Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Human Values in Education
GA 310

IX. Styles in Education, Historical Examples

24 July 1924, Arnheim

It can be said with truth that what our schools are able to accomplish forms part of the whole culture and development of civilisation. It does so either in a more direct way, in which case it is easy to see how a civilisation comes to expression in its art of education, or it lies unnoticed within it. To be sure, civilisation is always an image of what is done in the schools, only very often this is not observed. We shall be able to characterise this by taking our own epoch as an example, but first we will begin with oriental culture.

We really have very little intimate knowledge about the older oriental culture and what still remains of it. Oriental culture has absolutely no intellectual element; it proceeds directly out of the whole human being, that is the human being in his Oriental form, and it seeks to unite man with man. Only with difficulty does it rise beyond the principle of authority. The forms it takes arise, more out of love, in the way of nature. In the whole nexus of the oriental world we cannot speak of a separated teacher and a separated pupil, as in our case. There you do not have the teacher and educator, but you have the Dada. The Dada shows the way: through his personality he represents what the growing human being should absorb. The Dada is the one who shows everything, who teaches absolutely nothing. In oriental culture to teach would have no sense. Herbart, a very famous European educationalist, whose views on educational questions were widely accepted in Central Europe, once expressed himself as follows: I cannot think of an education without teaching. With him everything centred on how one taught. The Oriental would have said: I cannot think of an education based on teaching, because in education, everything which should come to fruition in the pupil is contained in living demonstration and example. This holds good right up to the relationship between the Initiate, the Guru, and the Chela, the Disciple. The latter is not taught, he learns by example.

By entering more deeply into such things, what follows will be more easily understood. All Waldorf School education is directed towards the whole human being. Our purpose is not to separate spiritual and physical education, but when we educate the body — because we do this out of fundamental spiritual principles, which are nevertheless extremely practical — our education reaches even into illnesses with all their ramifications. Our aim is to let the spirit work actively in the body; so that in the Waldorf School physical education is not neglected, but is developed out of the knowledge that the human being is soul and spirit. In every way our education contains all that is required for the training of the body.

Further, one must learn to understand what was understood by the Greeks. Greek education was based on gymnastics. The teacher was a gymnast, that is to say, he knew the significance of human movement. In the earlier Greek epoch it would have been more or less incomprehensible to the Greek if one had spoken to him about the necessity of introducing children to logical thinking. For the Greek knew what was brought about when children were taught health-giving gymnastics — in a somewhat milder way in the case of the Athenians, in a harder, more arduous way in the case of the Spartans. For him it was perfectly clear: “If I know how to use my fingers when taking hold of something, so that I do it in a deft, and not in a clumsy way, the movement goes up into the whole organism and in the agile use of my limbs I learn to think clearly. I also learn to speak well when I carry out gymnastic movements rightly.” Everything belonging to the so-called training of spirit and soul in man, everything tending towards abstraction, is developed in a quite unnatural way if it is done by means of direct instruction. Schooling of this kind should grow out of the way in which one learns to move the body. This is why our civilisation has become so abstract. Today there are men who cannot sew on a torn-off trouser button. With us in the Waldorf School boys and girls sit together and the boys get thoroughly enthusiastic over knitting and crochet; and in doing this they learn how to manipulate their thoughts. It is not surprising that a man, however well trained in logical thinking is nevertheless unable to think clearly, if he does not know how to knit. In this connection we in our time may observe how much more mobile the thought world of women is. One has only to study what has followed the admittance of women to the university in order to see how much more mobile the soul-spiritual is in women than in men, who have become stiff and abstract through an activity which leads away from reality. This is to be observed in its worst form in the business world. When one observes how a business man conducts his affairs it is enough to drive one up the wall.

These are things which must once again be understood. I must know that however much I draw on the board, children will learn to distinguish the difference between acute and obtuse angles much better, they will learn to understand the world much better, if we let them practise holding a pencil between the big and next toe, making tolerable and well-formed angles and letters — in other words, when what is spiritual in man streams out of the whole body — than by any amount of intellectual, conceptual explanation. In Greek culture care was taken that a child should learn how to move, how to bear heat and cold, how to adapt himself to the physical world, because there was a feeling that the soul-spiritual develops rightly out of a rightly developed physical body. The Greek, educated as a gymnast, took hold of and mastered the whole man, and the outer faculties were allowed to develop out of this mastery. We today, with our abstract science, are aware of a very important truth, but we know it as an abstraction. When we have children who learn to write easily with the right hand we know today that in man this is connected with the centre of speech situated in the left half of the brain. We observe the connection between movements of the hand and speaking. If we go further we can in the same way learn through physiology to know the connection between movement and thinking. Today therefore we already know, albeit in a somewhat abstract way, how thinking and speaking arise out of man's faculty of movement; but the Greek knew this in a most comprehensive sense. So the gymnast said: Man will learn to think in a co-ordinated way if he learns to walk and jump well, if he learns to throw the discus skilfully. And when he learns to throw the discus beyond the mark he will also comprehend the underlying logic of the story of “Achilles and the Tortoise;” he will learn to grasp all the remarkable forms of logic, which the Greeks enumerated. In this way he will learn to stand firm in reality. Today we usually think somewhat as follows: Here we have a lawyer, there a client; the lawyer knows things which the client does not know. In Greece, however, because it was quite usual to throw the discus beyond the mark, the Greek understood the following: Assuming that a learned lawyer has a pupil whom he instructs in legal matters, and this pupil is so well taught that he must inevitably win every law-suit, what may ensue? In the event of a law-suit involving both pupil and teacher the position would be this: The pupil would inevitably win and inevitably lose! As you know, the case is then left hanging in the air! Thus thinking and speaking developed out of an education based on gymnastics: both were drawn out of the whole human being.

Now let us pass on to the Roman civilisation. There the whole man receded into the background, although something of him still remained in the pose of the Roman. Greek movement was still living, pristine and natural. A Roman in his toga looked very different from a Greek; he also moved differently, for with him movement had become pose. In the place of movement education was directed towards only a part of the human being; it was based on speech, on beautiful speaking. This was still a great deal, for in speech the whole upper part of the body is engaged right down into the diaphragm and the bowels. A very considerable part of man is engaged when he learns to speak beautifully. Every effort was made in education to approach the human being, to make something of the human being. This still remained when culture passed over into mediaeval times. In Greece the most important educator was the gymnast, who worked on the whole man; in the civilisation of Rome the most important educator was the rhetorician. In Greece all culture and world-perspective was based on the beautiful human being, conceived in his entirety. One cannot understand a Greek poem, or a Greek statue if one does not know that the Greek's whole world-perspective was centralised in the concept of man in movement. When one looks at a Greek statue and sees the movement of the mouth, one is led to ask: What is the relationship between this movement and the position of the foot, and so on? It is altogether different when we come to consider Roman Art and culture. There the rhetorician takes the place of the gymnast; there the entire cultural life is centred in oratory. The whole of education is directed towards the training of public speakers, the development of beautifully formed speech, the acquisition of eloquence, and this continues right on into the Middle Ages, when education still worked on man himself. You will see that this is so, if you ask yourselves the following: What was the substance of education in the Middle Ages, to what end and purpose were people educated? There were for instance the Seven Liberal Arts: Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy or Astrology, and Music. To take one example: Arithmetic was not practised as it is today, but was taught in order to develop the faculty of working with and entering into the nature of forms and numbers. The study of music enabled the pupil to gain a deeper experience of the whole of life. And astronomy: this helped him to develop the capacity for cosmic thinking. In all these studies the approach was made to man himself. The so-called exact sciences of today played a negligible part in education. That the pupil should understand something of science was held to be of little value. It was considered much more important that he should move and speak well and be able to think and calculate. That he should acquire some sort of ready-made truth was of lesser importance. Hence all culture, the perspective of civilisation developed along lines which produced men able to play a part in public life and affairs and willing to devote themselves to this. Pride was felt in men able to hold their own as public orators, men who were thoroughly representative human beings.

The stream of culture which carried this into later times, in some measure, indeed, right into the present, is the Jesuitical schooling, which, from its first establishment and on into the 18th century, had as its main purpose the training, one might almost say the drilling of human beings, so that they became characters possessing great will-power and as such could be placed into life. From the beginning this was the aim of Jesuitical culture. And it was only in the course of the 19th century, in order not to remain too much behind others, that the Jesuits introduced the exact sciences into their teaching. By these methods the Jesuits developed strong, energetic characters so that today, even if one is an opponent of Jesuitism, one finds oneself obliged to say: If only human beings could be trained to work with such consciousness of purpose for the good, as the Jesuits have trained them to work for the decadence of mankind!

This trend in the development of man first makes its appearance in the Roman civilisation, when out of the gymnast there emerges the rhetorician. We see therefore, in a civilisation which has as its foundation a rhetorical education, what tremendous value is laid on everything in life which can assume world significance in the sphere of rhetoric. Now try to look back on the whole life of the Middle Ages. Everything reveals the fact that life is regarded from the point of view of speech, of rhetorical speech, and this enters into such things as how one should behave, how one man should greet another and so on. All this is not taken for granted, but practised according to a conception of beauty, just as in rhetoric a manner of speaking which conforms to a conception of beauty gives aesthetic pleasure. Here you see arising everywhere the world-significance of a rhetorical education; while the world-significance of the Greek education lies in that which comes to expression in human movement.

And now with the 16th century we come to more modern times, although in point of fact some preparation for it may already be seen in the 15th century. Once again something that still represented much in the human being, in this case the rhetorical, is pushed into the background. Just as the rhetorical had pushed back gymnastic training, so now there is a further step, the rhetorical is pushed back and there is a still greater limitation, an ever increasing striving after intellectuality. Just as the Roman educator was the rhetorician, so is our educator the doctor, the professor. If the gymnast was still a complete human being, if the rhetorician, when he appeared in public, wished at least to be a representative human being, so our professor has ceased to be a human being at all. He denies the human being and lives more and more in sheer abstractions; all he is now is a skeleton of civilisation. Therefore, in more modern times at any rate, the professor adopts the fashion of dressing like a man of the world; he no longer cares to wear cap and gown in the lecture room, but dresses in such a way that it is not apparent immediately that he is merely a skeleton of civilisation. Ever since the 16th century our entire education has been focused on the professor. And those who educate in the sense of this view of what is of importance in the world no longer take with them into the schools any understanding of human development and human training, but they impart knowledge to the child. The child is expected to absorb knowledge; his true development is ignored, but he is expected to know something; he is expected to acquire learning. Certainly those in favour of reform in education complain loudly about this academic attitude, but they cannot get away from it. Anyone who is fully aware of these things and has a clear picture in his mind of how a Greek child was educated; anyone who then turns his attention to what happens in a modern school where, even though gymnastics are taught, the development and training of the human being is completely overlooked and scraps of knowledge taken from the sciences are given to the youngest children, must perforce say: It is not only that teachers become skeletons of civilisation, are such already, or if not, regard it as their ideal to become so in one way or another, or at any rate to look upon it as an essential requirement — it is not only that the teachers are like this, but these little children look as if they were small professors. And should one wish to express what constitutes the difference between a Greek child and a modern child, one might well say: A Greek child was a human being, a modern child all too easily becomes a small professor.

This is the great change that has taken place in the world as far as the shaping and development of culture is concerned. We no longer look at the human being himself, but only at what can be presented to him in the way of knowledge, what he should know and bear as knowledge within him. Western civilisation has developed downwards to the point at which the gymnast has descended to the rhetorician and the rhetorician to the professor. The upward direction must be found again. The most important words for modern education at the present time are these: The professor must be superseded. We must turn our attention once more to the whole man. Now consider how this comes to expression in the world-wide significance of education. Not long ago, in Middle Europe, there was a university which had a professor of eloquence. If we go back to the first half of the 19th century we find such professors of eloquence, of rhetorical speech, in many places of learning; it was all that remained of the old rhetoric. Now at the university I have in mind there was a really significant personality who held the post of professor of eloquence. But he would never have had anyone to listen to him if he had been this only, for no one any longer felt the faintest inclination to listen to eloquence. He gave lectures only on Greek archaeology. In the University Register he was entered as “Professor of Eloquence,” but actually one could hear only his lectures on Greek archaeology. He had to teach something leading to the acquisition of knowledge, not to the acquiring of a capacity. And indeed this has become the ideal of modern teaching. It leads out into a life in which people know a tremendous amount. Already it hardly seems to be an earthly world any more, where people know so enormously much. They have so much knowledge and so little ability, for that function is lacking which leads from knowledge to ability. For instance, someone is studying for the medical profession, and the time comes for his final examinations. He is now told, quite officially, that as yet he can do nothing, but must now go through years of practical training. But it is absurd that students during their first years are not taught in such a way as to be able to do something from the very beginning. What is the purpose of a child knowing what an addition sum is — if he can only add? What is the purpose of a child knowing what a town is — if he only knows what the town looks like? Wherever we are, the whole point is that we enter into life. And the professor leads away from life, not into it.

The following example can also show us the world-wide significance of education. It was still very apparent in Greece when people came to the Olympic Games. There they could see what it was on which the Greeks laid such value; there they knew that only the gymnast could be a teacher in the schools. It was still similar in the time of the rhetorician. And with us? There are certain people who would like to resuscitate the Olympic Games. This is nothing but a whimsical idea, for in present-day humanity there is no longer any need for them. It is a mere piece of external imitation and nothing is to be gained by it. What penetrates right through the man of today is neither centred in his speech, nor in his studied bearing and gestures, but is something centred in his thoughts. And so it has come about that science now has a positively demonic significance for the world. The cause of this demonic world-wide significance lies in the fact that people believed that things thought out intellectually could further the development of culture. Life was to be shaped and moulded according to theories. This holds good, for instance, in modern Socialism, the whole tenor of which is to fashion life in accordance with such concepts. It was in this way that Marxism came into the world: a few, ready-made uncoordinated concepts, such as “surplus value” and so on — on these life was to be judged and ordered. Nobody then saw the connections and consequences. But a survey of the totality is absolutely necessary. Let us go to a place in the more westerly part of Middle Europe. Some decades ago a philosopher was teaching there who no longer had anything from life, for he had turned everything into the form of concepts. He believed that life could be formed conceptually. This belief he put forward in his lectures. He had a preference for Russian pupils, of whom he had many, and his philosophy found its practical realisation in Bolshevism. He himself remained an ordinary, upright, middle-class citizen; at that time he had not the faintest inkling of what he was doing in sowing the seed of his philosophy. There grew out of it, nevertheless, the remarkable plant that has blossomed in Bolshevism. The seed of Bolshevism was first sown in the universities of the West; it was sown in the thoughts, in the abstract, intellectualistic education given to the rising generation. Just as someone who knows nothing about plants has no idea what will sprout from a seed, so the people had no idea of what was to grow out of the seed they had planted. They only saw the consequences when the seed began to grow. This is because man no longer understands the great inter-relationship of life.

The world-significance of modern intellectualistic education is that it leads right away from life. We see this if we simply consider quite external things. Before the world war we had books. Well, as you know, one masters the content of these books for just so long as one is reading or making notes on them. Otherwise they remain in the library, which is the coffin of the spiritual life. And only when somebody is perhaps obliged to produce a thesis, does he have to take out the books. This happens in a quite external way, and the person concerned is glad when their content only enters into his head and does not penetrate any further into his being. This is the case everywhere.

But now let us look into life. We have the economic life, the life of rights, and the spiritual life. This all goes on, but we do not think any more about it. We do not think any more at all about inner realities, we think in terms of bank-books. What is still contained in banking of real concern to our economic life — or even to our spiritual life, when, for example, the accounts of schools are prepared? These contain the abstract figures on the balance sheet. And what have these figures brought about in life? They have brought it about that man is no longer personally bound up with what he does. Gradually a point is reached at which it is all one to him whether he is a corn merchant or an outfitter; for trousers mean as much to him as anything else. Now he only calculates what profits are brought in by the business; he only looks at the abstract figures, with an eye for what is likely to prove more lucrative. The bank has taken the place of a living economic life. One draws money from the bank, but apart from this, leaves banking to its economic abstractions. Everything has been changed into abstract externalities, with the result that one is no longer humanly involved in things. When the bank was founded, it was still closely bound up with human beings, because people were still accustomed to standing within the living work of existence, as was the case in earlier times. This was still so in the first half of the 19th century. Then the director of a bank still impressed into it a personal character; he was still actively engaged in it with his will, he still lived with it as a personality. In this connection I should like to relate a little story which describes how the banker Rothschild behaved when a representative of the king of France came to arrange for a State credit. At the time of the ambassador's arrival Rothschild was having a consultation with a dealer in leather. The ambassador, whose visit was concerned with making arrangements for this credit, was duly announced. Rothschild, whose business with the dealer in leather was not yet finished, sent a message, asking him to wait. The minister could not understand how an ambassador from the king of France could possibly be kept waiting and he desired to be announced once more. To this Rothschild said: I am now engaged in business concerning leather, not with state affairs. The minister was now so furious that he burst open the door into Rothschild's room, saying: “I am the ambassador of the king of France!” Rothschild replied: “Please, take a chair.” The ambassador, believing that he had not heard rightly, repeated: “I am the ambassador of the king of France.” — for he could not conceive that anyone in his position could be offered a chair. Whereupon Rothschild replied: “Take two chairs.”

So we see how the personality at that time still made itself felt, for it is there. Is it still there today? It is there in exceptional cases, when, for example, someone breaks through public officialdom. Otherwise, where once there was the personality, there is now the joint-stock company. Man no longer stands as a personality in the centre of things. If one asks: What is a joint-stock company? — the answer may well be: A Society consisting of people who are rich today and poor tomorrow. For things take quite another course today than they did formerly; today they pile up, tomorrow they are again dissolved; human beings are thrown hither and thither in this fluctuating state of affairs, and money does business on its own. So it happens today that a man is glad when he comes into a situation where he can amass a certain amount of money. He then buys a car; later on he buys a second one. Things proceed in this way until his situation changes and now money is scarce. He perforce sells one of the cars and soon after the other one also. This points to the fact that man is no longer himself in control of economic and business life. He has been thrown out of the objective course of business life. I put this forward for the first time in 1908 in Nuremberg, but people did not understand much about it. It was the same in the spring of 1914 in Vienna when I said: Everything is heading towards a great world catastrophe because human beings are now outside the real and concrete and are growing ever more and more into the abstract, and it is clear that the abstract must inevitably lead into chaos. Yet people would not understand it.

Now what must be borne in mind above all else, if one has a heart for education, is that we must free ourselves from the abstract and again work our way into the concrete, realising that everything turns on man himself. Hence emphasis should not be laid too strongly on the necessity for the teacher to have a thorough knowledge of Geography and History, of English or French, but rather that he should understand man, and should build up his teaching and education on the basis of a true knowledge of the human being. Then, if need be, let him sit down and look out in the encyclopaedia the material he requires for his teaching; for if a man does this, but as an educator stands firmly on the ground of a real understanding and knowledge of man, he will nevertheless be a better teacher than one who has an excellent degree, but is totally lacking in true knowledge of the human being.

Then we come to the world-significance of the art of education; then we know that what happens in the school is reflected in the culture of the outer world. This could easily be seen in the case of the Greeks. The gymnast was to be seen everywhere in public life. When the Greek, no matter what he was like in other respects, stood confronting the Agora, it was apparent that he had been educated as a gymnast. In the case of the Romans, what lived in a man's schooling came less into external form.

With us, however, what lives in the school finds its expression only through the fact that life escapes us more and more, that we grow out of life, no longer grow into it; that our account books have their own life to a degree of which we have scarcely an inkling, a life so remote that we no longer have any power over it. It takes its own course; it leads an abstract existence, based only on figures.

And let us look at human beings who are highly educated. At most we recognise them because they wear glasses (or perhaps they don't) on their attenuated little organ. Our present day education has world significance only through the fact that it is gradually undermining the significance of the world.

We must bring the world, the real world into the school once more. The teacher must stand within this world, he must have a living interest in everything existing in the world. Only when the teacher is a man or woman of the world, can the world be brought in a living way into the school. And the world must live in the school. Even if to begin with this happens playfully, then in an aesthetic way, thus finding its expression step by step, it is nevertheless imperative that the world lives in the school. Therefore today it is much more important to draw attention to this approach of mind and heart in our newer education than ever and again to be thinking out new methods. Many of the old methods still in use are good. And what I wanted to say to you is most certainly not intended to put the excellent exponents of education of the 19th century in the shade. I appreciate them fully; indeed I see in the teachers of the 19th-century men of genius and great capacity, but they were the children of the intellectualistic epoch; they used their capacity to work towards the intellectualising of our age. People today have no idea of the extent to which they are intellectualised. Here we touch precisely on the world significance of a new education. It lies in the fact that we free ourselves from this intellectuality. Then the different branches of human life will grow together again. Then people will understand what it once meant when education was looked upon as a means of healing, and this healing was connected with the world significance of the human being. There was a time when the idea, the picture of man was thus: when he was born into earthly existence he actually stood one stage below the human, and he had to be educated, had to be healed in order to rise and become a true man. Education was a healing, was of itself a part of medical practice and hygiene. Today everything is separated. The teacher is placed side by side with the school doctor, externally separated. But this doesn't work. To place the teacher side by side with the school doctor is much as if one looked for tailors who made the left side of a coat, and for others who made the right side, without having any idea who was to sew the two separated parts together. And in the same way, if one takes the measurements of the teacher who is quite unschooled in medicine — the right side of the coat — and then takes the measurements of the doctor, who is quite unschooled in education — the left side of the coat — who is going to sew them together nobody knows! Action must therefore be taken. We must rid ourselves of the “left” tailor and the “right” tailor and replace them once again with the tailor able to make the whole coat. Impossible situations often only become apparent when life has been narrowed down to its uttermost limit, not where life should be springing up and bubbling over.

This is why it is so difficult for us to gain an understanding of what is meant by the Waldorf School. A sectarian striving away from life is the reverse of what is intended. On the contrary, there is the most intensive striving to enter into life.

In such a short course of lectures it is clearly only possible to give a short survey of all that is involved. This I have attempted to do and I hope that it may have proved stimulating. In the final lecture I shall bring the whole course to a conclusion.