Human Values in Education
IV. Three Epochs of Childhood
20 July 1924, Arnheim
Arising out of yesterday's lecture a further question has been put to me in connection with our subject and I should like to deal with it here. The question is this: “With reference to the law of imitation in a child's movements I regard as important an explanation of the following fact. My grandfather died when my father was between eighteen months and two years old. When he was about forty-five my father visited one of my grandfather's friends who was astonished at the similarity of all my father's movements and gestures with those of my grandfather. What was the cause of this, seeing that owing to my grandfather's early death there could hardly be any question of imitation!”
So a man died when his son was between eighteen months and two years old and long afterwards, when the latter was in his 45th year, he heard from this friend, who was in a position to know, that as late as his 45th year he still imitated, or rather had the same gestures as his father.
Of course we are dealing here with matters of such a nature that it is scarcely possible to do more than give certain guiding lines, omitting detailed explanations. Unfortunately our courses of lectures are short, and the theme, if it were to be gone into fully, would need many lectures and ample time, six months for instance, or even a whole year. Very many questions are therefore likely to arise, and it may well be possible to answer these if they are brought forward. I must however point out that owing to the limited time at our disposal a certain lack of clarity will inevitably arise and this could only be cleared up if it were possible to enter fully into every detail. With reference to the question which has been put I should like to interpolate the following remarks.
If we take the first epoch of a child's life, that is, the time between birth and the change of teeth, the organisation of the child is working and developing in such a way that those predispositions are incorporated into the organism which I described yesterday as consisting of walking, which includes the general orientation of the human being, of speaking and thirdly of thinking.
Now this is how things follow one another. Between the first and seventh year of life the child is so organised that he is mainly concerned with gesture; between approximately the seventh and fourteenth year he is concerned with speech, as I explained yesterday; and, again speaking approximately, between his fourteenth and twenty-first year he is so organised that he is mainly concerned with thinking. What thus makes its appearance in the course of twenty-one years is however already taking shape as predisposition in the first period of life, between birth and the change of teeth. In so far as the assimilation of gesture is concerned, and this includes walking freely in space without need of support, so that the arms and also the muscles of the face can move in an expressive way — in other words a general orientation, finding a living relationship with gesture and movement — all this is developed mainly in the first third of these years, that is to say in the first 2⅓ years. The main development of the child during this time lies in the unfolding and building up of gesture. The gestures then continue to develop, but in addition something more intimate and inward is now impressed into the speech organism. Although the child has already uttered a few words nevertheless the experience of speech as predisposition takes place after 2⅓ years. The actual experience and feeling for speech is fully developed between the seventh and fourteenth year, but as predisposition it is there between 2⅓ and 4⅔ years old. Naturally all this must be taken as an average. From then on the child develops the faculty of experiencing inwardly the first beginnings of thought. What unfolds and blossoms later, between the 14th and 21st year is already developing germinally between 4⅔ and 7 years old. The forming of gestures continues of course throughout these years, but other faculties enter in. We see therefore that in the main we have to place the time for the unfolding and forming of gestures right back to the first 2½ years. What is gained during this time lies deepest. This is only natural, for we can well imagine how fundamentally the principle of imitation works in the very first years of life.
If you take all this together you will no longer find anything astonishing in what gave rise to the question that has been put here. The grandfather died when the father was between 1½ and 2 years old. Now this is precisely the time in which the forming of gesture is working most deeply. If the grandfather died then, the gestures the child imitated from him made by far the deepest impression. That is in no way altered by what may have been imitated later from other people. So just this particular case is extraordinarily significant when we consider it in detail.
We tried yesterday to explain how in the second period of life, between the change of teeth and puberty, the child in the course of his development experiences everything that finds its expression through speech, in which the self-understood authority of the teacher and educator must play its part. The intercourse between teacher and child must be of such a kind that it works in a pictorial, imaginative way. And I pointed out how at this age one cannot approach the child with moral precepts but can only work effectively on his moral nature by awakening in him such feelings as can be awakened by pictures: so that the child receives pictures described by his teacher and educator, who is also his model. These work in such a way that what is good pleases him and what is bad gives him a feeling of distaste. Therefore at this preparatory or elementary school age morality must be instilled in pictorial form by way of the feelings.
I explained further how writing must be brought to the child in a pictorial way and I showed how the forms of the letters must be developed out of the drawing-painting and the painting-drawing. Of all the arts this must be cultivated first, for it leads the child into civilisation. Everything which introduces the child at the very outset into the forms of the letters, which are completely strange to him, is quite wrong from an educational point of view; for the finished forms of the letters used in our present day civilisation work on the child like little demons.
Now in an education built up on a knowledge of man, learning to write must precede learning to read. If you want to come near to a child of this age, immediately after the change of teeth, you must as far as possible approach the whole being of the child. The child when occupied in writing does at least bring the whole of the upper part of the body into activity; there is an inner mobility which is quite different from when only the head is kept busy learning the forms of the letters. The emancipated, independent faculties of the head can only be made use of at a later age. For this reason we can make a transition by allowing the child also to read what he has written. In this way an impression is made on him.
By carrying out our teaching in this way at the Waldorf School it transpired that our children learn to read somewhat later than others; they even learn to write the letters a little later than children in other schools. It is necessary however, before forming a judgment in regard to this to be able really to enter into the nature of man with understanding. With the limited perception and feeling for a knowledge of man usual at the present day, people do not notice at all how detrimental it is for the general development of the human being if, as a child, he learns too early things so remote from him as reading and writing. Certainly nobody will experience any deficiency in his capacity to read and write, whose proficiency in these arts is attained somewhat later than others; on the other hand everyone who learns to read and write too early will suffer in this very respect. An education based on a knowledge of man must from the very beginning, proceed out of this ability to read human evolution and by understanding the conditions of life help the child in furthering the development of his own nature. This is the one and only way to a really health-giving education.
To gain deeper insight we must enter somewhat into the being of man. In man we have in the first place his physical body which is most intensively developed in the first epoch of life. In the second epoch the higher, finer body, the etheric body, develops predominantly. Now it is a matter of great importance that in this study of man we should proceed in a truly scientific way, and we must conjure up the same courage as is shown today in other branches of science. A substance showing a definite degree of warmth, can be brought into a condition in which that warmth, hitherto bound up with substance, becomes freed. It is liberated and then becomes “free” warmth. In the case of mineral substances we have the courage to speak scientifically when we say that there is “bound” warmth and “free” warmth. We must acquire the same courage when we study the world as a whole. If we have this courage then the following reveals itself to us in regard to man.
We can ask: Where are the forces of the etheric body in the first epoch of life? During this time they are bound up with the physical body and are active in its nourishment and growth. In this first epoch the child is different from what he becomes later. The entire forces of the etheric body are at first bound up with the physical body. At the end of the first epoch they are freed to some extent, just as warmth becomes free from the substances with which it was formerly bound up. What takes place now? Only a part of the etheric body is working after the change of teeth in the forces of growth and nourishment; the freed part becomes the bearer of the more intensive development of the memory, of qualities of soul. We must learn to speak of a soul that is “bound” during the first seven years of life and of a soul that has become free after the 7th year. For it is so. What we use as forces of the soul in the second seven years of life is imperceptibly bound up with the physical body during the first seven years; this is why nothing of a psychic nature becomes body free. A knowledge of how the soul works in the first seven years of life must be gained from observation of the body. And only after the change of teeth can any direct approach be made to what is purely of a soul nature.
This is a way of looking at things which leads directly from the physical to the psychological. Just think of the many different approaches to psychology today. They are based on speculation pure and simple. People think things over and discover that on the one hand we have the soul and on the other hand the body. Now the following question arises: Does the body work on the soul as its original cause, or is it the other way round? If they get no further either way, they discover something so extraordinarily grotesque as psychophysical parallelism, the idea of which is that both manifestations run parallel, side by side. In this way no explanation is given for the interaction of one with the other, but one speaks only of parallelism. This is a sign that nothing is known about these things out of experience. Out of experience one would have to say: In the first seven years of a child's life one perceives the soul working in the body. How it works must be learned through observation, not through mere speculation. Anthroposophy as a means of knowledge rejects all speculation and proceeds everywhere from experience, but of course from physical and spiritual experience.
So in the second period of life, in the time between the change of teeth and puberty the etheric body of man is our chief concern in education. Both teacher and child need above all those forces which are working in the etheric body, for these release the feeling life of the child, not yet judgment and thought. Deeply embedded in the nature of the child between the change of teeth and puberty is the third member of the human being, the astral body, which is the bearer of all feeling life and sensation. During this second period of life the astral body is still deeply embedded in the etheric body. Therefore, because the etheric body is now relatively free, we have the task to develop it in such a way that it can follow its own tendencies, helped and not hindered by education. When can it be so helped? This can happen when in the widest possible sense we teach and educate the child by means of pictures, when we build up imaginatively and pictorially everything that we wish him to absorb. For the etheric body is the body of formative forces; it models the wonderful forms of the organs, heart, lungs, liver and so on. The physical body which we inherit acts only as a model; after the first seven years, after the change of teeth, it is laid aside, and the second physical body is fashioned by the etheric body. This is why at this age we must educate in a way that is adapted to the plastic formative forces of the etheric body.
Now, just as we teach the child by means of pictures, just as, among other things, he learns to write by a kind of painting-drawing — and we cannot introduce the child too early to what is artistic, for our entire teaching must be permeated with artistic feeling — so must we also bear the following in mind. Just as the etheric body is inseparably associated with what is formative and pictorial, so the astral body, which underlies the life of feeling and sensation, tends in its organisation towards the musical nature of man. To what then must we look when we observe the child? Because the astral body between the change of teeth and puberty is still embedded in the physical and etheric bodies every child whose soul life is healthy is inwardly deeply musical. Every healthy child is inwardly deeply musical. We have only to call up this musicality by making use of the child's natural liveliness and sense of movement. Artistic teaching therefore must, from the very beginning of school life, make use both of the plastic and pictorial arts and also of the art of music. Nothing abstract must be allowed to dominate; it is the artistic approach which is all-important, and out of what is artistic the child must be led to a comprehension of the world.
But now we must proceed in such a way that the child learns gradually to find his own orientation in the world. I have already said that it is most repugnant to me if I see scientific text books brought into school and the teaching carried out along those lines. For today in our scientific work, which I fully recognise, we have deviated in many respects from a conception of the world which is in accordance with nature. We will now ask ourselves the following question, bearing in mind that in the course of discussion other things may have to be added. At about what age can one begin to teach children about the plant world?
This must be done neither too late nor too early. We must be aware that a very important stage in a child's development is reached between the 9th and 10th year. Those who see with the eye of a teacher observe this in every child. There comes a time in which the child, although he does not usually express it in words, nevertheless shows in his whole behaviour that he has a question, or a number of questions, which betray an inner crisis in his life. This is an exceptionally delicate experience in the child and an exceptionally delicate sense for these things is necessary if one is to perceive it. But it is there and it must be observed. At this age the child learns quite instinctively to differentiate himself from the outer world. Up to this time the “I” and the outer world interpenetrate each other, and it is therefore possible to tell the child stories about animals, plants and stones in which they all behave as though they were human beings. Indeed this is the best approach, for we should appeal to the child's pictorial, imaginative sense, and this we do if we speak about the kingdoms of nature in this way. Between the 9th and 10th year however the child learns to say “I” in full consciousness. He learns this earlier of course, but now he does so consciously. These years, therefore, when the consciousness of the child is no longer merged with the outer world, but when he learns to differentiate himself from it, are the time when we can begin, without immediately renouncing the pictorial element, to lead the child to an understanding of the plant world, but to an understanding imbued with feeling.
Today we are accustomed to look at one plant alongside of another, we know their names and so on; we do this as though the single plant was there for itself. But when we study the plant in this way, it is just as if you were to pull out a hair, and forgetting that it was on your head examine it for itself, in the belief that you can know something about its nature and life-conditions without considering it as growing out of your head. The hair only has meaning when it is growing on the head; it cannot be studied for itself. It is the same with the plant. One cannot pull it up and study it separately, but one must consider the whole earth as an organism to which the plants belong. This is actually what it is. The plants belong to the entire growth of the earth, in the same way as the hairs belong to our head. Plants can never be studied in an isolated way, but only in connection with the whole nature of the earth. The earth and the world of plants belong together.
Let us suppose that you have a herbaceous plant, an annual, which is growing out of the root, shooting up into stalk, leaves and flowers, and developing the fruit which is sown again in the following year. Then you have the earth underneath, in which the plant is growing. But now, think of a tree. The tree lives longer, it is not an annual. It develops around itself the mineralised bark which is of such a nature that pieces of it can be broken off. What is this in reality? The process is as follows: If you were to pile up around a plant the surrounding earth with its inherent forces, if you were more or less to cover it with earth, then you would bring this about in an external, mechanical way, through human activity. Nature however does the same thing by wrapping the tree round with the bark; only in this case it is not completely earth. In the bark there is a kind of hill of earth, the earth heaps itself up. We can see the earth flourishing and growing when we see the growing tree. This is why what surrounds the root of the plant must most certainly be reckoned as belonging to it. We must regard the soil as belonging to the plant.
Anyone who has trained himself to observe such things and happens to travel in a district where he notices many plants with yellow flowers will at once look to see what kind of soil it is. In such a case, where specifically many yellow flowers are to be seen, one is likely to find, for instance, a soil which is somewhat red in colour. You will never be able to think about the plant without taking into consideration the earth in which it grows. Both belong together. And one should lose no time in accustoming oneself to this; as otherwise one destroys in oneself a sense for realities.
A deep impression was made on me recently, when at the request of certain farmers, I gave an agricultural course, at the end of which a farmer said: Today everybody knows that our vegetables are dying out, are becoming decadent and this with alarming rapidity. Why is this? It is because people no longer understand, as they understood in bygone days, as the peasants understood, that earth and plants are bound together and must be so considered. If we want to foster the well-being of our vegetables so that they flourish again we must understand how to treat them in the right way, in other words, we must give them the right kind of manure. We must give the earth the possibility of living rightly in the environment of the plant roots. Today, after the failure of agricultural methods of development, we need a new impulse in agriculture based on Spiritual Science. This will enable us to make use of manure in such a way that the growth of plants does not degenerate. Anyone as old as I am can say: I know how potatoes looked 50 years ago in Europe — and how they look today! Today we have not only the decline of the West in regard to its cultural life, but this decline penetrates deeply also into the kingdoms of nature, for example, in regard to agriculture.
It really amounts to this, that the sense for the connection between the plant and its environment should not be destroyed, that on school outings and similar occasions die plants should not be uprooted and put into specimen containers and then brought into the classroom in the belief that thereby something has been achieved. For the uprooted plant can never exist just for itself. Today people indulge in totally unreal ideas. For instance they look upon a piece of chalk and a flower as having reality in the same sense. But what nonsense this is! The mineral can exist for itself, it can really do this. So the plant also (they say) should have an independent existence;
but it cannot, it ceases to be when it is uprooted from the ground. It only has earthly existence when it is attached to something other than itself, and that other only has existence in so far as it is part of the whole earth. We must study things as they are in their totality, not tear them out of it.
Almost all our knowledge based on observation teems with unrealities of this kind. This is why Nature Study has become completely abstract, although this is partly justified, as with the theory of relativity. Anyone, however, who can think in a realistic way cannot allow abstract concepts to run on and on, but notices when they cease to have any relationship with what is real. This is something he finds painful. Naturally you can follow the laws of acoustics and say: When I make a sound, the transmission of this sound has a definite speed. When I hear a sound anywhere, at any particular place, I can calculate the exact time its transmission will take. If now I move, no matter at what speed, in the direction the sound is travelling, I shall hear it later. Should my speed exceed the speed of the sound I shall not hear it at all; but if I move towards the sound I shall hear it earlier. The theory of relativity has its definite justification. According to this, however, we can also come to the following conclusion: If I now move towards the sound more quickly than the sound travels, I shall finally go beyond it, so that I shall hear the sound before it is made! This is obvious to anyone able to think realistically. Such a person also knows that logically it is absolutely correct, wonderfully thought out, to say that a clock (to take the famous comparison of Einstein) thrown with the speed of light into universal space and returning from thence, will not have changed in any respect. This can be wonderfully thought out. But for a realistic thinker the question must necessarily arise: What will the clock look like on its return? for he does not separate his thinking from reality, he remains always in the sphere of reality.
This is the essential characteristic of Spiritual Science. It never demands a merely logical approach, but one in accordance with reality. That is why people today, who carry abstractions even to the splitting of hairs, reproach us anthroposophists with being abstract, just because our way of thinking seeks everywhere the absolute reality, never losing the connection with reality, although here certainly the spiritual reality has to be included and understood. This is why it is possible to perceive so clearly how unnatural it is to connect plant study with specimens in a container.
It is therefore important when introducing the child to plant study that we consider the actual face of the earth and deal with the soil and plant growth as a whole, so that the child will never think of the plant as something detached and separate. This can be unpleasant for the teacher, for now he cannot take the usual botany books into class with him, have a quick glance at them during the lesson and behave as though he knew it all perfectly. I have already said that today there are no suitable botany text-books. But this sort of teaching takes on another aspect when one knows the effect of the imponderable and when one considers that in the child the subconscious works still more strongly than in older people. This subconscious is terribly clever and anyone able to perceive the spiritual life of the child knows that when a class is seated facing the teacher and he walks up and down with his notes and wants to impart the content of these notes to the children, they always form a judgment and think; Well, why should I know that? He doesn't even know it himself! This disturbs the lesson tremendously, for these feelings rise up out of the subconscious and nothing can be expected of a class which is taught by someone with notes in his hand.
We must always look into the spiritual side of things. This is particularly necessary when developing the art of education, for by doing so we can create in the child a feeling of standing firmly and safely in the world. For (in lessons on the plant) he gradually grasps the idea that the earth is an organism. And this it actually is and when it begins to become lifeless we must help it by making the right use of manure. For instance, it is not true that the water contained in the air is the same as that in the earth below. The water below has a certain vitality; the water above loses this vitality and only regains it when it descends. All these things are real, absolutely real. If we do not grasp them we do not unite ourselves with the world in a real way. This then is what I wished to say in regard to the teaching about the world of plants.
Now we come to the animal world and we cannot consider the animals as belonging to the earth in the same way. This is apparent from the mere fact that the animals can move about; in this respect they are independent. But when we compare the animals with man we find something very characteristic in their formation. This has always been indicated in an older, instinctive science, the after-effects of which still remained in the first third of the 19th century. When however a modern man with his way of looking at things reads the opinions expressed by those philosophers of nature who, following old traditions, still regarded the animal world in its relation to the human world, these strike him as being utterly foolish. I know that people have hardly been able to contain their laughter when in a study circle, during the reading from the nature philosopher, Oken, the following sentence occurred: “The human tongue is a cuttlefish.” Whatever could he have meant? Of course in actual fact this statement of Oken's can no longer be regarded as correct, but it contains an underlying principle which must be taken into account. When we observe the different animal forms, from the smallest protozoa up to the fully developed apes, we find that every animal form represents some part of the human being, a human organ, or an organic system, which is developed in a one-sided way. You need only look at these things quite crudely. Imagine that the human forehead were to recede enormously that the jaw were to jut right out, that the eyes were to look upwards instead of forwards, that the teeth and their whole nexus were also to be formed in a completely one-sided way. By imagining such an exaggerated, one-sided development you could get a picture of a great variety of mammals. By leaving out this or that in the human form you can change it into the form of an ox, a sheep and so on. And when you take the inner organs, for instance those which are connected with reproduction, you come into the region of the lower animals. The human being is a synthesis, a putting together of the single animal forms, which becomes softer, gentler, when they are united. The human being is made up of all the animal forms moulded into one harmonious structure. Thus when I trace back to their original forms all that in man is merged together I find the whole animal world. Man is a contraction of the whole animal world.
This way of looking at things places us with our soul life once more in a right relationship to the animal world. This has been forgotten, but it is nevertheless true; and as it belongs fundamentally to the principles of evolution it must again be brought to life. And, after having shown the child how the plant belongs to the earth, we must, in so far as it is possible today, proceed at about the nth year to a consideration of the animal world; and we must do this in such a way that we realise that in its various forms the animal world belongs, strictly speaking, to man himself. Think how the young human being will then stand in his relation to animal and plant. The plants go to the earth, become one with the earth; the animals become one with him! This gives the basis for a true relationship to the world; it places man in a real relationship to the world. This can always be brought to the child in connection with the teaching matter. And if this is done artistically, if we approach the subject in a living way, so that it corresponds with what the child in his inner being is able to grasp, then we give him living forces with which to establish a relationship to life. Otherwise we may easily destroy this relationship. But we must look deeply into the whole human being.
What really is the etheric body? Well, if it were possible to lift it out of the physical body and so impregnate it that its form were to become visible — then there would be no greater work of art than this. For the human etheric body through its own nature and through what man creates within it, is at one and the same time both work of art and artist. And when we introduce the formative element into the child's artistic work, when we let him model in the free way I described yesterday, we bring to him something that is deeply related to the etheric body. This enables the child to take hold of his own inner being and thereby place himself as man in a right relationship to the world.
By introducing the child to music we form the astral body. But when we put two things together, when we lead what is plastic over into movement, and when we form movements that are plastic, then we have eurythmy, which follows exactly the relationship of the child's etheric body to his astral body. And so now the child learns eurythmy, speech revealing itself in articulated gestures, just as he learned to speak quite naturally in his earlier years. A healthy child will find no difficulty in learning eurythmy, for in eurythmy he simply expresses his own being, he has the impulses to make his own being a reality. This is why, in addition to gymnastics, eurythmy is incorporated into the curriculum as an obligatory subject from the first school years right up into the highest classes.
So you see, eurythmy has arisen out of the whole human being, physical body, etheric body and astral body; it can only be studied by means of an anthroposophical knowledge of man. Gymnastics today are directed physiologically in a one-sided way towards the physical body; and because physiology cannot do otherwise, certain principles based on life-giving processes are introduced. By means of gymnastics, however, we do not educate the complete human being, but only part of him. By saying this nothing is implied against gymnastics, only in these days their importance is over-estimated. Therefore in education today eurythmy should stand side by side with gymnastics. I would not go as far as a famous physiologist did, who once happened to be in the audience when I was speaking about eurythmy. On that occasion I said that as a means of education gymnastics are over-rated at the present time, and that a form of gymnastics calling on the forces of soul and spirit, such as is practised in eurythmy side by side with the study of eurythmy as an art, must be introduced in addition to gymnastics as usually understood. At the end of my lecture the famous physiologist came up to me and said: Do you say that gymnastics may have their justification as a means of education because physiologists say so? I, as a physiologist, must say that gymnastics as a means of education are nothing less than barbarism! You would certainly be very astonished if I were to tell you the name of this physiologist. At the present time such things are already apparent to people who have some right to speak; and we must be careful not to advocate certain things in a fanatical way without a full knowledge of what is involved. To stand up fanatically for certain things is utterly out of place in connection with the art of education, because here we are dealing with the manifold aspects of life.
When we approach the other subjects which children have to be taught and do so from the various points of view which have here been considered, we come first to the years during which the child can only take in the pictorial through his life of feeling. History and geography, for instance, must be taught in this way. History must be described pictorially; we must paint and model with our words. This develops the child's mind. For during the first two stages of the second main epoch of life there is one thing above all to which the child has no relationship and this is what may be termed the concept of causation. Before the 7th year the child should most certainly not go to school. [i.e. to school as distinguished from a kindergarten.] If we take the time from 7 to 9⅓ years old we have the first subdivision of the second main epoch; from 9⅓ to 11⅔ years old we have the second stage and from 11⅔ until approximately the age of 14 we have the third stage. During the first stage of this second main epoch the child is so organised that he responds immediately to what is pictorial. At this age therefore we must speak as one does in fairy-tales, for everything must still be undifferentiated from the child's own nature. The plants must speak with one another, the minerals must speak with one another; the plants must kiss one another, they must have father and mother, and so on. At about 9⅓ years old the time has come which I have already characterised, when the ego begins to differentiate itself from the outer world. Then we can make a more realistic approach in our teaching about plants and animals. Always, however, in the first years of life history must be treated in fairy-tale, mythical mood. In the second subdivision of this longer epoch, that is to say, from 9⅓ until 11⅔ years old, we must speak pictorially. And only when the child approaches the age of 12 can one introduce him to the concept of causation, only then can one lead over to abstract concepts, whereby cause and effect can be allowed to enter in. Before this time the child is as inaccessible to cause and effect as anyone colour blind is to colours; and as an educator one often has absolutely no idea how unnecessary it is to speak to the child about cause and effect. It is only after the age of 12 that we can speak to him about things which today are taken for granted when looked at from a scientific point of view.
This makes it essential to wait until about the 12th year before dealing with anything that has to do with the lifeless, for this involves entering into the concept of causation. And in the teaching of history we must also wait until about this age before passing over from a pictorial presentation to one which deals with cause and effect, where the causes underlying historical events have to be sought. Before this we should only concern ourselves with what can be brought to the child as having life, soul-imbued life.
People are really very strange. For instance, in the course of cultural development a concept has arisen which goes by the name of animism. It is maintained that when a child knocks himself against a table he imagines the table to be alive and hits it. He dreams a soul into the table, and it is thought that primitive people did the same. The idea is prevalent that something very complicated takes place in the soul of the child. He is supposed to think that the table is alive, ensouled, and this is why he hits it when he bumps up against it. This is a fantastic notion. On the contrary those who study the history of culture are the ones who do actually “ensoul” something, for they “ensoul” this imaginative capacity into the child. But the soul qualities of the child are far more deeply embedded in the physical body than they are later, when they are emancipated and can work freely. When the child bumps against a table a reflex action is set up without his imagining that the table is alive. It is purely a reflex movement of will, for the child does not yet differentiate himself from the outer world. This differentiation first makes its appearance at about the 12th year when a healthy child can grasp the concept of causation. But when this concept is brought to the child too early, especially if it is done by means of crude external methods, really terrible conditions are set up in the child's development. It is all very well to say that one should take pains to make everything perfectly clear to a child. Calculating machines already exist in which little balls are pushed here and there in order to make the operations of arithmetic externally obvious. The next thing we may expect is that those of the same frame of mind will make moral concepts externally visible by means of some kind of machine in which by pushing something about one will be able to see good and evil in the same way as with the calculating machines one can see that 5 plus 7 equals 12. There are, however, undoubtedly spheres of life in which things cannot be made externally apparent and which are taken up and absorbed by the child in ways that are not at all obvious; and we greatly err if we try to make them so. Hence it is quite wrong to do as is often attempted in educational books and make externally apparent what by its very nature cannot be so treated. In this respect people often fall into really frightful trivialities.
In the years between the change of teeth and puberty we are not only concerned with the demonstrably obvious, for when we take the whole of human life into consideration the following becomes clear. At the age of 8 I take in some concept, I do not yet understand it fully; indeed I do not understand it at all as far as its abstract content is concerned. I am not yet so constituted as to make this possible. Why then do I take in the concept at all? I do so because it is my teacher who is speaking, because the authority of my teacher is self-understood and this works upon me. But today we are not supposed to do this; the child is to be shown what is visual and obvious. Now let us take a child who is taught everything in this way. In such a case what a child experiences does not grow with his growth, for by these methods he is treated as a being who does not grow. But we should not awaken in the child ideas which cannot grow with him, for then we should be doing the same thing as if we were to have a pair of shoes made for a three-year-old child and expect him to wear them when he is 12. Everything in the human being grows, including his power of comprehension; and so the concepts must grow with him. We must therefore see to it that we bring living concepts to the child, but this we can only do if there is a living relationship to the authority of the teacher. It is not achieved if the teacher is an abstract pedant who stands in front of the child and presents him with concepts which are as yet totally foreign to him. Picture two children. One has been taught in such a way that he takes in concepts and at the age of 45 he still gives things the same explanation that he learned when he was 8 years old. The concept has not grown with the child; he paid careful attention to it all, and at 45 can still explain it in the same way. Now let us take a second child who has been educated in a living way. Here we shall find that just as he no longer wears the same size shoes as he did when he was 8 years old, so at a later age he no longer carries around with him the same concepts that he learned when he was 8. On the contrary; these concepts have expanded and have become something quite different. All this reacts on the physical body. And if we look at these two people in regard to their physical fitness we find that the first man has sclerosis at the age of 45, while the second has remained mobile and is not sclerotic. How great do you think the differences are which come to light between human beings? In a certain place in Europe there were once two professors of philosophy. One was famous for his Greek philosophy; the other was an old Hegelian, an adherent of the school of Hegel, where people were still accustomed to take in living concepts, even after the age of 20. Both were lecturers at the same university. At the age of 70 the first decided to exercise his right to retire on a pension, he felt unable to continue. The second, the Hegelian professor, was 91 and said: “I cannot understand why that young fellow is settling down to retirement already.” But the conceptual life of this second professor had retained its mobility. People criticised him for this very reason and accused him of being inconsistent. The other man was consistent, but he suffered from sclerosis!
There exists a complete unity in the child between the spiritual and the bodily, and we can only deal rightly with him when we take this into consideration. Today people who do not share the views of materialists say that materialism is a bad thing. Why? Many will say that it is bad because it understands nothing of the spiritual. This, however, is not the worst, for little by little people will become aware of this lack, and as a result of the urge to get the better of it they will come to the spiritual. The worst thing about materialism is that it understands nothing of matter! Look into it yourselves and see what has become of the knowledge of the living forces of man in lung, liver and so on under the influences of materialism. Nothing is known about how these things work. A portion is removed from the lung, the liver and so forth and this is prepared and examined, but by means of present-day scientific methods nothing is learned of the spirit working actively in the human organs. Such knowledge can only be gained through spiritual science. The material reveals its nature only when studied from the aspect of spiritual science. Materialism has fallen sick, and the cause of this sickness is above all because the materialist understands nothing of matter. He wants to limit himself to what is material but he cannot penetrate to any knowledge of what is material in a real sense. In saying this I do not mean the “thought-out” material, where so and so many atoms are supposed to dance around a central nucleus: for things of this kind are not difficult to construct. In the earlier days of the Theosophical Society there were theosophists who constructed a whole system based on atoms and molecules; but it was all just thought out. What we have to do now is to approach reality once again. And if one actually does this one has a feeling of discomfort when one is supposed to grasp some concept which is entirely devoid of reality. One experiences pain when, for instance, someone propounds a theory such as this: Fundamentally it is one and the same thing whether I drive my car to a town, or whether the car stands still and the town comes to me. Certainly things of this kind are justified when looked at from a certain point of view. But drawn out to the extent that occurs today among those who hold completely abstract opinions, they impoverish the entire life of the human soul. And anyone who has a sense for such things experiences great pain in regard to much of what people think today, which works so destructively on teaching methods. For instance, I see the tendencies of certain methods applied already to little children in the kindergarten, who are given ordinary cut-out letters and then learn to pick them out of a heap and put them together to form words. By occupying the child in this way at such an early age we are bringing him something to which as yet he has absolutely no relationship. When this happens to him the effect is the same as if in real thinking one were to say: I was once a man who still had muscles, skin and so on; now I am merely a skeleton. So it is today under the influence of this propensity for abstractions in the spiritual life of mankind: one sees oneself suddenly as a skeleton. With such an outlook, however, which is the bare skeleton of reality, we cannot approach the child in education.
Because of this I wanted to show today how everything depends on the teacher approaching life in a true and living way.