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Human Values in Education

Schmidt Number: S-5831

On-line since: 15th May, 2012


ARNHEIM, 17th July, 1924.

Dr. Steiner began his lecture by thanking Dr. Zeylmans van Emmichoven and those who arranged the course.

For quite a number of years now Education has been one of those branches of civilised, cultural activity which we foster within the Anthroposophical Movement, and, as will appear from these lectures, we may perhaps just in this sphere look back with a certain satisfaction on what we have been able to do. Our schools have existed only a few years, so I cannot speak of an achievement, but only of the beginning of something which, even outside the Anthroposophical Movement, has already made a certain impression on circles interested in the spiritual life of the cultural world of today. Looking back on our educational activity it gives me real joy, particularly here in Holland, where many years ago I had the opportunity of lecturing on subjects connected with anthroposophical spiritual science, to speak once more on this closely related theme.

Anthroposophical education and teaching is based on that knowledge of man which is only to be gained on the basis of spiritual science; it works out of a knowledge of the whole human being, body, soul and spirit. At first such a statement may be regarded as obvious. It will be said that of course the whole man must be taken into consideration when it is a question of educational practice, of education as an art; that neither should the spiritual be neglected in favour of the physical, nor the physical in favour of the spiritual. But it will very soon be seen how the matter stands when we become aware of the practical results which ensue when any branch of human activity is based on anthroposophical spiritual science. Here in Holland, in the Hague, a small school has been founded on the basis of an anthroposophical knowledge of man, a daughter school, if I may call it so, of our Waldorf School in Stuttgart. And I believe that whoever gets to know such a school, whether from merely hearing about the way it is run, or through a more intimate knowledge, will find in the actual way it deals with teaching and education, something arising from its anthroposophical foundation which differs essentially from the usual run of schools in our present civilisation. The reason for this is that wherever we look today we find a gulf between what people think, or devise theoretically, and what they actually carry out in practice. For in our present civilisation theory and practice have become two widely separated spheres. However paradoxical it may sound, the separation may be observed, perhaps most of all in the most practical of all occupations in life, in the business world, in the economic sphere. Here all sorts of things are learnt theoretically. For instance, people think out details of administration in economic affairs. They form intentions. But these intentions cannot be carried out in actual practice. However carefully they are thought out, they do not meet the actual conditions of life. I should like to express myself still more clearly, so that we may understand one another. For example, a man who wishes to set up a business concern thinks out some sort of business project. He thinks over all that is connected with this business and organises it according to his intentions.

His theories and abstract thoughts are then put into effect, but, when actually carried out, they everywhere come up against reality. Certainly things are done, thought-out ideas are even put into practice, but these thoughts do not fit into real life. In actual fact something is carried over into real life which does not correspond with what is real. Now a business that is conducted in this way can continue for some time and its inaugurator will consider himself to be a tremendously practical fellow. For whoever goes into business and from the outset has learnt absolutely nothing outside customary practice will consider himself a “practical” man.

Today we can hear how really practical people speak about such a theorist. He enters into business life and with a heavy hand introduces his thought-out ideas. If sufficient capital is available, he may even be able to carry on for a time, after a while, however, the concern collapses, or it may be absorbed into some more established business. Usually when this happens very little heed is paid to how much genuine, vital effort has been wasted, how many lives ruined, how many people injured or impaired in their way of life. It has come about solely because something has been thought out — thought out by a so-called “practical” man. In such a case however the person in question is not practical through his insight but by the use of his elbows. He has introduced something into reality without considering the conditions of reality.

Few people notice it, but this kind of thing has become rampant in the cultural life of today. At the present time the only sphere where such things are understood, where it is recognised that such a procedure does not work, is in the application of mechanical natural science to life. When the decision is made to build a bridge it is essential to make use of a knowledge of mechanics to ensure that the bridge will stand up to what is required of it; otherwise the first train that passes over it will be plunged into the water. Such things have already happened, and even at the present time we have seen the results of faulty mechanical construction. Speaking generally, however, this sphere is the only one in practical life in which it can be stated unequivocally that the conditions of reality have or have not been foreseen.

If we take the sphere of medicine we shall see at once that it is not so evident whether or not the conditions of reality have been taken into account. Here too the procedure is the same; something is thought out theoretically and then applied as a means of healing. Whether in this case there has been a cure, whether it was somebody's destiny to die, or whether perhaps he has been “cured to death,” this indeed is difficult to perceive. The bridge collapses when there are faults in its construction; but whether the sick person gets worse, whether he has been cured by the treatment, or has died of it, is not so easy to discover.

In the same way, in the sphere of education it is not always possible to see whether the growing child is being educated in accordance with his needs, or whether fanciful methods are being used which can certainly be worked out by experimental psychology. In this latter case the child is examined by external means and the following questions arise: what sort of memory has he, what are his intellectual capacities, his ability to form judgments and so on? Educational aims are frequently found in this way. But how are they carried into life? They sit firmly in the head, that is where they are. In his head the teacher knows that a child must be taught arithmetic like this, geography like that, and so it goes on. Now the intentions are to be put into practice. The teacher considers all he has learnt, and remembers that according to the precepts of scientific educational method he must set about things in such and such a way. He is now faced with putting his knowledge into practice, he remembers these theoretical principles and applies them quite externally. Whoever has the gift for observing such things can experience how sometimes teachers who have thoroughly mastered educational theories, who can recount admirably everything they had to know for their examination, or had to learn in practice class-teaching, nevertheless remain utterly removed from life when they come face to face with the children they have to teach. What has happened to such a teacher is what, daily and hourly, we are forced to observe with sorrowing heart, the fact that people pass one another by in life, that they have no sense for getting to know one another. This is a common state of affairs. It is the fundamental evil which underlies all social disturbances which are so widespread in the cultural life of today: the lack of paying heed to others, the lack of interest which every man should have for others. In everyday civilised life we must perforce accept such a state of affairs; it is the destiny of modern humanity at the present time. But the peak of such aloofness is reached when the teacher of the child or the educator of the youth stands at a distance from his pupil, quite separated from him, and employs in a completely external way methods obtained by external science. We can see that the laws of mechanics have been wrongly applied when a bridge collapses, but wrong educational methods are not so obvious. A clear proof of the fact that human beings today are only at home when it comes to a mechanical way of thinking, which can always determine whether things have been rightly or wrongly thought out, and which has produced the most brilliant triumphs in the life of modern civilisation — a proof of this is that humanity today has confidence only in mechanical thought. And if this mechanical thinking is carried into education, if, for instance, the child is asked to write down disconnected words and then repeat them quickly, so that a record can be made of his power of assimilation, if this is the procedure in education it is a sign that there is no longer any natural gift for approaching the child himself. We experiment with the child because we can no longer approach his heart and soul.

In saying all this it might seem as though one had the inclination or desire only to criticise and reprove in a superior sort of way. It is of course always easier to criticise than to build something up constructively. But as a matter of fact what I have said does not arise out of any such inclination or desire; it arises out of a direct observation of life. This direct observation of life must proceed from something which is usually completely excluded from knowledge today. What sort of person must one be today if one wishes to pursue some calling based on knowledge — for instance on the knowledge of man? One must be objective! This is to be heard all over the place today, in every hole and corner. Of course one must be objective, but the question is whether or not this objectivity is based on a lack of paying due heed to what is essential in any particular situation.

Now for the most part people have the idea that love is far more subjective than anything else in life, and that it would be utterly impossible for anyone who loves to be objective. For this reason when knowledge is spoken about today love is never mentioned seriously. True, it is deemed fitting, when a young man is applying himself to acquire knowledge, to exhort him to do so with love, but this mostly happens when the whole way in which knowledge is presented is not at all likely to develop love in anybody But the essence of love, the giving of oneself to the world and its phenomena, is in any case not regarded as knowledge. Nevertheless for real life love is the greatest power of knowledge. And without this love it is utterly impossible to attain to a knowledge of man which could form the basis of a true art of education. Let us try to picture this love, and see how it can work in the special sphere of an education founded on a knowledge of man drawn from spiritual science, from anthroposophy.

The child is entrusted to us to be educated, to be taught. If our thinking in regard to education is founded on anthroposophy we do not represent the child to ourselves as something we must help to develop so that he approaches nearer and nearer to some social human ideal, or whatever it may be. For this human ideal can be completely abstract. And today such a human ideal has already become something which can assume as many forms as there are political, social and other parties. Human ideals change according to whether one swears by liberalism, conservatism, or by some other programme, and so the child is led slowly in some particular direction in order to become what is held to be right for mankind. This is carried to extreme lengths in present-day Russia. Generally speaking, however, it is more or less how people think today, though perhaps somewhat less radically.

This is no starting point for the teacher who wants to educate and teach on the basis of anthroposophy. He does not make an “idol” of his opinions. For an abstract picture of man, towards which the child shall be led, is an idol, it is in no sense a reality. The only reality which could exist in this field would be at most if the teacher were to consider himself as an ideal and were to say that every child must become like him. Then one would at least have touched on some sort of reality, but the absurdity of saying such a thing would at once be obvious.

What we really have before us in this young child is a being who has not yet begun his physical existence, but has brought down his spirit and soul from pre-earthly worlds, and has plunged into a physical body bestowed on him by parents and ancestors. We look upon this child as he lies there before us in the first days of his life with indeterminate features and with unorganised, undirected movements. We follow day by day, week by week how the features grow more and more defined, and become the expression of what is working to the surface from the inner life of soul. We observe further how the whole life and movements of the child become more consequent and directed, how something of the nature of spirit and soul is working its way to the surface from the inmost depths of his being. Then, filled with holy awe and reverence, we ask: “What is it that is here working its way to the surface?” And so with heart and mind we are led back to the human being himself, when as soul and spirit he dwelt in the soul-spiritual pre-earthly world from which he has descended into the physical world, and we say: “Little child, now that you have entered through birth into earthly existence you are among human beings, but previously you were among spiritual, divine beings.” What once lived among spiritual-divine beings has descended in order to live among men. We see the divine made manifest in the child. We feel as though standing before an altar. There is however one difference. In religious communities it is customary for human beings to bring their sacrificial offerings to the altars, so that these offerings may ascend into the spiritual world; now we feel ourselves standing as it were before an altar turned the other way; now the gods allow their grace to stream down in the form of divine-spiritual beings, so that these beings, acting as messengers of the gods, may unfold what is essentially human on the altar of physical life. We behold in every child the unfolding of cosmic laws of a divine-spiritual nature; we see how God creates in the world. In its highest, most significant form this is revealed in the child. Hence every single child becomes for us a sacred riddle, for every single child embodies this great question — not, how is he to be educated so that he approaches some “idol” which has been thought out. — But, how shall we foster what the gods have sent down to us into the earthly world. We learn to know ourselves as helpers of the divine-spiritual world, and above all we learn to ask: What may be the result if we approach education with this attitude of mind?

Education in the true sense proceeds out of just such an attitude. What matters is that we should develop our education and teaching on the basis of such thoughts as these. Knowledge of man can only be won if love for mankind — in this case love for the child — becomes the mainspring of our work. If this is so, then the teacher's calling becomes a priestly calling, for then the educator becomes the steward of what it is the will of the gods to carry out with man.

Here again it might appear as though something obvious is being said in rather different words. But it is not so. As a matter of fact in today's unsocial world-order, which only wears an outer semblance of being social, the very opposite occurs. Educationists pursue an “idol” for mankind, not seeing themselves as nurturers of something they must first learn to know when actually face to face with the child.

An attitude of mind such as I have described cannot work in an abstract way, it must work spiritually, while always keeping the practical in view. Such an attitude however can never be acquired by accepting theories quite unrelated and alien to life, it can only be gained if one has a feeling, a sense for every expression of life, and can enter with love into all its manifestations.

Today there is a great deal of talk about educational reform. Since the war there has been talk of a revolution in education. We have experienced this. Every possible approach to a new education is thought out, and pretty well everybody is concerned in some way or other with how this reform is to be brought about. Either one approaches some institution about to be founded with one's proposals or at the very least one suggests this or that as one's idea of how education should take shape. And so it goes on. There is a great deal of talk about methods of education; but do you see what kind of impression all this makes when one surveys, quite without prejudice, what the various societies for the reform of education, down to the most radical, put forward today in their educational programmes? I do not know whether many people take into account what kind of impression is made when one is faced with so many programmes issuing from associations and societies for educational reform. One gets the impression: Good heavens, how clever people are today! For indeed everything which comes about like this is frightfully clever. I do not mean this ironically, but quite seriously. There has never been a time when there was so much cleverness as there is in our era.

There we have it, all set out. Paragraph 1. How shall we educate so that the forces of the child may be developed naturally? Paragraph 2 ... Paragraph 3 ... and so on. People today of any profession or occupation, and of any social class can sit down together and work out such programmes; everything we get in this way in paragraphs 1 to 30 will be delightfully clever, for today one knows just how to formulate everything theoretically. People have never been so skilful in formulating things as they are today. Then such a programme, a number of programmes can be submitted to a committee or to Parliament. This again is very clever. Now something may perhaps be deleted or added according to party opinion, and something extremely clever emerges, even if at times strongly coloured by “party.” Nothing can be done with it, however, for all this is quite beside the point.

Waldorf School education never started off with such a programme. I have no wish to boast, but naturally, had this been our purpose, we could also have produced some kind of programme no less clever than those of many an association for educational reform. The fact that we should have to reckon with reality might perhaps prove a hindrance and then the result would be more stupid. With us however there was never any question of a programme. From the outset we were never interested in principles of educational method which might later on be somehow incorporated in a legalised educational system. What did interest us was reality, absolute true reality. What was this reality? To begin with here were children, a number of child-individualities with varying characteristics. One had to learn what these were, one had to get to know what was inherent in these children, what they had brought down with them, what was expressed through their physical bodies. First and foremost then there were the children. And then there were teachers. You can stand up as strongly as you like for the principle that the child must be educated in accordance with his individuality — that stands in all the programmes of reform — but nothing whatever will come of it. For on the other hand, besides the children, there are a number of teachers, and the point is to know what these teachers can accomplish in relation to these children. The school must be run in such a way that one does not set up an abstract ideal, but allows the school to develop out of the teachers and out of the pupils. And these teachers and pupils are not present in an abstract kind of way, but are quite concrete, individual human beings. That is the gist of the matter. Then we are led by virtue of necessity to build up a true education based on a real knowledge of man. We cease to be theoretical and become practical in every detail.

Waldorf School education, the first manifestation of an education based on anthroposophy, is actually the practice of education as an art, and is therefore able to give only indications of what can be done in this or that case. We have no great interest in general theories, but so much the greater is our interest in impulses coming from anthroposophy which can give us a true knowledge of man, beginning, as here of course it must do, with the child. But today our crude observation completely ignores what is most characteristic in the progressive stages of life. I would say that some measure of inspiration must be drawn from spiritual science if today we are to develop a right sense for what should be brought to the child.

At the present time people know extraordinarily little about man and mankind. They imagine that our present state of existence is the same as it was in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, and indeed as it has always been. They picture the ancient Greeks and the ancient Egyptians as being very similar to the man of today. And if we go back still further, according to the views of present-day natural science, history becomes enveloped in mist until those beings emerge which are half ape, half man. No interest is taken, however, in penetrating into the great differences which exist between the historical and pre-historical epochs of mankind.

Let us study the human being as he appears to us today, beginning with the child up to the change of teeth. We see quite clearly that his physical development runs parallel with his development of soul and spirit. Everything that manifests as soul and spirit has its exact counterpart in the physical — both appear together, both develop out of the child together. Then, when the child has come through the change of teeth, we see how the soul is already freeing itself from the body. On the one side we shall be able to follow a development of soul and spirit in the child, and on the other side his physical development. The two sides however are not as yet clearly separated. If we continue to follow the development further into the time between puberty and about the 21st year the separation becomes much more defined and then when we come to the 27th or 28th year — speaking now of present-day humanity — nothing more can be seen of the way in which the soul-spiritual is connected with the physical body. What a man does at this age can be perceived on the one hand in the soul-spiritual life and on the other hand in the physical life, but the two cannot be brought into any sort of connection. At the end of the twenties, man in his soul and spirit has separated himself completely from what is physical, and so it goes on up to the end of his life.

Yet it was not always so. One only believes it to have been so. Spiritual science, studied anthroposophically, shows us clearly and distinctly that what we see in the child today, at the present stage of human evolution — namely, that in his being of soul and spirit the child is completely dependent on his physical bodily nature and his physical bodily nature is completely dependent on his being of soul and spirit — this condition persisted right on into extreme old age — a fact that has simply not been noticed. If we go very far back into those times which gave rise to the conception of the patriarchs and ask ourselves what kind of a man such a patriarch really was, the answer must be somewhat as follows: Such a man, in growing old, changed in respect of his bodily nature, but right into extreme old age he continued to feel as only quite young people can feel today. Even in old age he felt his being of soul and spirit to be dependent on his physical body.

Today we no longer feel our physical body to be dependent upon what we think and feel. A dependence of this kind was however felt in the more ancient epochs of civilisation. But people also felt after a certain age of life that their bones became harder and their muscles contained certain foreign substances which brought about a sclerotic condition. They felt the waning of their life forces, but they also felt with this physical decline an increase of spiritual forces, actually brought about by the breaking up of the physical. “The soul is becoming free from the physical body.” So they said when this process of physical decline began. At the age of the patriarchs, when the body was already breaking up, the soul was most able to wrest itself free from the body, so that it was no longer within it. This is why people looked up to the patriarchs with such devotion and reverence, saying: “O, how will it be with me one day, when I am so old? For in old age one can know things, understand things, penetrate into the heart of things in a way that I cannot do now, because I am still building up my physical body.” At that time man could still look into a world order that was both physical and spiritual. This however was in a very remote past. Then came a time when man felt this interdependence of the physical and the soul-spiritual only until about the 50th year. The Greek age followed. What gives the Greek epoch its special value rests on the fact that the Greeks were still able to feel the harmony between the soul-spiritual and the physical-bodily. The Greek still felt this harmony until the 30th or 40th year. He still experienced in the circulation of the blood what brought the soul into a unity with the physical. The wonderful culture and art of the Greeks was founded on this unity, which transformed everything theoretical into art, and at the same time enfilled art with wisdom.

In those times the sculptor worked in such a way that he needed no model, for in his own organisation he was aware of the forces permeating the arm or the leg, giving them their form. This was learned, for instance, in the festival games; but today when such games are imitated they have no meaning whatever.

If however we have such a sense for the development of mankind then we know what has actually taken place in human evolution. We know too that today we only have a parallelism between the physical-bodily and the soul-spiritual until about the 27th or 28th year, to give a quite exact description. (Most people observe this parallelism only up to the age of puberty.) And so we know how the divine-spiritual springs up and grows out of the developing human being. Then we feel the necessary reverence for our task of developing what comes to meet us in the child, that is to say, of developing what is given to us and not developing those abstract ideas that have been thought out.

Thus our thoughts are directed to a knowledge of man based on what is individual in the soul. And if we have absorbed such universal, great historical aspects, we shall also be able to approach every educational task in an appropriate manner. Then quite another life will be brought into the class when the teacher enters it, for he will carry the world into it, the physical world and the world of soul and spirit. Then he will be surrounded by an atmosphere of reality, of a real and actual conception of the world, not one which is merely thought out and intellectual. Then he will be surrounded by a world imbued with feeling. Now if we consider what has just been put forward we shall realise a remarkable fact. We shall see that we are founding an education which, by degrees, will come to represent in many respects the very opposite of the characteristic impulse in education at the present time. All manner of humorists with some aptitude for caricature often choose the so-called “schoolmaster” as an object which can serve their purpose well and on whom they can let loose their derision. Well, if a schoolmaster is endowed with the necessary humour he can turn the tables on those who have caricatured him before the world. But the real point is something altogether different; for if the teacher, versed in present-day educational methods, carries these into school with him, and has therefore no means of learning to know the child, while nevertheless having to deal with the child, how can he be anything other than a stranger to the world? With the school system as it is today, he cannot become anything else; he is torn right out of the world. So we are faced with a truly remarkable situation. Teachers who are strangers to the world are expected to train human beings so that they may get on and prosper in the world.

Let us imagine however that the things about which we have been speaking today become an accepted point of view. Then the relation of the teacher to the children is such that in each individual child a whole world is revealed to him, and not only a human world, but a divine-spiritual world manifested on earth. In other words the teacher perceives as many aspects of the world as he has children in his charge. Through every child he looks into the wide world. His education becomes art. It is imbued with the consciousness that what is done has a direct effect on the evolution of the world. Teaching in the sense meant here leads the teacher, in his task of educating, of developing human beings, to a lofty conception of the world. Such a teacher is one who becomes able to play a leading part in the great questions that face civilisation. The pupil will never outgrow such a teacher, as is so often the case today. The following situation may arise in a school. Let us suppose that the teacher has to educate according to some idea, some picture of man which he can set before himself. Let us think that he might have 30 children in his class, and among these, led by destiny, were two, who in their inborn capacity, were far more gifted than the teacher himself. What would he want to do in such a case? He would want to form them in accordance with his educational ideal; nothing else would be possible. But how does this work out? Reality does not permit it, and the pupils then outgrow their teacher.

If on the other hand we educate in accordance with reality, if we foster all that manifests in the child as qualities of soul and spirit, we are in the same situation as the gardener is in relation to his plants. Do you think that the gardener knows all these secrets of the plants which he tends? O, these plants contain many, many more secrets than the gardener understands; but he can tend them, and perhaps succeed best in caring for those which he does not yet know. His knowledge rests on practical experience, he has “green fingers.” In the same way it is possible for a teacher who practises an art of education based on reality to stand as educator before children who have genius, even though he himself is certainly no genius. For he knows that he has not to lead his pupils towards some abstract ideal, but that in the child the Divine is working in man, is working right through his physical-bodily nature. If the teacher has this attitude of mind he can actually achieve what has just been said. He achieves it by an outpouring love which permeates his work as educator. It is his attitude of mind which is so essential.

With these words, offered as a kind of greeting, I wanted to give you today some idea of what is to be the content of this course of lectures. They will deal with the educational value of a knowledge of man and the cultural value of education.

Last Modified: 03-Jul-2017
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