VI. Walking, Speaking, Thinking
Ilkley, 10th August, 1923
The previous lectures have indeed in no way attempted to formulate new educational theories, but rather to create a true feeling for education. My aim has been to speak to the human heart rather than to the intellect. This is most essential for the teacher because, as we have seen, the art of education must develop from a deeper knowledge of man's whole being.
For a long time now it has been usual to hear in educational circles that this or that method should be used in teaching. Very frequently the training of teachers consists in little besides the assimilation of certain rules and theories as to the treatment of the child. This, however, will never make the teacher fully aware of the greatness of a task which he cannot approach with true devotion unless he has a deep insight into the whole nature of man as body, soul and spirit. A living conception of the human being develops into pure will in the teacher when, from hour to hour, he has learned to give really practical answers to the eager questions of the child he has to instruct. The first essential is that he himself shall understand the child, and this he can only do in the truest sense if he has a real and concrete knowledge of man in body, soul and spirit.
It is for this reason difficult to describe the education given at the Waldorf School. It is not a thing that can be ‘learnt’ or discussed; it is purely and simply a matter of practice, and one can only give examples of a practical way of dealing with the needs of particular cases. Such practice must be the outcome of actual experience and it is always essential that the requisite knowledge of the human being should be available. But education is a social concern in the widest sense for it begins immediately after birth. It is the concern of the whole of mankind, of each individual family, of each community. This is most significantly brought home to us by a knowledge of the child's nature before the change of teeth at about the seventh year. A German writer, Jean Friedrich Richter, spoke words of great truth v/hen he said that in the first three years of life man learns more than in all his subsequent student years. In his time there were only three academic years.
The first three years, and from then onwards to the seventh year, are much the most important in the whole development of a man, for the child is not at all the same being as in later life. In his earliest years the child is one great sense-organ. The scope of this truth is not generally understood; indeed it is a question of using very emphatic words if the whole truth is to be expressed.
In later years, for instance, man tastes his food in his mouth, tongue and palate. The sense of taste is, as it were, localized in the head. But with the child, and especially so during these early years, this is not the case. Taste then works throughout the whole organism; the child tastes its mother's milk and first food right down into its very limbs. The processes that in later life are localized in the tongue, extend over the whole organism in the young child who lives, as it were, in this sense of taste. There is a strong element of animality here, but we must never compare this element in the child with the ordinary animal nature. The animality of the child exists on a higher level. The human being is never an animal, not even in the embryonic state — in fact, at that period least of all. A comparison may help to make this clearer.
Those who have a true insight into the processes of nature may have the following impression of these processes in the animal, if they look at a herd of cows grazing in a meadow. As each cow lies down to digest its food, it gives itself up in a most wonderful way to the Cosmos. It is as though cosmic forces were active in the digesting animal, inducing the most marvellous visions. The digesting process in the animal is a mighty act of wisdom. While the cow digests it is given up to the Cosmos in an imaginative, dreamlike existence. This may seem an extravagant statement, yet strange to say it is absolutely true.
If we now raise this process one stage higher, we can understand how the child experiences the functions of its bodily organism. All these physical functions are accompanied by a kind of tasting, and, moreover, the other processes that in later life are localized in eye and ear, also extend over the whole organism of the child. Think of the wonder of the eye, of how the eye takes in colour from outside and makes an inner picture. This process is localized, separated off from our conscious experience of life as a whole. The intellect takes hold of what the eye forms in so wonderful a way and makes of it a shadowy, mental image. Equally wonderful are those processes which, in the adult, are localized in the ear. But all that is localized in the several senses of the adult is spread out over the whole organism in the child. In the child there is no separation between spirit, soul and body. Everything from without is mirrored in his inner being. He imitates his whole environment. And now, bearing this in mind, we must observe how three faculties, conditioning the whole of life, are acquired by the child during his earliest years — the faculties of walking, speaking, and thinking.
‘To walk’ is but the limited expression for something far, far greater. We say that the child learns to walk because this is the most evident feature of the process. But this learning to walk is in reality the bringing of man into a right equilibrium in the world of space. The child strives for the upright posture, he strives to relate his legs to the law of gravity in a way that will give balance. He does the same with the arms and hands. The whole organism finds its orientation. Learning to walk means to set the whole organism in a right orientation with the directions of space.
Now it is important to perceive in the right way that the child is an imitative being, for during the first years of life everything must be learnt from imitation of the environment. Now it is evident that the forces of orientation must inhere in the organism itself; the organism is adapted from the very beginning to attain the vertical and not to remain in the horizontal position. The arms must also find their right relation to the laws of space. All this inheres in the very nature of the child and is brought about by the impulses of the organism itself.
If in education we coerce the impulses of human nature, if we do not know how to leave this nature free, and to act only as helpers, then we injure the organism of the child for the whole of its later earthly life. If we wrongly force the child to walk by external methods, if we do not merely help but urge him to walk or to stand, we do the child an injury which lasts till death and is especially harmful in advanced age. In true methods of education it can never be a question of considering the child as it is at a given moment, but the whole of its journey through life from birth to death must be taken into account, for the whole earthly life is already present from the first.
Now because the child is a most delicately balanced organ of sense, he is not only sensitive to the physical influences of his surroundings, but also to the moral influences, especially of those of thought. However far-fetched it may appear to the modern materialistic mind, the child does, nevertheless, sense all that those in his environment are thinking. As parents or teachers we must not only refrain from actions that are outwardly unseemly, but we must be inwardly true, inwardly moral in our thought and feeling, for the child senses our moods and absorbs them. He does not merely shape his nature according to our words and actions, but in accordance with our whole attitude of heart and mind. The environment, then, is the most important thing of all in the first period of the child's education, up to the seventh year.
And now the question will arise: ‘What kind of help are we to give in this process of orientation and learning to walk?’ Here it must be remembered that the connections of life can be observed by a science that is spiritual in character, but not by a science that is materialistic and dead.
Let us take a child who has been forced on to walk and to adjust himself in space by all kinds of coercive measures, and then look at him in his fiftieth year, or between the fifties and sixties. If nothing else has intervened, we shall find him suffering from all manner of metabolic diseases which he cannot throw off, from rheumatism, gout, and so on. Everything of the nature of soul and spirit that we do to the child — for we are exercising forces of the soul and spirit if we urge him to adopt the vertical position, or to walk — everything comes to the stage where the spiritual works right down into the physical. For the forces that have been called into play by the use of highly questionable methods remain for the whole of the earthly life, and reappear later in the form of bodily diseases.
As a matter of fact, all education of the child is at the same time physical education. We cannot speak of a specifically physical training of the child, for soul and spirit are always at work upon his bodily nature. We observe how the child's organism adjusts itself to attain the upright position, and to walk, and we lovingly watch this wonderful mystery enacted by the human organism as it passes from the horizontal to the vertical position. Piety and reverence must pervade us as we observe how the divine powers of creation are adapting the child to the laws of space, and then we must lovingly help him to walk and to acquire balance. If with inner devotion we observe every expression of human nature in the child and hold out a helping hand, we generate health-bringing forces which can then re-appear as healthy metabolic activities between the ages of fifty and sixty, a time of life when we especially need control of the processes of the metabolism.
Herein lies truly the mystery of human evolution: All that is of the nature of soul and spirit at one stage of life becomes physical, manifests itself physically in later life. Years later it makes itself evident in the physical body.
So much then as regards learning to walk. A child who is lovingly guided to walk develops into a healthy man, and to apply this love in the process of learning to walk is to add much to the healthy education of the body.
Now from this process of orientation in space there develops speech. Modern physiology knows something of this, but not very much. It knows that the movements of the right hand correspond to a certain activity of the left side of the brain, which is related to speech. Physiology admits the connection between the movements of the right hand and the so-called convolutions of Broca at the left side of the brain. As the hand moves and makes gestures, forces pour into it; all this motive force passes into the brain, where it becomes the impulse of speech. Science knows only a fragment of the process, for the truth is this: Speech does not arise merely because a movement of the right hand coincides with a convolution in the left portion of the brain; speech arises from the entire motor-organism of the human being. How the child learns to walk, to orientate himself in space, to transform the first erratic and uncontrolled movements of the arms into gestures definitely related to the outer world, all this is carried over by the mysterious processes of the human organism to the head, and appears as speech.
Anyone who is able to understand these things realizes that children who shuffle their feet as they walk pronounce every sound, and especially the palatal sounds, quite differently from those whose gait is firm. Every nuance of speech is bound up with organic movement; life to begin with is ail gesture and gesture is inwardly transformed into speech.
Speaking, then, is an outcome of walking, that is to say, of the power to orientate the being in space. And the degree to which the child is able to control speech will depend very largely upon whether we give him really wise, loving help while he is learning to walk.
These are some of the finer connections revealed by a true knowledge of man. Not without reason have I described in detail the process of guiding the spirit to the human organism. With every step that is taken, the body follows the spirit, if the spirit is brought into the child in the right way.
Again, it is a fact that to begin with the whole organism is active when the child is learning to speak. First there are the outer movements, the movements of the legs corresponding to the strong contours of speech; die more delicate movements of the arms and hands correspond to the inflection and plastic form of the words. In short, outer movements are transformed into the inner movements of speech.
Just as the element of love should pervade the help we give to the child as he learns to walk, so while we help him to speak we must be inwardly true. The strongest tendencies to untruthfulness in after life are generated during the time when a child is learning to speak, for in those years the element of truth in speech is taken into the whole bodily organism. A child whose teachers are filled with inner truthfulness will, as he imitates his environment, so learn to speak that the subtle activity constantly generated in the organism by the processes of in-breathing and out-breathing will be strengthened. Naturally, these things must be understood in a delicate and not in a crude sense. The processes are highly rarefied but are nevertheless revealed in every manifestation of life. We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbonic acid. Oxygen has to be changed into carbonic acid in the body by the breathing process. We receive oxygen from the cosmos, and give back carbonic acid. Truth or untruth in those around us while we are learning to speak determines whether, in the more subtle functions of life, we are able to change the oxygen within us into carbonic acid in the right way. This process consists in a complete transformation of the spiritual into the physical.
One of the most common and untruthful influences brought to the child is the use of “baby-language.” Unconsciously the child does not like this; he wants to listen to true speech, the speech of grown men and women. We should speak in ordinary language to the child and avoid the use of this “baby-language.” At first the child will naturally only babble in imitation of words, but we ourselves must not copy this babbling. To use the babbling, imperfect speech of the child to him is to injure his digestive organs. Once more the spiritual becomes physical, and works directly into the bodily organs. And everything that we do spiritually for the child constitutes a physical training, for the child is not all individual. Many later defects in the digestive system are caused by a child's having learnt to speak in a wrong way.
And just as speech arises from walking and grasping, in short from movement, so thought develops from speech. Just as in helping the child as he learns to walk we must be pervaded by love, so in helping the child to gain the power of speech we must be absolutely truthful; and since the child is one great sense organ and his inner physical functions are also a copy of the spiritual, our own thinking must be clear if right thinking is to develop in the child from out the forces of speech.
No greater harm can be done to the child than by the giving of orders and then causing confusion by reversing them. Confusion set up in the child's surroundings as the result of inconsequent thinking is the actual root of the many so-called nervous diseases prevalent in our modern civilization.
Why have so many people ‘nerves’ to-day? Simply because in childhood there was no clarity and precision of thought around them during the time when they were learning to think after having learned to speak. The physical condition of the next generation, as evinced by its gravest defects, is a faithful copy of the preceding generation. When we observe the faults in our children which develop in later life, we should gain self-knowledge. All that happens in the child's environment expresses itself in the physical organism — though in a subtle and delicate way. Loving treatment while the child is learning to walk, truthfulness while he learns to speak, clarity and precision as he begins to be able to think, all these qualities become a part of the bodily constitution. The vascular system and organs develop after the models of love, truth and clarity in the environment. Diseases of the metabolic system are the result of coercive treatment while the child is learning to walk. Digestive disturbances may arise from untruthful actions during the time at which the child is beginning to speak. Nerve trouble is the outcome of confused thinking in the child's environment.
When we see the prevalence of nervous disease in this third decade of the twentieth century, we cannot but conclude that there must have been much confused thinking on the part of the teachers about the beginning of the century. Many diseases of the nerves to-day are really due to confused thinking, and again the nerve troubles from which people suffered at the beginning of the century were equally the result of the confused thought of the last three decades of the nineteenth century.
Now these matters can be handled in such a way that physiology, hygiene, and psychology no longer need to remain shut off from each other as specialized branches of knowledge, so that to-day the teacher must call in the doctor the moment any question of health arises. Physiological education, school hygiene and the like can be united in such a way that the teacher's work will come to include an understanding of the activity of the soul and spirit in the physical organism. But since everyone has in a certain sense to train children from birth up to the seventh year, a social task stands before us, inasmuch as a true knowledge of man is absolutely necessary if humanity is to follow an ascending, and not a descending, path.
Quite rightly has our “humane” age attempted to do away with a certain educational measure very frequently applied in earlier days, I mean the habit of caning. The last thing I wish to do is to speak in favour of such punishment, but this I must say, that the reason why our age has made some attempt to get rid of corporal punishment is because it very well knows the evil results of this; the moral consequences of injury to the physical body are very evident. But, my dear friends, one terrible form of punishment has crept into the educational methods of to-day, when all eyes are so concentrated on the physical and material and there is so little comprehension of the soul and spirit. I am here referring to a form of punishment that is never realized as such because men's minds are not directed to the spiritual.
Parents often think it desirable to give their little girl a beautiful doll as a plaything. This ‘beautiful’ doll is a fearful production because for one thing it is so utterly inartistic, in spite of its ‘real’ hair, painted cheeks and eyes which close when it is laid down or open when it is lifted up! We often give our children toys that are dreadfully inartistic copies of life. The doll is merely one example. All modern toys are of the same type and they constitute a form of cruel punishment to the child's inner nature. Children often behave well in the presence of others merely from a fear of conventional punishments; equally they do not always express aversion from toys like the ‘beautiful doll,’ although this dislike is deeply rooted in their souls. However strongly we may suggest to children that they ought to love such toys, the forces of their unconscious and subconscious life are stronger, and the children have an intense antipathy to anything resembling the beautiful doll. For, as I will now show you, such toys really amount to an inner punishment.
Suppose that in the making of our toys we were to take into consideration what the child has actually experienced in his infant thought up to the age of six or seven in the processes of learning to walk after learning to stand upright and then we were to make a doll out of a handkerchief, for instance, showing a head at the top with two ink-spots for eyes. The child can understand and, moreover, really love such a doll. Primitively this doll possesses all the qualities of the human form, in so far at any rate as the child is capable of observing them at this early age. A child knows no more about the human being than that he stands upright, that there is an ‘upper’ and a ‘lower’ part of his being, that he has a head and a pair of eyes. As for the mouth, you will often find it on the forehead in a child's drawings! There is as yet no clear consciousness of the exact position of the mouth. What a child actually experiences is all contained in a doll made from a handkerchief with ink-spots for eyes. An inner, plastic force is at work in the child. All that comes to him from his environment passes over into his being and becomes there an inner formative power, a power that also builds up the organs of the body.
If the child has a father who is constantly ill-tempered and irritable, and the child as a result of this lives in an environment of perpetual shocks and unreasonableness, all this turmoil expresses itself in his breathing and the circulation of the blood. The lungs, heart and the whole venal system are affected by such a condition. Throughout the whole of his life the child bears within him the inner effects upon the organs of his father's ill-temper.
This is merely an example to show you that the child possesses a wonderful plastic power and is perpetually at work as a kind of inner sculptor upon his own being. If we give the child the kind of doll made from a handkerchief, these plastic, creative forces that arise in the human organism from the rhythmic system of the breathing and blood circulation and build up the brain, flow gently upwards. They mould the brain like a sculptor who works upon his material with a fine and supple hand, a hand permeated with the forces of the soul and spirit. In the child's perception of the handkerchief-doll these plastically creative elements are called upon and healthy forces are generated which then flow upwards from the rhythmic system and work upon the structure of the brain.
If, on the contrary, we give the child one of the so-called ‘beautiful’ dolls, with moving eyes and painted cheeks, real hair and so on — a hideous, ghostly production from the artistic point of view — then the plastic, brain-building forces that are generated in the rhythmic system have the effect of the constant lashing of a whip. All that the child cannot as yet understand works upon the brain like the lashings of a whip. The whole brain is lashed to its very foundations in a terrible way.
Such is the secret of the ‘beautiful’ doll, and it can be applied to many of the playthings given to the child to-day.
If we would give loving help to the child at play we must realize how many inner, formative forces are active in his being. In this respect our whole civilization is on the wrong road. For instance, modern culture has evolved the concept of ‘Animism.’ A child bumps against the table and strikes it in anger. We say to-day that the child imagines the table to be a living thing, he endows it with imaginary life and strikes it. Now this is not true. The child does not imaginatively endow the table with life, or with anything at all, but feels as though the living were lifeless. When he hurts himself, a kind of reflex movement makes him strike the table. He does not think of the table as living, for everything is as yet lifeless for him; he treats the living and the lifeless exactly in the same way.
These false ideas show that our civilization does not know how to approach the child. The first great essential is to learn to deal with children wisely and lovingly and give them what their own being needs. We should not inflict inner punishment by giving the child toys of the type of the beautiful doll. Rather should we be able to throw ourselves into the child's inner life and give him such toys as he can himself inwardly understand.
Thus play also is something that calls for true insight into the nature of the child. If we prattle like a little child and think to bring our speech down to his level, if we model our words falsely, we bring an untruthful influence to bear upon him. On the other hand, however, we must be able to descend to the stage of the child's development in everything that has to do with the will-nature in play. We shall then realize that intellectuality, a quality so much admired in this age, simply does not exist in the child's organic nature, and should therefore have no place in his play.
The child at play will naturally imitate what is going on in his surroundings, but it will seldom happen that a child of four expresses a wish to be a philologist, let us say, although he may say he would like to be a chauffeur! Why? Because everything about a chauffeur makes an immediate sense-impression. It is different with a philologist, for what he does makes no impression on the senses; it simply passes unnoticed by the child. Everything intellectual leaves the child unaffected, he passes it by. What, then, must we do if we are to help the child to the right kind of play?
Now when we plough, or make hats, or sew clothes, and so on, all these things are done with a certain purpose and have a certain intellectual quality. But everything in life, no matter whether it be ploughing, building carriages, shoeing horses, or the like, besides having a definite purpose, contains another element in outward appearance. At the sight of a man guiding his plough over the field one can feel, apart from the object of ploughing, the plastic quality of the picture; it is a picture which arises. If we can feel this pictorial element quite apart from its purpose (and it is the æsthetic sense that enables us to do this) then we can begin to make toys that really appeal to the child. We shall not aim at intellectual beauty as in the modern doll, but at something expressed in the whole content, in the whole feeling of the human being. Then, instead of the beautiful doll, we shall produce for the older children a primitive, really enchanting doll something like this one. [Dr. Steiner here showed a doll made by pupils of the Waldorf School]
In true education therefore the essential thing is to be able to bring an artistic element into our work and to apply it in the making of toys, for then we begin to satisfy the needs of the child's own nature.
Our civilization has made us almost exclusively utilitarian, intellectualistic, and we offer even our children the result of what we have ‘thought out’ with our brains. But we ought not to give them what adult life has ‘thought out,’ but what our maturer life feels and perceives. This is the quality the toy ought to exhibit. If we give a child a toy plough, the essential thing is that it should express the aesthetic quality of form and movement in the plough, for this will help to unfold the natural forces in the child.
Certain Kindergarten systems, in other ways worthy of all respect, have made great mistakes in this direction. Froebel's system, as also others, have arisen from a true inner love for children, but they have failed to realize that although imitation is a part of the very nature of the child, he can only imitate that which is not yet permeated by an intellectual quality. We must therefore not introduce into the Kindergarten such various forms of handiwork as have been ingeniously ‘thought out.’ The stick-laying, plaiting, and so on, that often play so large a part in modern Kindergarten methods, have all been ingeniously thought out. Kindergarten work ought rather to be so arranged that it contains an actual picture of what older people do, and not mere inventions. A sense of tragedy will often arise in one possessed of a true knowledge of man when he goes into these modern Kindergartens, for they are so full of good intentions and the work has been so conscientiously thought out. They are based on infinite goodwill and a sincere love of children, yet on the other hand it has not been realized that all intellectualism ought to be eliminated. Kindergarten work should consist simply and solely of imitative pictures of what grown-up people do.
A child whose intellectual faculties are developed before the fourth or fifth year bears a dreadful heritage into later life. He is being educated for materialism. To the extent that an intellectual education is given to the child before the fourth or fifth year, will he become materialistic in later life. The brain can either develop in such a way that the spirit dwells within it and gives birth to intuition, or on the other hand the whole nature can tend towards materialism if at this early age the child's brain is intellectually forced.
If we would so train the child that as man he may comprehend the spirit, we must delay as long as possible the giving of mental concepts in a purely intellectual form. Although it is highly necessary, in view of the nature of our modern civilization, that a man should be fully awake in later life, the child must be allowed to remain as long as possible in the peaceful, dreamlike condition of pictorial imagination in which his early years are passed. For if we allow his organism to grow strong in this way, he will develop in later life the intellectuality needed in the world to-day.
If the child's brain has been punished in the way I have described, permanent injury is done to the soul. The use of ‘baby-language’ injuriously affects the digestion; unloving, mistaken coercion in the process of learning to walk has an unfavourable effect upon the metabolic system in later life. Soul and body alike suffer if the inner being of the child is injured in these ways, and it must be the first aim of education to do away with such inner punishments as are represented, for instance, by toys like the beautiful doll. These do not only lacerate the soul of the child, but also harm his bodily constitution, for in childhood body, soul and spirit are one. The essential thing, therefore, is to raise the games and play of children to their true level.
In these lectures I have tried to indicate how false forms of spirituality must be avoided when we are dealing with the child, so that a true spirituality, in short, the whole individuality, may come to full expression in later life.