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Supersensible Knowledge
GA 55

V. Education in the Light of Spiritual Science

1 December 1906, Cologne

When the spiritual scientific movement began its activity some thirty years ago, its aim was not to satisfy curiosity about the spiritual worlds, but to make spiritual knowledge available to a wider public, and provide insight that will help to solve not only spiritual but also everyday practical problems. One such problem is the subject of today's lecture. It belongs to everyday life and must be of interest to everyone. Knowledge of human nature and problems of education are intimately connected. No aspect of social life can benefit more from spiritual research than education, because it is possible to provide practical guidelines in this realm through supersensible knowledge.

In order to deal with this subject we must look once more at the nature of human beings. That aspect of their being that is grasped by the intellect is for spiritual science only part of their nature. The physical, bodily aspect that we can see and touch a person has in common with the rest of the natural world. The spiritual investigator's research is not based on speculation, but on what is discovered through the higher sense of clairvoyant sight. This reveals the ether body as the second member of a person's being. It is a spiritual organism that is considerably more delicate and refined than the physical body. It has nothing to do with physical ether, and is best described as a sum of forces or currents of energy rather than as substance.

The ether body is the architect of the physical body. The latter has crystallized out of the ether body much as ice crystallizes out of water. We must therefore regard everything that constitutes the physical aspect of a person's being as having evolved out of the ether body. Human being's have this member in common with all beings endowed with life, that is, with the vegetable and animal kingdoms. In shape and size the ether body coincides with the physical body except for the lower part, which differs in shape from the physical. In animals the ether body extends far beyond the physical. For someone who has developed the spiritual faculties that slumber in every human being, there is nothing fantastic about this description of the ether body, just as it is not fantastic for a person who can see to describe colors to a blind person as blue or red.

The third member of a person's being, the astral body, is the bearer of all kinds of passions, lower as well as higher, and also of joys and sorrows, pleasure and pain, cravings and desires. Our ordinary thoughts and will-impulses are also contained in the astral body. Like the ether body, it becomes visible when the higher senses are developed. The astral body permeates the physical and ether bodies and surrounds humans like a kind of cloud. We have it in common with the animal kingdom; it is in continuous movement, mirroring every shade of feeling. But why the name “astral?”

The physical substances of which the physical body is composed connect it with the whole earth; in like manner is the astral body connected with the world of stars. The forces that permeate it and condition a person's destiny and character were given the name “astral” by those who were able to look deeply into their mysterious connection with the astral world that surrounds the earth.

The fourth member of a person's being, the power that enables him or her to say “I,” makes the human being the crown of creation. This name can only be applied to himself; it expresses the fact that what speaks is the soul's primordial divine spark. The designations of everything else we share with others; they can reach a person's ear from outside, but not the name that refers to what is god-like in each individual human soul. That is why in Hebrew esoteric schools it was called the “inexpressible name of God—Jahve,” the “I am the I am.” Even the priest could utter it only with a shudder. This “I am the I am” the soul ascribes to itself.

The human physical body is related to the mineral kingdom, the ether body to the vegetable kingdom and the astral body to the animal kingdom. The “I” humans have in common with no other earthly being; the “I” makes a person the crown of creation. This fourfold entity has always been known in esoteric schools as the “quaternity of man's nature.”

These four bodies develop in each individual in a particular way from childhood till old age. That is why, if we are to understand a person, we must always consider each human being individually. A person's characteristics are indicated already in the embryo. However, humans are not isolated beings; they develop within a certain environment, and can thrive only when surrounded by all the beings of the universe. During embryonic life they must be enveloped by the maternal organism, from which they become independent only when a certain stage of maturity is reached. During further development, the child goes through more events of a similar nature. Just as the physical body while still at the embryonic stage must be enveloped by the maternal organism, so is it surrounded after birth by spiritual sheaths related to spiritual realms. The child is enveloped by an etheric and an astral sheath; the child reposes in them as he did in the womb before birth.

At the time of the change of teeth an etheric covering loosens itself from the ether body, as did the physical covering at physical birth. That means that the ether body is born and becomes free in all directions. Up to then an entity of like nature to itself was attached to it, from which spiritual currents flowed through it as physical currents flowed from the maternal covering through the child before birth. Thus, the child is born for a second time when the ether body is born. Meanwhile the astral body is still surrounded by its protective sheath, a covering that strengthens and invigorates it up to the time of puberty. Then that too withdraws; the birth of the astral body takes place; and the child is born for the third time.

The fact that a threefold birth takes place indicates that the three entities must be considered separately. While it is impossible for external light to reach and harm the eyes of the unborn child, it is not impossible, but certainly highly damaging to the soul, if influences foreign to it are brought to bear on the ether body before it has become completely independent. The same applies to the astral body before puberty. We should, according to spiritual science, avoid all education and training before the change of teeth, except such that have a bearing on the child's physical body; we should in fact influence the ether body as little as we influence the child's physical body before it is born. However, just as the mother must be cared for, because her health influences the development of the embryo, so one should now respect the inviolability of the ether body for the sake of the child's healthy development. This is so important because before the change of teeth only the physical body is ready to be influenced by the external world; all training should therefore be restricted to what concerns the physical body. Any external influence of the ether body during this period is a violation of laws according to which human beings develop.

The human ether body is different from that of the plant world because in a person it becomes the bearer of his enduring traits such as habit, character, conscience and memory, and also temperament. The astral body is the seat of the life of feelings already mentioned, and also of the ability to discern, to judge.

These facts indicate when it becomes right to exert influence on the natural tendencies. In the period up to the seventh year, the child's bodily faculties develop; they become independent and self-contained. The same applies between the seventh and the fourteenth years to habits, memory, temperament and so on; between the fourteenth and the twentieth or twenty-second years is the time when the faculty of the critical intellect develops, and an independent relation to the surrounding world is attained. All these things indicate that different principles of education are required in the various life periods. Special care must be taken up to the seventh year with everything that affects the physical body. This encompasses a great many things. It is a time when all the essential physical organs are gradually developing and the effect on the child's senses is of immense importance. It matters greatly what it sees and hears and generally absorbs. The faculty most prominent at this time is imitation. The Greek philosopher Aristotle1Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher and one of the most influential thinkers of his time. remarked that human beings are the most imitative of all animals. This is especially true of the child before the change of teeth. Everything is imitated during this time, and as whatever enters the child through its senses as light and sound works formatively on the organs, it is of utmost importance that what surrounds the child should act beneficially.

At this age nothing is achieved by admonition; commands and prohibitions have no effect whatever. But of the greatest significance is the example. What the child sees, what happens around him, he feels must be imitated. For instance: the parents of a well-behaved child were astonished to discover that he had taken money from a cashbox; greatly disturbed, they thought the child had inclinations to steal. Questioning brought to light that the child had simply imitated what he had seen his parents do every day.

It is important that the examples the child sees and imitates are of a kind that awaken its inner forces. Exhortations have no effect, but the way a person behaves in the child's presence matters greatly. It is far more important to refrain from doing what the child is not permitted to do than to forbid the child to imitate it.

Thus, it is vital that during these years the educator is an exemplary example, that he or she only does what is worthy of imitation. Education should consist of example and imitation. The truth of this is recognized when insight is attained into the nature of human beings and confirmed by the results of education based upon it. Thus, because the ability to understand what things mean is a faculty of the ether body, the child should not learn the significance of the letters of the alphabet before the change of teeth; before then, he or she should do no more than trace their form with paint.

Spiritual research makes all these subtleties understandable and throws light even on details of what should be done. Everything the child perceives, also in a moral sense, acts on the formation of its physical organs. It makes a difference whether the child is surrounded by pain and sorrow or happiness and joy. Happiness and joy build sound organs, and lay the foundation for future health. The opposite can create a disposition towards illness. Everything that surrounds the child should breathe an atmosphere of happiness and joy, even down to objects and colors of clothing and wallpaper. The educator must ensure that it does so, while also taking into account the child's particular disposition.

If a child is inclined to be too earnest and too quiet, it will benefit from having in its surroundings rather sombre, bluish, greenish colors, while the lively, too active child should have yellow, reddish colors. This may seem like a contradiction, but the fact is that through its inherent nature the sense of sight calls up the opposite colors. The bluish shades have an invigorating effect, while in the lively child the yellow-reddish shades call up the opposite colors.

Thus, you see that spiritual investigation throws light even on practical details. The developing organs must be treated in ways that promote their health and inner forces. The child should not be given toys that are too finished and perfect, such as building blocks or perfect dolls. A doll made out of an old table napkin on which eyes, nose and mouth are indicated is far better. Every child will see such a homemade doll as a lady attired in beautiful finery. Why? Because it stirs its imagination, and that induces movement in the inner organs and produces in the child a feeling of well-being. Notice in what a lively and interested manner such a child plays, throwing itself body and soul into what the imagination conjures up, while the child with the perfect doll just sits, unexcited and unamused. It has no possibility to add anything through imagination, so its inner organs are condemned to remain inactive. The child has an extraordinarily sound instinct for what is good for it, as long as only the physical body has become free to interact with the external world, and as long as it is in the process of development. The child will indicate what is beneficial for himself. However, if from early on this instinct is disregarded, it will disappear. Education should be based on happiness, on joy and the child's natural cravings. To practice asceticism at this age would be synonymous with undermining its healthy development.

When the child approaches the seventh year and the milk teeth are gradually being replaced, the covering of the ether body loosens and it becomes free, as did the physical body at physical birth. Now the educator must bring to bear everything that will further the development of the ether body. However, the teacher must guard against placing too much emphasis on developing the child's reason and intellect. Between the seventh and twelfth years, it is mainly a question of authority, confidence, trust and reverence. Character and habit are special qualities of the ether body and must be fostered; but it is harmful to exert any influence on the reasoning faculty before puberty.

The development of the ether body occurs in the period from the seventh to the sixteenth year (in girls to the fourteenth). It is important for the rest of a person's life that during this period feelings of respect and veneration are fostered. Such feelings can be awakened in the following way: by means of information and narration, the lives of significant people are depicted to the child, not only from history, but from the child's own circle, perhaps that of a revered relative. Awe and reverence are awakened in the child, which forbid him to harbor any critical thoughts or opposition against the venerated person. The child lives in solemn expectation of the moment he will be permitted to meet this person. At last the day arrives and the child stands before the door filled with awe and veneration; he turns the handle, enters the room that for him, is a holy place. Such moments of veneration become forces of strength in later life. It is immensely important that the educator, the teacher, is at this time a respected authority for the child. A child's faith and confidence must be awakened, not in axioms, but in human beings.

People around the child with whom he has contact must be his ideals; the child must also choose such ideals from history and literature: "Everyone must choose the hero whose path to Olympus he will follow," is a true saying. The materialistic view that opposes authority and undervalues respect and reverence is utterly wrong. It regards the child as being already self-reliant, but its healthy development is impaired if demands are made upon the reasoning faculty before the astral body is born. What is important at this time is that memory is developed. This is best done in purely mechanical fashion. However, calculators should not be used; tables of multiplication, poems and so on should be committed to memory in quite a parrot fashion. It is simply materialistic prejudice that maintains that at this age such things should be inwardly felt and understood.

In the old days educators knew better. At the ages between one and seven all kinds of songs were sung to the children, like the good old nursery rhymes and children's songs. What mattered was not sense and meaning but sound; the children were made aware of harmony and consonance; we often find words inserted purely for the sake of their sound. Often the rhymes were meaningless. For example: “Fly beetle fly, your father is away; your mother is in Pommerland, Pommerland, fly beetle fly.” Incidentally, in the idiom of children “Pommerland” meant motherland. The expression stemmed from a time when it was still believed that human beings were spiritual beings and had come down to earth from a spiritual world. Pommerland was the Land of spiritual origin. Yet it was not the meaning in such rhymes that was important, but the sound; hence, the many children's songs had no particular sense.

This is the age when memory, habit and character must be established, and this is achieved through authority. If the foundation of these traits is not laid during this period, it will result in behavioral shortcomings later. Just because axioms and rules of conduct have no place in education until the astral body is born, it is important that the pre-puberty child, if he is to be properly educated, can Look up to authority. The child is able to sense a person's innermost being, and that is what it reveres in those with authority. Whatever flows from the educator to the child forms and develops conscience, character and even the temperament—its lasting disposition. During these years allegories and symbols act formatively on the ether body of the child because they make manifest the world-spirit. Fairy tales, legends and descriptions of heroes are a true blessing.

During this period, the ether body must receive as much care as the physical body. During the earlier period it was happiness and joy that influenced the forming of the Organs; from seven to fourteen (in this case boys to sixteen), the emphasis must be on everything that promotes feelings of health and vigor. Hence, the value of gymnastics. However, the desired effect will not be attained if the instructor aims at movements that solely benefit the physical body. It is important that the teacher be able to intuitively enter into how the child inwardly senses himself, and in this way to know which movements will promote inner sensations of health, strength, well-being, and pleasure in the bodily constitution. Only when gymnastic exercises induce feelings of growing strength are they of real value. Not only the external aspect of the bodily nature benefits from correct gymnastic exercises, but also the way a person inwardly experiences the self.

Everything artistic has a strong influence on the ether, as well as the astral body. Music of excellence, both vocal and instrumental, is particularly important, especially for the ether body. And there should be many objects of true artistic beauty in the child's environment.

Most important of all is religious instruction. Images of things supersensible are deeply imprinted in the ether body. What is important here is not the pupil's ability to have an opinion about religious faith, but that he receives descriptions of the supersensible, of what extends beyond the temporal. All religious subjects must be presented pictorially.

Great care must be taken that what is taught is brought to life. Much is spoiled in the child if it is burdened with too much that is dull and lifeless. What is taught in a lively interesting manner benefits the child's ether body. There should be much activity and doing; this has a quickening effect on the spirit. That is true also when it comes to play. The old kind of picture books have a stimulating effect because they contain figures that can be pulled by strings and suggest movement and inner life. Nothing has a more deadening effect on the child's spirit than putting together and fixing some structure, using finished geometrical shapes. That is why building blocks should not be used; the child should create everything from the beginning and learn to bring to life what he forms out of the lifeless. Our materialistic age extinguishes life through mass-produced lifeless objects. Much dies in the young developing brain when the child has to do meaningless things like, for example, braiding. Talents are stifled and much that is unhealthy in our modern society can be traced back to the nursery. Inartistic lifeless toys do not foster trust in spiritual life. A fundamental connection exists between today's lack of religious belief and the way young children are taught.

Once puberty is reached, the astral covering falls away; the astral body becomes independent. With the awakening feelings for the opposite sex, the ability to judge, to form personal opinion, also awakens. Only now should appeal be made to the reasoning faculty, to the approval or disapproval of the critical intellect. That is not to say that the moment the human being has reached this age he is capable of forming independent judgment, let alone do so earlier. It is absurd for such young people to judge issues or to have a say in cultural life. A young person under the age of twenty has an as yet undeveloped astral body, and can no more make sound judgments than a baby still in the womb can hear or see. Each life period requires a corresponding influence. In the first, it is a model to imitate; in the second an authority to emulate; the third requires rules of conduct, principles, and axioms. What is of utmost significance for the young person at this time is the teacher, the personality that will guide the student's eagerness for learning and his desire for independence in the right directions.

Thus, the spiritual scientific world conception provides an abundance of basic principles that help the teacher's task of developing and educating the young generations. We have shown that spiritual science is applicable to everyday life and capable of practical intervention in important issues. We must understand all the members of the human being, and the way they are interrelated in order to know when to influence which member in a truly beneficial way. The embryo will be affected if the expectant mother is not properly nourished; for its sake the mother must be cared for. Similarly, what later still surrounds and protects the child must also be cared for, as that in turn will benefit the child. This holds good on both physical and spiritual levels. Thus, as long as the child still slumbers as if within an etheric womb and is still rooted in the astral covering, it matters greatly what happens in the environment. The child is affected by every thought, every feeling, every sentiment motivating those around him, even if not expressed. Here a person cannot maintain that one's thoughts and feelings do not matter as long as nothing is said.

Even in the innermost recesses of their hearts, those around the child cannot permit themselves ignoble thoughts or feelings. Words affect only the external senses, whereas thoughts and feelings reach the protecting sheaths of the ether and astral bodies and pass over to the child. Therefore, as long as these protective coverings envelop the child, they must be cared for. Impure thoughts and passions harm them just as unsuitable substances harm the mother's body.

Thus, even subtle aspects are illumined by spiritual science. Through knowledge of the human being the educator gains the insight needed. Spiritual science does not aim to persuade; it is not a theory, it is practical knowledge applicable to life. Its effect is beneficial, for it makes human beings healthier both physically and spiritually. It provides effective truth that must flow into every aspect of life. There is no better way for spiritual science to serve humanity than fostering social impulses in the young during the formative years. What takes place in human beings during the time they grow up and mature is one of life's greatest riddles; those who find practical solutions will prove true educators.