Dr. Steiner's work in the Threefold Commonwealth, from the first Workmen's Lecture in April 1919 up to the foundation of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart in September of the same year, reached an important climax in the giving of the lectures here published. We can only understand these lectures rightly by reminding ourselves of the stress laid on the spiritual aspect in this "threefold" work, and of the way in which the finer overtones to be found in it echo the conditions of that time. For a while in Central Europe the gates, we may say, stood open wide. Questions were being asked which went right to the root of things, and answers were sought which should truly probe the problems to their very depths. Everything seemed possible. For just as it appeared as though, from the spiritual aspect, the war had lasted not for four or five years but for a whole century, so now a vista was opened before men's eyes which seemed to stretch even far beyond the present century.
Such are the fundamental thoughts which Rudolf Steiner develops in these lectures; they are, of course, colored by the events of the time in which they were given, but they reach far into the future. They are more comprehensive ±han anything which up to this time could be accomplished in the Waldorf Schools and Rudolf Steiner Schools. In the light of the content of these lectures on "A Social Basis for Primary and Secondary Education" the Waldorf school education appears as only one of the many possible forms of social education which can be developed in the future.
I do not wish to enter into details, but I would stress one fundamental thought which runs through these lectures. This is the thought that we need to rediscover how to learn. For Rudolf Steiner the act of learning was not the imprinting of more or less important details into the head of the learner, but rather he looked upon learning as a process which involves the whole man, awakening forces in every source and spring of his being in such a way that once aroused they will never cease to flow. Learning will then become a constant living and growing of the spirit of man. Of the plant we may say that as long as it grows, it lives, and as long as it lives, it grows. Of man we may say that in his spirit he only grows and lives as long a he learns. In this connection I should like to mention two past experiences of mine which seem to bear a close connection with each other.
In April 1910 I had a talk with the famous Russian author, Maxim Gorki, on the island of Capri in Italy. Gorki was living there at that time in a kind of exile. At the end of the conversation I asked him if he would not like to send a greeting to young students of his land. He thought for a moment and then said: "you see, a Russian peasant is accustomed to hard work. With great industry and self-denial he wrestles with the earth for the production of her fruits. He has learnt to work. But the unfortunate thing is that the Russian intellectuals have not learnt to work. Over a glass of tea and cigarettes they spend night after night in endless discussions. They have not learnt how to learn. Give them this as my greeting: "Learn to work as the peasant works when he tills the ground; learn how to learn.' "
I had half forgotten these words when on a later occasion they suddenly flashed into my consciousness almost like a streak of lightning, together with an image of the setting in which they had been said. This occasion was in the year 1919, at the time when these lectures on "A Social Basis for Primary and Secondary Education" were being given. Rudolf Steiner said the following words: "through the catastrophe of the World War which now, outwardly at least, lies behind us, history has wished to teach us a lesson. There would have been innumerable things to learn. But the great misfortune of the present time is that men have lost the capacity to learn. So, with the ear of the spirit we may now hear resound through the world like a battle-cry this word: Learn how to learn!"
I am fully aware that in contrast to Gorki learning in Rudolf Steiner' s sense rests upon a very different basis; nevertheless the significant fact remains that two outstanding men of the twentieth century used the same words to express a great and inspiring thought in the history of social pedagogy.
What lay behind Gorki's words — presumably even against his will — has been caught up by the whirlpool which engulfed the history of Eastern Europe. But the words of Rudolf Steiner, founded as they are upon the spirit, are seeds which even still today are healthy and capable of growth. They wait expectantly for men who can provide them with the soil and ground that is needed for their development.
To those therefore who can bear within their hearts the words "Learn how to learn!" with thoughts rooted deeply in the spirit and reaching out to all mankind — to such men it will be given to read these lectures aright.