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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

XIV. Moral Educative Principles and their Transition to Practice

5 September 1919, Stuttgart

If you were to look back at the time-tables which were issued fifty or sixty years ago, you would see that they were comparatively short. A few short sentences summarized the ground to be covered in every school year in the different subjects. The time-tables were at the most two or three or four pages long—all the rest in those days was left to the actual process of teaching itself, for this out of its own powers should stimulate teachers to do the part left to them by the curricula. To-day things are different. To-day the syllabus for the schools has more and more increased. The Official Gazette has become a collection of books. And in this book there is not only a suggestion of what is required, but there are all kinds of instructions as to how things should be taught at school. That is, in the last decades people were on the way to letting State legislation swallow up the theory of education. And perhaps it is an ideal of many a legislator gradually to issue as “Official Publication,” as “Decrees and Regulations” all the material formerly contained in old literary works on pedagogy. The Socialist leaders quite definitely feel this subconscious impulse—however ashamed they may be to admit it; their ideal is to introduce in the form of decrees what was until recently common spiritual property even in the sphere of education.

For this reason those of us here who wish to preserve the educational and teaching system from the collapse which has overtaken it under Lenin—and which might overtake Central Europe—must approach the curriculum with a quite different understanding from that in which the ordinary teacher approaches the Official Gazette. This, even in the days of the monarchy and in the days of ordinary democratic Parliamentarianism, he has solemnly studied, but he will study it with feelings of greater obedience if it is sent to his house by his Dictator-Comrades. The potential tyranny of socialism would be felt quite particularly in the sphere of teaching and education. We have had to approach the curriculum differently.

That is, it has been incumbent on us to approach this curriculum with an attitude of mind which enabled us really to create it for ourselves at every turn, so that we learnt to tell the needs of all children at any age. Let us put side by side this ideal curriculum and the curriculum at present in use in other schools of Central Europe. This we shall do and we shall have prepared ourselves thoroughly for this estimate if we have really assimilated into our feelings all that we should absorb on the way to an understanding of a curriculum.

Here, again, is a very important aspect which is falsely estimated in these days in official pedagogy. I concluded my last lecture1See Allgemeine Menschenkunde als Grundlage der Pädagogik, Lecture 14. with a direct talk on the “Morality of Educational Theory;” the moral tendencies which must be the basis of all pedagogy. It will only result in the practice of teaching if the many examples given in modern books on didactics are ignored. These speak of “object lessons.” They are quite sound, and we have referred to the way in which they should be conducted. But we have constantly had to emphasize the fact that these object lessons should never become trivial, that they should never exceed a certain limit. This eternal cross-questioning of the child on self-evident things in the form of object lessons simply extends a pall of weariness over the whole of teaching, and this should not be. And it robs teaching of precisely what I emphasized at the end of my last lecture2Ibid. as so necessary: the cultivation of the child's imaginative faculty or the faculty of fantasy. If, for the sake of giving an object lesson, you discuss with the children the shape of any cooking utensil you like to choose, you undermine his imagination. If you describe the shape or origin of a Greek vase, you may do more for his understanding of what he finds around him in daily life. Object lessons, as given to-day, literally stifle the imagination. And you do not do amiss in teaching if you simply remember to leave many things unspoken, so that the child is induced to continue working with his own soul-force on what he has learnt in the lesson. It is not at all a good thing to want to explain everything down to the last dot on the “i.” The child simply leaves the school feeling that he has learnt everything already, and looking out for other things to do. Whereas if you have sown his imagination with seeds of life he remains fascinated by what the lesson offered him and is less ready to be distracted. That our children to-day are such rough tomboys is simply due to the fact that we go in for far too much false object teaching and too little training of the will and the feelings.

But in still another respect we really need to identify ourselves quite inwardly in our souls with the curriculum.

When you receive a child in the first years at the elementary school he is quite a different being from the same child in the last years of the school course. In his first years he is still very much immersed in his body, he is still very much part of his body. When the child leaves school you must have enabled him to cling no longer to his body with all the fibres of his soul, but to be independent of his body in thinking, feeling, and willing. Try to penetrate rather more deeply into the nature of the growing being and you will find, relatively speaking, particularly when the children have not been spoilt in their very first years, that they still have very sound instincts. They have then not acquired the craving to stuff themselves with sweets and so on. They still have certain sound instincts with regard to their food, as, of course, the animal too, because he is still very much dominated by his body, has very good instincts in the matter of his own nourishment. The animal, just because he is limited to his body, avoids what is hurtful to him. The animal world is not likely to be overrun by any evil like the spreading of alcoholic consumption in the human world. The spread of evils such as alcohol is due to the fact that man is so much a spiritual being that he can become independent of his bodily nature. For physical nature, in its reasonableness, is never tempted to become alcoholic, for instance. Comparatively sound food instincts are active in the first years at school. These cease in the interests of human development with the last years of school life. When puberty comes upon the individual he loses his food-instincts; he must find in his reason a substitute for his earlier instincts. That is why you can still intercept, as it were, the last manifestations of the food and health instincts in the last school years of the growing being. Here you can still steal a march on the last manifestations of the sound food-instincts, of the instinct of growth, etc. Later you can no longer find an inner feeling for the right care of food and health. That is why particularly the last years of the elementary school course should include instruction in nourishment and the care of personal health. Precisely in this connection object lessons should be given. For these object lessons can reinforce the fantasy or imagination quite considerably. Put before the child three different substances; place these before him, or remind him of them, for he has, of course, already seen them: any substance which is composed primarily of starch or sugar, a substance composed primarily of fat, a substance composed primarily of albumen. The child knows these. But remind him that the human body owes its activity primarily to these three constituents. From this explain to him in his last years of school the secrets of nutrition. Then give him an accurate description of the breathing and enlarge on every aspect of nutrition and breathing connected with the care of personal health. You will gain an enormous amount in your education and teaching if you undertake this instruction precisely in these years. At this stage you are just in time to intercept the last instinctive manifestations of the health and food instincts. That is why you can teach the child in these years about the conditions of nutrition and health without making him egoistic for the rest of his life. It is still natural to him to satisfy instinctively the conditions of health and nutrition. That is why he can be talked to about these things and why they still strike a chord in the natural life of the human being and so do not make him egoistical. If the children are not taught in these years about matters of nutrition and health they will have to inform themselves later from reading or from other people. What the child learns later, after puberty, about matters of nutrition and health, makes him egoistic. It cannot but produce egoism. If you read about nutrition in physiology, if you read a synopsis of rules about the care of the health, in the very nature of the case this information makes you more egoistic than you were before. This egoism, which continually proceeds from a rationalized knowledge of how to take personal care of oneself, has to be combated by morality. If we had not to care for ourselves physically we should not need to have a morality of the soul. But the human being is less exposed to the dangers of egoism in later life if he is instructed in nutrition and health in his last years at the elementary school, where the teaching is concerned with questions of nutrition and health rules, and not with egoism—but with what is natural to man.

You see what very far-reaching problems of life are involved in teaching a particular thing at the right moment. You really provide for the whole of his life if you teach a child what is right at his particular age. Of course, if one could imbue children of seven or eight with precepts of nutrition, with precepts of health, that would be the best way of all. They would then absorb these rules of nutrition and health in the most unegoistic way, for they are hardly aware at that moment that the rules refer to themselves. They would see themselves as objects, not as subjects. But they cannot understand it so early. Their power of judgement is not yet sufficiently developed to be able to understand it. For this reason you cannot take rules for nutrition and health at this age, and you must save them up for the last school years, when the fire of the inner instinct of food and health is already dying down, and when, in contrast to these dying instincts, there has already emerged the power to comprehend what comes into consideration. At every turn it is possible to intermingle for the older children some reference to rules of health and nutrition. In natural history, in physics, in the lessons which expand geography to its full scope, even in history lessons, every moment lends itself to an opportunity of instruction in dietetics and health. You will see from this that we do not need to accept it as a subject in the school time-table, but that much of our teaching must contain such vitality that it absorbs this with it. If we have a right feeling for what the child is to learn—then the child himself, or the community of children in school, will remind us every day of what we have to introduce into the rest of our teaching. And for this purpose we have to cultivate and practise, because we are teachers, a certain alertness of mind. If we are drilled as specialists in geography or history we shall not develop this mental alertness, for then we are exclusively concerned, from the beginning of the history lesson to the end of the history lesson, with teaching history. And then there can come into play those extraordinarily unnatural conditions whose injurious effects on life are not by any means fully appreciated.

It is profoundly true that we do the human being a service, and one that discourages his egoism, when we teach him the rules of dietetics and health, as I have explained, in the last years at the elementary school.

But here, too, it is possible to refer to many aspects which permeate the whole of teaching with feeling. And if you attach a certain amount of feeling to every step of your teaching, the results at which you are aiming will persist throughout life. But if in the last years at the elementary school you only teach things of interest to the reason, to the intellect, very little lasting impression will be made. You will have to permeate your own self with feeling whenever you give something to the children in the years from twelve to fourteen. You must try to teach, not only graphically, but with vivid feeling, geography, history, natural history, in the last school years. Imagination or fantasy is not enough without feeling.

Now in actual fact the curriculum for the elementary school (aged seven to fourteen) falls into three distinct periods which we have traced: first, up to nine years of age, when we introduce to the growing child chiefly conventionalities, writing, reading; then up to twelve, when we introduce to him the uses of this conventionality, and on the other hand to all learning based on the individual power of judgement. And you have seen that into this school period we put the study of animals, and nature-study, because the individual at this stage still has a certain instinctive feeling for the relationships here involved. I laid down lines for you on which to develop, from the cuttle-fish, the mouse, the lamb, and the human being, a feeling of the relationship of man with the whole of the world of nature. We have taken great pains, too—and I hope not in vain, for they will flower and come to fruition in the teaching of botany—to develop man's relation to the plant world. These ideas of things must be rooted in feeling during the middle period of the elementary school course, when the instincts are still alive to this feeling of intimacy with the animals, with the plants, and when, after all, even if the experience never emerges into the ordinary light of reasoning consciousness, the child feels himself now a cat, now a wolf, now a lion or an eagle. This identification of oneself now with one animal, now with the other, only occurs up to about the age of nine. Before this age it is even more profound, but it cannot be used, because the power to grasp it consciously is non-existent. If children are very precocious and talk a great deal about themselves when they are still only four or five, their comparisons of themselves with the eagle, with the mouse, etc., are very common indeed. But if we start at the ninth year to teach natural history on the lines I have suggested, we come upon a good deal of the child's instinctive feeling of relationship with animals. Later this instinctive feeling ripens into a feeling of relationship with the plant world. Therefore, first of all the natural history of the animal kingdom, then the natural history of the plant kingdom. We leave the minerals till the last because they require almost exclusively the power of judgement. So it is in accordance with human nature to arrange the curriculum as I have suggested. The intermediate school period, from eight to eleven, presents a fine balance between the instincts and the powers of discernment. We can always assume that the child will respond intelligently if we rely on a certain instinctive understanding, if we are not—especially in natural history and botany—too obvious. We must avoid drawing external analogies particularly with the plant world, for that is really contrary to natural feeling. Natural feeling is itself predisposed to seek psychic qualities in plants; not the external physical form of man in this tree or that, but soul-relations such as we tried to discover in the plant system.3See The Art of Education (“Erziehungskunst”), No. 7; Rudolf Steiner, The Training of Teachers (“Pädagogisches Seminar”).

And the actual power of discernment, the rational, intellectual comprehension of the human being which can be relied on, belongs to the last school period. For this reason we employ precisely the twelfth year in the child's life, when he is gravitating in the direction of the power of discernment, for merging this power of judgement in the activities still partly prompted by instinct, but already very thickly overlaid with discerning power. These are, as it were, the twilight instincts of the soul, which we must overcome by the power of judgement.

At this stage it must be remembered that man has an instinct for gain, for profiteering, for the principle of discount, etc., which appeals to the instincts. But we must be sure to impose the power of discernment very forcibly upon this, and consequently we must use this stage of development for studying the relations existing between calculation and the circulation of commodities and finance, that is, for doing percentage sums, interest sums, discount sums, etc.

It is very important not to give the child these ideas too late, for that would really be appealing to his egoism. We are not yet reckoning on his egoism if we teach him at about the age of twelve to grasp to some extent the principle of promissory notes and so on, commercial calculations, etc. Actual book-keeping could be studied later; this already requires more intelligence. But it is very important to bring out these ideas at this stage. For the inner selfish appetite for interest, bills of exchange, promissory notes, and so on, is not yet awake in the child at this tender age. These things are more serious in the commercial schools when he is older.

You must absorb these facts quite completely into your being as instructors, as teachers. Try not to do too much, whatever your inclination may be, let us say, in describing plants. Try to teach about plants so that a great deal is left to the child's imagination, that the child can still imagine for himself, in terms of his own feeling, the psychic relations prevailing between the human soul and the plant world. The person who enthuses too freely on object lessons does not know that there are things to be taught which cannot be studied externally. And when people try to teach the child by object lessons things which ought only to be taught through moral influence and through the feelings, this very object teaching does him harm. We must never forget, you see, that mere observation and illustration are a very pronounced by-product of the materialistic spirit of our age. Naturally, observation must be cultivated in its proper place, but you must not apply the method when it would only spoil the intimate relation between the child and the world in the sphere of his imaginative mind.