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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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GA 307

X. Physics, Chemistry, Handwork, Language, Religion

Ilkley, 15th August, 1923

From what I have said as to the way. in which we should teach the child about Nature, about plant and animal, I think you will have realized that the aim of the Waldorf School is to adapt the curriculum exactly to the needs of the child's development at the successive stages of growth. I have already spoken of the significant turning-point occurring between the ninth and tenth years. Only now does the child begin to realize himself as an individual apart from the world. Before this age there is in his life of thought and feeling no sense of separation between himself and the phenomena of the outer world. Up to the ninth year, therefore, we must speak of plants, animals, mountains, rivers and so on in the language of fairy-tales, appealing above all to the child's fantasy. We must make him feel as if his own being were speaking to him from the outer world, from plant, mountain and spring.

If you will bear in mind the way in which after this age we lead on into botany and zoology, you will realize that the aim of the teaching is to bring the child into a true relationship with the world around him. He learns to know the plants in their connection with the earth and studies them all from this point of view. The earth becomes a living being who brings forth the plants, just as the living human head brings forth hair, only of course the forms contained in the earth, the plants, have a much richer life and variety. Such a relationship with the plant world and with the whole earth is of great value to the well-being of the child in body and soul. If we teach him to see man as a synthesis of the animal species spread over the earth, we help to bring him into a true relationship with other living beings standing below him in the scale of creation. Until the age of eleven or twelve, the mainspring of all Nature-study should be the relationship of the human being to the world.

Then comes the age when for the first time we may draw the child's attention to processes going on in the outer world independently of man. Between the eleventh and twelfth years, and not until then, we may begin to teach about the minerals and rocks. The plants as they grow out of the earth are in this sense related to stone and mineral. Earlier teaching about the mineral kingdom in any other form than this injures the child's mobility of soul. That which has no relationship with man is mineral. We should only begin to deal with the mineral kingdom when the child has found his own relation to the two kingdoms of nature which are nearest to him, when in thought and feeling he has grasped the life of the plants and his will has been strengthened by a true conception of the animals.

What applies to the minerals applies equally to physics and chemistry, and to all so-called causal connections in history and geography, in short, to all processes that must be studied as only indirectly related to the human being in the sense of which I spoke yesterday. The teaching of all this should be postponed until the period lying between the eleventh and twelfth years.

The right age for a child to begin his school life is when he gets his second teeth, i.e. at about the seventh year. Until then, school is not really the place for him. If we have to take a child before this age, all kinds of compromises are necessary. I will however, explain certain basic principles When the child first comes to school, we teach him in such a way that as yet he makes no distinction or separation between himself and the world at large. Between the ninth and tenth years we begin to awaken a living understanding through a knowledge of the plants, and to strengthen his will through a knowledge of the animals. In mineralogy, physics, and chemistry we can only work through the intellect, and then as a necessary counterbalance art must be introduced. (I shall be speaking more of this in tomorrow's lecture.) From the eleventh or twelfth year onwards we shall find that the child is able to form a rational, intellectual conception of cause and effect and this must now be elaborated by physics and chemistry. These processes which should gradually lead into the study of astronomy must not however be explained to the child before he has reached the age of eleven or twelve. If we describe simple chemical processes—combustion for instance—before this age, our descriptions must be purely pictorial and imaginative. Abstract reasoning from cause to effect should not be introduced until the child is between eleven and twelve years of age. The less we speak of causality before this time the stronger, the more vital and rich will the soul become; if, on the other hand, we are constantly speaking of causality to a younger child, dead concepts and even dead feelings will pass with a withering effect into his soul.

The aim of the Waldorf School has been on the one hand to base the whole curriculum upon the actual nature of the human being; thus we include in the curriculum all that answers to the needs of the child at each of the different life-periods. On the other hand, we strive to enable the child to take his rightful part in the social life of the world.

To achieve this we must pass on from physics and chemistry to various forms of practical work when the child has reached the fourteenth and fifteenth years. In the classes for children of this age, therefore, we have introduced hand-spinning and weaving, for these things are an aid to an intelligent understanding of practical life. It is good for boys and girls to know the principles of spinning and weaving, even of factory-spinning. They should also have some knowledge of elementary technical chemistry, of the preparation and manufacture of colours and the like.

During their school life children ought to acquire really practical ideas of their environment. The affairs of ordinary life often remain quite incomprehensible to many people to-day because the teaching they receive at school does not lead over at the right moment to the practical activities of life and of the world in general. In a certain direction this is bound to injure the whole development of the soul. Think for a moment of the sensitiveness of the human body to some element in the air, for instance, which the organism cannot assimilate. In the social life of the world of course conditions are not quite the same. In social life we are forced to put up with many incongruities, but we can adapt ourselves if at the right age we have learnt in some measure to understand them.

Just think how many people nowadays get into a train without having the least idea of the principles governing its motion, its mechanism. They see a railway every day and have absolutely no notion of the machinery of an engine! This means that they are surrounded on all hands by inventions and creations of the human mind with which they have no contact at all. It is the beginning of unsocial life simply to accept these creations and inventions of the mind of man without understanding them. At the Waldorf School therefore when the children are fourteen or fifteen years old, we begin to give instruction in matters that play a role in practical life. This age of adolescence is nowadays regarded from a very limited, one-sided point of view. The truth is that at puberty the human being opens out to the world. Hitherto he has lived chiefly within himself, but he is now ready to understand his fellow-men and the social life of the world. Hence to concentrate before puberty on all that relates man to Nature is to act in accordance with true principles of human development, but at the age of fourteen or fifteen the children must be made acquainted with the achievements of the human mind. This will enable them to understand and find their right place in social life. If educationalists had followed this principle some sixty or seventy years ago, the so-called “Social Movement” of to-day would have taken a quite different form in Europe and America. Tremendous progress has been made in technical and commercial efficiency during the last sixty or seventy years. Great progress has been made in technical skill, national trade has become world trade, and finally a world-economy has arisen from national economies. In the last sixty or seventy years the outer configuration of social life has entirely changed, yet our mode of education has continued as if nothing had happened. We have utterly neglected to acquaint our children with the practical affairs of the world at the time when this should be done, namely, at the age of fourteen or fifteen.

Nevertheless at the Waldorf School we are not so narrow-minded as to look down in any way on higher classical education, for in many respects it is extremely beneficial; we prepare pupils whose parents desire it, or who desire it themselves, both for a higher classical education and for final certificates and diplomas. But we do not forget how necessary it is for our age to understand the reason that induced the Greeks, whose one purpose in education was to serve the ends of practical life, not to spend all their time learning Egyptian, a language belonging to the far past. On the other hand, we make a special point of familiarizing our boys, and girls too, with a world not of the present but of the past. What wonder that human beings as a rule have so little understanding of how to live in the world of the present.

The world's destiny has grown beyond man's control simply because education has not kept pace with the changing conditions of social life. In the Waldorf School we try to realize that it is indeed possible to develop the human being to full manhood and to help him to find his true place in the ranks of humanity.

Our endeavour to develop the child in such a way that he may later reveal the qualities of full manhood and on the other hand be able to find his true place in the world is more especially furthered by the way in which languages are taught.

So far as the mother-tongue is concerned, of course, the teaching is adapted to the age of the child; it is given in the form I have already described in connection with other lessons. An outstanding feature of the Waldorf School, however, is that we begin to teach the child two foreign languages, French and English, directly he comes to school, at the age of six or seven. By this means we endeavour to give our children something that will be more and more necessary in the future for the purposes of practical life. To understand the purely human aspect of the teaching of languages we must remember that the faculty of speech is rooted in the very depths of man's being. The mother-tongue is so deeply rooted in the breathing system, the blood circulation, and in the configuration of the vascular system, that the child is affected not only in spirit and soul, but in spirit, soul and body by the way in which this mother-tongue comes to expression within him. We must realize however that the forces of languages in the world permeate man and bring the human element to expression in quite different ways. In the case of primitive languages this is quite obvious; that it is also true of the more civilized languages often escapes recognition.

Now amongst European languages there is one that proceeds purely from the element of feeling. Although in the course of time intellectualism has tinged the element of pure feeling, feeling is nevertheless the basis of this particular language; hence the elements of intellect and will are less firmly implanted in the human being through the language itself. By a study of other languages then, the elements of will and intellect must be unfolded. Again, we have a language that emanates particularly from the element of plastic fantasy, which, so to say, pictures things in its notation of sounds. Because this is so, the child acquires an innately plastic, innately formative power as he learns to speak. Another language in civilized Europe is rooted chiefly in the element of will. Its very cadences, the structure of its vowels and consonants reveal that this is so. When people speak, it is as though they were sending back waves of the sea along the out-breathed air. The element of will is living in this language.

Other languages call forth in man to a greater extent the elements of feeling, music, or imagination. In short each different language is related to the human being in a particular way.

You will say that I ought to name these various languages, but I purposely avoid doing so, because we have not reached a point of being able to face the civilized world so objectively that we can bear the whole impersonal truth of these things!

From what I have said about the character of the different languages, you will realize that the effects produced on the nature of man by one particular “genius of speech” must be balanced by the effects of another, if, that is to say, our aim is really a human and not a specialized, racial development of man. This is the reason why at the Waldorf School we begin with three languages, even in the case of the very youngest children; a great deal of time, moreover, is devoted to this subject.

It is good to begin teaching foreign languages at this early age, because up to the point lying between the ninth and tenth years the child still bears within him something of the quality characteristic of the first period of life, from birth to the time of the change of teeth. During these years the child is pre-eminently an imitative being. He learns his mother-tongue wholly by imitation. Without any claim whatever being made on the intellect, the child imitates the language spoken around him, and learns at the same time not only the outer sounds and tones of speech, but also the inner, musical, soul element of the language. His first language is acquired—if I may be allowed the expression—as a finer kind of habit which passes into the depths of his whole being.

When the child comes to school after the time of the change of teeth, the teaching of languages appeals more to the soul and less strongly to the bodily nature. Nevertheless, up to the ages of nine and ten the child still brings with him a sufficient faculty of fantasy and imitation to enable us to mould the teaching of a language in such a way that it will be absorbed by his whole being, not merely by the forces of soul and spirit.

This is why it is of such far-reaching importance not to let the first three years of school-life slip by without any instruction in foreign languages. On purely educational principles we begin to teach foreign languages in the Waldorf School directly the child enters the elementary classes.

I need hardly say that the teaching of languages is closely adapted to the different ages. In our days men's thinking, so far as realities are concerned, has become chaotic. They imagine themselves firmly rooted in reality because of their materialism, but in point of fact they are theorists. Those who flatter themselves on being practical men of the world are eminently theorists; they get it into their heads that something or other is right, without ever having tested it in practical life. And so, especially in education and teaching, they fall with an utterly impracticable radicalism into the opposite extreme when anything has been found wrong. It has been realized that when the old method of teaching languages, especially Latin and Greek, is based entirely on grammar and rules of syntax, the lessons tend to become mechanical and abstract. And so exactly the opposite principle has been introduced simply because people cannot think consistently. They see that something is wrong and fall into the other extreme, imagining that this will put it right. The consequence is that they now work on the principle of teaching no grammar at all. This again is irrational, for it means nothing else than that in some particular branch of knowledge the human being is left at the stage of mere consciousness and not allowed to advance to self-consciousness. Between the ninth and tenth years the child passes from the stage of consciousness to that of self-consciousness. He distinguishes himself from the world.

This is the age when we can begin gradually of course to teach the rules of grammar and syntax, for the child is now reaching a point where he thinks not only about the world, but about himself as well. To think about oneself means, so far as speech is concerned, to be able not merely to speak instinctively, but to apply rational rules in speech. It is nonsense, therefore, to teach languages without grammar of any kind. If we avoid all rules, we cannot impart to the child the requisite inner firmness for his tasks in life. But it is all-important to bear in mind that the child only begins to pass from consciousness to self-consciousness between the ages of nine and ten. To teach grammar before this age, therefore, is absolutely irrational.

We must know when the change occurs between the ninth and tenth years in order to lead over gradually from an instinctive acquiring of language to the rational element of grammar. This applies to the mother-tongue as well. Real injury is done to the child's soul if he is crammed with rules of grammar or syntax before this eventful moment in his life. Previously the teaching must appeal to instinct and habit through his faculty of imitation. It is the task of speech to inaugurate self-consciousness between the ninth and tenth years and generally speaking the principle of self-consciousness comes to light in grammar and syntax. This will show you why at the Waldorf School we make use of the two or three preceding years in order to introduce the teaching of languages at the right age and in accordance with the laws of human development.

You see now how Waldorf School education aims, little by little, at enabling the teacher to read, not in a book and not according to the rules of some educational system, but in the human being himself. The Waldorf School teacher must learn to read man—the most wonderful document in all the world. What he gains from this reading grows into deep enthusiasm for teaching and education. For only that which is contained in the book of the world can stimulate the all-round activity of body, soul and spirit that is necessary in the teacher. All other study, all other books and reading, should be a means of enabling the teacher ultimately to read the great book of the world. If he can do this he will teach with the necessary enthusiasm, and enthusiasm alone can generate the force and energy that bring life into a classroom.

The principle of the “universal human,” which I have described in its application to the different branches of teaching, is expressed in Waldorf School education in that this school does not in any sense promulgate any particular philosophy or religious conviction. In this connection it has of course been absolutely essential, above all in an art of education derived from Anthroposophy, to remove from the Waldorf School any criticism as to its being an “anthroposophical school.” That certainly it cannot be. New efforts must constantly be made to avoid falling into anthroposophical bias, shall I say, on account of possible over-enthusiasm or of honest conviction on the part of the teachers. The conviction of course is there in the Waldorf teachers since they are anthroposophists. But the fundamental principle of the Waldorf School education is the human being himself, not the human being as an adherent of any particular philosophy.

And so, with the various religious bodies in mind, we were willing to come to a compromise demanded by the times and in the early days to confine our attention to principles and methods to be adopted in a “universal human” education. To begin with, all religious instruction was left in the hands of the pastors of the various denominations, Catholic teaching to Catholic Priests, Protestant teaching to Protestant Priests. But a great many pupils in the Waldorf School are “dissenters,” as we say in Central Europe, that is to say they are children who would receive no religious instruction at all if this were limited to Catholic and Protestant teaching. The Waldorf School was originally founded for the children of working-class people in connection with a certain business, although for a long time now it has been a school for all classes of the community, and for this reason a large majority of the children belonged to no religious confession. As often happens in schools in Central Europe, these children were being taught nothing in the way of religion, and so for their sake we have introduced a so-called “free religious instruction.” We make no attempt to introduce theoretical Anthroposophy into the School. Such a thing would be quite wrong. Anthroposophy has been given for grown-up people; one speaks of Anthroposophy to grown-up people, and its ideas and conceptions are therefore clothed in a form suitable for them. Simply to take what is destined for grown-up people in anthroposophical literature and introduce that would have been to distort the whole principle of Waldorf School education. In the case of children who have been handed over to us for free religious instruction, the whole point has been to recognize from their age what should be given to them in the way of religious instruction.

Let me repeat that the religious teaching given at the Waldorf School—and a certain ritual is connected with it—is not in any sense an attempt to introduce an anthroposophical conception of the world. The ages of the children are always taken into fullest account. As a matter of fact the great majority of the children attend, although we have made it a strict rule only to admit them if their parents wish it. Since the element of pure pedagogy plays an important and essential part in this free religious teaching, which is Christian in the deepest sense, parents who wish their children to be educated in a Christian way, and also according to the Waldorf School principles, send them to us. As I say, the teaching is Christian through and through, and the effect of it is that the whole School is pervaded by a deeply Christian atmosphere. Our religious instruction makes the children realize the significance of all the great Christian Festivals, of the Christmas and Easter Festivals, for instance, much more deeply than is usually the case nowadays. Also the ages of the children must always be taken into account in any teaching connected with religion, for infinite harm is wrought if ideas and conceptions are conveyed prematurely. In the Waldorf School the child is led first of all to a realization of universal Divinity in the world.

You will remember that when the child first comes to school between the ages of seven and ten, we let plants, clouds, springs, and the like, speak their own language. The child's whole environment is living and articulate. From this we can readily lead on to the universal Father-Principle immanent in the world. When the rest of the teaching takes the form I have described, the child is well able to conceive that all things have a divine origin.

And so we form a link with the knowledge of Nature conveyed to the child in the form of fantasy and fairy-tales. Our aim in so doing is to awaken in him first of all a sense of gratitude for everything that happens in the world. Gratitude for what human beings do for us, and also for the gifts vouchsafed by Nature, this is what will guide religious feeling into the right path. To unfold the child's sense of gratitude is of the greatest imaginable significance. It may seem paradoxical, yet it is nevertheless profoundly true that human beings should learn to feel a certain gratitude when the weather is favourable for some undertaking or another. To be capable of gratitude to the Cosmos, even though it can only be in the life of imagination, this will deepen our whole life of feeling in a religious sense. Love for all creation must then be added to this gratitude. And if we lead the child on to the age of nine or ten in the way described, nothing is easier than to reveal in the living world around him qualities he must learn to love. Love for every flower, for sunshine, for rain this again will deepen perception of the world in a religious sense. If gratitude and love have been unfolded in the child before the age of ten, we can then proceed to develop a true sense and understanding of duty. Premature development of the sense of duty by dint of commands and injunctions will never lead to a deeply religious sense. Above all we must instil gratitude and love if we are to lay the foundations of morality and religion.

He who would educate in the sense of true Christianity must realize that before the age of nine or ten it is not possible to convey to the child's soul an understanding of what the Mystery of Golgotha brought into the world or of all that is connected with the personality and divinity of Christ Jesus. The child is exposed to great dangers if we have failed to introduce the principle of universal divinity before this age, and by ‘universal divinity’ I mean the divine Father-Principle. We must show the child how divinity is immanent in all Nature, in all human evolution, how it lives and moves not only in the stones, but in the hearts of other men, in their every act. The child must be taught by the natural authority of the teachers to feel gratitude and love for this ‘universal divinity.’ In this way the basis for a right attitude to the Mystery of Golgotha between the ninth and tenth years is laid down.

Thus it is of such infinite importance to understand the being of man from the aspect of his development in time. Try for a moment to realize what a difference there is if we teach a seven-or-eight-year-old child about the New Testament, or, having first stimulated a consciousness of universal divinity in the whole of Nature, if we wait until he has reached the age of nine or ten before we pass to the New Testament as such. In the latter case right preparation has been made and the Gospels will live in all their super-sensible greatness. If we teach the child too early about the New Testament it will not lay hold of his whole being, but will remain mere phraseology, just so many rigid, barren concepts. The consequent danger is that religious feeling will harden in the child and continue through life in a rigid form instead of in a living form pervaded through and through with feeling for the world. We prepare the child rightly to realize from the ninth and tenth years onwards the glory of Christ Jesus if before this age he has been introduced to the principle of universal Divinity immanent in the whole world.

This then is the aim of the religious teaching given at the Waldorf School to an ever-increasing number of children whose parents wish it. The teaching is based on the purely human element and associated moreover with a certain form of ritual. A service is held every Sunday for the children who are given this free religious instruction, and for those who have left school a service with a different ritual is held. Thus a certain ritual similar in many respects to the Mass but always adapted to the age of the child is associated with the religious teaching given at the Waldorf School.

Now it was very difficult to introduce into this religious instruction the purely human evolutionary principle that it is our aim to unfold in the Waldorf School, for in religious matters to-day people are least of all inclined to relinquish their own point of view. We hear a great deal of talk about a ‘universal human’ religion, but the opinion of almost everyone is influenced by the views of the particular religious body to which he belongs. If we rightly understand die task of humanity in days to come, we shall realize that the free religious teaching that has been inaugurated in the Waldorf School is a true assistance to this task.

Anthroposophy as given to grown-up people is naturally not introduced into the Waldorf School. Rather do we regard it as our task to imbue our teaching with something for which man thirsts and longs: a realization of the Divine, of the Divine in Nature and in human history, arising from a true conception of the Mystery of Golgotha.

This end is also served when the whole teaching has the necessary quality and colouring. I have already said that the teacher must come to a point where all his work is a moral deed, where he regards the lessons themselves as a kind of divine office. This can only be achieved if it is possible to introduce the elements of morality and religion into the school for those who desire it, and we have made this attempt in the religious instruction given at the Waldorf School in so far as social conditions permit to-day. In no sense do we work towards a blind rationalistic Christianity, but towards promoting a true understanding of the Christ Impulse in the evolution of mankind. Our one and only aim is to give the human being something that he still needs, even if all his other teaching has endowed him with the qualities of manhood. Even if this be so, even if full manhood has been unfolded through all the other teachings, a religious deepening is still necessary if the human being is to find a place in the world befitting his inborn spiritual nature. To develop the whole man and deepen him in a religious sense; this we have tried to regard as one of the most essential tasks of Waldorf School education.