Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner
25 May 1923, Stuttgart
Dr. Steiner: School has just begun, and we want to see how things go. This is likely to be a very important year. What do you have to report?
A teacher asks about purchasing a history textbook for the twelfth grade.
Dr. Steiner: Well, it’s true the students must know something. In the last grade of high school, history class is mainly a kind of review. That is also the case here. Couldn’t you teach from your notes so that a textbook would not be necessary?
You see, what is really very important is that you summarize everything they need to know as efficiently as possible. I happily remember how, when I was in school, we did not have any geometry books. The teacher summarized the important things in dictations. A self-written book gives you reason to know what is in it. Of course, when the children first had to learn everything they need, we could not do it that way. If such things are to be fruitful, it must be possible to summarize what they need to know. Everything they will be asked about history in the final examination can be written down on fifty or sixty pages. It is clear that no one, not even an expert in history, remembers everything in Ploetz. Giving children such textbooks is illusory. They just have chapter titles, but you could summarize all of the material in fifty or sixty pages. It is possible that all the subject teachers would want textbooks, but we should try to avoid that.
In such questions, an efficient summarization is what is important. Other schools have the children underline the things they need to study. They also need to cover things in a given amount of time. You should dictate such history notebooks beginning in the tenth grade.
A middle-grades teacher asks about notebooks according to blocks.
Dr. Steiner: You should give a dictation at the end of the period about what was just covered. Create the dictation with the children. You can summarize the material in a written form during one period and review it in the next. Use key sentences rather than key words.
How are things going in twelfth-grade mathematics?
The mathematics teacher: Very well. We have covered nearly everything.
Dr. Steiner: I have no doubt that they can well understand these elementary concepts of higher mathematics. I would ask the twelfth grade if they can easily solve such examination questions as: Given an oblique circular cone with axis \(\alpha\) making an angle α to the base, with a radius \(\rho\), compute the height of the cone and the length of the longest and shortest slant heights.
\(9x^2 + 25y^2 = 225\). The coordinates are, \(x = 5\), \(y = 2\). Determine the equation of the tangent and its length. They may also need to solve construction problems: Construct the locus of all points equidistant from a given point and a given plane.
Another question might be: Construct the shadow of a surface of a plane bounded by a circle upon a cone. Or further: Draw a cycloid.
The children also need to become accustomed to writing German essays. You could use what you teach in class for such essays.
A teacher: I think we need to teach the children a little about the technique of writing such essays.
Dr. Steiner: You can show them that by correcting their errors. That is true of style also. I would not give any theoretical discussions about that, as they will be disappointed when their essays are poor. A teacher: They have poor punctuation.
Dr. Steiner: It will not be easy to find a reasonable way to teach punctuation to children. We need to look into this question further, including the reasons for punctuation. This is a question we need to examine pedagogically, and I will prepare that for our next meeting. There does not appear to be any natural way of justifying punctuation. Our German punctuation is based upon the Latin and is very pedantic. Latin has logical punctuation. It arose in Medieval Latin at the beginning of the Middle Ages. There was none in Classical Latin.
Morgenstern wrote a poem about that, “Im Reich der Interpunktionen” (In the realm of punctuation marks). Punctuation is something that cannot be understood before a certain age because it is very intellectual. Children can understand putting a comma before an and only after the age of fourteen, but then they understand it quite easily. A book from Herman Grimm shows that there is actually no higher law in regard to these things. You cannot say they are incorrect. You should read the beginning of Herman Grimm’s book about Raphael. He uses only periods. You should also read one of his essays about how a schoolmaster corrected his errors. Grimm gives an answer to that. He gives a very interesting picture in his volume of essays, in the last one. You can also learn a great deal by looking at a letter by Goethe. Goethe could not punctuate. A teacher asks about seating boys and girls together.
Dr. Steiner: It is better to take such dislikes into account when they exist.
A teacher of one of the middle grades asks about “round writing.”
Dr. Steiner: They can do that.
A class had been divided and the new class teacher thought that he had received almost all the poor students.
Dr. Steiner: I do not understand how this opinion could arise. Why didn’t we divide the class such that it would be impossible for such an opinion to arise? There is no reason for dividing in any way other than alphabetically. That is better than when all the good students are put in one class, and the other has only the poor students.
A gymnastics teacher: C.H. does not want to participate in gymnastics and does not want to do eurythmy because of his inner development.
Dr. Steiner: When little H. begins such things, he is starting along the path of becoming like his older brother. He needs to be moved to participate in all the classes. That is simply nonsense. If you give in, he will be just like his brother. None of the students can be allowed not to participate in all the classes without good reason.
A gymnastics teacher: The upper two grades do not want to take gymnastics. The way they come to class makes me really feel sorry for them.
Dr. Steiner: Part of the problem is that the children did not have gymnastics before. They do not understand why they should take it now. That is something we cannot overcome. It was an error when the Waldorf School was started, and something will always remain of it.
On the other hand, it is quite possible to do something we thought was important several years ago when Mr. Baumann was teaching deportment, namely, to have the children learn manners. That is completely lacking in the upper grades. However, if it is taught pedantically, though we do not need to do it that way, they will become uncomfortable, particularly the boys. We must teach them manners with manners, with a certain amount of humor. I still find that quite lacking. We need to bring in more humor. It is important that you bring more humor, not jokes of course, into the school and into your teaching. You are really too reserved in that regard.
The spirit of the Waldorf School is certainly here, but on the other hand, overcoming human weaknesses through anthroposophy— which itself is a human being — is not something general, but something unique for each person. You could become something very different through anthroposophy. A great deal could occur in that regard, so that it is not Mr. X. or Miss Y. who stands before the class, but Mr. X. or Miss Y. transformed through anthroposophy. I could, of course, just as well mention other people. We must continue to free ourselves from this heaviness. There is a feeling of heaviness in the classes, and we must remove it. Seriousness is correct, but not this lack of humor. People need to lose this humorless seriousness. We need to overcome ourselves through our higher I so that the children cannot come to us and justifiably complain about our behavior. The faculty needs to round off the rough edges of one another. You should, of course, not allow things to go so far that one person allows everything to slip by while another continually complains. With X., you could certainly put your hands in your pockets, but not with Z. That would not be appropriate. There must be a style in the school that acts to bring things together so that there is a real cooperation. This might be a topic for a meeting when I am not here.
A teacher reports about the behavior of one of the older girls.
Dr. Steiner: The girl will say, “Thank God.” She probably had an afternoon tea, and I could well imagine that she did not want to do gymnastics. That has nothing to do with gymnastics. You need to get past some of the children’s selfishness. X. would think it quite funny of the girls, whereas you think it is bad behavior. It has often happened that other teachers are not the least disturbed by such things, so the children do not understand the problem. We need to teach them social forms with some humor. Good social forms are something that influence moral attitudes and affect moral development later in life. They do not need to be carved in stone.
We must pay more attention to overcoming what is human through our higher self. That will become more possible as our workload decreases. In Norway, the teachers have thirty hours. This year, we will be in a position where some teachers have less than twenty hours. The fewer class hours we have, the better we can prepare, which also includes overcoming our individual idiosyncrasies. We do not need to overcome our individuality, only our idiosyncrasies. We may not let ourselves go. That is something that may not happen in any event.
The gymnastics teacher: Should P. I. do gymnastics?
Dr. Steiner: Yes, and he should also do some curative eurythmy. He should do all of the consonant exercises in moderate amounts. Do them all, but not for too long. He is inwardly crippled.
A teacher asks about a student in an upper grade who speaks very softly.
Dr. Steiner: It would be good to have him memorize things. See to it that he learns things from memory, but says them poetically, or at least in well-formed language.
A teacher asks about gardening class for the upper grades.
Dr. Steiner: We offer gardening class only until the tenth grade. We should leave gardening out of the upper grades. The children would like to learn grafting, if you can guide them into its mysteries.
The school doctor: One hundred seventy children have taken the remedies for malnutrition.5 I have examined one hundred twenty, and most of them look better. Eighty have gained two to five pounds.
Dr. Steiner: That is not bad for such a short time. The school doctor asks about tuberculosis of the lungs.
Dr. Steiner: Children who have tuberculosis of the lungs often have infected intestines as well. We should examine those who show the effects in their lungs for tuberculosis of the intestines, because intestinal tuberculosis does not often arise by itself at that young age. In that event, it would be best to try to heal the intestines first.
For cases of tuberculosis in the intestines and the pancreas, put the juice from half a lemon in a glass of water and use that in a compress to wrap their abdomen at night. Give them also the tuberculosis remedies one and two. As far as possible, they should eat only warm things without any animal fat, for instance, warm eggs, warm drinks, particularly warm lemonade, but, if possible, everything should be warm.
The school doctor: It is difficult to differentiate between large- and small-headed children.
Dr. Steiner: You will need to go more thoroughly into the reality of it. So many things are hidden. It sometimes happens that these things appear later with one child or another.
I would now like to hear about the first grade. Are the children taking it up? We need to follow the psychology of this first grade. Every class has its own individuality. These two first grade classes are very interesting groups.
A teacher: The little ones are quite individualistic. They are like sacks of flour, yet individualistic.
Dr. Steiner: You need to be clear that all their shouting is just superficial. You need to find out what excites them.
A teacher asks whether the tendency toward left-handedness should be broken.
Dr. Steiner: In general, yes. At the younger ages, approximately before the age of nine, you can accustom left-handed children to right-handedness at school. You should not do that only if it would have a damaging effect, which is very seldom the case Children are not a sum of things, but exponentially complicated. If you attempt to create symmetry between the right and left with the children, and you exercise both hands in balance, that can lead to weak-mindedness later in life.
The phenomenon of left-handedness is clearly karmic, and, in connection with karma, it is one of karmic weakness. I will give an example: People who overworked in their previous life, so that they did too much, not just physically or intellectually, but in general spiritually, within their soul or feeling, will enter the succeeding life with an intense weakness. That person will be unable to overcome the karmic weakness in the lower human being. (The part of the human being that results from the life between death and a new birth is particularly concentrated in the lower human being, whereas the part that comes from the previous earthly life is concentrated more in the head.) So, what would otherwise be strongly developed becomes weak, and the left leg and left hand are relied upon as a crutch. The preference for the left hand results in the right side of the brain, instead of the left, being used in speech. If you give in to that too much, then that weakness may perhaps remain for a later, a third, earthly life. If you do not give in, then the weakness is brought into balance.
If you make a child do everything equally well with the right and left hands, writing, drawing, work and so forth, the inner human being will be neutralized. Then the I and the astral body are so far removed that the person becomes quite lethargic later in life. Without any intervention, the etheric body is stronger toward the left than the right, and the astral body is more developed toward the right than the left. That is something you may not ignore; you should pay attention to it. However, we may not attempt a simple mechanical balance. The most naive thing you can do is to have as a goal that the children should work with both hands equally well. A desire for a balanced development of both hands arises from today’s complete misunderstanding of the nature of the human being.
They discuss a girl. She needs to be immunized since she just went through a bad case of flu.
Dr. Steiner: That lames the senses under the quadrigeminal plate. This is not an easy situation.
A school-age child needs to sleep eight to nine hours. We need to take care of these things individually. I wanted to show only that a child who sleeps too little will have insufficient musical feeling, and that a child who sleeps too much will be too weak for all the things that require a more flexible imagination.
That is how to tell whether the child sleeps too long or not enough. Those who sleep too much will have little capability with forms in geometry, for example. Those who sleep too little will have difficulty understanding music and history.
A teacher makes a comment.
Dr. Steiner: B.B. is periodically rude. He will have times when he is better and others when he is worse. Realistically, it will take many years for that to improve.