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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

X. Arranging the Lesson up to the Fourteenth Year

1 September 1919, Stuttgart

Let now try to get further in the method by keeping one eye in future on the curriculum and the other on what will form the subjects of the curriculum. It does not immediately have everything in it which it ought to contain, for we build up the method of our observations by degrees.

We have already begun to consider the lessons for the various ages. How many stages of teaching can we differentiate during the school course? We have learnt that an important break occurs towards the age of nine, which enables us to affirm: if we get a child under the age of nine we shall be concerned with the first stage of school-teaching. What subjects shall we then teach? We shall take the artistic element as our point of departure. We shall study music and painting-drawing with the child as we have discussed. We shall gradually allow writing to arise from painting-drawing. We shall therefore gradually evolve the written forms from the drawn forms and we shall then go on to reading.

It is important for you to understand the reasons for this procedure: it is important that you do not first take reading and then tack writing on to it, but that you go from writing to reading. Writing is, in a sense, more living than reading. Reading isolates man very much, in the first place, and isolates him from the world. In writing we have not yet ceased to imitate world-forms, as long as we derive it from drawing. The printed letters have become extraordinarily abstract. They have arisen, of course, without exception from written letters. Consequently, we re-create them in our teaching from the written letters. It is quite correct to preserve intact, in teaching writing at least, the thread which connects the drawing forms with the written letters, so that the child still always feels in some degree the original image behind the letter. In this way you overcome the abstract character of writing. When man adjusts himself to writing he is obviously assimilating something very foreign to the universe. But if we link the written forms with the universal forms—with f = fish, etc.—at least we lead man back again to the world. And it is very important indeed that we should not wrench him away from it. The further back we go into the history of civilization the more living do we find this relation of man to the world. You only need to picture a scene in your soul to understand what I have just said: Transport yourself to ancient times and imagine, in my place, a Greek rhapsodist is reciting Homer to his audience in the manner of those days, between song and speech which we have lost, and imagine, sitting next to this rhapsodist, someone taking down the recital in shorthand. A grotesque scene, and impossible, quite impossible. Impossible for the simple reason that the Greek had quite a different kind of memory from ours and was not dependent on the invention of anything so far-fetched as the forms of shorthand to enable him to remember the revelations to men in language. You see from this that an unusually disturbing element is bound to be constantly interfering with our culture. We need this disturbing element. We cannot, of course, dispense with shorthand in our civilization. But we should be aware that it is a disturbing influence. For what actually is the significance of this appalling short-hand-copying in our civilization? It simply means that in our civilized life we are no longer capable of adjusting ourselves to the right rhythm of waking and sleeping, and that we employ the hours of sleep in doing all kinds of things which implant in our soul-life things which from its very nature it cannot assimilate. With our shorthand-copying we keep stored up what we should do better to forget if only left to ourselves. That is, we artificially maintain in a waking condition in our civilization things which disturb it as much as the nocturnal cram of over-eager students upsets their health. That is why our civilization is no longer healthy. But we must be clear in our minds that we have already crossed the Rubicon of the Greek age. A Rubicon was crossed then, on the far side of which humanity still had a quite sound civilization. Civilization will continue to grow unhealthier and people will more and more have to turn the process of education into a process of healing of the ills created by their surroundings. As to this there is room for no illusions. That is why it is so infinitely important to link up writing with drawing again, and to teach writing before reading.

Arithmetic should be begun somewhat later. This can be adjusted according to outer necessities as there is no point marked for it in life evolution itself. But into this complete plan there can always be inserted at the first stage a certain study of foreign languages, because this has been made essential by civilization. At this stage these foreign languages must only be studied in the form of practice of speaking.

Only in the second stage, from nine to about twelve, do we begin to develop the self-consciousness more. And we do this in grammar. At this point the human being is already capable, because of the change which he has undergone and which I describe to you, of absorbing into his self-consciousness the significance of grammar. At this point we take “word teaching” in particular. But we also embark on the natural history of the animal kingdom, as I showed you with the cuttle-fish, mouse, and human being. And only later do we add the plant kingdom.

Further, at this stage in the life of the human being we can go on to geometry, whereas we have hitherto restricted the elements of geometry to drawing. In drawing, of course, we can evolve for him the triangle, the square, the circle, and the line. That is, we evolve the actual forms in drawing, by drawing them and then saying: “This is a triangle, this is a square.” But what geometry adds to these, with its search for the relations between the forms, is only introduced at about nine years of age. At the same time, of course, the foreign language is continued and becomes part of the grammar teaching.1See the Table at the end of this lecture.

Last of all we introduce the child to physics. Here we come to the third stage which goes to the end of the elementary school course, that is to fourteen and fifteen years of age. Here we begin to teach syntax. The child is only really ready for this at about twelve years of age. Before this we study instinctively those elements of language which the child can make into sentences.

Here, too, the time has come when, using geometrical forms, we can go on to the mineral kingdom. We take the mineral kingdom in constant conjunction with physical phenomena which we then apply to man, as I have already explained: light refraction—the lens in the eye. The physical aspect, that is, and the chemical. We can also go on to history. All this time we study geography, which we can always reinforce with natural history by introducing physical concepts and with geometry by the drawing of maps, and finally we connect geography with history. That is, we show how the different peoples have developed their characteristics. We study this subject throughout these entire stages of childhood, from nine to twelve, and from twelve to fifteen. The foreign language teaching is, of course, continued and extended to syntax.

Now naturally various things will have to be taken into account. For we cannot take music with little beginners who have come to us, at the same time and in the same classroom as a lesson with other children for whom everything should be quite still if they are to learn. We shall therefore have to arrange the painting and drawing with the little children as a morning lesson and music late in the afternoon. We shall also have to divide up the space available in the school so that one subject can be taken side by side with another. For example, we cannot have poems recited aloud and a talk about history going on if the little ones are playing flutes in the next room. These matters are involved in the drawing up of the time-table and we must carefully take into account, when we organize our school, that many subjects will have to be arranged for the morning and others for the afternoon, and so on. Now our problem is: to be able, with our knowledge of these three stages in the curriculum, to pay attention to the greater or lesser aptitudes of the children. Naturally we shall have to make compromises, but I will now assume rather ideal conditions and throw light later on the time-tables of modern schools for the purpose of striking an adequate balance. We shall generally do well to draw a less sharp distinction between the classes within the different stages than we draw at the transition from one stage to the next. We shall remember that a general move up can actually take place only between the first and second, and between the second and third stage. For we shall discover that the so-called less-gifted children generally speaking understand things later. Consequently, in the years comprised in the first stage we shall have the intelligent children who can simply understand more quickly and who assimilate later, and the less able, who have difficulties at first but at last understand. We shall definitely make this discovery and must not therefore form an opinion too early as to which children are unusually able and which are less able.

Now I have already emphasized the fact that we shall, of course, get children who have gone through the most various classes. Dealing with them will be all the more difficult the older they are. But we shall nevertheless be able to remould to a great extent whatever about them has been badly started, provided that we take enough trouble. We shall not delay, after having done what we have found important in a foreign language, in Latin, French, English, Greek, to go on as soon as possible to what gives the children the greatest imaginable pleasure: to let them talk to each other in class in the language concerned and, as teachers, to do no more than guide this conversation. You will discover that it gives the children really great pleasure to converse with each other in the language concerned and to have the teacher confining himself to correcting their efforts or, at the most, guiding the conversation; for example, a child who is saying something particularly tedious is diverted to something more interesting. Here the presence of mind of the teacher must do its quite peculiar work. You must really feel the children in front of you like a choir which you have to conduct, but you have to enter into your work even more intimately.

Then comes the point to ascertain from the children what poems or other memorized reading passages they have previously learnt, that is, what treasure they can produce for you from the store of their memories. And with this store in the child's memory, you must link every lesson in the foreign language, especially grammar and syntax, for it is of quite particular importance that anything the children have learnt by heart—poems, etc., should be remembered. I have said that it is not a good thing to abuse the memory by having written down the sentences which are formed during grammar lessons to illustrate rules. These may well be forgotten. On the other hand, the points learnt from these sentences must be applied to the store of things already memorized, so that this possession of the memory contributes to the mastery of the language. If, later, you are writing a letter in the language, or conversing in it, you should be able rapidly to recall a good turn of phrase from things once learnt in this way. The consideration of such facts is part of the economy of teaching. For we must know what makes the teaching of a foreign language particularly economical and what wastes time. Delay is caused by reading aloud to the children in class while they follow in the books in front of them. That is nothing but time stolen from the child's life. It is the very worst thing that you can do. The right way is for the teacher to introduce the desired material in the form of a story, or even for him to repeat a reading passage verbatim or to recite a poem, but to do this without book himself, from memory, and for the children to do nothing at the time but listen to him; not, that is, follow his reading: then, if possible, the children reproduce what they have listened to, without first reading it at all. This is valuable in teaching a foreign language. In teaching the mother tongue it need not be so carefully considered. But in a foreign language greater regard must be paid to making things intelligible by speech and to aural comprehension, rather than to visual comprehension. Now when this has been sufficiently practised, the children can take the book and read after you, or, if you do not abuse this suggestion, you can simply give them for homework to read in their book the passage taken orally in school. Homework in foreign languages should first and foremost be confined to reading work. Any written work should really be done in the school itself. In a foreign language the least possible amount of homework should be given, none before the later stages, that is, before thirteen, and then only work connected with real life: the writing of letters, business correspondence, and so on. Only, that is, what really happens in life. To have compositions written in a foreign language during school hours, compositions unrelated to life, is really, in the deepest sense, a monstrosity. We ought to be content with work of a letter-character, concerned with business and similar things. At the most we should go as far as cultivating the telling of pieces of narrative. In the elementary school, to fourteen, we should practise, far more than the so-called free composition, the recounting of incidents that have occurred, of experiences. Free composition does not really belong to this elementary school course. But the narrative description of things seen and heard certainly does belong there, for the child must learn this art of reporting; otherwise he will not be able to play his proper social part in human social life. In this respect our cultured folk to-day only see half the world, as a rule, and not the whole.

You know, of course, that experiments are now being carried on in the service of criminal psychology. These experiments are planned, for example—I will take a case—in this way. Everybody to-day tries to ascertain facts by means of experiment. Somebody decides to undertake a course of lectures. The experiments are carried out in connection with advanced education and are held in the universities. In order to organize this course of lectures as an experiment the following arrangement is very carefully made beforehand with a student, or “listener,” as he is called: “I, as Professor, will mount the platform and will say the first few words of a lecture.—Good, write that down.—At this moment you jump on to the platform and tear from its hook the coat which I have previously hung up.” The listener then has to carry out accurately some plan as arranged. Then the professor behaves accordingly. He makes a rush at the student to prevent him from unhooking the coat. The next step is then arranged: we have a free fight. We decide on the exact movements to be made. We study our part carefully and learn it well by heart, in order to enact the whole scene as arranged. Then the audience, which knows nothing of this—all this is only discussed with a “listener”—reacts in its own way. This is impossible to calculate. But we will try to draw a third person into the secret, and he now carefully notes the reaction of the audience. Well, there is the experiment carried out. Afterwards we have an account of the scene written down by the audience, by every single listener.

Such experiments have been carried on in universities. The one which I have described has, in fact, been tried, and the result was as follows: In an audience of about thirty people, at the most four or five gave an accurate account of the occurrence. This can be verified because everything was previously discussed in detail and carried out according to plan. Hardly a tenth of the spectators write out the experiment correctly. Most of them make absurd statements when surprised by an occurrence of this kind. In these days, when experiments are popular, such incidents are staged with great enthusiasm, and the important scientific result is obtained that the witnesses who are called up in a court of law are not reliable. For when the educated people of a university audience—they are, after all, all “educated” people—respond to an incident in such a way that only a tenth of them write anything true about it and many of them write quite senseless stuff, how are we to expect of the witnesses in a trial an accurate account of what they saw perhaps weeks or months ago? Sound common sense is aware of these facts from experience. For after all, in life, too, people report on what they have seen almost always incorrectly, and very seldom accurately. You simply have to scent out whether a matter is being reported wrongly or rightly. Hardly a tenth of what people say around you is true, in the strict sense of being a report of what happened in actual fact.

But in the case of this experiment people only half-achieve their aim: they emphasize the half which, if one uses sound common sense, can be left out of the calculation, for the other half is more important. We ought to see that our civilization develops in such a way that more reliance can be placed on witnesses and that people speak the truth more and more. But to achieve this aim we must begin with childhood. And for this reason it is important to give descriptions of what has been seen and heard rather than to practise free composition. Then there will be inculcated in the children the habit of inventing nothing in life or, if need be, in a court of law, but to relate the truth about external physical facts. In this field, too, the will-element ought to be considered more than the intellect. In the case of that audience I took, with the previous discussion of the experiment and the deductions made after it from the statements of the spectators, the aim was to find out how far people are liars. This is quite conceivably understood in an intellectually minded age like our own. But we must convert the intellectually minded age back to the will-element. For this reason we must notice details in education, such as letting the children, once they can write, and particularly after twelve years of age, tell about what they have really seen, and not practise free composition to any great extent in the elementary school,2Up to fourteen. for it does not really belong to this stage of childhood.

It is further particularly important in a foreign language gradually to bring the children to the point of being able to reproduce in a short story what they have seen and heard. But it is also necessary to give the children orders: “Do this, do that”—and then let them carry these out, so that in such exercises in class the teacher's words are succeeded less by reflection on what has been said or by a slow spoken answer than by action. That is, the will-element, the aspect of movement, is cultivated in the language lesson. These, again, are things which you must think over and absorb, and which you must take especially into account in teaching foreign languages. We have, in fact, always to know how to combine the will-element with the intellect in the right way.

It will be indeed important to cultivate object lessons, but not to make them banal. The child must never have the feeling that what we do in our object lessons is simply obvious. “Here is a piece of chalk. What colour is the chalk? It is yellow.—What is the chalk like at the top? It is broken off.” Many an object lesson is given on these lines. It is horrible. For what is really obvious in life should not be turned into an object lesson. The whole object lesson should be elevated to a much higher level. When the child is given an object lesson he should be transported to a higher plane of the life of his soul. You can effect this elevation particularly, of course, if you connect your object lesson with geometry.

Geometry offers you an extraordinarily good opportunity of combining the object lesson with geometry itself.

You begin, for instance, by drawing on the board a right-angled isosceles triangle (∆ Ð Ð’ C in the given figure) and make the children realize—if you have not already taught it—that AC and BC are the sides which contain the right-angle and AB is the hypotenuse. Then you add a square underneath, adjacent to the hypotenuse of the right-angled triangle and divide it by its diagonal lines. (Dr. Rudolf Steiner used colours to mark the various parts.) Now you say to the child: “I am going to cut out this part here (∆ A Ð’ D) and put it to one side of our figure (follow the arrow). Now I take another part (∆ B D F), bring it also to the side, and place it above the other one already removed (follow the arrow). So I have set up a square composed of the two triangles and you can see that it is equal to the square on one of those sides of the original right-angled triangle which contain the right-angle. At the same time it has the size of half the area of the square on the hypotenuse.”

Now you do the same on the other side (follow the arrows to the left) and finally prove that the square on the hypotenuse equals in area the sum of both the squares on the sides of the right-angled triangle which contain the right-angle.

Schopenhauer in his day was furiously angry because the theorem of Pythagoras was not taught like this in the schools, and in his book Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (“The World as Will and Idea”), he says as much in his rather

Diagram 1

drastic way: “How stupid school is not to teach things of this kind simply, by placing one part on top of another, and making the theorem of Pythagoras clear by observation.” This only holds, in the first place, of an isosceles triangle, but exactly the same can be done for a scalene right-angled triangle by fitting one part over another as I have explained. That is an object lesson. You can turn geometry into an object lesson. But there is a certain value—and I have often tested it myself—if you wish to give the child over nine a visual idea of the theorem of Pythagoras—in constructing the whole theorem for him directly from the separate parts of the square on the hypotenuse. And if, as a teacher, you realize what is taking place in a geometry lesson, you can teach the child in seven or eight hours at the most all the geometry necessary to introduce a lesson on the theorem of Pythagoras, the famous Pons Asinorum. You will proceed with tremendous economy if you demonstrate the first rudiments of geometry graphically in this way. You will save a great deal of time and, besides that, you will save something very important for the child—which prevents a disturbing effect on teaching—and that is: you keep him from forming abstract thoughts in order to grasp the theorem of Pythagoras. Instead of this let him form concrete thoughts and go from the simple to the composite. First of all, as is done here in the figure with the isosceles triangle, you should put together the theorem of Pythagoras from the parts and only then go on to the scalene triangle. Even when this is practised in pictures in these days—for that happens, of course—it is not with reference to the whole of the theorem of Pythagoras. The simple process, which is a good preparation for the other, is not usually first demonstrated with the isosceles triangle and only then the transition made to the scalene right-angled triangle. But it is important to make this quite consciously part of the aim of geometry-teaching. I beg you to notice the use of different colours. The separate surfaces must be coloured and then the colours laid one on top of the other.

  1. (Until the ninth year of age.)
    Music. Painting with drawing.
    Writing. Reading.
    Foreign languages. A little later, arithmetic.
  2. (Up to the twelfth year of age.)
    Grammar. (Parts of Speech: Word Teaching.)
    Natural history of the animal kingdom and of the plant kingdom.
    Foreign languages. Geometry.
  3. (To the end of the elementary school course, age fourteen.)
    Physics and Chemistry.
    Foreign languages.