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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Discussions with Teachers
GA 295

First Lecture on the Curriculum

6 September 1919, A.M., Stuttgart

Translated by Katherine E. Creeger

My dear friends, it would still be possible, of course, to present many more details from the field of general pedagogy. However, since we are always forced in such cases to conclude prematurely, we will use the remaining time this morning to take our general discussions of education over into an outline of instructional goals for the individual grades. In our general pedagogical studies, we have been trying to acquire the right point of view for dividing up the subject matter with regard to the development of the growing human being. We must always remember the necessity of consolidating our instruction in the way that I demonstrated. For example, we can proceed from mineralogy to geography or use ethnological characteristics to link history and geography when we deal with cultural history in a spiritual way. Bearing in mind this possibility of proceeding from one subject to another, let’s go through the subject matter we want to present to our young charges and divide it into individual categories.

The first thing we need to consider when we welcome children into the first grade is to find appropriate stories to tell them and for them to tell back to us. In the telling and retelling of fairy tales, legends, and accounts of outer realities, we are cultivating the children’s speech, forming a bridge between the local dialect and educated conversational speech. By making sure the children speak correctly, we are also laying a foundation for correct writing.

Parallel to such telling and retelling, we introduce the children to a certain visual language of forms. We have them draw simple round and angular shapes simply for the sake of the forms. As already mentioned, we do not do this for the sake of imitating some external object, but simply for the sake of the forms themselves. Also, we do not hesitate to link this drawing to simple painting, placing the colors next to each other so that the children get a feeling for what it means to place red next to green, next to yellow, and so on.

On the basis of what we achieve through this, we will be able to introduce the children to writing in the way that we have already considered from the perspective of educational theory. The natural way to go about it would be to make a gradual transition from form drawing to the Latin alphabet. Whenever we are in a position to introduce the Latin alphabet first, we should certainly do so, and then proceed from the Latin alphabet to German script. After the children have learned to read and write simple handwritten words, we make the transition to printed letters, taking the Latin alphabet first, of course, and following it up with the German.1Steiner is referring here to the fact that the German language at that time was written in Fraktur, a specifically Germanic style of print and handwriting, rather than in the Latin, or Roman, alphabet now universally used for Western European languages.—TRANS.

If we proceed rationally, we will get far enough in the first grade so that the children will be able to write simple things that we say to them or that they compose themselves. If we stick to simple things, the children will also be able to read them. Of course we don’t need to aim at having the children achieve any degree of accomplishment in this first year. It would be completely wrong to expect that. The point is simply that, during the first grade, we should get the children to the point where they no longer confront the printed word as a total unknown, so to speak, and are able to take the initiative to write some simple things. This should be our goal with regard to language instruction, if I may put it like that.

We will be helped in this by what we are going to consider next—namely the elasticity and adaptability that the children’s speech organs can gain from instruction in singing. Without our making a special point of it, they will develop a greater sensitivity to long and short vowels, voiced or voiceless sounds, and so on. Even though this may not be our intention in teaching music, the children will be introduced nonetheless to an auditory understanding of what the instrument of the voice produces in music—in a simple way at first, so that they can get ... well, of course it’s impossible to get an overview of sounds, so I would actually have to invent a word and say: so that they can get an “overhearing” of it. By “overhearing” I mean that they really experience inwardly the single thing among the many, so that they are not overwhelmed by things as they perceive them.

In addition to this we must add something that can stimulate the children’s thinking when we tell them about things that are close at hand, things that will later appear in a more structured form in geography and science. We explain such things and introduce them to the children’s understanding by relating them to things that are already familiar—to familiar animals, plants, and soil formations, or to local mountains, creeks, or meadows. Schools call this “local history,” but the purpose is to bring about a certain awakening in the children with regard to their surroundings; a soul awakening, so that they learn to really connect with their surroundings.

At the beginning of the second grade, we will continue with the telling and retelling of stories and try to develop this further. Then the children can be brought gradually to the point of writing down the stories we tell them. After they have had some practice in writing down what they hear, we can also have them write short descriptions of what we’ve told them about the animals, plants, meadows, and woods in the surroundings.

During the first grade it would be important not to touch on issues of grammar, and so on, to any great extent. In the second grade, however, we should teach the children the concepts of what a noun is, what an adjective is, and what a verb is. We should then connect this simply and graphically to a discussion of how sentences are constructed. With regard to descriptions, to thoughtfully describing their surroundings, we continue with what the children began in the first grade.

The third grade is essentially a continuation of the second with regard to speaking, reading, writing, and many other things. We will continue to increase the children’s ability to write about what they see and read. Now we also try to summon up in them a conscious feeling for sounds that are short, long, drawn out, and so on. It is good to cultivate a feeling for articulating speech and for the general structure of language when the children are in third grade—that is, around the age of eight.2The German translates literally as “in their eighth or ninth year” and is sometimes mistranslated in English as “eight or nine years old”; thus references to beginning school in “the seventh year” can be taken to mean that “children shouldn’t go to school until they are seven.” What Steiner said, however, was “in the seventh year of their life—that is, “six-going-on-seven.”—TRANS. At this point, we attempt to convey an understanding of the different types of words and of the components and construction of a sentence—that is, of how punctuation marks such as commas and periods and so on are incorporated into a sentence.

Once again, with regard to telling and retelling, the fourth grade is a continuation of the third. When we take up short poems in the first and second grade, it’s good to make a point of allowing the children to experience the rhythm, rhyme, and meter instinctively, and to wait to make them aware of the poem’s inner structure--that is, everything that relates to its inner beauty—until the third and fourth grades.

At that point, however, we try to lead everything the children have learned about writing descriptions and retelling stories in writing over into composing letters of all kinds. Then we try to awaken in the children a clear understanding of the tenses, of everything expressed by the various transformations of a verb. At around age nine, the children should acquire the concepts for what they need in this regard; they should get a feeling for it, so that they don’t say “The man ran” when they should have said “The man has run”—that is, that they don’t confuse the past tense with the present perfect. Children should get a feeling for when it is proper to say “He stood” rather than “He has stood,” and other similar things that have to do with transformations in what a verb expresses. In the same way, we attempt to teach the children to feel instinctively the relationship between a preposition and its object. We should always make sure to help them get a feeling for when to use “on” instead of “at,” and so on. Children who are going on ten should practice shaping their native language and should experience it as a malleable element.

In the fifth grade, it is important to review and expand on what we did in the fourth grade, and, from that point on, it is important to take into account the difference between active and passive verb forms. We also begin asking children of this particular age not only to reproduce freely what they have seen and heard, but also to quote what they have heard and read and to use quotation marks appropriately. We try to give the children a great deal of spoken practice in distinguishing between conveying their own opinions and conveying those of others. Through their writing assignments, we also try to arouse a keen distinction between what they themselves have thought, seen, and so forth, and what they communicate about what others have said. In this context, we again try to perfect their use of punctuation. Letter writing is also developed further.

In the sixth grade, of course we review and continue what we did in the fifth. In addition, we now try to give the children a strong feeling for the subjunctive mood. We use as many examples as possible in speaking about these things so that the children learn to distinguish between what can be stated as fact and what needs to be expressed in the subjunctive. When we have the children practice speaking, we make a special point of not allowing any mistakes in the use of the subjunctive, so that they assimilate a strong feeling for this inner dimension of the language. A child is supposed to say, “I am taking care that my little sister learn [subjunctive] how to walk,” and not, “I am taking care that my little sister learns to walk.”3These distinctions are not as readily detected in current English. In Steiner’s example, the difference is between lerne and lernt; the first is perhaps closest to the process of learning (not yet fact), the second to having learned (fact).

We now make the transition from personal letters to simple, concrete business compositions dealing with things the children have already learned about elsewhere. Even as early as the third grade we can extend what we say about the meadows and woods and so on to business relationships, so that later on the subject matter is already available for composing simple business letters.

In the seventh grade, we will again have to continue with what we did in the sixth grade, but now we also attempt to have the children develop an appropriate and flexible grasp of how to express wishing, astonishment, admiration, and so on in how they speak. We try to teach the children to form sentences in accordance with the inner configuration of these feelings. However, we do not need to mutilate poems or anything else in order to demonstrate how someone or other structured a sentence to express wishing. We approach it directly by having the children themselves express wishes and shape their sentences accordingly. We then have them express admiration and form the sentences accordingly, or help them to construct the sentences. To further educate their ability to see the inner flexibility of language, we then compare their wishing sentences to their admiring ones.

What has been presented in science will already have enabled the children to compose simple characterizations of the wolf, the lion, or the bee, let’s say. At this stage, alongside such exercises, which are directed more toward the universally human element in education, we must especially foster the children’s ability to formulate practical matters of business. The teacher must be concerned with finding out about practical business matters and getting them into the student’s heads in some sensible fashion.

In the eighth grade, it will be important to teach the children to have a coherent understanding of longer pieces of prose or poetry; thus, at this stage we will read a drama and an epic with the children, always keeping in mind what I said before: All the explanations and interpretations precede the actual reading of the piece, so that the reading is always the conclusion of what we do with the material. In particular, however, the practical business element in language instruction must not be disregarded in the eighth grade.

It will be important that we make it possible for children who have reached the fourth grade to choose to learn Latin. Meanwhile, we will have already introduced French and English [as foreign languages] in a very simple fashion as soon as the children have entered school.

When the children are in the fourth grade, we introduce them to Latin by having them listen to it, and we ask them to repeat little conversations as they gradually gain the ability to do so. We should certainly begin with speaking the language for the children to hear; in terms of speaking, we will attempt to achieve through listening what is usually accomplished in the first year of Latin instruction. We will then take this further according to the indications I gave in the lectures on educational theory, to the point where our eighth-grade graduates will have a mastery of Latin that corresponds to what is ordinarily taught in the fourth year of high school. In other words, our fourth graders must accomplish approximately what is usually taught in the first year of high school and our fifth and sixth graders what is usually taught in the second and third years respectively; the remainder of the time can be spent on what is usually taught in the fourth year.

Parallel to this we will continue with French and English [as foreign language] instruction, taking into account what we heard in the theoretical portion of these lectures.

We will also allow those who choose to study the Greek language to begin doing so. Here too, we proceed in the manner we heard about in the theoretical portion. Specifically, we attempt again to develop the writing of Greek letters on the basis of form drawing. It will be of great benefit to those who now choose to learn Greek to use a different set of letters to repeat the initial process of deriving writing from drawing.

Well, you have seen how we make free use of familiar things from the immediate surroundings for our independent instruction in general knowledge. In the third grade, when the children are going on nine, it is quite possible for this instruction to provide them with an idea of how mortar is mixed, for instance—I can only choose a few examples—and how it is used in building houses. They can also have an idea of how manuring and tilling are done, and of what rye and wheat look like. To put it briefly, in a very free way we allow the children to delve into the elements of their immediate surroundings that they are capable of understanding.

In the fourth grade we make the transition from this type of instruction to speaking about what belongs to recent history, still in a very free way. For example, we can tell the children how it happened that grapes came to be cultivated locally (if in fact that is the case), or how orchards were introduced or how one or the other industry appeared, and other similar things. Then, too, we draw on the geography of the local region, beginning with what is most readily available, as I have already described.

In the fifth grade, we make every effort to begin to introduce the children to real historical concepts. With fifth graders, we need not hesitate at all to teach the children about the cultures of Asian peoples and of the Greeks. Our fear of taking the children back into ancient times has occurred only because people in our day and age do not have the ability to develop concepts appropriate to these bygone times. However, if we constantly appeal to their feelings, it is easy enough to help ten- and eleven-year-olds develop an understanding of the Greeks and Asian peoples.

Parallel to this, as I showed you earlier, in geography we begin to teach the children also about soil formations and everything that is economically related to them, dealing first with the specific part of the Earth’s surface that is most readily available.

Greek and Roman history and its aftereffects (until the beginning of the fifteenth century) belong to the sixth grade. In geography we continue with what we did in the fifth grade, taking a different part of the Earth and then linking its climatic conditions to astronomical conditions, examples of which we experienced yesterday afternoon.

In the seventh grade, it is important to get the children to understand how the modern life of humanity dawned in the fifteenth century, and we then describe the situation in Europe and so on up to about the beginning of the seventeenth century. This is one of the most important historical periods, and we must cover it with great care and attention. Indeed, it is even more important than the time immediately following it. In geography, we continue with the study of astronomical conditions and begin to cover the spiritual and cultural circumstances of Earth’s inhabitants, of the various ethnic groups, but always in connection with what the children have already learned about material cultural circumstances—that is, economic circumstances—during their first two years of geography lessons.

In the eighth grade, we try to bring the children right up to the present in history, including a thorough consideration of cultural history. Most of what is included in history, as it is ordinarily taught, will only be mentioned in passing. It is much more important for children to experience how the steam engine, the mechanized loom, and so on have transformed the Earth than it is for them to learn at too young an age about such curiosities as the corrections made to the Emser Depesche.4Emser Depesche: An incident that touched off the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Bismark publicized an abridged and misleading version of a telegram (known as the “Ems Dispatch”), and the effect of this action was to feed the fury of the opposing parties in France and Prussia. The things our history books contain are the least important as far as the education of children is concerned. Even great figures in history, such as Charlemagne, should basically be covered only in passing. You will need to do a lot of what I told you yesterday about aids to guiding abstract concepts of time over into something concrete. Indeed, we must do a very great deal of it.

Now I probably do not need to tell you that even the subjects we have discussed so far will help the children develop an awareness of the spirit that permeates everything present in the world, an awareness that the spirit lives in our language, in the geographical elements covering the Earth, and in the flow of history. When we try to sense the living spirit in everything, we will also find the proper enthusiasm for conveying this living spirit to our students.

Whenever we do this, we will learn to compensate our students for what the religious denominations have been doing to humanity since the beginning of the modern era. These religious denominations, which have never made the free development of the individual a priority, have cultivated materialism from various angles. When it is not permissible to use the entire content of the world to teach people that the spirit is active, religious instruction becomes a breeding ground for materialism. The various religious denominations have made it their task to eliminate all mention of spirit and soul from any other form of instruction because they want to keep that privilege for themselves. Meanwhile the reality of these things has dried up as far as the religious denominations are concerned, and so what is presented in religious instruction consists merely of sentimental clichés and figures of speech. All the clichés that are now so terribly apparent everywhere are actually due more to religious culture than to international culture, because nowadays the emptiest clichés, which human instincts then carry over into outer life, are being promoted by the religious denominations. Certainly ordinary life also creates many clichés, but the greatest sinners in this respect are the religious denominations.

It remains to be seen, my dear friends, how religious instruction—which I will not even touch on in these discussions, because that will be the task of the congregations in question—will affect other types of instruction here in our Waldorf school. For now religious instruction is a space that must be left blank; these hours will simply be given over to the religion teachers to do whatever they choose. It goes without saying that they are not going to listen to us. They will listen to their church’s constitution, or to their church gazette or that of the parochial school administration. We will fulfill our obligations in this respect, but we will also quietly continue to fulfill our obligation to summon up the spirit for our children in all the other subjects.