Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
Address and discussion at a parents' evening
13 January 1921, Stuttgart
Dear friends; 1The wording of this speech and of the discussion that follows was revised by Rudolf Steiner himself for publication in the Mitteilungsblatt für die MitZlieder des Vereins Freie Waldorfschule [Newsletter for Members of the Independent Waldorf School Association], March 1922, Vol. 2. dear ladies and gentlemen! You have chosen to entrust your children’s education to the Waldorf School, which has now been in existence for more than a year. If we want to communicate the Waldorf School’s methods and manner of instruction in a few indications—we do not have time for more than that tonight—it is best to start by mentioning one thing that we need in the Waldorf School much more than in any other school. In this school more that in any other, we need to work with the parents in a relationship of trust if we want to move forward in the right way. Our teachers absolutely depend on finding this relationship of trust with the children’s parents, since our school is fundamentally based on spiritual freedom—by which I do not mean, of course, any phantasmagorical spiritual license on the part of the children. Our school takes its place in our overall culture as an independent school in the best sense of the word. Just think about the otherwise compulsory integration of school life into public life by the civil authorities. Schools have been conceived wholly in the context of the state establishment which they are intended to serve exclusively, supplying the state with human beings of the sort it requires. That this is not also in the interest of truly healthy individual development is the recognition on which the Waldorf School is founded. The Waldorf School is intended to serve healthy human development above all else. All the instruction and education taking place in the Waldorf School are to be built up on the basis of healthy human development.
As you know, people today often say that a child’s individuality should be developed in school, that children should not be force-fed, that we should draw out what is present in each child. This is a very nice principle. There are many, many equally nice principles in the pedagogical literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In an abstract respect, this pedagogical literature, which is supposed to teach teachers how to teach, is not bad at all. An extraordinary number of good things have been said about education by all kinds of humanitarian people, but we cannot say that these good intentions correspond in all instances to the actual practice of education, as we may call it. And that is what it all depends on for us in the Waldorf School —on building up a real, true practice of education. And I actually do believe that it will be possible to arrive at a true practice of education through cultivating the spiritual life that takes place in our circles in particular, for this is especially intended to enable us to understand the human being better than any other way of cultivating the spiritual life could do. And this applies not only to the adult human being, but also to the child, to the human being in the becoming.
People often believe that they understand growing human beings in the right way. And at least as a general rule—and in fact this is much more often the case than those who are not closely involved with children believe—there is indeed a human relationship in which a very good understanding of the developing human being is present, and that is the relationship of a father or mother to the child. The relationship of a father and mother to their child is a natural one. It is one in which they grow into living with the child, and they have a certain feeling for the right thing to do. Of course they may also do the wrong thing at times, but that is because of more or less unnatural circumstances, because of an unnatural development in their proper fatherly or motherly feeling.
However, when the child grows up and enters the time when the change of teeth begins, then what home can be for the child is no longer enough. If this were not the case, then we would not need to have schools. But at this point the child must go to school, and then the important thing is for the child to receive an education that can guide him or her as a developing individual toward life, consciously and out of an understanding of the nature of the child. In order for this to take place, however, a real understanding of the human being must be alive in the child’s teacher. And a real understanding of the human being actually requires the teacher to be active in the noblest of the sciences, the science of the soul. Because the human being is fashioned out of the entire world, a real knowledge of the human being requires us to look into the whole world with a free and penetrating gaze. Someone who is not sufficiently warmly interested in knowing about the world to focus on it will also not be capable of insight into the human heart and mind, and especially not into the aspect of this that is meant to make a child develop into a complete human being. Anyone who is incapable of feeling everything that exists in the world as the physical element, everything that pervades and governs the world as the soul element, and everything that is contained in it as the spiritual element, will not be able to understand the nature of the child, because there is still present in the child something of the mysterious working of what is brought along when a human being descends from quite different worlds, from spiritual worlds, to the parents from whom he or she takes on a body.
When we observe a child in the first years of life, from week to week and from month to month, it is really the most wonderful thing in the world’s becoming. The world’s most wonderful secrets are revealed when we observe how something that is at first indefinite grows out spiritually through the child’s physical being, how indeterminate features that still bear traces of the merely natural are shaped by the inner element of spirit and soul, how the soul gradually works its way out through the eyes that gaze into life with ever-increasing understanding. It is wonderful to see how children become one with their surroundings, how they recreate almost everything they see there in all that they do in their still clumsy fashion, and how they finally grow together with their surroundings in learning to speak. The first seven years of their life are totally dedicated to growing together with their surroundings in this way. When the children are admitted to school, around the time when they are approaching the change of teeth, then everything we undertake with them must be based on this knowledge of the human being.
However, there is also something else on which it must be based. We may believe that we understand the nature of the growing human being. However, what induces a child to read, write, and do arithmetic must be drawn from the very nature of the growing person, and here we soon notice what a complicated thing it is to truly understand the human being. In our teacher-training courses we may have learned methodically and well how to teach reading and writing and so forth. Then we can make an effort to apply what we learned there, and in practical terms we can even do very well up to a certain point, and yet we achieve nothing in our teaching unless a certain relationship exists between teacher and child, a relationship of real mutual love. That is what we really try to cultivate in our Waldorf School as something that is pedagogically and methodologically just as necessary as mere outer skill. We want an atmosphere of love to be alive in every class, and for instruction to take place on the basis of this atmosphere of love.
But this love cannot be mandated. It is not accomplished by giving sermons on this type of love in teacher-training institutes. Love cannot be taught just like that. But as teachers, we actually need more love than we need for the other aspects of our lives. You see, the amount of love people usually have for their children, no matter how many they may have, is small compared to what a teacher needs. No one has as many children of their own as a teacher usually has to teach in a class. As adults we develop the love of a man for a woman and a woman for a man, and this is also something that is meant to be kept within a narrow circle, because it is not good if love of this sort is divided up among too many personalities. So the love that flows from an individual out into life is always meant to be distributed among relatively few people. Of course we are supposed to love all human beings, but that is kept within certain limits. To include the millions is only possible to a certain extent.
However, it is absolutely necessary for a teacher to have the same degree of love, although possibly in a somewhat different way, for the children in his or her class that parents have for their children or a man for the woman he loves or a woman for the man she loves. It must be the same love and just as intense. It is transferred more to a soul and spiritual level, but it must be present. We are not born with this love; we must acquire it from elsewhere, from a science, from knowledge. This science, however, is not as dry and abstract as today’s natural sciences or scientific activity in general, whose dryness and solemnity have rubbed off on education. We can have love of this sort only as a result of a science that truly deals with the spirit and reveals the spirit, for where a science provides spirit, it also provides love. Thus the cultivation of the spiritual life, the spiritual science, that has led to founding the Waldorf School provides the teachers with this real love. We need this love; everything must be based on it. Even the school’s most matter-of-course methods must be based on it. Above all else, the spirit of understanding the world and the spirit of love must be present in instruction as it is practiced in the Waldorf School, in the education that we want to provide. And this cannot be accomplished with cliches and generalities. It can be accomplished only if we know how to apply in detail and over and over again what we know about the development of the child from month to month and from year to year.
In ordinary education, people nowadays immediately begin to present the child with something that paralyzes the individual’s entire healthy development. Let us look back on the development of humanity for a moment. There have been times— and we cannot be so arrogant as to imagine that people in those times were stupid and childish—when people did not yet learn to read and write in the modern sense. At most, they learned a primitive form of arithmetic. Today we learn to read and write, but we do not learn reading and writing as they first developed out of nonreading and nonwriting; we learn something that has become very rational and conventionalized. When we do not hesitate to teach children the reading and writing that are now customary in our dealings with each other, we are basically using very artificial means to introduce them to something that is foreign to them. When children come to us in the first grade, we must be careful not to forcefeed them with what adults are supposed to be able to do. And now I am going to speak of something that our dear friend Herr Molt already pointed to—that in the Waldorf School children learn to read and write somewhat later than in other schools. There are good reasons for this. In many respects, it is a mistake to learn to read and write as early as this happens in other schools. The point is not to make the children acquire certain capabilities as quickly as possible, but rather to teach them to be good and capable people later on in life, people who do not make life difficult for themselves. Outer circumstances can make life difficult enough for many people as it is; we do not need an inner feeling of weakness or inability messing up our lives. We must find a method of teaching reading and writing very carefully and on the basis of the children’s natural tendencies and skills.
Let me just mention that we start by first letting the children draw certain forms from which the forms contained in the letters of the alphabet are developed. We let the children get into reading by starting with writing, because the more we start from something that has its basis in the entire human being, the better it is for the children’s development. In reading and writing as we adults use them to interact with each other or to learn about things belonging to spiritual or other aspects of life, the signs for letters, the signs constituting our words, have become something very conventionalized. Ancient peoples still used a pictorial script that contained something concrete. There was still a connection between what was used to express something in writing and what was being expressed. In our letters, however, it is no longer possible to recognize anything of what is being expressed. Thus if we simply teach children these letters as the end result of a long process of development, we are forcing them into something that is foreign to them. Instead, we must lead the children in a sensible way from things they enjoy drawing, from something that comes from their whole being, to the shapes of the letters. Only afterwards can we develop reading on the basis of this.
I have tried to use this example to show you the thrust of our art of education—to really read in growing human beings what we are meant to do with them. Those who understand human nature are well aware of how things are connected in life. We often do not observe much of what is most important in life. We often find people—and today they are much more numerous than we believe—who take no real pleasure in anything, who tire very easily, and who grow old before their time —at least inwardly with regard to their souls—and so on. We are not clear as to the origin of this. It comes from the fact that as children in the sixth, seventh and eighth years of life, they were not taught writing and reading in the right way. Those who understand human nature know that children who learned to read in the right way, who were not force-fed at age six or seven but learned to read and write naturally, may master reading and writing a bit later, but they will take along what they gained from learning to read and write as a real gift that they will have for the rest of their lives.
If we drum it into them in all kinds of artificial ways that disregard their natural tendencies and developmental possibilities, we can get children to read and write at seven-and-a-half, but in many respects we will have crippled these children’s souls for life. In contrast, if we have gone about it in the right way, the children only learn to read and write at age eight, but life forces develop in them as they are learning. That is what we want. While the children are in school, we want them to acquire life forces, forces with effects that will last for their entire lives.
As inhabitants of Central Europe, you do not need to be told that we find ourselves in a terrible situation today. The misery and suffering are truly not becoming any less, but are increasing almost from day to day. And it can be said that much of this stems simply from the fact that people can no longer find their way into life in the right way; they can no longer adapt to life. To be sure, the most important time with regard to people finding their way into life is not their school years, but a much later time, the time when they are in their twenties, between the ages of twenty and thirty. This is the time that earlier ages (which we cannot and do not want to wish back) called the transition from apprenticeship to mastery. There is sometimes something extremely sensible in the designation of such transitions.
This is the time in which people actually fully grow up. They must then find a way to become skillful in life. Then something happens that I would like to compare to the following image taken from nature. Let me remind you of a certain river that flows through Carinthia and Krain. As it flows from its source, it is known as the Poik. Then it disappears into a hole and is no longer visible. After a time it comes to the surface again. It is the same river; it has simply flowed underground for a while, but now as it continues above ground, it is called the Unz. Then it again disappears and flows underground. When it surfaces again, it is known as the Laibach. It surfaces again and again; it is the same water, but sometimes it flows underground.
It is also like this in a human life. There is something present in human life in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh years of life, and also during the school years, in the form of children’s urge to play. Everything that belongs to children’s play is especially active at this age. Then, like the river, it sinks below the surface of human life. Later, when sexual maturity arrives and other things happen, we see that this urge to play is no longer active in the same way. But when people enter their twenties, the same thing that was present in play surfaces again. However, it no longer functions as the urge to play; it is now something different. It has now become the way in which the individual can find his or her way into life. And in fact, if children are allowed to play in the right way according to their particular potentials, when they are introduced to the right games, then they will be able to adapt to life in the right way. But if we miss out on something about the nature of the child in the games we introduce, the children will also lack skill in finding their place in life. This is how these things are related: The urge to play, the particular way in which a child plays, disappears and sinks below the surface of life. Then it resurfaces, but as something different, as the skill to adapt to life. There is an inner coherence in life throughout all its stages. We need to know this in order to teach children in the right way.
For example, there is a very important point in time in the life of a child that may sometimes come a bit earlier, sometimes a bit later, but always falls approximately between the ninth and tenth years of life. At this point in a person’ life, a lot depends on having the right feeling of admiration and respect for one’s teacher. Of course, this feeling should also be present at other times, but at this moment in life something essential is being decided for the child. It is really of extraordinarily great significance. That is why the art of education is so difficult to achieve—it rests on a thorough understanding of the human being. Many things that show up at later stages of life and cause a great deal of unhappiness, preventing people from finding their place in life and making them incapable of working, even causing them to develop tendencies toward physical illnesses, all stem from the fact that as children they were not dealt with in the right way between their ninth and tenth years of life. We do not believe this today, but it really is so. Until the ninth or tenth year of life, we must try to keep the children occupied with instructional material that does not force them to think about themselves too much. Instead, they should be thinking about things that are out there in life. Then, between the ninth and tenth years of life, we must begin to present them with concepts and images of plants and animals that help them make a transition from thinking about the world to thinking about themselves. All of our teaching must be designed to introduce things at the right moment, when the inner nature of the child requires it, so to speak.
What I am indicating to you in just a few words is actually a highly developed study of the human being on the basis of spiritual science. This is what makes it possible to develop a real art of education. This art of education, based on a truly spiritual scientific understanding of the human being, is meant to govern the entire Waldorf School; it is meant to be the spirit that prevails there. And in fact, we believe that much of what is so painful in our day and age is crying out for the next generation to be made good and capable through an education of this sort. We also believe that if parents understand why they are entrusting their children to a school that is set up on the basis of a real and thorough understanding of the human being, they also really understand what our present times demand. What we need in this school comes about through a relationship of this sort between the parents and the school. This is a part of how we work. If the children who come to school in the morning are sent off by parents who understand the school and therefore have the right kind of love for it, then the children will also be able to have the right experience of what is meant to come to meet them, more than anything else, when they open the door to the school and meet their teachers with the love that is the only source of truly appropriate instruction and education.
When what we introduce is presented at the right moment and lies within the children’s abilities and potentials, it becomes a source of revitalization for the children for their entire lives. And when the parents of our children realize that we are actually working to produce people who will be both fit for and able to question a life that will become ever more difficult in decades to come, these parents will relate to the school in the right way. Our work must rest on the understanding of the parents. We cannot work in the same way as other schools that are protected by the state and by authorities of all sorts. We can only work only if we are met by an understanding community of parents. We are aware of what we are being given in the children in this school, whom we are trying to educate out of a true understanding of the human being and of what subjects can be employed at any given time. This is the awareness out of which our teachers can teach best. If, out of this awareness, we always try to give these children the best that can be given to them, then we need to have this school surrounded by a wall of parental understanding like the walls of a fortress. We love our children here; we teach on a basis of understanding the human being and of loving children, while around us a different love grows up, the parents’ love for the being of our school. Given the lack of understanding and questionable moral development that we face today, it is only within this community that we are really able to work toward a future in which human beings will thrive.
The work that is to be done in this direction may be limited to a small community, but much can come out of this small community if it always meets the school with the right understanding.
Our teachers need an awareness of this sort because they lack all the compulsory disciplinary measures that teachers in other schools have to back them up, as it were. But nothing reasonable will ever happen in human life as a result of coercion. In order to be able to work in freedom, we need the parents to understand how we try to do this. And the fact that a very considerable number of people have been found who are sending their children to the Waldorf School demonstrates that at least a start has been made toward this understanding. We would like it to spread more and more, of course; we would like more and more people to realize that something good can come about only through a real, true art of education. But especially on evenings like tonight, we must be glad that we can come together in the spirit of wanting to bring about a better future for humanity by working together with those who are trying to raise and educate the generations to come in the sense of real knowledge of and love for the human being.
Of course it is not possible, even with the best of will, to fully achieve the ideal that hovers before us on our first attempt; something, however, has been achieved. To begin with, too, what we are doing will not meet with a full and thorough understanding. It is possible that many things will be misunderstood. Under certain circumstances, it will be possible for people to say, “Well, in this school some children are not being hit often enough. There are surely some children who need to be hit, either literally or figuratively.” Such things are sometimes said, but not out of a thorough understanding of, or love for, the human being. There are methods that may work more slowly, but are more certain to develop the good in a person than any unnatural compulsory disciplinary measures. An understanding of some of these things can be achieved only gradually.
You know, I was recently told about one boy who came to the school only a short time ago, but has put in a lot of thought and also really learned something fundamental here with us. He said, “I don't know; I used to be in another school where we learned arithmetic and mathematics and geometry and all kinds of things; and now I'm supposed to become a good, capable person, but in this school I'm not learning any math at all. What am I going to amount to if I don't learn any math?” Where did this boy get the idea that he was not going to learn any math? You see, we try to accomplish under natural circumstances what other schools attempt to achieve by scheduling, by herding the children from one subject to another so that they never have time to concentrate on anything. So that the children can really work their way into a subject, we teach the same subject for weeks at a time during the main lesson of the day, for two hours each morning. We do not jump from one lesson to the next or from one subject to the next; we only change subjects after a while. Now this boy arrived at a time when mathematics was not being taught, so he thought that he was not going to learn any math at all. Later, of course, he noticed that he was then concentrating on math rather than being driven on to something different in each lesson; he was learning math more thoroughly. It is easy for misunderstandings of this sort to arise, even if they are not all as obvious as in this case. In the Waldorf School, many things look different from what we were used to earlier, so we should not be too quick to judge.
The things we foster really are drawn from what I have called “understanding the human being.” This is characteristic of our school. It is also the reason why, as far as we can tell, the children are extraordinarily happy to come to school. I come to the school from time to time and take part in the lessons. We are striving to work out of the nature of the child in such a way that the children feel that they want to know the things we intend them to know, to be able to do the things we intend them to be able to do, rather than having the feeling that things are being forced upon them. This has to be developed in a way specific to each subject, since each one is different.
Next, all instruction must be pervaded by a specific educational principle that can be attained only if the teachers themselves are fully involved in spiritual activity. It is not possible for them to do this if they are not aware of their responsibility to the spiritual life. However, ladies and gentlemen, it is only possible to take up this great responsibility toward the spiritual life if it is not being replaced for us by a merely external feeling of responsibility. If we proceed simply according to what is prescribed for a single school year, we feel relieved of the need to research week by week both what we are to take up in school with regard to the individual subject, and how we are to present it. It should be characteristic of our teachers that they draw again and again from the living spiritual source. In doing so, they must feel responsible to the spiritual life and know that the spiritual life is free and independent. The school must be self-administrating; teachers cannot be civil servants. They must be fully their own masters, because they know a higher master than any outer circumstance, the spiritual life itself, to whom they stand in a direct connection that is not mediated by school officials, principals, inspectors, school boards, and so forth. The activity of teaching, if it is really independent, requires this direct connection to the sources of spiritual life. 2On truly independent educational activity and the threefolding of the social organism, see Rudolf Steiner’s Towards Social Renewal, Rudolf Steiner Press, Bristol, England, 1992, [Die Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage in den Lebensnotwendjgkeiten der Gegenwart und Zukunft (1920)], GA 23, 1976, and The Renewal of the Social Organism, Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1985, in GA 24, Aufsätze iiber die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus und zur Zeitlage 1915-1921, 1961. Only teachers who possess this direct connection are then able to convey the spiritual source to the children in their classes. This is what we want to do; this is what we are striving to accomplish more and more. In the time since we began our work, we have carefully reviewed from month to month how our principles are working with the children. In the years to come, some things will be carried out in line with different or more complete points of view than in previous years. This is how we would like to govern this school—out of an activity that is direct and unmediated, as indeed it must be if it flows from spiritual depths.
You absolutely do not need to be afraid that we are trying to make this school into one that represents a particular philosophy, or that we intend to drum any anthroposophical or other dogmas into the children. That is not what we have in mind. Anyone who says that we are trying to teach the children specifically anthroposophical convictions is not telling the truth. Rather, we are trying to develop an art of education on the basis of what anthroposophy means to us. The “how” of educating is what we are trying to gain from our spiritual understanding. We are not trying to drum our opinions into the children, but we believe that spiritual science differs from any other science in filling the entire person, in making people skillful in all areas, but especially in their dealings with other human beings. This “how” is what we are trying to look at, not the “what.” The “what” is a result of social necessities; we must apply our full interest to deriving it from a reading of what people should know and be able to do if they are to take their place in our times as good, capable individuals. The “how,” on the other hand, how to teach the children something, can only result from a thorough, profound and loving understanding of the human being. This is what is meant to work and to prevail in our Waldorf School.
This is what I wanted to tell you, my dear friends—to point out how on the one hand we need our children’s parents to be really sincere friends of our school. The more we are able to know that this is the case, the better and more forcefully we will be able to accomplish our intentions for the school. We need to have an ongoing activity of love for teaching, of love for dealing with children, among our faculty and among all those who are connected to our teaching. This will be accomplished if a real spiritual life, a spiritual life that has honest and upright intentions with regard to humanity’s spiritual, economic and political upswing and progress, stands behind our faculty and all those having to do with our school. It will be accomplished if the attitude toward teaching and the skill in teaching that are to be at work in our school are surrounded by a wall of parents who approach us with understanding and are devoted to our school in sincere friendship. If we have these friends, then the work of our school will succeed, and we can be convinced, ladies and gentlemen, that by doing what is good for our school and our children we will also be doing what is good for all of humanity as it is meant to evolve in the future. To work in the right way for education, for schooling, also means to work seriously and truly for human progress.
From the discussion
Herr Molt thanked Dr. Steiner for his lecture and encouraged the parents to ask questions and make their wishes known.
People complained that the children in the second grade could not yet read as well as those in the public school, and that because the subjects were being taught in blocks, the children always lost their connection to what had been done before.
Dr. Steiner replied:
With regard to reading and writing at the right time, I would still like to say the following: In line with what we are accustomed to today, it is certainly somewhat depressing to see a child going into the second grade who still cannot correctly rattle off what is there on the paper in the form of little ghosts. However, experience contradicts this and teaches us to know better. You see, we do not necessarily have to assess life only in terms of very short spans of time. I have met people who at the age of eighteen or nineteen were able to put their reading and writing to extremely good and skillful use, for instance because of being obliged to take up a career at an early age, as life sometimes demands of us. I have met people who found their place in a profession at an early age with considerable skill, and I have known others who did this with less skill. Now, do some research and find out whether, among these people whom life forced to embark on a career at age eighteen or nineteen, the ones who did so with skill are the ones who learned early, much too early, to rattle off what the little ghosts on the paper said, or whether it was the ones who learned to do this somewhat later. At issue here is whether things were learned in the right way for real life. This is what our method adheres to very carefully. I would like to make you aware that we often do not observe these things in their appropriate context in life. I have met people who had a very, very good style of writing, who wrote good letters. It was possible to research the circumstances to which they owed this. And I must confess quite openly that I discovered that in most cases they were people who had still made the most awful mistakes at age eight or nine. They only learned to shed these mistakes at age ten or eleven, but that is how they came by their special skill. These things are complicated, and we have to consider how our methods of instruction proceed from a comprehensive understanding of the human being. Then we will get used to the fact that many things become accessible to the children at different times from what we are used to. If it had always been the case that there had been strict rules about these things—"It is harmful for children to learn to read before the age of eight” — then no one today would be surprised when they still cannot read, but now we think this is a bad thing. There is something in this that you just said yourselves: The Waldorf School is supposed to lead to the right thing, not to make compromises with what is false.
As to what was said about it being difficult for the children to get back into a subject when they have been away from it for a while, what is important here is that we not judge the success of the school by what happens in the very next block of time. For the life of the mind, we need something similar to what happens in our physical life: We cannot be awake all the time; we must also sleep. When we do not sleep, we also cannot be properly awake in the long run. When the children have been taught for a couple of years according to this method, in which things do not always proceed at a constant pace but are removed from the children’s view now and then, you will be able to convince yourselves how thoroughly they have taken possession of these things. After a couple of years you will probably come to a different conclusion than you do now on the basis of first impressions. Of course we are exposed to misunderstandings on some counts. However, perhaps what now puts people off will prove its worth over the years. We must wait and see.
Two additional questions addressed the points of whether Waldorf school students would be able to take the Abitur, 3The German school-leaving examination that qualifies a student for university entrance. and of whether it would not be possible to assign homework.
Dr. Steiner responded:
It is certainly a matter of principle with us that the children should not be deprived of any possibility to take their place in life as we know it at present. There are certain things we have to do as a consequence of our pedagogical and methodological viewpoints, but these must be compatible with guiding the children into life in ways that do not cause them any outer difficulties. I formulated this principle myself, and it is being implemented as best we possibly can, especially in the most important points. With this in mind, I also drew up a document, an educational contract of a sort, that takes these two things into account. 4When the Waldorf School was founded, Rudolf Steiner had submitted a memorandum to the authorities in which the agreement was recorded that at the conclusion of the third, sixth and eighth grades its students were to be at the same level of learning as their counterparts in the public schools. Within these time-periods, however, the School was guaranteed complete freedom of instruction. We teach without regard for the interim educational goals that are set for the individual grades in other schools until our children are nine years old and have completed the third grade. After all, in order to do justice to what follows from a real recognition of the children’s needs and to meet the demands of a real philosophy of education, we need a certain amount of leeway, don't we? After this amount of time, we can then take into account what is required of us by law for all kinds of underlying reasons. So, by age nine we want the children to have come far enough that they would be able to transfer to any other school. After that, we again allow ourselves some leeway until they are twelve, so that we can again practice an appropriate education during this time. At age twelve, any child is again able to transfer to another school. The same thing will apply at age fifteen and again at the Abitur: If we are lucky enough to be able to continue adding grades to the school and to take the children all the way to the Abitur; then they will be far enough along to take the exam at the usual age. Of course it is always possible that there will be an examiner somewhere who insists that the young people from the Waldorf School cannot do a thing. It is always possible for the examiners to flunk someone if they so choose, or to give the slow ones a good grade and flunk the smart ones. We cannot guarantee that this will not happen. As a general rule, however, where we can do better than what is done outside, we must do better, in spite of the fact that we must avoid putting obstacles in the children’s way when it comes to meeting the outer demands of life. To be sure, this is at best a second choice. It would be better if we could also establish colleges, but that cannot be, so we must be content with the second choice in this instance.
We should never fail to consider what it means for a real art of education when children are given assignments that we cannot make them complete. It is much, much better to refrain from giving compulsory homework, so that we can count on having the children do what they do with real pleasure and conviction, rather than constantly giving assignments which some children will not complete anyway. It is the worst thing in education to constantly give assignments that are not carried out. It demoralizes the children in a terrible way. We must be especially careful to comply with these more subtle educational principles. The children who want to work have plenty to do, but there should be no attempt at coercion on the part of the school. Instead, if we absolutely want the children to work at home, we should make the effort to encourage them to do so voluntarily. There will always be enough for them to do. But we should not let the tendency arise to work counter to the principles of a really appropriate art of education by moving toward coercion.