Our bookstore is now open. Shop today →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Christian Mystery
GA 97

XXX. Education—the Spiritual Scientific Point of View

12 January 1907, Leipzig,

When the theosophical movement was created three decades ago, the leaders' concern was not to introduce a new teaching that would meet a thirst for knowledge but above all to make a spiritual insight available to more people that would show how it is possible to solve important problems in practical life with the help of spiritual perceptions. One of the problem areas where we can see how the science of the spirit can play a role in practical life is the subject of this lecture, the question of education.

Proper consideration of this needs more intimate knowledge of essential human nature. Such knowledge also concerns the supersensible nature of man, yielding fundamental educational principles for anyone who takes the matter seriously. We must therefore first of all consider the essential nature of the human being. Such an enquiry will give us the basis we need for finding answers to the education problem.

In the science of the spirit, anything we perceive of the human being with the ordinary senses is but one part of the whole. This physical body, physical nature, is something man has in common with the rest of the natural world. Using the eye of the spirit, occult science perceives the ether or life body to be the second part of the human being. This organism is more subtle than the physical body, but all its organs and parts are the same as in the physical body. It would perhaps be better to see it as a sum of energy currents, as the architect of the physical body, with the latter crystallized out of the ether body, as it were. Just as ice develops when water cools down, so has the physical body developed out of the ether body. Man has his ether or life body in common with all forms of life.

The third part of the essential human being is the astral body, vehicle for all lower and higher soul qualities, of pleasure and pain, joys and sorrows, and all will impulses. Man has this third body, which may be perceived by those who have developed higher organs of perception, in common with the whole animal world. It surrounds the human being as a kind of cloud that passes through both the physical and the ether body. The astral body is in continual motion, reflecting everything that goes on in the human being. But just as the physical body is connected with and dependent on the whole earth through its physical substances, so is the astral body connected with the whole world of stars that surrounds the earth. All the forces which essentially determine the destiny and character of the human being are connected with that world.

A thinker of more recent times, Goethe, saw deeply into the connections between the natural world and the spiritual human being in his connection with the cosmos and wrote:

As on the day that gave you to this world
The sun stood to the salute of the planets,
So you have flourished then and ever after
According to the law that govern'd your beginning.
Thus you shall be, unable to escape your self,
As sibyls once have said and prophets;
And neither time nor power will break down
Form that was given and in life develops. 212Goethe. Urworte. Orphisch.

The third part of essential human nature is thus called the astral body because of its connection with the world of stars.

The fourth part is something human beings do not have in common with the rest of creation. It is the part that gives human beings the power to call themselves ‘I’. ‘I’ is the mysterious word everyone can apply only to himself. In it, the soul gives expression to the original spark of the divine within it. With the I, the god in man begins to speak. In the occult schools of ancient Judaism, the I was called the name of god that must not be spoken, and the multitude would feel a shiver of profound veneration when the initiate spoke the name which those outside were not allowed to say: Yahweh—I am the I am.

These four parts make up the fourfold human nature that exists in every human being. It develops from childhood to adulthood but in a thoroughly differentiated way, and we must therefore consider each on its own.

The embryo holds the potential for everything, but development is different in each case. Human beings cannot develop without an environment and are only able to thrive if other spirits and elements of the cosmos are around them. The process which occurs when the physical body is born is later repeated, for it is not yet the whole human being who is born at that time. Just as the developing embryo is protectively held within the physical material organism, so is the human being surrounded by a spiritual organism after his physical birth, an organism that is part of the whole spirit world. The child has a protective ether form and a protective astral form around it and rests in these, as the embryo does in his mother's womb.

In the seventh year of life, at about the time when the second teeth emerge, an enveloping ether form separates from the ether body, just as at physical birth the maternal organism separates from the child's physical body. The child is thus gradually born a second time, this time etherically. The third body, the astral body, continues to be surrounded by a protective astral form. This envelops the human being until sexual maturity is reached, up to the 14th or 15th year, and then withdraws. The human being is thus born for the third time when his astral birth takes place.

This triple birth process shows that we must consider each of the bodies separately, for only the first of them, the physical body, becomes free in every newborn child. And just as it is impossible to bring external light to the child in the womb, so we should avoid letting external influences reach the ether body from outside before it has come free of its protective envelope. Influences should not reach the ether body before the changing of the teeth, nor the astral body before sexual maturity is reached. Up to the seventh year of life we can only educate the human being in the right way by influencing him in his physical aspect. Just as the care given to the mother is intimately bound up with the well-being of the embryo, so we have to respect the inviolability and sacredness of the child's protective ether envelope if the child is to develop and thrive. Up to the changing of the teeth, only the physical body is open to external influences and only the physical body can therefore be educated. If we bring anything external to the child's ether body, we commit a sin against it. The human ether body is the bearer of everything that has lasting nature—habits, character, conscience, memory, temperaments. The astral body relates to the ability to form opinions, using reason to judge the surrounding world. Just as the child's external senses should develop up to the seventh year, so his habits, memory, temperament and so on are let go free by the 14th year, and then, by the 20th, 21st year, critical reasoning, an independent relationship to the surrounding world.

In the science of the spirit we thus have quite definite rules for educating children in these different stages of life. Care of everything connected with the physical body is what counts up to the 7th year. This includes harmonious development of the organs by influencing the child's senses. The physical body is what matters, therefore, and needs to be educated. We do this by offering everything to the child that encourages development through the senses. Aristotle said: ‘Man is the most imitative of all creatures.’ The child is thus an imitator, everything is for him under the sign of imitating things he hears and sees. Dictates and prohibitions carry little weight at this age. The greatest significance attaches to example, and this is how the environment must awaken the child's senses. What matters is the way we are, and adults must carefully observe everything they do and do not do. They should not do anything the child would not be allowed to imitate, for the child believes everything it sees to be something it is allowed to imitate. Thus a good-natured child surprised his parents by taking money from a cash box. They were horrified and thought the child was going to be a thief. But when they asked some questions they found that he had simply copied something he had seen his parents do every day. Up to the changing of the teeth, education consists in being an example to be imitated. Because of this, anyone bringing up a child must be in every respect an example to the child up to his 7th year. It would also be wrong to make the child learn the significance of letters up to that age. A child can merely copy their shapes, for the power to grasp their significance belongs to the ether body.

In these years, when the organs of the child should develop and the foundations are laid for health, everything that happens around the child in moral terms is also most important. It is far from immaterial if the child sees pain and sorrow or joy and pleasures in his world, for joy and pleasures lay sound foundations in the physical body. Everything around the child should breathe pleasure and joy, and those bringing him up should make it their concern to create them, even in the colour of clothes, wall paper and objects. Careful attention must be paid to the child's individual nature. A child tending to be serious and quiet should have darker, bluish, greenish colours around him, a quick, lively child more yellows and reds, for this evokes the ability in the senses to produce the counter colours. The organs that are developing should thus be made to evolve their inner powers. This is also why children should not be given finished toys such as boxes of bricks, dolls, and so on. Every child prefers a doll he has made himself from a boot jack or an old serviette to dressed up ladies made of wax. Why is that so? Because this brings the imagination alive, fantasy is used and the internal organs begin to function to give the child pleasure and joy. See how lively and interested such a child is in his play, entering into the images created in his fantasy with heart and soul. And think of the slouching, bored child whose inner senses are not brought alive. A child knows very well what is good and what is harmful for him. His relationship to the outside world is such that he'll reject anything that is not good for his physical body, for example his stomach, and show desire for the things that suit his stomach. And it would be foolish to go against the healthy desires that help the child develop and force the child to eat foods, for instance, that will drive out his natural instincts. The least suggestion of asceticism serves to eradicate the child's natural health.

Towards the 7th year, as the second teeth are gradually emerging, the protective ether forms around the ether body fall away and now the teacher must bring in everything that develops the ether body and influences it so that it evolves. But the teacher must still be careful not to put too much emphasis on developing the mind and the intellect. During this period, between the 7th and 12th years, what matters most is authority, belief, trust, respect. Something that is most important for the whole of later development in life is that the child should have known many moments like the following. He looks up with some degree of holy awe to someone he respects, feeling a reverence in his inmost heart that will make it impossible for him to think of criticizing or opposing that person. So there he stands one day outside the respected person's door in reverential awe, hesitating to turn the door handle and enter the room which to him his sacred ground. Such moments of reverence give strength for later life, and it is of tremendous importance that the teacher himself is an authority for the child. The people around the child, people he sees and hears, should be his ideals. Every child should choose a hero from history and literature, someone he looks up to with admiration and respect. It is utterly wrong for people with materialistic views to say that they are against all authority and have no regard for feelings of devotion and veneration.

It is important to train memory at this time, something best done in a wholly mechanical way. They should not use calculators but learn numbers and poems and so on, to develop their powers of memory. In earlier times children were brought up very sensibly in this respect. The good old nursery rhymes and children's songs, where it was not the intellectual meaning that mattered but the awakening of an immediate inner response, seem meaningless today because people no longer have a feeling for them. But they hold profound meaning. When they were sung for the children, it was the combination of sounds and harmony that mattered for the child's ear, hence the often meaningless rhymes.

Anyone who has not received a good foundation in character, memory and so on between the ages of 7 and 14 has been wrongly brought up. The right way of education at this age is through authority. The child intuits something in the inmost nature of the individual who is an authority for him, and this develops his conscience, his character and even his temperaments and becomes a permanent disposition in him.

Parable and allegory also shape the ether body in these years, anything that shows the world in parables. Hence the blessing of fairy tale books in our time and the stories about great people and heroes in legend and history.

Gymnastics are also important, for they give the child a feeling of strength, health and joy in life, thus helping to develop his organs just as much as joy and pleasure do. But at the present time physical education is very badly taught. The teacher should not look at his pupils with an anatomist's eye but consider what kind of physical movement would give the child's soul a feeling of greater strength and let him enjoy his body. A teacher must intuitively think his way into the child's feeling soul and design every exercise in such a way that it will give a feeling of growing strength.

Any work of art has a great influence that goes right into the ether body and astral body. Because of this, genuine, true art must enter into the ether body. Thus good vocal and instrumental music is very important, and the children should see many things around them that are beautiful.

Nothing, however, can take the place of religion lessons. The images of things beyond the world of the senses leave a deep impression in the ether body. Children should not hear criticism and learn to judge a particular confession but be given images from the world of infinity. All religious ideas must be images; a parable has a strong influence on the ether body. The greatest care must be taken to teach the children out of the sphere of life.

Today, children's minds and spirits are much involved in dead things. Mobile picture books will help to counteract this in the first seven years of life, for example. Everything should be action, deed, life; this enlivens mind and spirit and makes inwardly mobile. Children should therefore not build with building bricks and play with finished things; they must learn to let something that lives come forth from something that is not living.

Much dies in the child's developing brain with dead activities such as woven or plaited work. Much potential will remain undeveloped because of this. Toys without life in them will also fail to develop belief in the sphere of life. A deep connection therefore exists between the way children are brought up and the lack of faith that exists in our age.

When sexual maturity is reached, the protective astral envelopes drop away. As a feeling for the other sex develops, personal powers of judgement emerge. From then on we can appeal to their yes and no, the critical intellect. Powers of judgement only develop from the 12th year onwards, but the process needs quite some time. Critics aged 19 or 20 cannot possibly judge an issue properly. It is extremely important who will be the young person's teacher at this time, to guide his desire to learn and his urge for freedom in the right direction.

These principles, the fruit of spiritual research, are of the greatest importance for the healthy further development of the human race. Theosophy may use them to intervene in the most important processes in human life in a practical way. This spiritual view of the world thus offers the educator an abundance of insights, which are needed to solve the riddle of the developing young person. The science of the spirit is intended not only to convince and teach; it is meant to do things, to act, to have an effect in everyday life. It it meant to prove its value, becoming part of everyday practice and making life healthy in both body and mind. Theosophy is a truth that is not only correct but also healthy. We can best serve humanity and give it social and other powers if we are able to let these powers come from the growing individual. The growing, developing human being is one of the greatest riddles in life, and to be a proper educator you must be a solver of riddles in taking a practical approach to the education of the developing human being.