Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
Address at the third official members’ meeting of the Independent Waldorf School Association
25 May 1923, Stuttgart
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends! It is incumbent upon me to open this third official members’ meeting of this association for an independent school system, the Waldorf School Association. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to welcome you warmly in the name of the Board, and I would also like to express my pleasure in the fact that you intend to discuss with us the future fate of the Waldorf School Association. Before we embark on today’s official agenda, please allow me to preface the report from the Board with some remarks on the affairs of the Waldorf School and on the course of the Waldorf School movement as such, to the extent that you are involved in this process.
Just a short time ago, an extremely gratifying pedagogical and artistic conference 1In Stuttgart, April 25-29, 1923. See Rudolf Steiner’s Pädagogik und Kunst, Pädagogik und Moral [Pedagogy and Art; Pedagogy and Morality], lectures and speeches, Dornach, 1978. took place, at which the aspirations of the Waldorf School movement (actually, of any educational movement that does justice to the demands of the present and the near future) were graphically presented to an audience that probably included all of you as well as many other interested parties. For the moment, therefore, in speaking of the current status of the Waldorf School movement, it is only necessary to point to what came to light at this pedagogical-artistic conference.
However, I would like to still allow myself the luxury of emphasizing a few things that were important for the basic tone of this gathering. We held this last conference at a time when, as I was able to make you aware, the will of the Waldorf School movement had been able to prove itself and demonstrate its spread, as was apparent from the fact that I myself had been invited to speak on the nature of this movement on the occasion of the Shakespeare festival in Stratford in 1922. As a result of this, the Waldorf School movement became known in England, and this in turn resulted in an invitation to hold the vacation lecture series in Oxford. This put me in a position to speak at some length in England on what the Waldorf School is actually trying to accomplish. These Oxford lectures then resulted in the founding of an English school association that will focus for the time being on transforming the Kings Langley School into a Waldorf School of sorts. It will also work to disseminate the idea of the Waldorf School in England. This demonstrates, however, that ideals and impulses that are inherent in the Waldorf School movement engage current interests in a very intense way. And here, too, the fact that a number of teachers from England visited the Waldorf School over a longer period of time at the beginning of this year shows how strongly this interest has taken hold in England in particular.
A further consequence of the spread of the Waldorf School idea was the course that I held in Dornach just a short time ago for a number of Swiss teachers and educators who organized it. 2April 15-22, 1923. See Die pädagogische Praxis vom Gesichtspunkte geisteswissenschaftlicher Menschenerkenntnis [Pedagogical Practice from the Perspective of Spiritual Scientific Knowledge of the Human Being], eight lectures given in Dornach in 1923, GA 306, Dornach 1975. The Child’s Changing Consciousness and Waldorf Education, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1996. In addition to the Swiss teachers, however, seventeen Czech teachers took part in the course. At this course in particular, it was evident that in the hearts of people involved in education, it is a matter of course that something such as what is being attempted by our school movement needs to come about. In everything you heard at this course in Dornach, you could really recognize the educational professionals’ deep longing for something to enter the art of education that would aim very strongly at both spiritualizing the art of education and making it truly practical.
It is also very understandable that a quite specific feeling should have come up and been expressed by the participants in this last educational course in Switzerland. Those who experience strongly what such a course attempts to accomplish come away with a feeling of consternation; they feel overwhelmed. Now, I am only recounting what was expressed to me at the course in Dornach: Someone who was stating the view of many of the attendees said that the serious-minded among them were overwhelmed to see how little they were in a position to cope in their own souls with all the pedagogically necessary impulses that assailed them over a period of just a few days.
You can see that I then had to respond to this objection, which seemed totally justified to me. A thought such as this expresses what is present in many people today. Many people of the present day know perfectly well that some incisive intervention must take place if our system of education is to be able to meet the social demands placed on it and to extricate itself from the circumstances into which it has fallen. We really do not often take stock of how necessary an incisive reform of our educational impulses is. But if we think about it, we find that in their heart of hearts, parents and teachers are half-consciously or fully consciously convinced of the need for such incisive impulses to enter the system of education. Then people hear what we have to say. In fact, at the artistic and pedagogical conference, many people reached the point of saying, in effect, “All that needs to be done? How are we going to manage that? We get such a wealth of demands dumped on us in the course of just a few days;” — excuse me for expressing it like this, but this is a feeling I have often heard — “we come here with the best of intentions and leave feeling like a poodle that has been drenched with ideals instead of water. Our first impulse is to shake off what has been dumped on us.”
As I said, this was actually expressed frequently at the last conference in Dornach. My response was, “Yes, certainly I can see that, but you need to keep in mind that people have had a long time to get used to the educational practices that are prevalent everywhere in schools today. They grew up with them and are comfortable with them. Because people always have only a few days available to devote to progressive impulses, everything we have to say to them has to be said in a few days. Under these circumstances, it is totally understandable that people feel dumped on. However, if it is possible for the suggestions that will continue to be made to arouse interest in these issues among ever broader circles, then we will also eventually be in a position to present what we have to say at a slower place. Then people would not need to feel overwhelmed.”
This is proof that very intensive work is needed so that it will eventually be possible for us to actually set the pace that most people need, it seems, in order to grasp our ideas, rather than burdening people with them in the twinkling of an eye, as it were. I must point out that if this insight is taken as a starting point, then people would give us the opportunity to express ourselves more exactly and more slowly. So everything depends on a real interest in this issue of ours developing in ever broader circles. As things stand at the moment, the situation is very strange.
You know, we must keep in mind the inner process the Waldorf School movement has gone through in the four years of its existence. Naturally, the facts need to be weighed up in the right way. We now have around seven hundred students in the Waldorf School and nearly forty teachers. Years ago we started with fewer teachers and not even two hundred fifty students. The meaning of these two numbers — two hundred or two hundred fifty students then, and seven hundred now — is something extremely characteristic of the Waldorf School movement. They indicate not only a pedagogical and methodological, but also a complete cultural and social transformation of the Waldorf School movement, a real transformation. Depending on your taste, you can say either that it has found its feet or that it has been stood on its head; it does not matter to me. What I mean is the following: When the Waldorf School was founded, the thought among our friends was a social one. The intention was to found a comprehensive school of some sort, in accordance with the social impulses that prevailed at that time and that were surfacing in people’s social thinking and feeling in 1919. The idea of the Waldorf School was conceived on the basis of social circumstances. And now neither you nor Herr Molt will take it badly if I put forth a risky hypothesis — which is of course to be taken with the famous grain of salt — of how this transformation has taken place. I will try to express it clearly.
Assume for a moment that Herr Molt had not been an anthroposophist, but simply one of the many philanthropic factory owners of that time. This was not the case, but we may suppose that it was. On the basis of the social circumstances of the times, he would still have conceived the idea to found a school, but the Waldorf School as it is today would surely not have come about. The Waldorf School as it is today came about simply because it was born out of anthroposophy — that is, out of the circumstance that someone who was not only a philanthropic factory owner, but also Herr Molt the anthroposophist, conceived the idea and turned to anthroposophy for help with the school’s instructional methodology.
These are the cultural, historical and social factors. An idea characteristic of the times was realized with the help of anthroposophy, which was to provide the instructional methodology.
Now you see, over the course of time a transformation has taken place, and now a large percentage of the students we have today are here because of the pedagogy and methods that are cultivated in the Waldorf School. That the idea of the Waldorf School has expanded within the school itself is due to this pedagogy and these methods, so the original idea has been turned inside out. The original idea attracted the pedagogy and methodology that is used here. However, the Waldorf School is what it is today — and rightly so — because of this pedagogy and methodology. They were the main reason why parents who brought their children to us later on sought out the Waldorf School. Thus, in the course of these four years, an important development has taken place: Within the Waldorf School, a pedagogy and methodology born out of anthroposophy have come into their own.
And this pedagogy and methodology were what interested the people in England, what called forth the course in Dornach and so on. There is a specific pedagogical idea that is being realized in the Waldorf School, and that is what I have recently had to emphasize ever more strongly. The seven hundred students and the general expansion of the Waldorf School are due to the pedagogy and methodology that are practiced in the school. This is also demonstrated by frequent attempts to found schools on the example of the Waldorf School.
For me, naturally, what has become a reality here was the important thing from the very beginning. From the very beginning I conceived of the task of the Waldorf School as a purely pedagogical and methodological one, and in fact it has become apparent over time that wherever people were interested in the idea of the Waldorf School, this was because of its pedagogy and methodology.
Now there was a decisive interest in these various courses on the part of teachers and educators, but I must say that it has also been demonstrated in the longings of the parents. You know, the day before yesterday a number of parents from Berlin approached me again and told me that they had started small school groups in which they had offered instruction and tried to apply Waldorf School principles, but that now the government had come and would no longer allow it, so they had to send their children to the public schools. They asked whether it would not perhaps be possible to create a means of informing people by setting up a branch of the Waldorf School in Berlin. They thought that since it is still possible here, where things are administered more liberally, to not have the government intervening in the Waldorf School, it might also be possible in Berlin if a branch Waldorf School were opened.
I told them that it would not work, and that we needed to realize from this example that carrying out the idea of the Waldorf School is not possible without outreach into the broadest possible circles on behalf of the idea, which recognizes what thousands and thousands of people, or even more than that, are unconsciously wanting. These people basically want the same thing that is wanted here and simply are afraid to admit that they want it. And I still maintain that I did the right thing in issuing the challenge to found the World School Association once the model was there. I also still maintain that our task is not to get involved in all kinds of other experiments that pop up all over the place like quackery in the field of medicine, if I might put it like that — not real quackery, of course, but what is branded as quackery — but that it is more important to spread a real understanding of Waldorf education ever further and further. It must be spread ever further, and then the other thing will happen too.
You see, the Waldorf School is actually a challenge inherent in the evolution of education and in the relationship of educational evolution to the great ideas of culture and society. Perhaps it will be of interest to you if I draw your attention to how a turn-about in human feeling has occurred over a longer period of time, and how our thoughts have not caught up with it.
In March, 1792, there was an imperial chancellor in Central Europe for whom the task of educating the populace was merely a matter to be summarized as follows: “It is incumbent upon governments as a matter of course to disseminate the riches of the spirit, and in this just as in the enjoyment of man’s other social affairs it is up to governments to form a national policing agency of a sort.” This was spoken out of the feeling of concern for educational matters that was current at the end of the eighteenth century, when it was thought that the people had to receive directives from above with regard to the enjoyment of all social and human concerns, and especially with regard to administering pedagogical and methodological affairs.
And in the nineteenth century there was a person named Fröbel 3Friedrich Fröbel, 1782-1852. who said already as a young man of twenty-three, “All experiments in the field of pedagogy, including those of Pestalozzi, seem to me to be something crude and merely empirical. It would be necessary to arrive at exact principles of instruction, just as natural science has exact principles.” That was what Frobel said.
These two things, the pronouncement of the imperial chancellor Rottenhahn in 1792 and the passage from the letter by young Fröbel to his friend Krause, permit us an approximate characterization of what was alive at that time. The opinion prevalent at that time, which is still prevalent and must now be overcome, was that there was no need for further ideas on issues such as education and its methods; it was a matter of course to leave such things to the state. And the other idea was the sovereignty of the natural sciences: Whoever studied them and took them as their point of departure would necessarily discover the appropriate pedagogy.
Within both the current of subordination to the state and the current of science, it has become evident that we have reached a dead end in the field of education. Of course people had the best intentions in saying that it was necessary to establish a form of state policing in the field of pedagogy. Of course they had the best in mind, but that did not prevent the development of all the things that people now feel must change.
Educators are sighing to see things change; they say that they do not know how they ought to be dealing with human beings, that they believed that the art of dealing with human beings could derive from a — I cannot call it a mishmash, since that is not how the adherents of exact science would talk, so let us call it a synthesis simply to use a different word — a synthesis of anthropology, psychology, and ethnology. More recently, psychiatry is also being included. Time has shown that what Frobel wanted is not acceptable to a deeper feeling for education. In all the people attending the courses, in the wish for a branch Waldorf School in Berlin, it was evident that people are certain that something has to happen, but when Waldorf school people talk to them about things, they are like poodles drenched with the water of ideals. It cannot work its way into their heads in a few days; nevertheless, they know that something has to happen.
We must keep clearly in mind that our efforts correspond to the desires of thousands and thousands of people, and that we must do everything we can to make the idea of the Waldorf School and all its impulses become ever more popular, so that people begin to see it as a challenge of our times. All this needs is to awaken in many people the courage to recognize and act on what they have long experienced in their heart of hearts in an indefinite way. It has still been my hope recently that this would flow into the hearts of the friends of the Waldorf School ideal who come to gatherings such as this one, because this is the most important thing we need — to have the interest spread, to have the efforts to popularize the Waldorf School spread. This is what we need.
And you know, something similar is necessary with regard to our method’s inner progress. When we founded the Waldorf School four years ago, we had eight grades. It was clearly apparent to us that we had to work out of a striving that had remained unconscious to Fröbel and his ilk, that we had to create our curricula and educational goals on the basis of a true understanding of the human being, which can only grow out of the fertile ground of anthroposophy. Then we would have a universally human school, not a school based on a particular philosophy or denomination, but a truly universally human school.
The ideal that had been hovering over people for centuries was clear to us then. Since we had to take other existing circumstances into account, we had to accept compromises, but only to a certain extent: The first three school years would have to be allowed to run their course in a way that derived its standards for instructional goals and curricula only from the teachings of human nature itself. Upon completion of grade six (at age twelve) and grade eight (at age fourteen) we would try to have the children at a point where they would be able to transfer to other schools. We wanted to create the possibility of making the Waldorf School ideal a reality for as long as possible, on the one hand, and yet still offer the children the possibility to transfer.
This is something that is actually easier to carry out with regard to the eight primary grades than it is for the expansion of the school into grades nine through twelve, which has also become necessary. To the primary school education we offer, we need to add college-preparatory and vocational high school education. People are now saying that we need to get these young ladies and gentlemen to the point where they can pass the Abiturand enter a college or university. (Although the good will is there among certain individuals to open an institution of higher learning ourselves, this is a huge illusion for the time being, and the things we cultivate must always rest on real and solid ground.)
Naturally, there are inherent difficulties in our needing to prepare the young ladies and gentlemen who graduate from this school to take the Abiturso that they will be able to attend colleges that will grant them the degrees they need in what is now called “real life.” It immediately becomes apparent that in the upper grades, it is much more difficult to cope with both the challenge of the Waldorf School ideal of deriving educational goals and curricula from human nature itself, on the one hand, and the coincidental curricula that include nothing of what human nature demands, on the other.
When these young adults are fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen years old, we would really need to be introducing them to real practical life, which means that they should understand something of what happens in real practical life. But instead of that, along comes the teacher of Greek and Latin, reproaching us for trying to incorporate real demands based on understanding the human being, for including lessons in chemical and technological subjects, in weaving and spinning — in short, in things people should know about in real life. Along comes the Latin teacher, complaining of not having enough time to prepare people for the Abitur.
This is how these unsolvable conflicts arise. On the one hand, we are trying to make the idea of the Waldorf School a reality in the best and purest way possible, and on the other hand we have to break this up with all kinds of compromises that are imposed by the fact that we are not allowed to tear the young people away from so-called real life, if you will excuse the expression. If we help them find their place in life as they should, they are rejected by so-called real life and become bohemians. (I used that word recently in the course in Switzerland and immediately had to apologize because some of the participants were from Bohemia.) The fact is, however, that we must come to the fundamental realization that we are not striving for bohemianism as an ideal, but for a really practical life, for a way of teaching and raising children that gives people a firm footing in real life. But before we can do this, an understanding of what human nature really encompasses and demands must become as widespread as possible.
Thus, we will not popularize the idea of the Waldorf School without first deciding to make understandable what I have pointed out today. In broader circles we will not popularize the idea of the Waldorf School if we speak only of abstract things, of having the children learn comfortably and through play and so on. If we present the same trivial thoughts that others also present, if we do not go into the concrete things that really lie dormant in people’s hearts, we will not succeed in popularizing the idea of the Waldorf School.
Today we are faced with the difficult task of having to do something so that in future we are not always living from hand to mouth with regard to the Waldorf School’s finances. Given the existing state of the finances, we never know whether we will be able to sustain the school for three or four months into the future; we are forced to economize with no end in sight. Of course it is true that the idea of the Waldorf School gives us such a firm footing that we can also summon the enthusiasm to go on into the unknown. On the other hand, however, responsibilities do arise. Actually, hiring each new teacher is such a responsibility that it really needs to be said for once that financing the Waldorf School, which is the point of departure of the Waldorf School movement as the first pedagogical example of how to raise and educate children according to this method, would have to rest on foundations that guarantee a certain measure of stability.
That is what I wanted to add as the necessary consequence of what I said before, so to speak. This august body would need to apply every means available to come to decisions that will make it possible to stabilize the financing of the Waldorf School at least to the extent that we know we will be able to carry the responsibility for it, and that it will never get to the point where the whole thing falls apart in a few months. We see the factors involved in taking our cause to the world in a financial sense. If this would happen, the outer framework would be there too.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I can assure you that the things we experience in courses such as the ones I gave at Oxford and in Switzerland, the things we experience as the longings of teachers and parents, show that the Waldorf School movement is a challenge that is deeply embedded in the evolution of our civilization. This is proved in practical terms today by what has gone before. On the other hand, our ways of working in the Waldorf School, the fact that there is actually something present in the college of teachers, gives evidence of something from which the entire Waldorf School impulse radiates. It demonstrates how a strong will is making itself felt in the world out of the purest possible enthusiasm, as may have become evident to you most clearly during the recent artistic and pedagogical conference. In these two aspects, I might say, the school stands on firm foundations. Please excuse me for asking you to consider ways in which these two pillars which I have particularly tried to characterize, the first pillar of the challenge of the times coming from parents and teachers and the second pillar of the sacred, expert and fully appropriate enthusiasm that lives in the Waldorf School, can be joined by the third pillar of stabilizing the school’s financial foundations.
It is sad to have to speak of this. However, the fact of the matter is that doing anything at the present time takes money, lots of money. We can be certain that if we find ways to awaken understanding for the impulse of the Waldorf School, we will also arrive at the necessary financial means. This is why we must find the way from the first part of what I presented to what I have so presumptuously — there is no other word for it in this case — added to it by way of conclusion.
Points of business followed.