Deeper Insights into Education
I. Gymnast, Rhetorician, Professor: A Living Synthesis
15 October 1923, Stuttgart
The impressions I have gathered here in the school have prompted me to use the short time I can be with you to say something that emerges directly out of these impressions. After all, the fruitfulness of our activity in an institution like the Waldorf School depends, as does indeed the art of education as a whole, on the ability of the teachers to develop the attitude that will enable them to carry through their work with assurance and be active in the right way. On this occasion, therefore, I would like to speak in particular about the teachers themselves. I would like to preface what I have to say with some brief remarks I made recently in a course for teachers in England, [Rudolf Steiner, A Modern Art of Education, London, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972 (14 lectures given in Ilkley, England, August 5-17, 1923).] though from a somewhat different point of view. I then shall add a few things that will enable you, if you let them work in the right way on your souls, to develop this right attitude increasingly. The question of attitude, or mood of soul, is very much connected with the art of education. You may possess an admirable mastery of the principles of teaching; you may be able to work them out with intelligence and feeling; but what we are trying to do will fall on fertile soil only if the general attitude that we take with us into the school can be made into a harmonious whole.
Man is a threefold being not only from the many points of view we often have discussed but also from those that lie a little closer to the earthly than do the higher, spiritual viewpoints. This threefoldness reveals itself quite specifically if we focus on the way in which the human being has developed his educational activity. We need not go back very far; indeed, if we went back to very ancient times our view would have to alter somewhat. We have only to go back to the Greek era in human evolution to a period that still stirs the minds of those in our Western civilization. At that period we find that the educator was really the gymnast, intent above all upon molding his pupil into maturity through his outer, physical, bodily nature. However, we shall not properly understand the Greek gymnasts, especially the earlier ones, unless we realize that they were quite as much concerned with the development of the soul and spirit as of the body. It is true that the Greeks laid stress on bodily exercises, which were all formed in an artistic sense, as the means of bringing their pupils to maturity. What is so little realized nowadays, however, is that these bodily exercises, whether dance movements or some other rhythmical or gymnastic movements, were devised in such a way that through the unfolding and expression of rhythm, measure, and the like, spiritual beings were able to draw near, beings who lived in the movements, in the rhythm and measure in which the pupil was trained. While the pupil was doing something with his arms and legs, a spiritual influence passed from the limb system, including the metabolic system, into the rhythmic and the nerve-sense systems; in this way the whole human being was developed. One therefore should not say that in Greece primary importance was attached to the cultivation of gymnastics, for this gives the impression that they were cultivated then as they are nowadays, that is, mostly in an entirely outward and physical way. In fact, with the Greeks gymnastics also included the education of soul and spirit. The Greek educator was a gymnast; he educated the body, and along with the body the soul and spirit, because he had the capacity, as if by magic, to draw down the world of soul and spirit into bodily movements. The more ancient Greek gymnasts were perfectly conscious of this. They had no desire to educate human beings in an abstract, intellectual way or to teach their pupils in the way we do today. We speak exclusively to the head, even if we do not intend to do so. The Greeks brought their pupils into movement; they brought them into movement that was in harmony with the dynamic of the spiritual and physical cosmos.
In following the course of human evolution, we find that among the Romans the art of cultivating the soul and the spirit by way of the bodily nature had been forgotten. They approached the soul directly, and education took place especially through the medium of speech, the faculty lying nearest to the soul element in ordinary life. Roman education did, in fact, draw forth from speech that which was to form their pupils; the educator thus ceased to be a gymnast and became a rhetorician. Beauty of speech was from Roman times onward the essential element in education and actually remained so throughout the Middle Ages. Beauty of speech — in the forming of words and in the consciousness that the word is being sculpturally and musically formed — has its effect on the whole human being. The most important principles of education were derived from this consciousness. The Greek had gone right back to the bodily foundation of the human being, from there drawing everything into the realm of soul and spirit. The Roman concerned himself with the middle part of man, with the sublimated expression of the rhythmic system, with the musical speech of poetry. He trusted that if speech were handled properly, this musical and sculptural-painterly speech would work downward to the bodily and upward to the spiritual. In this form of education also, intellectual training played no part, but rather special importance was attached to speaking.
Then, from the fifteenth century onward, the rhetorician as educator was gradually superseded by the professor [Doktor]. [The German Doktor does not in this context refer to a medical doctor but to a scholar with a doctoral degree.] Even teachers who have passed through only a training college nowadays are in this sense really “professors.” Hitherto, there was some justification for this; if indeed the ideal of the professor was not held in the way it once was by a teacher pf gymnastics whom I knew well. He felt extremely uncomfortable on any gymnastic apparatus but loved to get up on a platform and hold forth theoretically about gymnastics. His pupils sat crouched and bent on their benches and listened to the gymnastics lectures. This sort of thing could not have happened in any other institution, but in this training college he could get up and lecture like this once a week. He felt quite learned he felt, in fact, like a real professor. The principle that the basis of education lies not in the rhythmic system but in the head, in the nerve-sense system, became more and more prominent as humanity evolved from the fifteenth century into the modern age. Hence it is not so easy today for teachers in the Waldorf School to adhere to the principle that they should have no desire to realize this ideal of the learned professor. I do not mean this outwardly but inwardly. It is not easy, because it is a normal part of the consciousness of modern humanity to believe that something is gained by becoming “learned.” In our civilization, however, a healthy condition will be achieved only when we realize that to be “learned” in this sense is actually harmful and, far from adding anything to a human being, it takes something away from him. Though I am always delighted when someone nods intelligent assent to the sort of thing about which I have been speaking, I am also a little uncomfortable about the nodding, because people take the matter much too lightly. There is little inclination inwardly to lay aside the doctorate, even if one does not have it oneself, even if one only carries the attitude in one's general consciousness. Furthermore, the trend that has caused the earlier gymnast and rhetorician to be superseded by the professor is so much part and parcel of modern civilization that it cannot easily be eradicated. It is in education, of course, that we notice most clearly the unfortunate effects upon a person who has gone through a doctoral training; yet that which has put the professor into a leading position in education has been necessary for the entire development of intellectualism in modern culture.
We have reached a point at which we must cultivate the synthesis of these three elements of the human being, for this division into gymnast, rhetorician, and professor is yet another example of the threefoldness of human nature, and it is above all in the realm of education that this synthesis should be achieved. If we could manage things ideally, the teacher should cultivate gymnastics in the noblest sense, rhetoric in the noblest sense — with all that was associated with it in ancient times — and also the professorial element in the noblest sense. Then these three elements should be integrated into a whole. I almost shudder at having to describe so dryly what you must know in this regard and must receive in your hearts' minds [die Gesinnung], because I am afraid that it may again get distorted, as happens with so much that must be said. It must not be distorted. The teacher should simply realize that for his own art of education he needs a synthesis of the spiritualized gymnast, of the ensouled rhetorician, and thirdly of the living, evolving spiritual element [das Geistige], not the dead and abstract spiritual element.
The whole faculty of the school ought to work together to assimilate these things, to develop gymnastics in the noblest sense and also what we have in eurythmy. If you really succeed in penetrating eurythmy inwardly, you will experience for yourselves that there is an active element of soul and spirit in every eurythmic movement. Every eurythmic movement calls forth an element of soul from the deepest foundations of the human being, and every gymnastic movement, if rightly executed, calls forth in the human being a spiritual atmosphere into which the spiritual element can penetrate livingly and not in a dead, abstract way.
The rhetorical element, in the noblest sense of the word, still has a particular significance for the teacher today. No educator, in whatever sphere of education he may be engaged, should fail to do his utmost to have his own speaking approach as closely as possible the ideal of an artistic speaking. The need for cultivating speech as such should always be kept in mind. This is something that has vanished so completely from man's consciousness that in this age of intellectualism professors of rhetoric are appointed at universities mainly out of an old habit. Curtius was professor of rhetoric at Berlin University, but he was not allowed to lecture on the subject, because lectures on the art of speech were felt to be superfluous at a place of higher education. He therefore had to discharge his duty in other ways than by lecturing about rhetoric, though in his official appointment he still bore the title of professor of rhetoric. This shows how we have ceased to attach any real value to the art of speech; this is connected with our ever-increasing disregard for the artistic element as such. Today we usually think because we do not know what else to do, and that is why we have so few real thoughts. The thoughts produced in the style of our modern thinking are the worst possible. The best are those that rise up out of an individual's humanness while he is engaged in some kind of action. Those thoughts are good that evolve out of beautifully formulated speech, when, out of such beautifully formulated speaking, thoughts rebound in us. Then something from the archangel lives in our thinking through the speaking, and it is far more significant that we be able to listen to this speaking than that we develop prosaic human thinking, however cleverly we might do so. This can be achieved, however, only if we, especially those engaged in education, clearly realize how remote modern thinking is from reality, from the world. We have, of course, produced a splendid science, but the sad thing is that this science knows nothing really and that, as a result of its knowing nothing, it is driving the very life out of human culture and civilization. We need not turn into revolutionaries for this reason or go about shouting such things indiscriminately in the world; what we need is to work in the school out of this consciousness.
Not only has thinking gradually become more and more abstract, but so has everything relating to the content of the human soul. At most man is still aware that his highest soul faculties originate in sudden flashes [einfällen], and he is especially proud when something occurs to him [einfällt] in this way. Since man experiences what may be the most valuable element in his soul as severed from the universe, he becomes inwardly barren and lifeless, alienated from reality. Our musicians compose music, they write melodies and harmonies, because these happen to˃ occur to them. Certainly one might think it quite a good thing if such things occur to someone frequently ini the realm of music; but why do they occur to him? Why should some melody suddenly occur to him out of nothingness? There appears to be neither human nor cosmic reason that a melody should occur suddenly to an individual who was born in and lives in this or that time or place. Why? There is meaning in it only when one has a connection with the cosmos in experiencing a melody, when one experiences the connection with the cosmos in experiencing a melody. One need not sail away into symbolism, but the connection with the cosmos must be experienced. The melody must really be “spoken” into us by the spirit of the world; then it has meaning and does something to promote progress in the world.
A great deal of Ahrimanic influence can be found in the world today. Indeed, the evolution of the world would be impossible without it. One of the worst instances of the Ahrimanic, however, is the fact that in order to become a qualified professor a thesis has to be written; there is no real connection between writing a thesis and becoming a professor. The only connection is purely external, Ahrimanized. Such things are taken seriously in our civilization today, however, and force their way into education, because educational institutions exert their influence from above downward, and the whole mode of their organization is totally unsound. Merely to say this sort of thing gets us nowhere, except to make us unpopular and create enemies for ourselves. In working here, however, we should be fully awake to the fact that we are called to work out of different premises.
Nowadays, for example, in lectures on the physiology of nutrition, we would be told that potatoes —carbohydrates — contain so much carbon, so much oxygen, and so on; that protein contains so and so much carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen; fats so and so much nitrogen, and so on; that the various “salts” man consumes are composed of what nowadays are called the chemical elements; and finally that the amounts of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and so forth, that man needs can be calculated. The modern theory of nutrition is arrived at in this way. It is exactly as though someone wanting to know how a watch comes into existence were first to ascertain how gold is produced up to the moment when it is delivered to the watchmaker or how the glass for the watch is produced, and so on, with other parts of the watch. Such a person insists on getting to know the parts but never on knowing what the watchmaker does with them. In all eternity he will never really know anything about the watch. He may be well informed about the glass, the hands, the materials of which the watch is made, but he knows nothing about the watch itself. The same sort of thing is true if, regarding human nutrition, a person limits himself to the knowledge that the fats are constituted of such and such chemical elements, the carbohydrates of others, and so forth. We begin to know something about nutrition only if we can enter in a living way into the fact that what we eat in a potato, for example, is related to the root. If we eat something related to the root it is quite different from consuming in flour something that is related to the seed as in rye, corn, or wheat. What really matters is not how much carbohydrate there is in a potato or a kernel of corn. Rather, if I prepare a foodstuff from seeds, from corn, this foodstuff has to be digested in the area of the human being that extends to the lymph vessels and reaches the nerve-sense system in a condition in which it can provide the foundation for thinking. When I eat a potato, which is related to the root, it is not the human digestive tract or the lymphatic system that reduces the potato to a state where it can be assimilated by the human body. No, here the midbrain is required, and when we eat potatoes the task of digestion is imposed upon the midbrain. When we eat a different kind of food this burden is not present. If we eat potatoes in excess, we impose upon the midbrain the task of the primary digestion; that is to say, we undermine the real function of the midbrain in relation to the nerve-sense system, which is to permeate thoughts with feeling [Gemüt]. We thus thrust our thinking into the forebrain, where it becomes intellectual and to some extent actually animal-like.
The essential point is not whether a potato, or cabbage, or corn, is composed of such and such a percentage of carbohydrates. For a true physiology of nutrition all that is irrelevant. What we really need to know is how these things actually work within the human being. If we wish to develop a living grasp of what man needs today, we have the task of freeing ourselves from all these things that can never give us a true knowledge of man. The way we talk about nature nowadays not only is misleading: it leads us straight into emptiness of thought, emptiness of feeling.
Now you are all aware that there is a well-known process in the human being by means of which carbon combines with oxygen so that carbon dioxide is produced, that is, the mixture of carbon and oxygen that we exhale. You will often hear this process talked about as if it were a sort of inner burning, the same sort of thing as when a candle burns. There, too, carbon combines with oxygen, but to talk in this way is about as intelligent as to ask why the human being needs two lungs; we might just as well put two stones into him, two inorganic objects. If we mentally transfer into the human being the outer process of burning, we think in the same way as we would if we viewed the lungs as two stones. The burning that takes place outwardly in connection with oxygen is a dead burning, an inorganic burning. What takes place in the human being is a living burning, permeated with soul. Any process that takes place outside in nature changes when it occurs in the human being; in the human being it is permeated with soul; it is spiritual. What carbon together with oxygen does within the human organism bears the same relation to what happens outside as the living lungs bear to two stones. It is more important to guide one's whole life of feeling in this direction than to ponder over these things; then in all realms of the life of soul one would come to a direct experience of nature that could truly guide one from nature to the human being. Nowadays people remain with nature outside and do not at all reach the human being.
You will discover that if you speak to children with this kind of feeling and attitude [Gesinnung], they will understand the most difficult things as they need to be understood in their particular age. If you rely on the accursed textbooks that are so popular, the children really understand nothing; you torment the children, bore them, call forth their scorn. What you must do is to create a relationship to the world in yourselves that is both living and true to reality. That, above all, is what the teacher needs. I would like to emphasize strongly at the beginning that the teacher should strive continually to bring to life in himself what in the course of civilization has become dead. One of the chief tasks in Waldorf education is to bring life to knowledge and to feel a kind of repugnance for the way in which things are presented nowadays in so-called scientific textbooks. After having conquered this stage of repugnance, we should be able to develop what in reality lives in ourselves and that passes over to the children in a living way. We must begin at this point with ourselves and then look at nature itself in this way. A good deal of courage is needed, because much of what is true is regarded nowadays as sheer madness. Everything possible should be done to develop this courage.
Think of a butterfly. It lays an egg, the caterpillar crawls out and spins its cocoon, becoming a chrysalis, and finally the butterfly flies out of the chrysalis. These things are described in the textbooks, but how? Without any consciousness whatever of the wonderful mystery that really lies here. The butterfly lays an egg, but it is essential that this egg be laid at the proper time of year and that it be receptive to everything that works as the earthy, as the solid or solid-fluid quality in nature. The most essential thing for the development of the egg is the “salty” element. Then comes the time when in addition to the earthy element, the fluid, and with the fluid the etheric, takes over. The fluid element, which becomes permeated with the etheric, passes over into the development of the caterpillar that crawls out of the egg. When we have the egg, we think primarily of the earth with the physical element. When we have the caterpillar that crawls out of the egg we see its shape. What crawls out is a being actually permeated with the etheric, fluid-watery element, and that is what makes the caterpillar into a caterpillar.
Now the caterpillar must develop its being in the air; the most important thing now for the caterpillar is that it come in contact with the light, so that it actually lives in the light-permeated air but at the same time expresses an inner relationship to the astral and, with this relationship to astrality, absorbs light. It is essential for the caterpillar to be exposed through its sensory system to the rays of the sun, to the radiating sun with its light. Next you see in the caterpillar what can be perceived in its most extreme form when you lie in bed with the lights still burning, and moths fly toward the light. There you have the apparently inexplicable urge of the moth to sacrifice itself. We shall hear why. The moth dashes into the light and is burnt up. Caterpillars have the same urge regarding the radiating light, but they are organized in such a way that they cannot hurl themselves into the sun. The moth can hurl itself into the light. The caterpillar has the same urge to give itself up to the light but cannot do so, for the sun is a long way off. The caterpillar develops this urge, goes out of itself, passes into the radiating light, gives itself up, spinning physical material out of its own body into the rays of the sun. The caterpillar sacrifices itself to the rays of the sun; it desires to destroy itself, but all destruction is birth. It spins its sheath during the day in the direction of the sun's rays and, when it rests at night, what has been spun hardens, so that these threads are spun rhythmically, day and night. These threads that the caterpillar spins are materialized, spun light.
Out of the threads that the light has formed, that it has materialized, the caterpillar spins its chrysalis, it passes wholly into the light. The light itself is the cause of the spinning of the chrysalis. The caterpillar cannot hurl itself into the light but gives itself up to it, creating the chamber in which the light is enclosed. The chrysalis is created from above downward in accordance with the laws of form of the primal wisdom. The butterfly is formed after the caterpillar has prepared the secluded chamber for the light. There you have the whole process from the egg to the brilliantly colored butterfly, which is born out of the light, as all colors are born out of the light. The whole process is born out of the cosmos.
If the process that we see extended into a fourfoldness — egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly — is in any way condensed, then the whole is changed. When the process occurs inwardly within the animal element, what remains is a being created out of the light. You see, the only way in which we can really get to the essence of the matter is to picture [vorstellen] the process artistically. It is impossible to picture this process whereby the butterfly forms itself from the chrysalis and is born out of the light unless we picture it artistically. If you picture the process in accordance with reality, you will find yourselves in a world of wonderful artistry. Just try for yourselves, and see how you receive an entirely different consciousness if you know something in this way. It is a consciousness entirely different from what you experience if you know something in the modern, outer way, which really gives no knowledge at all. Every detail becomes interesting if you allow yourselves, with soul and body, to grow together with the cosmos in its work of artistic creation.
Again, look at a tadpole with its resemblance to a fish; it breathes with gills and has a fish-like tail to swim with. The creature lives wholly in the watery element, the watery-earthly element. Then the tadpole develops into a frog. What happens? The blood vessels leading into the gills wither away, and the whole blood system is rounded off inwardly. Through this rounding off, the lung arises. The veins leading to the fishlike tail also wither away, but others elongate into legs so that the frog can hop about on land. This wonderful transformation of a system of blood vessels that at first feeds the gills and tail, this extraordinarily artistic transformation into lungs and limbs, is a truly marvelous process. How is it brought about? The first system of blood vessels, which feeds the gills and tail, is produced by the earthly-watery element; the second is produced by the watery-airy element that is permeated glitteringly with light.
You can learn to understand how the elements work together, but work together in an artistic way. If you reach this sort of understanding of the world of nature, you simply cannot help feeling as if you possessed the creative powers within yourselves. You cannot possibly be like most people nowadays when they study modern science. They are really not fully human. They just sit with their heads unhappily in their hands and strain their brains; study exhausts them. This is all unnatural; it is really nonsensical. It is just as if eating were to make us tired — but that happens only when we eat too much. Surely it is impossible to be wearied by anything that is so intimately bound up with man as this living-together of nature, spirit, and soul. Yet I have known many people who have been keen students, have written books, but who suffered from anæmia of the brain. It is really the same sort of thing as when a person suffers from anæmia in some other part of the organism. No one can suffer from anæmia of the brain who sees things in the way I have described it, in their true relation to reality. This is something that brings us to life inwardly, which is what we need above all else in our work as teachers. We must relate ourselves directly to life, and anything we are going to introduce in our teaching in school should sustain and uphold us inwardly, should truly enliven us. It is for this reason that no true teaching can ever be boring. How could it be? One might as well expect children to find eating and drinking boring, which usually does not happen unless a child is ill. If our teaching is boring there must be something wrong with it, and we ought to ask ourselves in every case (unless we are dealing with a really psychopathic child) what it is that is lacking in us when our teaching bores the children.
These are things that really matter, and we must realize, my dear friends, that we should neglect no single opportunity of quickening the inner life of soul and spirit. Otherwise we cannot teach. However erudite we may be, we cannot be good teachers. This is connected with what I described as our task to bring about the synthesis of what in successive stages of world evolution was separate: the gymnast, the rhetorician, and the professor. It is especially necessary today that we not allow the last relics that still live in the genius of our language, which can have an effect upon our whole human nature, to vanish, but that we try to bring a musical, sculptural-painterly quality into speech, so that what comes to expression in speech may again work back upon us. We therefore should make it one of the primary demands on ourselves never to speak in a slovenly way in the school but really to form and mold our speech so that as teachers our speech has something artistic about it. This may require some exertion, but it is of enormous significance. If it is achieved, there may flow out from the school an impulse for a revival, a renewal of civilization through the synthesis of gymnast, rhetorician, and professor. We must overcome the professorial quality — the learned knowledge, intellectual knowledge — which at the present time is the most disastrous of the three in all education. We can achieve something with children only by being human beings, not merely by being able to think.
This is the introduction I wished to give you today. I will add something in later talks about matters that fundamentally concern the teacher himself, for the educational problem is in many ways a problem of those who are actually teachers.