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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of Education
GA 301

IV. The Teacher as Sculptor of the Human Soul

23 April 1920, Basel

Up to now I have tried to show how we can approach the human being from the outside. Today I would like to approach our task from the other side, from the side of inner experience. Through this way of considering things — the way of science in the future — the human being becomes transparent from the outside. In a sense, this kind of consideration of the human being, of the activities of the organs and all of human nature, can lead us to discover a person’s inner experiences, what he or she experiences as thinking, feeling, and willing. The commonly held perspective confronts us with a dark, impenetrable, incomprehensible being. At the same time, we are concerned with more or less abstract inner experiences of thinking, feeling, and willing that we cannot perceive or feel concretely. We have seen that the human being has three aspects: thinking, feeling, and willing. Let us look at these three aspects from within. We will soon see how the inner and outer paths of consideration are connected.

The content of thoughts is essentially very abstract. As teachers, we cannot approach the developing human being through these thoughts. In a certain sense, there is an impenetrable wall between us. That wall exists in social life and brings us many social problems. It also exists in areas such as teaching and education. Through the scientific materialism that has taken over all our thinking and, to an extent, our feeling, everything we have to say about the soul or spirit has slowly become empty words. We cannot work out of empty words. We can find no relationship to other adults through empty words, nor can we find a relationship to children through them. We need to move forward to reality. We cannot encounter reality if we have only the abstract intellectual reasoning that modern science has implanted in us.

We do, however, come to the spirit through this reasoning. The entire content of reasoning within our intellectually oriented education is spirit, but it is a filtered spirit. It is a spirit that in a way cannot break out of its own confines, which cannot experience itself as real content, and thus remains brutal. This spirit controls our lives. This spirit penetrates nothing; it is a spirit that in art creates only the external form instead of developing the form out of the material itself. It is a spirit that wants to force itself upon the external social relationships connected with the shape of human society instead of developing those relationships directly from living human beings.

We can arrive at a very different position in regard to the spirit if we hold to what spiritual science can give us. The way spiritual science approaches things is much more important than its actual content. If you stay with what is knowledge today, you will find that it simply reflects what already exists. That is how we have arrived at a kind of naturalism that only recreates the external world in art, because our understanding does not penetrate beyond the external world; it has no independent content. We move about in a mere copy of the external world. We do not understand how living content can germinate from the human being, since this living content cannot arise from anything other than the spirit.

Let us contrast spiritual science and conventional science. When they first hear what spiritual science has to say, many modern people understand it as something silly, a fantasy. Why? Simply because people are not accustomed to hearing in the way that spiritual science speaks. People are accustomed to speaking about the world so that it is possible to compare what is said with what we see, with what the eyes perceive or we perceive in other ways. Spiritual science presents things to which we cannot find any correspondence in the external world, things we cannot find when we observe only with our senses. It presents things we can understand only when we work out of our own spirit. Of course, what we create comes from a deeper aspect of the world, but we must actually produce that out of the spirit. This creation out of the spirit is important.

When we study spiritual science, we do not wait until we encounter a tree or an animal that we can then conceptualize. Instead we form the concept in our inner life. In a moment, we will see some examples of how we create concepts inwardly through spiritual science and how they can become alive in the human being. We can therefore say that our intellectual reasoning has slowly lost all meaning, and that spiritual science gives our reasoning something through which it can regain some content.

If you take my book An Outline of Esoteric Science and read it like any other book, you may not understand it. Today, even with art, we ask ourselves where in the world we would find something like it. In dramas and novels, that is, in products of our imagination, we demand that their content can be found in exactly, or nearly exactly, the same way as in the world. You cannot do that with the content of Esoteric Science. You have to do something else, which is why there is so much opposition to spiritual science: people must do something quite different than in modern conventional science or art. You need to carry out an inner activity for each step described by the writer of such a spiritual scientific book. You will gain nothing from reading such a book if you do not produce something from yourself according to the directions in the book. In this way spiritual science runs quite counter to our modern way of thinking. Today people love to attend lectures that present what they are to learn through slides or other perceptible means. People go to movies because they can see something there. They do not value the fact that there are also some words. People want to remain passive; they just want to be people who watch. You will gain nothing from a spiritual-scientific book or lecture if you allow these modern habits to predominate, as spiritualscientific lectures or books contain nothing of that sort. Everything depends upon your working inwardly with what such books or lectures offer as a thread.

It is important that reasoning,which has become passive in our intellectual age, should now become active. Spiritual science is an inner activity to the extent that it concerns the world of ideas and is therefore radically different from what modern people are used to. This inner training of self is extremely important, since that is how we can overcome the abstract spirituality connected with modern reasoning. This self-training will renew the entire spiritual and soul constitution of a human being.

Just this morning I received a letter from a teacher at our Waldorf School in Stuttgart, based upon the pedagogical principles we are discussing here. I was quite taken by it. You are perhaps aware that I prepared the faculty of the Waldorf School through a seminar lasting some weeks, and that the teachers continue to reread the transcripts of that course.1 The teacher wrote in this letter, “When I reread the pedagogical lectures, it is as though I find myself in some foreign territory and suddenly hear the sounds of my homeland.” That is a feeling I can well understand. People, at their core, feel like foreigners in our intellectual world. If they rise above themselves to the extent that they bring their inner humanity into activity, as they must do with every spiritual-scientific presentation, they have something like a feeling of coming home to those tones sounding from the spiritual world that actually originated in the human being. It is important that we accustom ourselves to having the spiritual present always. For example, what was important for me with the faculty of the Waldorf School? My goal was that these teachers shed everything that is standard education, all that people used to teach while remembering they should do something in one way or another. According to current education, that is the correct approach. In a way, the core of spiritual science is that you actually forget the spiritual content you have learned and at each moment renew it by creating it again within yourself. You have not really understood spiritual science if you understand it as something you need to remember.

Excuse me if I say something personal here. When I speak thirty, forty, or even fifty times on the same theme, I can never give the same lecture. I can do that just as little — excuse the rather inappropriate comparison — as I can eat again what I ate yesterday. I am in something living, and it is the same with spiritual-scientific content: you are in something living. You need to continually work with it. I prepared the teachers of the Waldorf School so that, in a certain sense, they entered school each morning with a virgin soul, so that they would always be confronted with something new, with new riddles. The ability to forget, which is only the other side of comprehending, is what draws people to spiritual science. It is the result of continual spiritual-scientific learning.

Now you might say that you know a few anthroposophists who could count on their fingers all the things they have learned. But that is only the imperfection of anthroposophists. I was not able to keep some such anthroposophists away, so they will also need to listen to what I am saying. It is a failing to have your anthroposophical knowledge as a memory, to not have it as a source of the inner life of your soul that you must re-create at each moment. That, however, is the attitude you should have when you stand before other human beings who you are to teach and educate. It is important that we work with spiritual science in a way that brings a liveliness to our souls, that is active in the same way that our digestive processes are active each day in our physical body. In this way, everything that is simply memorized disappears into the background, eclipsed by what spiritual science offers; therefore we work with an active, rather than a passive, understanding.

The art of education is enriched in the realm of thought when people allow spiritual science to flow into their way of thinking, into their imagination. Then we can approach the human being in an inner way, through imagination and reason. However, we can also do that through will. Here, I can describe that only briefly, but these ideas will light fires in those people who are to teach and educate if they are comprehended deeply enough. I would like to say something related to a question I was asked.

I attempted to sketch the child’s development beginning about age seven until fourteen or fifteen. Someone asked how that development relates to Haeckel’s biogenetic law. This law considers the world in an external, scientific way, and says that the embryonic development of the human being repeats the evolution of human beings — that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. During the period from conception until birth, human development passes through the various animal forms from the most simple to the most complicated right up to the stage of the human being. I am aware of the exceptions and limitations, but those who understand this law certainly know it is scientifically very important. People have tried to apply this law to the spiritual and soul development of individuals in relationship to all of humanity. In that way, however, we follow a very incorrect path.

Can we find a parallel between human spiritual and soul development and this biogenetic law? We can do so only if we can say that at the beginning of his or her earthly life, a small child goes through the various stages of humanity and moves through later periods of human development as he or she grows. Thus the development of a child repeats the development of humanity as a whole. We could certainly create such a fantasy, but it would not correspond to reality. In this area we can approach reality only through spiritual science. When we follow the development of the human embryo from the second or third week until it matures, we can see hints of a continuously more perfect form in the developmental stages, the form of a fish, and so on. However, when we observe the early developmental years of a child, we find nothing that indicates a recapitulation of the subsequent stages of human development. We would have to attribute fantasy forces and processes to the child’s development to find something like that. It is just a beautiful dream when people like Wolf try to demonstrate that children go through a period corresponding to wild barbarians, then they go through the Persian period, and so forth. Beautiful pictures can result from this, but it is nonsense nevertheless because it does not correspond to any genuine reality. We have to look at human life in its full reality if we want to find something corresponding to the spirit and soul in the biogenetic law. Spiritual science shows that we should not look at the beginning of life, but rather at the end. If we can observe ourselves beyond the age of thirty-five or forty, possibly forty-five, we can then find certain artifacts in the soul life of a human being, in the innermost experiences of a human being. Just as there are vestiges of physical human evolution during the embryonic period, there are strange inner experiences people can have after the age of thirty-five or forty if they are able to accurately observe themselves.

Perhaps this quality of observation is possible only if people develop active thinking through really experiencing spiritual science. We see that later in life, we have inner experiences that do not completely take shape, that are like artifacts. Our physicality can no longer fully develop spirit-soul events later in life. The physical body fails. If we do not let our physical bodies lead us astray, we become enriched in spirit and soul later in life. Of course in modern intellectual culture, only a few people notice what arises as vestiges in our souls. This is because education is founded upon intellectualism, which makes us dependent upon the physical body to an extreme degree. Once we have reached the age of thirty-five, we do not notice events in our souls that cannot really live in our modern physical bodies, but we can experience these events inwardly if we do not sleep through this period of human soul life.

This weighs heavily upon our souls. Most modern people sleep through those experiences in old age, experiences that could guide them into tremendous depths, simply because they are older and are completely awake inwardly. Today a tremendous number of people are simply asleep. If you develop an active understanding, an active feeling and willing, when you are old you will notice these artifacts of the soul’s life. An art of education genuinely fructified by spiritual science will enable us to have these experiences of old age. Our society will also know that there are such experiences in old age, so we will move into old age in a different way. We will become curious about what old age can offer us. People will have an entirely different inner experience of life.

Why do such vestigial experiences occur in old age? To understand that, we must focus on real human evolution from the perspective of spiritual science. Materialistic anthropology has rendered real human evolution murky. People believe that humanity began as wild beings. But that is not true. On the contrary, when we go back to the seventh or eighth millennium before Christ, a large portion of the then-civilized humanity possessed a primitive knowledge; of course, it was an instinctive sort of knowledge. But it was knowledge that we need to bow down to in humility if we are to comprehend it today. The last remains of it were retained in the Indian Vedas. However, these do not contain the original knowledge, but something derived from it. Today people enter the early historical remnants of ancient Egypt, Babylon, and India with a tremendous amount of dry intellectuality — a kind of arid, academic perspective. What our modern academic research with all its dryness brings to light is just the corpse of an instinctive, primal human knowledge through which people experienced their connection with the entire universe. People who understand science and then look at that early primal human knowledge, even in its weak historical reflection, know that the world looked different in those ancient periods of human development than modern materialistic anthropology believes. Spiritual science can show what has not been handed down historically. You can read about it in An Outline of Esoteric Science. Modern materialistic anthropology believes human beings somehow developed from some wild creatures, so that we now say we have developed far beyond them. However, a true consideration of humanity shows us a period of prehistoric development. Through that consideration, we return to the seventh, eighth, or ninth millennium before Christ, when people had a primal knowledge that was possible only because they could continue to develop their body and soul until a much later age. We can then look back upon the first culture that developed in the southern part of Asia after a major world catastrophe. We can comprehend that primal culture only when we consider the characteristics of humanity at that time. Today physical development runs parallel with that of the soul until the age of seven and continues until puberty, but ceases sometime around age twenty. We are then complete human beings for our modern times. We can no longer believe we can leap over the chasm of development as we leapt over the change of teeth or puberty.

That was completely different in primal times. During the ancient Indian period, people developed physically until their fifties as we do until our twenties. Because their physical development continued in parallel with that of their spirit-soul, they had an instinctive knowledge that their patriarchs experienced simply by becoming old and undergoing the physical transformation that we experience only during puberty.

Then came the period that I called the Primal or ancient Persian period in An Outline of Esoteric Science. Here in the fourth, fifth or sixth millennium before Christ, physical development continued beyond the age of forty. Then we have the Egyptian-Babylonian development that goes back to the third or fourth millennium before Christ. At that time, the human being remained capable of physical development until the middle of life, until about the age of thirty-five. Then we come to the Greco-Roman period, when the human being could still develop physically until about the age of thirty. The Greeks as well as the ancient Romans lived differently than we do. Today, people do not want to admit the truth about historical development because they do not want to pay any attention to such things. The Greeks still felt their spirit-soul as a part of their physical body. When they looked out into the world, they knew they were not just looking at things; at the same time, they were aware of a physical process within their body. That was because they remained capable of development much longer than we do today.

You see, everything earlier peoples experienced within their bodies, we experience in old age only in our spirit-souls — if we are not asleep. These are vestiges, artifacts. For the biogenetic law, human embryonic and fetal physical development appears to repeat the evolution of humanity; today we grow into the development of ancient human beings when we consider its remnants in our old age. What we experience as soul artifacts when we are about fifty can give us an idea of the first Indian culture of the seventh or eighth millennium before Christ. Our soul experiences in our forties give us a hint about the ancient Persian period, around the fourth or fifth millennium before Christ. What we experience at the end of our thirties is a hint — no longer physical, only spiritual — of how the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, and others lived and felt, and why they had a much different social life. Academics describe the Greeks in a way that is quite foreign to how they were. The way modern people base everything on externalities is quite curious. Before the war, we heard that we were to once again celebrate the so-called Olympic Games. We were going to imitate the externalities of games that were entirely based upon the fact that human beings could continue their physical development beyond the age of thirty, something we cannot do. Something of the spirit and soul flowed out of the physical body and into the ancient human being at a much later age.

We can therefore say that in the first cultural period, genuine experiences were possible beyond the age of forty-eight. In the second cultural age, such experiences were possible beyond the age of forty-two; in the third, beyond the age of thirty-five; and in the fourth, beyond twenty-eight to thirty-five years of age. The fifth cultural period is ours, the present time. We have been in that stage of cultural development since the middle of the fifteenth century, and we remain capable of physical development until the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight at most.

Only this perspective can explain the characteristics of modern people. Modern humanity needs to develop differently than humanity of earlier times. Modern people cannot perceive their spirit-souls by allowing their physical development to occur passively. If we do not want to wither away after we are thirty, we will need to acquire points of view from sources other than those we can obtain through our physical development. At the present time, we suffer under terrible illusions in regard to such things.

I would like to remind you that we have inherited our religious ideas, including those we offer in education. Why are we so afraid of renewing our religious thinking? Because, quite simply, we are reluctant to receive new religious ideas from other spiritual sources. We want to remain with our inheritance because we feel as though we are facing a void. That feeling is justified since the inner spiritual development that results from physical development begins to wither in modern people at about the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight. If those inherited religious ideas did not continue to play in us, at least unconsciously and instinctively, we would wither. If we did not propagate many of those thoughts from earlier times, we would all wither after the age of twenty-eight. It is very important for us to recognize this law of human development. You will, of course, realize that I mean this figuratively. The more human development progresses, the younger humanity will become. In other words, passive human development continues only until increasingly younger ages; then it ceases to be effective from a spiritual perspective. The development of the Greek physical body continued until the thirties, but today’s modern people reach that level only in their spiritual-soul development, inwardly, in tendencies that they need to develop through productive spirituality. The more people cool in regard to traditional religious ideas and have nothing with which to replace them, the more they will experience this cooling. It is absolutely impossible to give human beings something for later in life from a purely intellectual upbringing. It is primarily what occurs with the change of teeth, what occurs in early childhood that can give us sufficient will to bring us further. What is important here, though, is that people today live in a humanity that is actually capable of development through their physical bodies only until the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight. The impulse for further development in later years must come from spiritual sources. When we look at modern social life, we have to say that humanity is becoming younger, that it reveals an increasing incompleteness of humanity.

Those who can comprehend such things and who have both knowledge and a sense of responsibility toward human development will be able to fructify the art of education. They will then look for what they need to accomplish. They will need to bring from spiritual sources what people need to be human beings, even when they develop beyond the age of twenty-seven or twentyeight. Our deepened understanding of the human developmental impulse, along with our feeling and concern, will motivate us. We do not see this clearly enough today. When people are bombarded with ideas such as that the earth developed out of some kind of nebular fog along with the other planets and will someday fall back into the sun, they do not know why human beings exist. When people have soaked up the attitude about evolution presented by the natural scientific worldview, they will no longer have any will. A perspective that looks at the reality of the human being will generate will: then we will know what we have to do. We will know that we now need to educate where previously nature carried out the deed by itself. We can look back to older periods and say the Greeks were happy because their physicality could develop their spirit-soul beyond the age of twenty-eight. We will see that the Egyptians and Babylonians could develop beyond the age of forty purely because a divine force they could draw upon affected their physical organs. To draw upon what nature itself, the divine forces in nature, accomplishes is no longer possible for modern human beings and will become even less so for humanity in the future. As human beings, we must take up the responsibility for our own development. We must more and more find a way to make human beings truly human.

In that way, science will become will. We can see we have just moved into that period of human development when new tasks are arising for education. Until the present, all education was, more than anything else, instinctive. As I have previously said, there were good abstract principles. Now, however, comes the time when we must enliven those abstract principles from within. It lies in our hands either to enliven those abstract principles into a genuine art of human education or to deliver humanity into the wilderness. Now that I am at the beginning of what I actually want to discuss about education, you can see that I do not wish to begin with some theoretical discussion, but rather with a feeling. We cannot begin with a pedagogy of rules, but with a feeling. We must feel that the content of the human soul has been given to those who are to teach and educate young people. It is healthy to feel within ourselves the future of humanity. That is the proper starting point, not whether we know one thing or another, but when we feel that the entire task of education is connected with the development of humanity.

You will have correctly comprehended what I have presented today when you can forget all of the individual sentences, all of the theoretical terms I have used, and feel the task of the teacher as a burden upon your soul. If you take with you what is condensed in that feeling, the intent of what I have presented today, when all of what I have said rests in a feeling, we will be able to develop the specifics of the art of education out of that feeling in the following lectures.

Discussion Following Lecture Four

Dr. Steiner(responding to some objection):Today I would like to say only a little about this. It is tremendously tempting to assume, for example, that the drawings made by children are similar to those made by primitive peoples. However, this is based upon the unfounded assumption that the peoples who create such drawings today are the original peoples. Of course, we see that modern children’s drawings are similar to those made by primitive peoples, but these people are not primitive; they are decadent. Anthropology errs in saying that those contemporary peoples who live primitively in the wilds are to a certain extent the same as those from which we all descended. We cannot base education upon such errors in science, for if we were to do that, we would overvalue the childlike peculiarities of today’s primitive people. Such an overvaluation of those characteristics has been quite thorough in modern times. We can certainly acknowledge the facts of the matter, but the attributed significance of such facts is based upon a misunderstanding of the genuine relationship between the development of individual human beings and that of humanity as a whole. It is also not tremendously important that we find children’s rhymes that go back far into the time that I have referred to here as the Fifth Period. Such children’s rhymes do not go back any further. Were we to go back further through spiritual science than is possible through anthropology, we would discover that what we find in children’s rhymes today did not exist during earlier periods of human development.

Anthropology, which follows human development from the present back to its beginnings and finds a resonance of original human beings in contemporary people, must undertake a new path toward a spiritual-scientific consideration of the development of humanity. Along that path we must, of course, develop a feeling for what remains original, instinctive human culture. I would remind you of the Vedantic literature and of the extremely significant Taoist sayings of Lao Tsu. A person who presents a spiritual-scientific perspective of human development will certainly take everything historical into account before arriving at what I have mentioned here.

It is much easier to go with the flow of general opinion than to fight. Today there is a dangerous pedagogical idea that draws a parallel between what children do and what contemporary primitive peoples, or those of earlier times, have done. What is important is that we find genuine sources of spiritual life. and we must actually seek them first in children.

Then there is something else. Remember that I have said we should develop everything out of the child. We hear that today in all its variations and find that people believe they are doing it. But now try to discover what it means not to perceive the nature of a child as some unknown mystery that develops as it should, but rather as something needing to prepare itself through self-education, which is possible only through spiritual science. Try to get an idea through spiritual science for what genuinely lives in children.

I certainly have nothing against the idea that we should not present children with anything from the outside but instead find everything in the child. But first we must learn to see the child. In order to do that, the human being must first become transparent, and what I have presented enables us to truly see human nature from various and differing sides. Through much of what arises from a normal materialistic perspective, many different sides of human nature are obscured. Much of what is now called the spirit or soul is simply an abstraction, an intellectual idea. Of course, much of what is needed to prove what I have just said will be presented only in the later lectures. Nevertheless I am certainly not against people saying that we need to value and develop those things that exist within the child, nor am I against people saying that we should not force into the child what exists within ourselves. On the contrary I consider both of these ideas perfectly obvious. What is important to me is to show how to comprehensively consider both of those ideas.