeth, — instinctively as far as the child is concerned, and instinctively as regards his surroundings. Nowadays we devote a good deal of thought to the question of how a child learns to speak (I will not go into the historical aspect of the origin of speech to-day.) But how does a child actually learn to speak? Has he some kind of instinct whereby he makes his own the sounds he hears about him? Or does he derive the impulse for speech from some other kind of connection with his surroundings? If, however, one looks more closely into the life of a child one can observe that all speech and all learning to speak rests upon the imitation of what the child observes in his surroundings by means of his senses — observes unconsciously. The whole life of the child up to his seventh year is a continuous imitation of what takes place in his environment. And the moment a child perceives something, whether it be a movement, or whether it be a sound, there arises in him the impulse of an inward gesture, to re-live what has been perceived with the whole intensity of his inner nature.

We only understand a child when we contemplate him as we should contemplate the eye or the ear of an older person. For the child is entirely sense-organ (i.e. a child up to the seventh year). His blood is driven through his body in a far livelier way than in later life. We can perceive by means of a fine physiology what the development of our sense-organs, for example the eye, depends on Blood preponderates in the process of development of the eye, in the very early years. Then, later, the nerve life in the senses preponderates more and more. For the development of the organism of the senses in man is a development from blood circulation to nerve activity. It is possible to acquire a delicate faculty for perceiving how the life of the blood gradually goes over into the life of the nerves.

And as it is with a single sense (e.g. the eye), so it is with the whole human being. The child needs so much sleep because it is entirely sense-organ. Because it could not otherwise endure the dazzle and noise of the outer world. Just as the eye must shut itself against the dazzling sunlight, so must this sense-organ: child — for the child is entirely sense-organ — shut itself off against the world, so must it sleep a great deal. For whenever it is confronted with the world, it has to observe, to hold inward converse. Every sound of speech arises from an inward gesture.

What I am now saying from out of a spiritual knowledge is — let me say — open to-day to scientific demonstration. There is a scientific discovery — and, forgive the personal allusion, but this discovery has dogged me all through my life and is just as old as I am myself, it was made in the year in which I was born. Now the discovery is to the effect that human speech depends on the left parietal con-volution of the brain. This is developed plastically in the brain. But the whole of this development takes place during childhood by means of these plastic forces of which I have spoken. And if we contemplate the whole connection which exists between the gestures of the right arm, and the right hand (which preponderate in normal children), we shall see how speech forms itself from out of gesture by imitation of the environment through an inner, secret connection between blood, nerves and the convolution of the brain: (of left-handed children and their relation to the generality of children I shall have something to say later; they form an exception, but they prove very well how what builds up the power of speech is bound up with every single gesture of the right arm and hand, even down to minutest details).

If we had a more delicate physiology than our physiology of to-day, we should be able to discover for each time of life, not only the passive but the active principle. Now the active principle is particularly lively in this great organ of sense, the child. Thus a child lives in its environment in the manner in which, in later years our eye dwells in its environment. Our eye is especially formed from out the general organisation of the head. It lies, that is, in a cavity apart, so that it can participate in the life of the outer world. In the same way the child participates in the life of the outer world, lives entirely within the external world — does not yet feel itself — but lives entirely in the outer world.

We develop nowadays a form of knowledge, called intellectual knowledge, which is entirely within us. It is the form of knowledge appropriate to our civilisation. We believe that we can comprehend the outer world, but the thoughts and the logic to which alone we grant cognitive value dwell within ourselves. And a child lives entirely outside of himself. Have we the right to believe that with our intellectual mode of knowledge we can ever participate in that experience of the outer world which the child has? — the child who is all sense-organ? This we cannot do. This we can only hope to achieve by a cognition which can go right out of itself, which can enter into the nature of all that lives and moves. Intuitional cognition is the only cognition which can do this. Not intellectual knowledge which leaves us within ourselves; which makes us ask of every idea: is it logical? No, but a knowledge by means of which the spirit penetrates into the depths of life itself — intuitional knowledge. We must consciously acquire an intuitional knowledge, then only shall we be practical enough to do with spirit what has to be accomplished with the child in his earliest years.

Now, as the child gradually accomplishes the changing of teeth, when in place of the inherited teeth there appear those which have been formed during the first period of life (1-7) — there comes about a change in the child's whole life. Now no longer is he entirely sense-organ, but he is given up to a more psychical element than that of the sense impressions. The child of primary school age now no longer absorbs what he observes in his surroundings, but rather that which lives in what he observes. The child enters upon the stage which must be based mainly on the principle of authority, the authority a child meets with in his educators or teachers. Do not let us deceive ourselves into thinking that a child between seven and fourteen, whom we are educating, does not adopt from us the judgments we give expression to. If we compel a child to listen to a judgment expressed in a certain phrase, we are giving him something which rightly belongs only to a later age. What the true nature of the child demands of us is to be able to believe in us, to have the instinctive feeling: ‘Here stands one beside me who tells me something. He can tell things because he is so connected with the whole world that he can tell. For me he is the mediator between myself and the whole universe. This is how the child confronts his teacher and educator — not of course outspokenly but instinctively. For the child the adult is the mediator between the divine world and himself in his helplessness. And only when the educator is conscious that he must be such an authority as a matter of course, that he must be such as the child can look up to in a perfectly natural way, can he be a true educator.

Hence we have found in the course of our Waldorf School teaching and our Waldorf School education that the question of education is principally a question of teachers. What must the teacher: be like in order to be a natural authority, the mediator between the divine order of the world and the child? Well, what has the child become? Between the 7th and 14th or 15th year from being sense-organ the child has become all soul. Not spirit as yet — not such that he sets the highest value on logical connections, on intellect; this would cause inner ossification in his soul. It is far more significant for a child between seven and fourteen years to tell him about a thing in a kindly, loving way, than to demonstrate by proof. Kindly humour and geniality in a lesson have far more value than logic. For the child does not yet need logic. For the child does not yet need logic. The child needs us, needs our humanity.

Hence in the Waldorf School we set the greatest importance on the teachers of children from seven to fourteen years being able to give them what is appropriate to their age with artistic love and loving art. For it is fundamental to the education of which we are speaking that one should know the human being, that one should know what each age demands of us in respect of education and instruction. What is demanded by the first year? What is demanded up to the seventh year? What is required of the primary school period? The way of educating children up to the tenth year must be quite different, and different again must be the way we introduce them to human knowledge between 10 and 14. To have in our souls a lively image of the child's nature in every single year, nay, in every single week, — this constitutes the spiritual basis of education.

Thus we can say: As the child is an imitator, a ‘copy-cat’ in his early years, so, in his later years he becomes a follower, one who develops in his soul according to what he is able in his psychic environment to experience in soul. The sense organs have now become independent. The soul of the child has actually only just come into its own. We must now treat this soul with infinite tenderness. As teacher and educator we must come into continually more intimate contact with what is happening day by day in the child's soul.

In this introductory talk to-day I will indicate only one thing. There is, namely, for every child a critical point during the age of school attendance; roughly between the 9th and 11th year there is a critical moment, a moment which must not be over-looked by the teacher. In this age between the 9th and 11th year there comes for every child — if he is not abnormal — the moment when he says to himself: ‘How can I find my place within the world?’ One must not suppose that the question is put just as I have said it. The question arises in indefinite feelings, in unsatisfied feelings. The question shows itself in the child's having a longing for dependence on a grown-up person. Perhaps it will take the form of a great love and attachment felt for some grown-up person. But we must understand how rightly to observe what is happening in the child at this critical time. The child suddenly finds himself isolated. He seeks something to hold on to. Up till now he has accepted authority as a matter of course. Now he begins to ask: What is this authority? Our finding or not finding the right word to say at this moment will make an enormous difference to the whole of the child's later life.

It is enormously important that the physician observing a childish illness should say to himself: What is going on in the organism are processes of development which are not significant only for the child — if they do not go rightly in the child the man will suffer the effects when he is old. Similarly must we realise that the ideas, sensations or will impulses we give the child must not be formulated in stiff concepts which the child has only to heed and learn: the ideas, the impulses and sensations which we give the child must be alive as our limbs are alive. The child's hand is small. It must grow of its own accord, we may not constrain it. The ideas, the psychic development of the child are small and delicate, we must not confine them within hard limits as if we assumed that the child must retain them in thirty years' time when grown-up — in the same form as in childhood. We must so form the ideas we bring the child that they can grow. The Waldorf School does not aim at being a school, but a preparatory school; for every school should be a preparatory school to the great school of manhood, which is life itself. We must not learn at school for the sake of performance, but we must learn at school in order to be able to learn further from life. Such must be the basis of what may be called a spiritual physiological pedagogy and didactics. One must have a sense and feeling for bringing to the child living things that can continue with him into later life. For that which is fostered in a child often dwells in the depths of the child's soul imperceptibly. In later life it comes out. One can make use of an image — it is only by way of image, but it rests upon a truth: There are people who at a certain time of their lives have a beneficent influence upon their fellow men. They can — if I may use the expression — bestow blessing. There are such people, — they do not need to speak, they only need to be there with their personality which blesses. The whole course of a man's life is usually not observed, otherwise notice would be taken of the upbringing of such people — of people like this who later have the power of blessing; it may have been the conscious deed of some one person, or it may have been unconscious on the part of teacher and educator: — Such people have been brought up as children to learn reverence, to learn, in the most comprehensive meaning of the word, to pray — to look up to something; — and hence they could will down to something. If one has learned at first to look up, to honour, to be entirely surrounded by authority, then one has the possibility to bless, to work down, oneself to become an authority, an unquestioned authority.

These are the things which must not merely live as precepts in the teacher, but must pass into him, become part of his being — going from his head continuously into his arms. So that a man can do deeds with his spirit, not merely think thoughts. These things must come to life in the teacher. In the next few days I will show how this can come about in detail throughout each single year of school life between seven, and fourteen. But before all things I wanted to explain to-day how a certain manner of inner life, not merely an outlook on life but an inner attitude must form the basis of education.

Then, when the child has outgrown the stage of authority, when he has attained puberty and through this has physio-logically quite a different connection with the outer world than before, he also attains in soul and body (in his bodily life in its most comprehensive sense) a quite different relation-ship to the world than he had earlier. This is the time of the awakening of Spirit in Man. This now is the time when the human being seeks out the rational and logical aspect in all verbal expression. Only now can we hope to appeal with any success to the intellect in our education and instruction. It is immensely important that we do not consciously or unconsciously call upon the intellect prematurely, as people are so prone to do to-day.

And now let us ask ourselves: What is happening when we observe how the child takes on authority, everything that is to guide and lead his soul. For a child does not listen to us in order to check and prove what we say. Unconsciously the child takes up as an inspiration what works upon his soul, what, through his soul, builds and influences his body. And we can only rightly educate when we understand the wonderful, unconscious inspiration, which holds sway in the whole life of a child between seven and fourteen, when we can work into the continuous process of inspiration. To do this we' must acquire still another power of spiritual cognition, we must add to Intuition, Inspiration itself. And when we have led the child on its way as far as the 14th year we make a peculiar discovery. If we attempt to give the child things that we have conceived logically — we become wearisome to him. To begin with he will listen, when we thus formulate every-thing in a logical way; but if the young man or maiden must re-think our logic after us, he will gradually become weary. Also in this period we, as teachers need something besides pure logic. This can be seen from a general example.

Take a scientist such as Ernst Haeckel who lived entirely in external nature. He was himself tremendously interested in all his microscopic studies, in all he built up. If this is taught to pupils, they learn it but they cannot develop the same interest for it. We as teachers must develop something different from what the child has in himself. If the child is coming into the domain of logic at the age of puberty, we (in our turn) must develop imagery, imagination. If we ourselves can pour into picture form the subjects we have to give the children, if we can give them pictures, so that they receive images of the world and the work and meaning of the world, pictures which we create for them, as in a high form of art — then they will be held by what we have to tell them.

So that in this third period of life we are directed to Imagination, as in the other two to Intuition and Inspiration. And we now have to seek for the spiritual basis which can make it possible for us as teachers to work from out of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition — which can make it possible not merely to think of spirit, but to act with spirit.

This is what I wished to say to you by way of introduction.

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