Rudolf Steiner Archive


Education at the Waldorf School.

(Note 2)


This article is an exerpt from the book “The Fruits of Anthroposophy — an Introduction to The Work of Dr. Rudolf Steiner”, published in 1922 by The Threefold Commonwealth, London. The book was compiled and edited by George Kaufmann, M.A. Cantab.

THE serious student of Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science, as it is represented by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, cannot fail at some time or other to make the following observation: It will appear to him as though many things, that were indeed around him in the world before, now for the first time become visible and perceptible. The world will astonish him with a flood of facts that come suddenly into his field of vision, arranging themselves in a certain sequence and making him conscious of a vast enrichment both of his store of knowledge and of his inner soul-life. Through the pursuit of Spiritual Science, through a certain self-education in the sense of Spiritual Science, he begins to make his own that which highly-endowed men — painters, musicians, poets, philosophers — already have and possess in their own talents, in their own artistic instincts, have, as it were, as a gift of God.

One may indeed without presumption venture to say that the man who lets himself be penetrated by Anthroposophy is directed to a path where he may find his way consciously into the realm of art.

Especially is this the case with one who has the good fortune to be concerned with the observation and education of children. If he desires to do his work with conviction in the anthroposophical sense, he will before everything else fill his mind with the knowledge of man that flows out of Anthroposophy. How body, soul and spirit work together in man — and especially in the growing child — this will have continually to be the subject of his most earnest study. It will be of the greatest satisfaction to the teacher if through Dr. Steiner's Spiritual Science he can learn to recognise in single concrete instances the connection between body, soul and spirit in the child. For in education it is particularly unsatisfying, particularly discouraging to have to work without real insight into, and knowledge of, this deep connection; while the responsibility resting on the teacher is enormous, nob only for the children, but for the future, which it will be for the children to shape out of the impulses awakened in them by their education. And yet it must be admitted that, in spite of all the experimental Psychology of the present day, not forgetting too all the theories given out with authority concerning the nature of the soul, the teachers of to-day cannot get beyond rather hazy and abstract ideas of the connection between body and soul. There is indeed no one engaged in teaching who will not be able to enter into the feelings of thankfulness with which the teacher receives the anthroposophical knowledge of man and learns to perceive, for example, how the forces working in the child are transformed in the 7th year of his age; how before this period they work as psychic-spiritual forces giving form and shape to the body, and how these moulding processes come to a certain conclusion at the time of the change of teeth, the forces being then set free from the bodily and able to work in their own character as soul-forces, building up the life of ideas and memory in the child. The teacher can now begin to make observations of his own in this direction, to recognise through his own perception the working of these moulding forces in the child, and to make use of them — in the way, for instance, in which he introduces the child to the art of writing. He works with confidence, knowing he is working in the line of the child's development, not against it.

To this fact indeed are due the confidence and joyfulness which characterise the work that is being attempted by the teachers at the Waldorf School in Stuttgart.

If the teacher goes deeply into the understanding of man contained in Anthroposophy, out of the whole fulness of which understanding just one point has been noted, viz. the alteration in the working of the life forces at the time of the change of teeth, then he will experience what I tried to indicate at the beginning of this article. He will contemplate the growing child in a wholly new and a far deeper way, he will acquire an intimate understanding of the child, an understanding that penetrates right to the very details of his bodily figure and bearing.

A few examples may be noted from observations made at the Waldorf School, a school that owes its origin to the impulses of Spiritual Science and is carried on under the guidance of Dr. Steiner. I call a child out, for instance, for him to say something in front of the class. Now it is possible that I may never before have observed what I observe in this child to-day. Rising slowly, as if unwillingly, and supporting himself with both hands on the desk, he approaches with an embarrassed smile, that partly expresses a certain pleasure at the notice taken of him, and has something in it too of fatigue and annoyance at feeling himself disturbed. One notices the heavy eyelids, the round, rather puffy, pale face, the unhappy to-and-fro movement of the body, the spiritless, resigned smile, with which he receives a gentle rebuke for his not altogether satisfactory performance. One recognises in him the phlegmatic temperament, feeling at the same time that his melancholy is conditioned by an unsound constitution, and that if this were overcome, the boy would not be lacking in a certain vigour and manliness.

If a teacher has once had the experience — and it is an experience that is actually possible — of thus feeling his way right into the temperament of a child, he is encouraged to believe that in the case of the other pupils also, who are entrusted to his care, he will in course of time be able to penetrate behind the outward appearance and to solve the riddles of their individualities. He will of course, in making such observations of the children, not confine himself to what they shew him in the school hours, but observe them on walks, during intervals, in their relationships with the other children.

To take another instance. A square-built, but sturdy and active little person, with a shock of curly hair, sits through the lessons as if in a dream, wrapt up in all kinds of affairs of his own, looks surprised and taken unawares if he is called upon to do anything, flushes up and is deeply hurt at the slightest rebuke, joining in with eagerness only when something very special is expected of the class. Observe the same child at play, and you will see him taking the part of the high-spirited leader of his playfellows, the most brilliant, the most pugnacious, the most cheery of them all. Evidently a boy with a choleric temperament; he only works in a phlegmatic manner, when his interest is not aroused from within and out of his own free will.

The manner in which a child reacts to the lesson will be a matter of no small interest to the teacher. Here is a child, for instance, continually holding up his hand, joining in with intense keenness, raising himself on his seat, glancing up with an expression of delight on his face, pleased with everything all the time, whether because he knows it already or because it is something he is eagerly wanting to know. Here again is another, whose disposition finds a different expression. After the teacher has finished and is passing on to a fresh subject, or else the school hours are at an end, he quietly leaves his seat, and approaching the teacher with earnest gaze asks a question in a half whisper, relating to what the teacher has been telling them, either wanting to carry the matter to a fuller completion, or indicating something that puzzled him, that was not quite clear. By such signs can we recognise the sanguine and the melancholic respectively among our pupils.

The teacher who lets the anthroposophic knowledge of man work upon his thought and feeling, comes, as we have seen, to a kind of artistic vision of the growing child, who is to him as individual, as full of mystery and enigma, as is every great work of art. But this is not all. Out of such a vision of the child proceeds also the manner in which the lesson is handled, the actual art of teaching. Not that the teacher consciously converts the knowledge of the child that he has acquired — whether by study or by his own observation — into educational formulae, into pedagogic maxims. The process is a more instinctive one than that.

In the first place, the children gradually sift themselves out for the teacher. According to their characteristics, according to their different dispositions, they form themselves into certain groups. This means for the teachers in the Waldorf School an actual assistance, an actual lightening of their work. Children who With all their individual differences yet show a real similarity of temperament are placed together in groups, and thus is provided a natural solution to one great difficulty in teaching. Imagine a teacher standing up before a large class of children, who are sitting all in confusion, not according to any inner law, just as for the untrained eye the stars stand arbitrarily in the heavens at night! How is he to comprehend his class, how is he to set to work with such a crowd of children so that each individual child may find his right place? This difficulty it is that gives rise to the cry for small classes. But it is for the teacher to carry out the task — and it is no light task, and is only possible on the foundation of a spiritual understanding of man — the task of so sounding the children in the depths of their being as to be able to sort them out into groups according to their peculiar temperaments. By this means order and harmony are brought in, where before was confusion, and it is then possible to conduct lessons in large classes; for as far as the actual class instruction is concerned, instead of having to handle a great number of particular children as so many individuals, the teacher is able to handle particular groups of children whose inner natures resemble one another.

The effect of such group classification may be illustrated by reference to a history class of children of 11 and 12 years old. After classification, the lessons took on a form somewhat as follows:

Here sits a group of contented happy-go-lucky children, most of them of slender and well-proportioned figure. They look about them in a lively manner, and are fond of stealing a glance through the window or a chat with the boy or girl sitting next them. They enjoy the lesson and are all attention, but they enjoy just as well to have their attention drawn away by something of no importance. Instinctively, without hesitation, one would call upon these children to point out, for example, on the map the line of march of Alexander the Great. Pictures of Ionic and Doric pillars they looked at with interest; they could give good descriptions of them, pointing out their differences, and were delighted to make models of them in plasticine, which they did with a fair measure of success. Their attention was easily gained for everything that could be seen and looked at; in this way one could meet their instinctive interest in the outside world, and turn it to good purpose.

But now if one were relating to the children the story, for example, of Alexander taming the wild horse Bucephalus, and how from a very child the desire of fame burned in his soul, how he cut the Gordian knot with his sword, how he swam through raging torrents, and so forth, one would turn to the group of children who follow with the closest attention whatever inspires them and arouses their human interest, who are full of life and enthusiasm when the subject matter in hand is such as to stir their feelings, but whose attention flags at once, directly the personal interest is at an end. One turned, once again almost instinctively, to these children in relating the stories, and one would call upon them too to tell them back again to the class. Being approached in this way, they will in due time show results in their work in accordance with their temperament; whilst the presentation of an example of heroism such as they cannot themselves yet attain, tends to allay a little their self-assurance, which is generally not inconsiderable.

Yet a third group of children are sitting quiet and good, but all too inclined to do their work in a sleepy, uninterested fashion. One can see among them pleasant round-faced, comfortable looking little people, with smoothly brushed hair and an expression that is thoroughly good-natured, if at times a trifle dull and slow. The first thing to be done with them is to wake them up, they must somehow or other be induced to listen and attend; one may even resort, as it were in jest, to some such device as culling upon them suddenly to pull their right ear with their left hand!

When they do however once give their mind to the lesson, they retain what they hear faithfully and in orderly sequence, and they enjoy repeating it over. These were the children to call upon, when one wanted some events of history correctly set forth and related, and they never tired of going over the same events. Only they do not express themselves easily in speech, they prefer to do so in writing and, given plenty of time, will do this well, in a neat clear hand. A certain balance and rhythm in life is an actual need for children of this kind; their love of order and their trustworthiness make them a valuable element in the class and give it a certain stability. Where the sleepiness is excessive, and goes with a dull brooding melancholy, the task of the teacher is indeed difficult. Experience shows, however, that such a child does take in, during a history lesson, considerably more than his apparent listlessness would lead one to suppose.

Once again, occasions arose in the course of the lessons when it was desired to direct the children's attention to the deep historical connections, to give them an understanding of how one great epoch of culture differs from another — let us say, the Egyptian from the Greek — and so lead them to select from the descriptions they had heard what is symptomatic in each and to compare them. This time one would find the greatest support in the group of children who bring to what the teacher has to give a thoughtful understanding, who are already able to grasp, if not actual ideas, something of the nature of ideas, something that for the other children remains still in the background of consciousness. They can understand, for instance, how the life of Alexander the Great is symptomatic of an entirely new impulse in the world's history, how it points to a culture that rests on the development of personality, a culture that in the time of Aristides the Just had not yet begun to work in Greece; they can enter into such thoughts and reflect upon them, and in this way the inclination not infrequently shown by such children already at their early age to be pensive and brooding, and even introspective, will be diverted to the great facts of history and their deep connections. These form a strengthening and health-giving food for mind and soul, for the growing child from let us say 12 years onwards, and especially for children of this more melancholic tendency. The response of their more developed power of thought and reflection makes them a source of great joy to the teacher, they stand indeed at not so great a distance from the grown-up mind and outlook as do children of other temperaments.

Thus can the child of every kind of temperament have his value in the class; every kind is absolutely necessary in its place, every kind completes the others, even leaves the others lagging helplessly behind if it is wanting. It will be readily seen that this arranging of the children according to inclination and talent will help very greatly to the promotion of the right kind of social outlook. There is indeed no question that by its means the children have already developed quite a strong sense of their need of one another and their power to supplement one another in class — altogether irrespective of whether they come from a High School, a “School for Young Ladies,” an Elementary or a Secondary School. The seed of a social understanding is one of the most gratifying signs the class teacher can observe as a result of his method of teaching. Light will also be thrown by these considerations on the ruthless one-sidedness of what is known as the selection of “promising” scholars.

A further effect of this intimate understanding of the child is to be found in the special character it gives to the relationship of the teacher to his pupils. The loving concern, with which it must be the aim of the teacher to meet every child entrusted to his care, grows, and gradually outgrows even the personal sympathies and antipathies which very naturally arise in the first place in respect to a great number of the children. This loving understanding takes the place of a more moral judgment and estimation of character, and makes of course a great difference to the attitude of mind with which the teacher approaches the pupil. Eliminating as far as possible all personal feelings, he confronts the child as a phenomenon, as an object to which he consciously gives himself up in order that the law of its being may declare itself in his soul; and the remarkable thing is that, with all this apparent coldness, with all this impersonality, the human relationship does not suffer. Out of the interest that seeks to enquire and to know, there begins to grow up a true love, resting on real fact and knowledge and uniting teacher and child with a depth and freedom of intercourse hitherto undreamt of.

In their school years, mid especially between the ages of 7 and 14, it is right and natural that children should without any compulsion look upon their teacher as an authority and respect him as such. It is quite pathetic to observe how children, to whom the chance is denied of looking up to persons really worthy of their respect and reverence, try to make up for the loss, choosing either someone they have met in real life or else a figure in history or literature, and, with the help of a vivid imagination, turning this person into the example, the hen, that they need.

The question may be asked — it is often asked of the teachers in the Waldorf School — what is the effect of such an authority-relationship in the best sense of the world? We are not now speaking of its effect on the lesson as such, but on the moral education of the children and on what is known as school discipline.

A year and a half's teaching in the Waldorf School, during which time one has tried to establish such a relation between pupil and teacher, has brought many interesting experiences bearing on this question.

The children were aware of an emancipation from the customary coercive methods, and the discipline suffered accordingly. At first this was disturbing to the progress of the lesson, and the children themselves felt it to be so. It often happened indeed that they sought to help matters, exhorting each other to be quiet and to attend. Punishments had also to be resorted to.

As the year went on, however, it became increasingly evident that, as punishment could only be of use when carried out consistently and repeatedly, its introduction made ail too easy the return of the old relationship of distrust between teacher and pupil. One was more and more persuaded that the very best means of education — taking the word in its widest sense and to include education through discipline — lies to the teacher's hand in the subject matter of the lesson itself, and in the handling of it; it is not to be found in tasks and punishments lying outside the scope of the lesson, nor even in a strong personal influence over the children. Setting aside exceptional cases, it is indeed in and through the actual teaching alone that the personal relation with the children should make itself felt. For example, the turning point in the discipline difficulty in a certain large class of children was reached, and a marked improvement began to shew itself, when the knowledge of the plant world was opened up to them — opened up in all the method and clearness made possible by its penetration with Spiritual Science. Children's feelings are more pure and unbiassed than those of grown people, and these children divined the fulness of that knowledge that is finding its way to man through Spiritual Science and whose treasures the teacher was bringing within their reach. Not that the teacher was giving them Anthroposophy, far from it; Anthroposophy would of necessity have been to them of the nature of dogma; but he was directing them to connections that they could really find in the world and understand and see for themselves. In this way their eyes were opened to many things hitherto unnoticed, many things that were there all the time, but generally never brought near to them at all. They divined how much that is interesting and wonderful and mysterious lies hidden in the universe, they felt something living in the soul of their grown-up teacher which they with their childish understanding were not yet able to reach. And the result of this was not only that the children of their own free will accepted the position of subordination to the teacher, it also widened out their too often narrow horizon, gave them a larger outlook and a happiness which was for them every bit as real and whole-hearted as the happiness they felt in play or in companionship. Especially, for instance, in the case of girls approaching the “flapper” age and apt to find pleasure in all sorts of frivolous and foolish things, one could observe excellent results from teaching of this kind. The joy in the great world, the feeling of oneness with the world around them, which they were beginning to be able dimly to apprehend, could be more and more fully awakened in the children, and the effect of this again on conduct and behaviour was far greater than one would perhaps at first imagine.

There is one thing that all children enter into with great animation, and that is the stories that are told them. In the light of Anthroposophy it becomes clear to the teacher that when he wants to make an impression on the memory and the will of small children, he will do this with the most lasting effect by clothing what he has to teach in the form of parables and allegories. Parables and allegories, that is, of whose inner truth he is himself convinced in his inmost soul.

In this connection the whole attitude of mind of the teacher and his relationship with the children are of the utmost importance. It was found again and again that when an allegorical story of this kind was being told to the children, they would sit drinking it in in breathless silence, with full and undivided attention; provided, that is, the story were the outcome of the teacher's own work and thought, and not just one that he had read somewhere or other and deemed suitable for the occasion. Never did one feel so close to the children as in such moments. The experience that teacher and children have gone through together in this way — the teacher, out of his own knowledge of the children, giving them in the form of pictures what will meet the needs of their moral life — such an experience has an influence that spreads over the whole of the life they share together. No disciplinary measures, no education in morals by means of discussion and appeal to the reason, can compare with the deep and lasting impression made by parable and allegory. Many instances could be cited, when boys of about 9 or 10 years of age, who were by nature very difficult to manage and who were a considerable source of disturbance to the conduct of the class as a whole, have made a most satisfactory change for the better after the repeated narration in class of such stories.

Children have a touch of genius; they live with their whole being, they do not want to take things in only through their head! What is put in artistic form makes the strongest appeal to them, they understand it, it remains fixed in their memory, it takes hold of their feeling and their will.

It often happens that the conduct at school of an individual child may give the teacher occasion to single him out with the definite purpose of working upon him for his good. Almost every class has its child, who through his continued restlessness, inattention and mischievous behaviour drives his teacher as well as his fellow-pupils to despair. The causes of such a state of things may be many and various; in addition to an inner weakness of character, nervousness and ill-health of some sort are often present. With these children the teacher will go very carefully to work, knowing that probably at home they are just as troublesome and are accustomed there to be scolded, beaten and punished. Not infrequently there are signs of an inward discontent, at times of an unhappiness bordering on bitterness, and the very features, though the features of a child, may assume an evil, sullen expression. The teacher will bear in mind that he will effect no real change in the child by exercising a sudden restraint on each occasion of disturbance, still less by checking with severe measures every outward expression of naughtiness. The child bottles up his naughty feelings, and they will be absolutely sure to come out later in some far worse, perhaps morbid form, it may be when he is growing up into manhood and is no longer under the eye of the teacher.

On the basis of advice given by Dr. Steiner to the Waldorf School teachers, the experiment was made of handling such children in the following manner. One did not come down on them in the very act of some breach of discipline and punish them for it on the spot; but, so far as was possible without disturbance to the lesson, let them go their way, always however keeping an eye upon them. One noted silently all they did, remaining at the same time quite calm and friendly and refraining from blame. Handled In this way, a child did not get into that irritated condition, that a perpetual fault-finding was apt to induce, and that was spoiling his work in the class. Next morning, at the beginning of the lesson, the teacher recalled to him, shortly but impressively,, his behaviour on the previous day, in such a manner that the child could not but perceive he was being met with real sympathy and that the teacher had an honest desire to help him. He was still fresh from his night's sleep, peaceful, and in a manner receptive, as he by no means was later in the day. Nothing had yet occurred to irritate him, and generally he was very ready to make good resolutions and to be put on his guard. I was able to observe good results in the case of a boy, with whom before using this method one could do absolutely nothing, and whom even his school-fellows all looked upon as the bane of the class. The child was inclined to be melancholy and to feel himself in the black books of the whole world; so one had at the same time to encourage him by laying especial stress on his few good points, such as, for example, a neat handwriting or a readiness to lend a hand when help was wanted. This much at any rate has been attained; the boy feels he belongs to the class, has his place in it and, in his right place, is a necessary member of it. It is to be hoped that this will also react favourably on his unpleasing physiognomy and his physical health.

In the case of some children an influence on their moral development may be greatly assisted by the use of the principle of repetition. Whatever they have to say and do over and over again impresses itself deeply upon them and has a strengthening influence on the will. If a child for instance showed a particular failing, quite his own, it was possible in certain cases to have a helpful influence by putting into a short sentence — preferably rhythmical — or into a verse, whatever a deep insight into his nature led one to desire to impress upon him. The child had then to repeat this at a fixed time every day. Such sayings, not of course tedious moralisings, but short pregnant sayings, will naturally vary greatly according to the individuality of the child. The faculty which Dr. Steiner in his “Philosophy of Freedom” (Note 3) calls “moral imagination” will indeed be indispensable to every teacher. He will need it if he is going to meet with presence of mind the various problems that face him in his educational work, meet them in such a way as to find their answer and solution: he will need it in his dealings with each individual child. He can attain the faculty by making a thorough study of the knowledge of man as it is contained in Anthroposophy.

The point of view here expressed will be contested in many particulars by teachers as well as by others who feel themselves equally qualified to judge of educational questions. The opinion will be put forward that the educational ideas and the particular teaching methods that are growing up out of Anthroposophy are by no means new and are to be found either in old-established educational theories or in modern schemes of educational reform. Many also hold that the important thing for the teacher is not so much whether he has a grasp of the anthroposophic knowledge of man, but rather whether he has an inborn gift for teaching. Now it may well be that some of the conclusions resulting from spiritual scientific investigation have also been reached by the experience and observation of modern teachers and psychologists; for example, the changes that Spiritual Science discovers in the development of the child at the 7th, 9th, 12th and 14th year respectively. No one however can point to a school now being carried on where the method of teaching, the whole formation of the curriculum, are systematically ordered in the light of these conclusions. To learn to know in all their detail the laws that govern the development of the child's inner nature, as these manifest themselves to supersensible research, and with sureness of aim to build up one's whole method of instruction in accordance with them — this is something wholly and absolutely new in the domain of pedagogy. And it is to this task, to this duty that the teachers of the Waldorf School are again and again being called and directed. These teachers know that in the present condition of things in the world mankind can no longer rely on teaching instincts, however definite in their aim, nor on an inborn gift for teaching; but that a true Art of Education springs from a science of man, a science of man grasped with full consciousness and taking into account the supersensible as well as the sensible part of his being. Such an Art of Education can indeed only appear in its full beauty, in its full maturity, within a completely free and independent spiritual life; nevertheless those who have the good fortune to be teaching in the Waldorf School under the guidance of Dr. Steiner, can already out of their own experience thankfully record their conviction that the education born of Spiritual Science will in the future, as it extends to more and more children, bear beautiful fruit for the healing and advancement of mankind.

Note 2:
From the opening number of “Die Drei” (see Bibliography, 307) by kind permission of the Publishers. Translation by Mary Kaufmann, B.A. For introductory remarks, see pp. 57-59, also Section VII. in the Appendix.
Note 3:
The Philosophy of Freedom” by Rudolf Steiner. See Bibliography, No. 15.

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