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Deeper Insights into Education
GA 302a

II. Forces Leading to Health and Illness in Education

16 October 1923 afternoon, Stuttgart

Today I wish to speak about the following question: with what forces are we really working when we work educationally? Actually, this question cannot be answered in any definite sense by the culture of today. We can say, of course, that the outer life within which human beings stand, making it possible for them to earn a living, requires them to have capacities that they cannot have yet as children. We must impart such capacities to them. The behavior proper for adults is also, perhaps, something that the child cannot acquire by himself; it must be imparted to him through education. But the answer to the question — why do we actually educate? — remains something rather superficial in modern culture, because the adult today does not really see anything of great value in what he became through the teaching and education he received. He does not look back with any particularly deep gratitude to what he has become through his education. Ask yourself in your own heart whether this gratitude is always alive in you. In individual cases, of course, it may be present on reflection, but on the whole we do not think with deep gratitude about our own education, because the human soul (Gemüt) does not have a full realization of what education actually means, nor which forces in human nature are quickened by it. That is why it is so difficult nowadays to arouse in people enthusiasm for education. All our methods, all our ingenious, formed, outer methods of education, are of little value in this respect. Answers to the question —how can this or that be achieved? — are of little use. What is of the greatest importance, however, is for a person to have enthusiasm in his work and to be able to develop this enthusiasm to the full if he is to be a true teacher. This enthusiasm is infectious, and it alone can work miracles in education. The child eagerly responds to enthusiasm, and, when there is no response on his part, it usually indicates a lack of this enthusiasm in the teacher.

As a kind of obvious secret, let me say that although a great deal has been said about enthusiasm here, when I go through the classes in the school I see a kind of depression, a kind of heaviness in the teachers. The lessons are really conducted with a certain heaviness. This heaviness must be eliminated. Actually, it may also express itself in artificial enthusiasm. Artificial enthusiasm can achieve nothing at all. The only enthusiasm capable of achieving anything is that kindled by our own living interest in the subjects with which we must deal in the classroom. Now, it is essential for you to realize that as teachers we need to develop a consciousness of our own. It is necessary for us to work at cultivating this consciousness. This work to develop our own consciousness is certainly made infinitely more difficult by the fact that in the higher grades we must take into account the impossible demands made upon our children from outside in preparation for graduation. This lies like a leaden burden upon the teaching in the higher grades. Nevertheless, it is essential not to lose sight of our own goal, and therefore we must work to develop this consciousness, the Waldorf teacher's consciousness, if I may so express it. This is only possible, however, when in the field of education we come to an actual experience of the spiritual. Such an experience of the spiritual is difficult to attain for modern humanity, and this fact must be faced and understood. We must realize that we really need something quite specific, something that is hardly present anywhere else in the world, if we are to be capable of mastering the task of the Waldorf school. In all humility, without any trace of pride or arrogance, we must become conscious of this, but conscious of it inwardly, deep in our hearts, not merely by talking about it; within our hearts we must be able to become conscious of it. This is possible, however, only if we have a clear understanding of what humanity has lost in this respect, has lost just in the last three or four centuries. It is this that we must find again.

What has been lost is the realization that when the human being enters the world out of his pre-earthly existence he is, compared with the actual forces of the being of man, a being who needs to be healed. This bond of education with the healing of man has been lost from sight. During a certain period of the Middle Ages, certainly, it was believed that the human being, as man on earth, was ill and that his health had to be restored; that the human being as he was on the earth actually stood below his proper level and that something real had to be done in order to make man truly man. This is often understood merely in a formal sense. It is said that the human being must evolve, must be brought to a higher level, but this is meant abstractly, not concretely. It will be interpreted concretely only when the activity of education is actually brought into connection with the activity of healing. In healing a sick person, one knows that something has actually been achieved: if the sick person has been made healthy, he has been raised to a higher level, to the level of the normal human being. In ancient times, those who knew the world mysteries regarded birth as synonymous with an illness, because, in fact, when the human being is born he falls in a certain sense below his proper level and is not the being he was in pre-earthly existence. In comparison with the higher human nature, it is really something abnormal for the human being to bear within him constituents of his body, to have to bear a certain heaviness. It would not be considered particularly intelligent today to say that, in comparison with the higher nature of man, it is of the nature of illness to have to struggle continually until death with the physical forces of the body. Without such radical conceptions, however, we cannot approach the reality of what education means. Education must have something of the process of healing. In order to make this clear, let me offer the following.

The human being really lives within four complexes of forces. In one he is active when he walks, moves his legs with a pendulum swing, or when he uses his legs in order to dance or make other movements. This movement, taking place in the outer, physical world of space, can also be pictured as bringing about changes of location in space. Similarly, other possibilities of human movement, of the arms, hands, head, eye muscles, and so forth, can be designated as changes in location of an ordinary inanimate body, that is to say, if we leave out of account the inner activity of the human being. This is one complex of forces within which the human being lives and is active.

The second is unfolded when man begins to work upon the physical substances that he absorbs into himself; in the widest sense this includes everything that belongs to the activity of nourishment. Whereas the limbs of man are the mediators of what man has in common with beings that change their physical location, there is another activity that man needs in order to continue the activity connected with the outer substances that man absorbs as nourishment. If you put a piece of sugar into your mouth, it dissolves. This is a continuation of what sugar is in the outer world. Sugar is hard and white. You dissolve it, and it becomes liquid, viscous, and then undergoes further changes. The chemist speaks of chemical changes, but that is not relevant here. The sugar continually changes. It is worked upon and absorbed into the whole organism. There you have a second kind of activity. This continues right into the rhythmic system, and then the rhythmic system takes over the activity of the digestive system. What happens in this second kind of activity of man, however, is very different from the human activity of moving the limbs or of moving the whole human body in the outer world. The activity of nourishment is quite different from the activity exercised when we move outwardly or, let us say, lift a weight. This activity of nourishment cannot proceed at all without the intervention, at every point of this activity, of the astral nature of the human being. The astral nature of the human being must permeate each individual part of this activity, of nourishment. In the activity that I have described as the activity of walking, grasping, and so on, we are dealing essentially with the same forces man makes use of that we can also verify physically. What really happens in these movements is that the etheric organism is set in motion and through its mediation arises a leverage movement that we can see in an act of grasping or walking. If we focus on the activity of walking or grasping, we need only consider that which we have in the physical world as it is inserted within the working of the etheric; then we have what happens in man. We never have this, however, if we consider the activity of nourishment. This can arise only if the astral body takes hold of processes that otherwise we have in the test tube. There astral forces above all must be at work, and a fact that is considered nary at all is that in this process physical forces no longer play a part. This is exceedingly interesting, because it is generally believed that in nourishment, for example, physical forces are at work. As soon as the human being no longer exists in relation to the outer world, the physical forces cease to have their raison d'etre; they are no longer active, no longer have any effect. In the activity of nourishment, the physical substances are worked upon by the astral and etheric. The physical effect of a piece of sulfur or salt outside the body has no significance within the body. Only the astral nature of a substance is seized hold of by the astral, and then the etheric-astral is the really active factor in nourishment.

Going further, we come to the activities taking place in the rhythmic nature of man, in the blood rhythm, in the breathing rhythm. In their inner constitution these activities are similar to the forces at work in the system of nourishment. They are the result of cooperation between the etheric and the astral, but in the activity of digestion the astral is in a certain respect weaker than the etheric, and in the rhythmic activity the astral becomes stronger than the etheric. In the rhythmic system the etheric withdraws more into the background (though actually only the etheric that is within the human being). The etheric outside the human being begins to take part again in the activity that is exercised in the rhythmic system of man, so that actually with the activity of breathing one has the force of man's inner etheric body, the force of the outer ether of the world, and the astral activity of man.

Now, picture to yourselves what is really going on when the human being breathes. The physical activity of carbon, oxygen, etc., is completely suppressed, but the combined working of the etheric outside, the etheric within, and the astral is a most important factor. This plays a great part. These are the forces, however, that we must know in any substance if we wish to speak of the healing effect of that substance. We cannot discover the extent to which a substance is a remedy if we do not know how that substance, when introduced into the body, is laid hold of by these three systems of forces. The whole of therapy depends upon knowledge of these three forces in connection with the substances used. Knowledge of the healing influence in the outer and inner etheric and in the astral is what constitutes therapy in the real sense. What does it mean when antimony, for example, is used as a remedy? It simply means that some form of antimony is introduced into the body; it is laid hold of in a certain way by the inner etheric forces, by the outer etheric forces that enter by way of the breathing, and by the astral forces in the human being. We realize the extent to which antimony is a remedy when we understand the effect of these three systems of forces on a substance within the human organism. [Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman, Fundamentals of Therapy, London, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1967.]

In ascending to the rhythmic activity, therefore, we come to recognize a much more delicate process than exists, for example, in the activity of nourishment. It is essentially this rhythmic activity that must be considered if we wish to recognize the healing effects. Unless we know how a particular substance affects the rhythm of breathing or the blood circulation, we cannot understand the nature of this substance as a remedy.

Now the strange thing is this. Whereas the doctor brings into operation the therapeutic forces in the unconscious, in the rhythmic system of the blood circulation or the breathing, as teachers we must bring the next higher stage into operation: that which is connected with the activity in the nerves, in the senses. This is the next metamorphosis of the remedy. What we do as teachers, is really to work in such a way on the physical human being that the substances that are taken up are subjected to the etheric activity and to the outer physical activity — namely, to perception, whenever something is perceived — and to the inner physical activity, that is to say, to the inner changes of location brought about mechanically through the human being moving himself. Whereas in the remedy are contained the outer and inner etheric and the astral, in education are contained outer physical forces (as in gymnastics) and inner physical forces. When the human being bows his head, a change takes place in his entire dynamic system; the center of gravity shifts a little, and so forth. In the workings of light upon the eye we have recognized outer physical forces in their greatest delicacy and refinement. Moreover, outer physical forces are operating when pressure is made on an organ of touch. We therefore have etheric activity, outer physical forces, and inner physical forces, that is to say, physical changes in the nervous system, destruction in the nervous system. These are true physical processes that are actually present only in the nervous system of the human being. It is with these three systems that we are essentially dealing as a teacher with the child. This is the higher metamorphosis of what is done in healing.

What kinds of activity are present in the human being? There are the movements of walking, grasping, the movement of the limbs, outer changes of location, the activity in the process of nourishment, the rhythmic activity — which is through and through a healing activity — and the perceiving activity if we regard it from outside. Regarded from within, educational activity is entirely a perceiving activity.

This will now give you deeper insight into the nature of man. You will be able to say to yourselves that, since factors are active in the rhythmic system that are healing factors, there is a doctor (Arzt) continually present in the human being. In fact, the whole rhythmic system is a doctor. The function of a doctor is to heal something, however, and if healing is needed there must be illness. If that is so, walking, grasping, digesting must be continual processes of illness, and breathing and blood circulation a continual healing. This is indeed the case. In modern science, however, where discrimination is lacking, it is not realized that the human being is continually becoming ill. Eating and drinking, especially, are processes that continually create illness. We cannot avoid continually injuring our health through eating and drinking. Eating and drinking to excess merely injure us more seriously, but we are always injuring ourselves to a slight degree. The rhythmic system, however, is continually healing this illness. Human life on the earth is a continual process of becoming ill and a continual healing. This process of becoming ill brings about a genuinely physical illness. What the human being does in intercourse with the outer world, the consequences of walking, grasping, and the like, is a more intense but less noticeable process of becoming ill. We must counter it through a higher process of healing, through a process of education, which is a metamorphosis of the healing process.

The forces inherent in education are metamorphoses of therapeutic forces: they are therapeutic forces transformed. The goal of all our educational thinking must be to transform this thinking so as to rise fruitfully from the level of physical thinking to spiritual thinking. In physical thinking we have two categories which, in our academic age, give rise to a barren enthusiasm that has such a terrible influence. We have only two concepts: right-wrong, true-false. To discover whether something is “true” or “false” is the highest ideal of those whose entire lives are given up to the world of academia. In the concepts “true” and “false,” however, there is so little reality. They are something formal, established by mere logic, which actually does nothing but combine and separate. The concepts of “true” and “false” are dreadfully barren, prosaic, and formal. The moment we rise to the truths of the spiritual world we can no longer speak of “true” and “false,” for in the spiritual world that would be as nonsensical as saying that to drink such and such a quantity of wine every day is “false.” The expression “false” here is out of place. One says something real regarding this only by saying that such a thing gives rise to illness. Correct or incorrect are outer, formal concepts, even regarding the physical. Pertaining to the spiritual world, the concepts of “true” and “false” should be discarded altogether. As soon as we reach the spiritual world we must substitute “healthy” and “ill” for “true” and “false.” If someone said about a lecture such as the one I gave here yesterday evening, that is “right,” it would mean nothing at all. In the physical world things can be “right”; in the spiritual world nothing is “wrong” or “right.” There, things are reality. After all, is a hunchback “true” or “false”? In such a case we cannot speak of right or wrong. A drawing may be false or correct, but not a plant; a plant however, can be healthy or diseased. In the spiritual world things are either healthy or ill, fruitful or unfruitful. In what one does there must be reality. If someone considers that a lecture such as I gave yesterday is healthy or health-bringing, that is to the point. If he simply considers it “right,” he merely shows that he cannot rise to the level where reality lies. It is a question of health or illness when we are dealing with spiritual truths, and it is precisely this that we must learn in connection with education. We must learn to regard things in their educational application as either healthy or unhealthy, injurious to health. This is of particular significance if one wishes to engender a true consciousness of oneself as a teacher. It may be said that engendering this consciousness begins with passing from the “true” and “false” of logic, to the reality of “healthy” or “ill.” Then we come quite close to understanding the principle of healing. This can be developed in concrete detail but we must also let ourselves be stimulated by a comprehensive knowledge of man, a knowledge of man in relation to the world around him.

In describing the breathing process, for example, according to modern science, no particular weight is laid on the essential factor, on the actual human factor.

It is said that the air consists of oxygen and nitrogen, leaving aside for the moment the other constituents. Man inhales oxygen along with a certain amount of nitrogen. He then exhales oxygen combined with carbon, and also nitrogen. The percentages are measured, and it is then believed that the essentials of the process have been described. Little account is taken, however, of the essentially human factor. This begins to dawn upon us when we consider the following. There is a definite percentage of nitrogen in the air that is good for breathing, and also a definite percentage of oxygen. Suppose a man comes to a region where the air is poor in nitrogen, containing less than the normal percentage. If the person breathes in this nitrogen-poor air, this air gradually becomes richer in nitrogen through his breathing. He exhales from his body nitrogen that he would not otherwise exhale in order to augment the nitrogen content of the air in his environment. I do not know whether any account is taken of this in physiology today. I have often pointed out that the human being living in air that is poor in nitrogen corrects this lack; he prefers to take nitrogen from his own organic substances, depriving them of it in order to augment the nitrogen content of the outside air. He does the same with respect to the normal content of oxygen in the air. The human being is so intimately related to his environment that the moment the environment is not as it ought to be, he corrects it, improves upon it. We thus may say that the human being is constituted in such a way that he needs nitrogen and oxygen not only for himself; it is even more necessary for him to have nitrogen and oxygen in certain percentages in his environment than within his own organism. The environment of a human being is more important for this subconscious forces than the make-up of his own body. The incredibly interesting fact is that through his instincts the human being has a far greater interest in his environment than in the make-up of his own body. This is something that can be proved by experiment, provided the experiments are arranged intelligently. It is only a question of arranging experiments in this realm. If our research institutes would only tackle such problems, what a vast amount there would be for them to do! The problems are there and are of tremendous importance. They are terribly important for education, too, for it is only now that we can ask why the human being needs an environment containing a particular amount of nitrogen and a particular amount of oxygen. We know that in the inner activity of nourishment or general growth, all kinds of combinations of substances are formed in the human being, revealing themselves in a definite way when man becomes a corpse. It is only in this dead form, however, that these things are investigated by science today.

Now the strange thing is that in the sphere of the human being that encompasses part of the rhythmic activity and part of the metabolic-limb activity, there: is a tendency for an activity to unfold between carbon and nitrogen. In the sphere that extends from the rhythmic upward to the nerve-sense activity, there is a tendency to unfold an activity between carbon and oxygen. It is truly interesting, if one observes a soul-constitution not worn out by dry scholarship, to see sparkling soda water, where the carbon dioxide appears in the liquid as the result of the interplay of carbon and oxygen. If one observes these bubbles one has directly and imaginatively a view of what goes on in the course of the rhythmic breathing activity from the lung system toward the head. The bubbling effervescence in sparkling water is a picture of what, in a fine and delicate way, plays upward toward the human head. Looking at a spring of sparkling water, we can say that this activity of the rising carbon dioxide is really similar, only in a coarser form, to a continual, inward activity within the human being that rises from the lungs to the head. In the head, something must continually be stimulated by a delicate, intimate sparkling-water activity; otherwise, the human being becomes stupid or dull. If we neglect to bring this effervescence of sparkling water to the head of a human being, then the carbon within him suddenly shows an inclination for hydrogen instead of oxygen. This rises up to the brain and produces “marsh gas,” such as is found in subterranean vaults, and then the human being becomes dull, drowsy, musty.

To begin with, these things confront us as inner — one would like to say — physical activities, but they are not really physical, for the production of marsh gas or carbon dioxide becomes in this case an inner spiritual life. We are not being led into materialism here but into the delicate weaving of the spiritual in matter.

Now if, in teaching languages, for example, we make the child learn too much vocabulary, if we make him memorize through an unconscious mechanization, this process can lead to the development of marsh gas in the head. If we bring as many living pictures as possible to the child, the effect is such that the breathing system lets the carbon dioxide effervesce toward the head. We therefore play a part, in fact, in something that makes either for health or illness. This shows us how as teachers we must demand a higher metamorphosis of the forces of healing. To be able to perceive these hidden relationships in the human organism kindles enthusiasm in the highest degree. We realize for the first time that the head is a remarkable vault that can be filled with either marsh gas or carbon dioxide. We feel we are standing before the deeper well-springs of existence.

In the next lecture, we shall study another activity, with which this activity must be brought into balance. This can happen, however, only when there is on the one hand the right kind of teaching in the musical sphere and, on the other, the right kind of teaching in lessons that are based upon outer perception (Anschauung) and not upon the musical sphere. Thus, our teaching takes shape, and our interest is aroused in the human being before us. To this something else must be added: the feeling of responsibility. The consciousness of a Waldorf teacher should be imbued with the realization that makes him say in all humility: people are let loose into the educational world today as if the totally blind were sent out to paint in color. Few know what is really taking place in education. It is no wonder that a blind man has no particular enthusiasm for painting in color; no wonder there is no real enthusiasm for education in the world! The moment we enter into education in the way described, however, the whole art of our education will provide the stimulus for this enthusiasm, and we shall feel that we are in touch with the well-springs of the world, and find the true feeling of responsibility. We realize that we can bring either health or illness. This enthusiasm on the one hand and a feeling of responsibility on the other: both must arise in us.