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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

I. Introduction—Aphoristic remarks on Artistic Activity, Arithmetic, Reading, and Writing

21 August 1919, Stuttgart

To these lectures I wish to provide a kind of introduction; for even in our actual teaching methods we shall have to distinguish them—with all due modesty—from the methods which have evolved in our time on quite other assumptions than those which we must make. Our methods are not different from those others just because we want capriciously something “new” or “different,” but because the tasks of our particular age will compel us to realize the course which must be taken by education itself for humanity, if it is to answer in the future to the impulses towards development predestined in the human race by the universal world order.

Above all, we shall have to be aware, in our method, that we are concerned with a certain harmonizing of the spirit and soul with the physical-body. You will not, of course, be able to use the materials of study as they have been used hitherto. You will have to use them as the means of rightly developing the soul and body forces of the individual. And so you will not be concerned with the handing down of a province of knowledge as such, but with manipulating this province of knowledge in order to develop human abilities. You will have to distinguish, above all, between the material of knowledge which is really determined by convention, by human agreement—even if it is not admitted in so many words—and the materials of knowledge which depend on an understanding of human nature in general.

Just consider superficially the actual position, in general culture, of the reading and writing which you impart to the child to-day. We read, but the art of reading has naturally developed in the course of civilization. The letter-forms which have arisen, the combination of these various letter-forms, is all a matter determined by convention. In teaching the child the present form of reading, we teach him what, apart from the place of the individual within a quite definite culture, has no significance at all for the human entity. We must be aware that other practices of our physical culture have no direct meaning for super-physical humanity, for the super-physical world at all. It is quite wrong to believe, as spiritist circles sometimes do, that spirits wrote the human writing in order to bring it into the physical world. Human writing has arisen from human activity, from human convention on the physical plane. The spirits are not in the least interested in accommodating themselves to this physical convention. Even if the intervention of the spirits is a fact, it is in the form of special translation by means of intermediary human activity; it is not a direct gesture of the spirit itself, a communication into this form of writing or reading of its living essence. The reading and writing which you teach the child are determined by convention; they have arisen within the action of the physical body.

Teaching the child arithmetic is quite another thing. You will feel that here the most important thing is not the forms of the figures, but the reality that lives in the figure-forms. And this living reality alone is of more importance to the spiritual world than the reality living in reading and writing. And if we proceed further to teach the child certain activities which we must call artistic, we enter with them into the sphere which always has eternal significance, which reaches up into the activity of the spirit and soul in man. In teaching children reading and writing we are teaching in the domain of the most exclusively physical. Our teaching is already less physical in arithmetic, and we are really teaching the soul and the spirit when we teach the child music, drawing, or anything of that kind.

Now in a rationally pursued course of study we can combine these three impulses, the super-physical in the artistic activity, the semi-super-physical in arithmetic, and the entirely physical in reading and writing, and just this combination will bring about the harmonizing of the individual. Imagine that we approach the child in this way (this lecture is merely introductory, and only aphoristic individual instances will be given): we say: “You have already seen a fish. Now just try to get a clear idea of what it looked like—this fish that you saw. If I make this for you (see drawing) it looks very like a fish. What you saw as a fish looks something like what you see there on the board. Now just imagine that you are saying the word fish. What you say when you say ‘fish’ is expressed by this sign.

Diagram 1

“Now just try not to say ‘fish,’ but only to start saying ‘fish.’ We now try to show the child that he must only begin saying ‘fish:’ F-f-f-f. Now look, you have started now to say ‘fish;’ and now picture to yourself that people gradually came to simplify what you see there. In starting to say ‘fish,’ F-f-f-f-, you are saying, and writing for it, this sign. And people call this sign ‘f’.

Diagram 1

“So you have learned that what you say when you say ‘fish’ begins with f and now you write that as f. You always breathe f-f-f- when you start to say fish; in this way you learn what the sign was for saying fish in the very beginning.”

When you set about appealing to the child's nature in this way, you transport the child right back into earlier civilizations, for that is when writing first arose. Later the process passed into a mere convention, so that to-day we no longer recognize the connection between the abstract letter-forms and the images which arose purely as signs from the contemplation and imitation of what was observed. All letter-forms have arisen from pictorial shapes. And now think how, when you only teach the child the convention: “You are to make an f like this!” you are teaching him something quite disconnected, and out of its context with the human setting. Writing is then dislodged from its original setting: the artistic element. Therefore we must begin, in teaching to write, with the artistic drawing of the shapes—of the sound and letter-shapes—if we want to go so far back that the child is struck by the difference in shapes. It is not enough merely to form these shapes before the child with our mouth, for that makes people what they have become to-day. In dislodging the written shape from what is now convention and showing its original source, we compass the whole being and make it something quite different from what it would be if we simply appealed to perception. So we must not only think in abstracto. We must teach art in drawing, etc.; we must impart the psychic element in teaching arithmetic, and we must teach the conventional element of reading and writing artistically; we must permeate our whole teaching with the artistic element. Consequently, from the first we shall attach great importance to cultivating the artistic element in the child. The artistic element, as is well known, has a quite exceptional influence on the will. With its help we penetrate to something connected with the whole individual, whereas what is concerned with convention only affects the head, “head-man” (kopfmensch). Consequently, we proceed by letting every child cultivate something to do with drawing and painting. Thus we begin with drawing, the drawing-painting in the simplest way. But we begin, too, with the musical element, so that the child is accustomed from the first to handle an instrument, so that the artistic feeling is awakened in him. Then he will develop, as well, the power to feel with his whole being what is otherwise merely conventional.

It is our task in the study of method always to engage the whole individual. We could not do this without focussing our attention on the development of an artistic feeling with which the individual is endowed. This will also dispose the individual later to take an interest in the whole world as far as his nature permits. The fundamental error until now has always been that people have set themselves up in the world with nothing but their heads; they have at the most dragged the rest of their bodies after them. And the result is that the other parts now follow the lead of their animal impulses and live themselves out emotionally—as we are experiencing just now in the very curious wave of emotionalism which has spread from East Europe. This has occurred because the whole individual has not been cultivated. But it is not only that the artistic element must be cultivated, too, but the whole of our teaching must be drawn from the artistic element. All method must be immersed in the artistic element. Education and teaching must become a real art. Here, too, knowledge must not be more than the underlying basis.

Therefore we first extract from the element of drawing the written forms of the letters, then the printed forms. We build up reading on drawing. In this way you will soon see that we strike a chord to which the child-like soul loves to vibrate in harmony, because the child has then not only an external interest, but because, for instance, it sees, in actual fact, the coming to expression in reading and writing of its own breath.

We shall then have to rearrange much in our teaching. You will see that what we are aiming at in reading and writing can naturally not be built up exclusively in the way just described, but we shall only be able to awaken the forces necessary to such a superstructure. For if we were to try in modern life to build up all our teaching on the process of evolving reading and writing from a setting of drawing, we should need to spend the time up to the twentieth year over it; we should never finish in the school-life. We can only carry it out, then, first of all, in principle—and must, in spite of it, pass on, but while still remaining in the artistic element. When we have drawn out isolated instances in this way for a time, we must go on to make the child understand that grown-up people, when they have these peculiar forms in front of them, discover a meaning in them. While cultivating further what the child has learnt like this from isolated instances, we pass on—no matter whether the child understands the details or not—to write out sentences. In these sentences the child will then notice forms such as he has become familiar with in the f of fish. He will then notice other forms, next to these, which we are unable to show in their original setting for lack of time. We then proceed to draw on the board what the separate letters look like in print, and one day we write a long sentence on the board and say to the child: “Now grown-ups have all this in front of them when they have developed all that we have seen to be the f in fish, etc. Then we teach the child to copy writing. We lay stress upon his feeling with his hands whatever he sees, on his not merely reading with his eye, but on his following the shape with his hands, and on his knowing that he himself can shape all that is on the board, just so. He will then not learn to read without his hand following the shapes of what he sees, of the printed letters too. Thus we succeed—which is extraordinarily important—in seeing that reading is never done with the mere eye but that the activity of the eye passes mysteriously over into the entire activity of the human limbs. The children then feel unconsciously, right down into their legs, what they would otherwise only survey with the eye. We must endeavour to interest the whole being of the child in this activity.”

Then we go the opposite way: we split up the sentence we have written down, and show the other letter-shapes which we have not yet brought out of their element; we split up and divide, by atomizing, the words, and we go from the whole to the separate parts. For example, here stands the word “head.” The child first learns to write down “head,” just painting the word as a copy. Then we split the word “head” into h-e-a-d; we bring the separate letters out of the word, and thus go from the whole to the separate parts.

We continue, in fact, throughout our teaching to pass like this from the whole to the part. We divide, for instance, a piece of paper into a number of little paper shreds. Then we count these shreds; let us suppose that there are twenty-four. Then we say to the child: “Just look, I describe these paper shreds by what I have written on the board and call them: twenty-four paper shreds. [They might be beans just as well, of course.] Now notice that. Now I take a number of paper shreds away, I put them on a little pile; I make another little heap here, and there a third, and there a fourth; now I have made four little heaps out of the twenty-four paper shreds. Now watch: I will now count them; you can't do that yet, but I can, and what is lying on that little heap I call nine paper shreds, and what is lying on the second little heap I call five paper shreds, and what is lying on the third I call seven paper shreds, and what is lying on the fourth little heap I call three paper shreds. You see, before, I had a single heap: twenty-four paper shreds; now I have four little heaps: nine, five, seven, three paper shreds. That is all the same paper. The first time, when I have it altogether, I call it twenty-four; now I have divided it into four little heaps and call it, now nine, then five, then seven, and then three paper shreds.” Now I say: “Twenty-four paper shreds are, altogether, nine and five and seven and three.” Now I have taught the child to add up. That is, I have not started from the separate addenda and formed the sum from them. That is never the way of our original primitive human nature. (I refer you for this to my Outlines of a Theory of Knowledge Belonging to the Goethean World-Conception.) But the opposite process is the way of human nature: seeing the sum first, and then dividing it up into the separate addenda, so that we must teach the child to add in the opposite way to what is usually taught; we must start with the sum and then go to the addenda. Then the child will have a better idea of what “together” means, than he has had up to now from our picking the parts up and putting them together. Our teaching will have to be distinguished from teaching hitherto by the fact that we have to teach the child in more or less the opposite way what “sum” means in contrast to the “addenda.” Then we can rely on the response of a quite different understanding from that aroused by the opposite procedure. You will actually only see the full value of this from practice. For you will see the child enter quite differently into the subject; you will notice a quite different capacity for understanding in the child, if you go the way I have described.

You can then go the opposite way and continue your arithmetic. You can say: “Now I throw these paper shreds all together again, and make two little heaps, and I call the little heap which I have left quite separate, three. How have I got this three? By taking it away from the others. When it was still all together I called it twenty-four; now I have taken three away and now I call what is left twenty-one.” In this way you introduce the idea of subtraction. That is, again, you do not start from minuend and subtrahend, but from the remainder, from what is left, and you lead from this to what the remainder came from. Here, too, you proceed the opposite way. And—as we shall see later in the method of special subjects—you can apply to the whole art of arithmetic the process of going from the whole to the part. In this connection we shall doubtless have to accustom ourselves to adhere to a quite different course of instruction. We proceed here to cultivate, at the same time as “object lessons”—which we must never neglect, but which should not be too exclusively emphasized as they seem to be to-day—the sensitiveness to authority. For we are continually saying: I call that twenty-four. I call that nine. In emphasizing, in anthroposophical lectures, the point that between seven and fourteen years of age the feeling for authority should be cultivated, that does not mean that a training is required to produce this feeling for authority, but what is necessary can flow from the very method of instruction itself. Its influence is present like an undertone; when the child listens, he says: “Aha, he calls that nine, he calls that twenty-four,” etc. He obeys voluntarily, at once. Through listening like this to the person who uses this method the child is inoculated by what expresses itself as a sensitiveness to authority. That is the secret. Any artificial training of the feeling for authority must be excluded by the method or technique itself.

Then we must be quite clear that we always want to let three things work in unison: will, feeling, and thinking. When we teach on these lines, willing, feeling, and thinking are actually working together. The point is never to pervert the willing by false means into the wrong direction, but to secure the strengthening of the will by artistic means. To this end, from the first, teaching in painting, artistic instruction, and musical training, too, should be employed.

We shall notice incidentally that particularly in the first stage of the second period of his life, the child is most susceptible to authoritative teaching in the form of art and that we then can achieve the most for him with art. He will grow as if of himself into what we desire to pass on to him, and his greatest imaginable joy will be when he puts something down on paper in drawing or even in painting, which, however, must not be confused with any merely superficial imitation. Here, too, we must remember in teaching that we must transport the child, in a sense, into earlier cultural epochs, but that we cannot proceed as though we were still in these epochs. People were different then. You will transport the child into earlier cultural epochs now with quite a different disposition of soul and spirit. So, in drawing, we shall not be bent on saying: You must copy this or that, but we show him original forms in drawing; we show him how to make one angle like this, another like that; we try to show him what a circle is, what a spiral is. We then start with self-contained form, not with whether the form imitates this or that, but we try to awaken his interest in the form itself.

You may remember the lecture in which I tried to awaken a sense of the origin of the acanthus leaf. I then explained that the idea that people imitated the leaf of the acanthus plant in the form in which it appears in legend is quite false; the truth is that the acanthus leaf simply arose from an inner impulse to form, and people felt later: That resembles nature. Nature was not copied. We shall have to bear this in mind with drawing and painting. Then at last there will be an end of the fearful error which devastates human minds so sadly. When people meet with something formed by man, they say: It is natural—it is unnatural. But a mere correct imitation is of secondary importance. Resemblance to the external world should only appear as something secondary. Rather in man should live an impulse of becoming one with growing forces of the form itself. One must have, even when drawing a nose, some inner relation with the nose-form itself, and only later does the resemblance to the nose result. The inner meaning for forms one would never be able to awaken between the age of seven and fourteen by merely copying the forms outside. But one must realize the inner creative element which can be developed between seven and fourteen. If one misses this inner creative element at such a time, it never can be retrieved. The forces active at that time die away after; later, one can get at the most a makeshift, unless a transformation of the individual occurs in what we call “initiation,” natural or unnatural.

I am now going to say something unusual, we must go back to the principles of human nature if we wish to be teachers in the true sense to-day. There are exceptions, when an individual can still recover some omitted experience. But then he must have been through a severe illness, or must have suffered some deformation or other, have broken a leg, for instance, which is then not properly set; that is, he must have suffered a certain loosening of the etheric body from the physical body. That is, of course, dangerous. If it happens through Karma it must be accepted. But we cannot treat it as a calculable quantity, or give any guarantee for public life that a person can recover some thing thus missed—not to mention other things. The development of the individual is mysterious, and the aim of instruction and education must never be concerned with the abnormal, but always with the normal. Teaching is always a social matter. The problem must always be: In what year must the development of certain forces take place, so that this development establishes the individual securely in life? So we must reckon with the fact that it is only between the seventh and fourteenth year that certain abilities can be cultivated in such a way that the individual can stand his ground in the battle of life. If these abilities are not cultivated at this time, the individual concerned will not be equal to the battle of life, but will have to succumb to it, as most people do to-day.

This ability to secure an artistic footing in the world's rush must be our gift as educators to the child. We shall then notice that it is man's nature, up to a point, to be born a “musician.” If people had the right and necessary agility they would dance with all little children, they would somehow join in the movements of all children. It is a fact that the individual is born into the world with the desire to bring his own body into a musical rhythm, into a musical relation with the world, and this inner musical capacity is most active in children in their third and fourth years. Parents can do an enormous amount, if they only take care to build less on externally induced music than on the inducement of the whole body, the dancing element. And precisely in this third and fourth year infinite results could be achieved by the permeation of the child's body with an elementary Eurhythmy. If parents would learn to engage in Eurhythmy with the child, children would be quite different from what they are. They would overcome a certain heaviness which weighs down their limbs. We all to-day have this heaviness in our limbs. It would be overcome. And there would remain in the child when the first teeth are shed the disposition for the complete musical element. The separate senses, the musically attuned ear, the plastically skilled eye, arise first from this musical disposition; what we call the musical ear, or the eye for drawing or modelling, is a specification of the whole musical individual. Consequently, we must always cherish the idea that in drawing on the artistic element we assimilate into the higher man, into the nerve-sense-being, the disposition of the entire being. You elevate feeling into an intellectual experience in utilizing either the musical element or the element of drawing or modelling. That must be done in the right way. Everything to-day is in confusion, particularly where the artistic element is being cultivated. We draw with the hands, and we model with the hands—and yet the two things are completely different. This is most striking when we introduce children to art. When we introduce children to plastic art, we must pay as much attention as possible to seeing that they follow the plastic forms with the hands. When the child feels his own forming, when he moves his hand and makes something in drawing, we can help him to follow the forms with his eye—but with the will acting through the eye. It is in no way a violation of the naivety in the child to instruct him to feel this, to feel over the form of the body with the hollow of his hand. When, for instance, he is tracing the curves of a circle, we draw his attention to the eye, and tell him that he himself makes a circle with his eye. This is absolutely in no sense a violation of the child's naivety, but it engages the interest of the whole being. Consequently, we must realize that we are transporting the lower being of the individual into the higher being, into the nerve-sense-being.

In this way we shall win a certain deep-lying sense of method which we must develop in ourselves as educators and teachers, and which we cannot transfer directly to anyone else. Imagine that we have an individual before us to teach and educate—a child. In these days the vision of the growing being is completely disappearing from education; everything is in confusion. But we must accustom ourselves to distinguish between differences in our vision of this child. We must accompany, as it were, our teaching and educating with inner sensations, with inner feelings, even with inner stirrings of the will, which are only heard, as it were, in a lower octave, and which are not brought out. We must be conscious ourselves that in the growing child there evolve gradually the ego and the astral body; the etheric body and the physical body are already there, inherited.1See Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy, Occult Science. Now it is well for us to picture: The physical body and the etheric body are always particularly cultivated from the head downwards. The head radiates what really creates the physical man. If we follow the right course of education and instruction for the head, we best serve the growth-system. If we teach the child in such a way that we draw out the head-element from the whole being, the right experiences pass from his head into his limbs: the individual grows better, he learns how to walk better, etc. So we can say: the physical and etheric bodies stream downwards when we cultivate all that has relation to the higher man in a positive way. If, in teaching the child to read and write more intellectually, we have the feeling that the child, absorbing what we impart to him, comes to meet us, then this is passing from his head into the rest of his body. But the ego and the astral body are being developed from below upwards when the whole being is educated. A powerful ego sense would be awakened, for instance, if we taught the child elementary eurhythmy in the third and fourth years. The whole individual would be engaged, and a correct ego-sense would strike root in his being. And if he hears plenty of stories to rejoice over and even feel sad about, the astral body will develop from the lower individual upward. Just think back for a moment a little more intimately to your own experiences. I expect you will all have had this experience: In walking through the street and being startled by something, not only your head and your heart were startled, but in your limbs, too, you were startled and you re-lived the shock later. You will be able to agree from this experience that the surrender to something which disarticulates the feelings and the emotions, affects the whole being, not only the heart and the head.

This truth must be kept in view quite particularly by the educator and teacher. He must see that the whole being is moved. Think, then, from this point of view, of telling legends and fairy-tales, and if you have a real feeling for this, so that you convey your own mood when you tell the child stories, you will tell them so that the child re-lives with all his body what he has been told. In this way you really appeal to the child's astral body. The astral body radiates an experience into the head, to be felt there by the child. We must have the feeling that we are moving the whole child, and that only from the feelings, from the emotions we excite, must the understanding for the story come. Make it, therefore, your ideal, in telling the child fairy-tales or legends, or in drawing or painting with him, not to “explain,” or to act through concepts, but to let the whole being be stimulated, so that only afterwards when the child has gone away from you, understanding dawns on him. Try, then, to educate the ego and the astral body from below upwards, so that the head and the heart only come later. Try never to appeal in stories to the head and the understanding, but tell stories so that you evoke in the child—within limits—certain silent tremors of awe, so that you excite pleasures or sorrows which move his whole being so that these still linger and resound when the child has gone away, and only then understanding dawns on him and interest awakes in their meaning. Try to act through your whole intimacy with the children. Try not to excite interest artificially by relying on sensations, but try, by setting up an inner intimacy with the children, to let the interest grow from the child's own nature.

How can this be done with a whole class? It is comparatively easy to achieve with a single child. One only needs to love trying with him, one only needs to inspire one's work with love, to move the whole being, not only the heart and the head. With a whole class it is no harder if one is oneself moved by the subjects in question, but not only in the heart and the head. Take this example: I want to make clear to the child the continued life of the soul after death. I shall never make it clear to the child by theories, but shall only be deceiving myself. No kind of concept can make immortality mean anything to a child before fourteen. But I can say: “Just look at this butterfly's chrysalis. There is nothing inside it. The butterfly was inside it, but it has crept out.” I can show him the process, too, and it is a good thing to bring such metamorphoses before the child. Now I can draw the comparison: “Imagine you are a chrysalis like this yourself. Your soul is inside you; later it finds its way out; it will then find its way out like the butterfly from the chrysalis.” That is putting it naïvely, of course. Now you can talk about it for a long time. But if you do not believe yourself that the butterfly is like the human soul, you will not achieve much with the child through such comparison. You will not, of course, be guilty of introducing the blatant untruth that you only regard it as a man-made comparison. It is no such thing, but it is a fact of the divine ordering of the world. It is not the creation of our intellect. And if we have a right attitude to things, we learn to believe the fact that nature is full of symbols for spiritual-psychic experiences. If we become one with what we impart to the child, our action takes hold of the whole child. The loss of power to feel with the child, the belief in mere adjustment to a given ratio in which we ourselves do not believe, is responsible for the poverty of the child's education. Our own view of the facts must be such that, for instance, with the creeping out of the butterfly from the chrysalis, we introduce into the child's soul, not an arbitrary image, but an illustration, which we understand and believe to be furnished by the divine powers of the universe. The child must not understand what just passes from ear to ear, but what comes from soul to soul. If you notice this, you will go forward.