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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of Education
GA 301

V. Some Remarks About Curriculum

26 April 1920, Basel

As you have probably noticed, our previous discussions have differed not only in their content but also in their entire manner of consideration from what we normally find in anthropology or similar areas. Those unwilling to develop the feeling I spoke of at the end of the last lecture will not immediately recognize how such an understanding of the human being can arise in any way other than that which is currently acceptable. It can, however, arise when we comprehend the entire developing human being, that is, the body, the soul, and the spirit, in terms of lively movement. By comprehending the living human being in movement, by placing ourselves in human nature, we can create within ourselves an understanding that is not dead but alive. This understanding is most appropriate if we are to avoid clinging to external materialistic perspectives or falling prey to illusions and fantasy. What I have presented here can be very fruitful, but only when we use it directly, because its primary characteristics first become apparent through direct use.

I would like to mention a few things about our attempts to make this thinking fruitful in the Stuttgart Waldorf School. That school was created because Emil Molt, the director of a factory in Stuttgart, wanted a school based purely upon spiritual-scientific principles for the children of the factory’s workers. The school has long since grown beyond its initial boundaries, and it is the first attempt at forming a school whose curriculum and learning goals have been based upon a spiritual-scientific understanding of the human being. Of course we need to recognize that we are still in the first year of the Waldorf School, and that we have students from all possible classes of other schools. For that reason certain compromises are necessary in the beginning.

In the curriculum, our concern is not simply to come to terms pedagogically with a single child or even with a small class where we could work with individual children(an idea that is commonly held). We want each teacher to be so permeated with understanding that even when standing before a large class, he can represent this type of education. Each teacher should be permeated by a living comprehension of the human being so that he understands that the heart does not simply pump the blood through the organism, but that the human being is living, and the movements of fluids and the heart result from that aliveness. When a teacher has absorbed this way of thinking, particular forces within him become active in regard to the development of children. This activity can result in significant insights, even in regard to a child who is part of a large class and with whom we have worked for only a few months. If you have trained your spirit in this way, and thus created a strong contact with it, your spirit can look somewhat clairvoyantly at the individual child. It is not so important that we know that the heart is not the cause of the circulation of the blood. What is important is that we develop within ourselves the possibility of presenting such things in a way contrary to our modern materialistic thinking. Those who develop this possibility within themselves, who configure their spirit in this way, make themselves alive in a different way in regard to developing children, even in large numbers. They gain the capacity of reading the curriculum from the nature of the developing child.

In Stuttgart I had to compromise, since under present social conditions it is not possible to develop a school purely on the basis of this kind of education. I said we needed to take three stages into account. We need complete freedom in how we present the curriculum during the first, second, and third grades, but we want the children at the end of third grade to have learned the same things as children in other schools. The same is true until age twelve, that is, the sixth grade, and again when they leave the school. All we could achieve was to present the curriculum in these stages: in the first three school years, the second three, and in the third stage, the last two school years. These are simply things that we must accept as compromises under today’s social conditions. Nevertheless, within these three periods, we have been able to achieve some things. We can, for example, base our work upon the sound principle that we do not begin with the intellectual, as modern instruction generally does. We do not need to begin with this one characteristic of developing human beings — the intellect — instead we can begin with the whole human being.

It is important to first acquire a clear concept of what the whole human being actually is. Today, because people cannot observe how thinking relates to human nature, they believe that we learn to think by logically teaching children how to think. I have to admit that during the first six decades of my life I used to consider people in that way. Those who can observe developing human beings, who can compare the developing human being with what a person becomes, can see certain connections spread out over the various periods of life, which go unobserved if a certain kind of insight has not been developed.

I would like to mention something I often refer to because it shows certain connections in human nature in a textbooklike way. In observing children, you can see how, when those around them relate to them properly, they develop a feeling of respect toward people. If you follow what becomes of these children later in life, you will find that this feeling of respect has so transformed these individuals that, through their words or sometimes simply through the way they look at you, their presence is a deed of goodness. This is simply because when you have learned to respect (or, I could say, to pray) later in life you will have the power to bless. No one can bless later in life who has not learned to respect or to pray in childhood.

We need to look at such things. We need to gain such vision through a living science that can become feeling and will, and not through some dead science such as we have today. Thus we can see how to avoid teaching children mere conventional knowledge, instead taking into account the entire human being.

We have, of course, the task of teaching the children to write, but today writing is a kind of artificial product of culture. It has arisen in the course of human development out of a pictorial writing and has become what we now have today, a purely conventional and abstract writing. If we try to gain a feeling for older writing, for instance Egyptian hieroglyphics, and to understand their basic character, we will see how people originally tended to reproduce the external world in their writing through drawing.

Writing and drawing things in the world are, in a way, also the basis of human speech development. Many theories have been put forward about the development of speech. There is, for instance— I am not making this up, they are called this in the technical papers — there is the so-called Ding-Dong Theory that assumes speech is a kind of model of some inner tonal qualities of our surroundings. Then there is the Bow-Wow Theory,3 which assumes that speech is based upon sounds produced by other beings in our surroundings. None of these theories, however, begin with a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of human nature. A sufficient comprehension of human nature, particularly one based upon a trained observation of children’s speech, shows that human feeling is engaged in a much different way when learning the vowels. They are learned through feeling. If we train our own powers of observation, we will see how all vowels arise from certain human inner experiences that are like simple or more complicated interjections, expressions of feeling. Inwardly, we as human beings live in the vowels. People express external events in consonants. People copy external events through their own organs; nevertheless they reproduce them. Speech itself is a reproduction of external events through consonants, and vowels provide the color. Thus, writing is, in its origins, a pictorial reproduction.

If, as is done today, we teach conventionalized writing to children, it can affect only the intellect. For that reason, we should not actually begin with learning to write, but with an artistic comprehension of those forms that are then expressed through writing or printing.

If you are not very clever, you can proceed by taking Egyptian hieroglyphics or some other pictorial writing, then developing certain forms out of it in order to arrive at today’s conventional letter forms. But that is not necessary. We do not need to hold ourselves to such strict realism. We can try to discover for ourselves such lines in modern letter forms that make it possible for us to give the children some exercises in movements of the hands or fingers. If we have the children draw one line or another without regard to the fact that they should become letters, or allow them to gain an understanding throughout their entire being for round or angular forms, horizontal or vertical lines, we will bring the children a dexterity directed toward the world.

Through this approach, we can also achieve something that is extraordinarily important psychologically. At first we do not even teach writing but guide the children into a kind of artistic drawing that we can develop even further into painting, as we do at the Waldorf School. That way the children also develop a living relationship to color and harmony in youth, something they are very receptive to at the age of seven or eight. If we allow children to enjoy this artistically taught instruction in drawing, aside from the fact that it also leads to writing, we will see how they need to move their fingers or perhaps the entire arm in a certain way that begins not simply from thinking, but from a kind of dexterity. Thereby the I begins to allow the intellect to develop as a consequence of the entire human being. The less we train the intellect and the more we work with the entire human being so that the dexterity of the intellect arises out of the movements of the limbs, the better it is.

If you visit the handwork classes at the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, you will perhaps find it somewhat paradoxical when you see that both boys and girls sit together and knit and crochet, and further, that everyone not only does “women’s work” but also “men’s work.” Why is that? The success of this approach can be seen in the fact that boys, when they are not artificially restricted from doing the work, take the same joy in these activities as the girls. Why is that? If we know that we do not develop our intellect by simply going directly to some intellectual education, if we know that someone who moves their fingers in a clumsy way also has a clumsy intellect, has inflexible ideas and thoughts, and those who know how to properly move their fingers also have flexible thoughts and ideas and can enter into the real nature of things, then we will not underestimate the importance of developing external capabilities. The goal is to develop the intellect to a large extent from how we work externally as human beings.

Educationally, it is an enormously important moment when we allow the written forms that are the basis of reading to spring out of what we have created artistically. Thus instruction in the Waldorf School begins from a purely artistic point of view. We develop writing from art and then reading from writing. In that way, we completely develop the children in relation to those forces that slowly want to develop out of their nature. In truth we bring nothing foreign into the child. As a matter of course, around the age of nine the children are able to write from what they have learned in drawing and then go on to reading. This is particularly important, because when people work against rather than with the forces of human nature, they damage children for the rest of their lives. If, however, we do exactly what the child’s nature wants, we can help human beings develop something fruitful for the rest of their lives.

When we turn from external toward more internal things, it is important to see that a child at the age of six, seven, or eight has no tendency whatsoever to differentiate itself from its surroundings as an I-being. In a certain way, we take something away from the healthy nature of the human being when we develop this difference between the I-being and its surroundings too early. You need only observe children as they look at themselves in the mirror. Look at them before the age of nine and then again at ten, and train your eye for their physiological form. Your eye for the physiological form will show that as children pass beyond the age of nine (this is of course approximate, for one child it is one time and for another, another time), something extraordinarily important occurs in human nature. We can characterize this important occurrence by saying that until the change of teeth, human beings develop primarily as imitators. In principle, human beings imitate their surroundings. We would not learn to speak if we were not imitators during that period of our lives. This principle of imitation continues on in the following years until about the age of nine. However, during the change of teeth, a principle begins to develop under the influence of a feeling for authority to validate what respected persons in the child’s surroundings recognize as correct. It is important that we really know how to maintain this feeling of authority, which is certainly justifiable during the period from the change of teeth until puberty, because that is what human nature wants.

Some say we should allow children to judge everything, to decide what they need to learn, but such statements ignore the needs of human nature. They ignore what we will carry into later life. Human beings continue to imitate beyond the age of seven up to the age of nine or so, and this principle of imitation affects the feeling for authority. From the age of nine, this principle of authority develops in a purer form. Beginning at the age of twelve, it is again mixed with something new: the capacity to judge.

It is of fundamental significance for all education that we do not force developing human beings to judge at too early an age. Certainly everything we now call illustrative instruction has a certain, though limited, justification. It has great significance in a limited area. However, when we extend illustrative teaching to the point of presenting children only with what can be understood from direct observation, we are ignoring the fact that there are things in the world that cannot be seen but must be presented.

There are things that cannot be seen, for instance, religious things. The same is true of moral things; they also cannot be seen. At best, we can show the effects of these things in the world, but not those things themselves. Aside from that, there is something else that is important. We need to teach children how to properly accept something because an authority presents it or to believe something because an authority believes it. If the children are incapable of doing this, we take something away from them for the remainder of their lives. Just look at what happens then. If someone at the age of thirty or thirty-five looks back on something they were taught in school, they will recognize that they did not understand it at that time. But because they loved their teacher, they accepted it. Such a person had the feeling that she did not learn but that she experienced. She had a feeling that she needed to honor, to respect the teacher, and since the teacher thought something, she should think it also. Thus, at the age of thirty or thirty-five, a person may recall something she did not understand but accepted out of love. Now, however, that person is more mature and looks at what arises out of the depths of her soul as an older person and realizes the following: what was accepted many years before out of love resurfaces later in life and now becomes clear. We need only consider what that means. It means that through such a resurfacing of something that is now understood for the first time at maturity, a feeling for life — which we need if we are to be useful human beings in social life — increases. We would take a great deal away from people if we took away the acceptance of truths through love, through a justifiable feeling for authority. Children must experience this justifiable feeling of authority, and we need to use all the powers of our souls in practicing education to work toward maintaining that justifiable authority for the child between the change of teeth and puberty.

The fact that we must divide elementary school into three periods gives us the basis of discovering the curriculum and the learning goals. During the first years of elementary school, imitation is affected by the principle of authority. From the ages of nine until twelve, the principle of authority becomes more and more important and imitation recedes. After the age of twelve, the power of judgment awakens. At the age of nine, children begin to separate their I from their surroundings in their inner experiences, and it is the I that awakens the child’s power to judge at about the age of twelve.

In this realm there is a strong connection between the way we think and feel about life and the way we think about the proper way to teach. You have, perhaps, heard of the philosopher Mach, whose views arise out of a natural-scientific perspective. He was a very honest and upright man, but throughout his life he represented the modern materialistic attitude. Because he was so honest, he also lived the inner structure of materialistic thinking. Thus he tells with a certain kind of naive honesty how once, when he was very tired, he jumped onto a bus. Now, just as he entered the bus, at the same time someone who looked like a schoolmaster jumped on the bus from the opposite side. This person made quite a special impression upon him. He first realized what it was after he had sat down. He realized that there was a mirror opposite the entrance to the bus and that what he had seen was himself. That is how little he knew his external form. The same thing happened to him another time. There was a mirror placed behind a display window, and he looked at himself but did not recognize himself. There is a connection between the fact that this man had so little capacity to recognize himself and the fact that he was a fanatical representative of certain pedagogical principles. In particular, Mach was a fanatical enemy of working with children’s youthful fantasy. He did not want any fairy tales told to children, or to teach children anything other than scientific trash about external sense-perceptible reality. That is how he brought up his own children, something he told me with a naively honest openness.

People can think what they want about the spiritual content of external, sense-perceptible reality, but it is poison for developing human beings when, from the ages of six or seven until the age of nine, their capacity for fantasy is not developed through fairy tales. If a teacher is not some radical, then he or she will present everything concerning the surroundings of a human being to a child, everything that is to be taught about animals, plants, or other things in nature to the children in the form of fairy tales. Children do not yet differentiate between themselves and their surroundings; that occurs only later, at the age of nine. If only people would learn what an enormous difference it makes whether children are read fairy tales or if you create such fairy tales yourself. No matter how many fairy tales you read or tell your children, they do not have the same effect as when you create them yourself and tell them to your children. The process of creation within you has an effect upon children; it really is conveyed to them. These are the intangible things in working with children.

It is an enormous advantage for the child’s development when you attempt to teach children certain ideas through external pictures. For example, if I want to teach the child at the earliest possible age to have a feeling for the immortality of the soul, I could attempt to do that by working with all the means at my disposal. I could attempt to do that by showing the child how the butterfly emerges from the cocoon and by indicating that in the same way the immortal soul flies off from the body.

Now certainly that is a picture, but you will only succeed with that picture when you do not present it as an abstract intellectual idea but believe it yourself. And you can believe it. If you genuinely penetrate into the secrets of nature, then what flies out of the cocoon will become for you the symbol for immortality that the creator placed into nature. You need to believe these things yourself. What you believe and experience yourself has a very different effect upon children from what you only accept intellectually. For that reason, during the children’s first years of school, we at the Waldorf School attempt to imaginatively present everything connected to the surroundings of the human being. As I said, a teacher who is not lost in dreamland will not cause the children to become lost in fantasy no matter how many stories about bugs or plants, about elephants or hippopotami they are told.

It is important to begin artistically, with a genuine enthusiasm for artistic writing. Allow writing to develop out of drawing, and for these first years of elementary schools, allow it to have an effect upon the imagination. Everything you teach in the way of scientific descriptions is damaging before the age of nine. Realistic descriptions of beetles or elephants or whatever, in the way we are used to giving them in the natural sciences, are damaging for children before this age. We should not work toward a realistic contemplation, but toward imagination.

We need to genuinely observe students when we stand before a class. It does not seem to me to be so bad if classes are very large as long as they are healthy and well ventilated. What we might call individualization occurs of itself if the teacher’s work arises out of a living comprehension of human nature and the nature of the world. In that case, the teacher is so interesting for the students that they become individualized by themselves. They will become individualized and do it actively. You do not need to work with each individual student, which is a kind of passive individualization. It is important that you always attempt to work with the entire class, and that a living contact with the teacher is present. When you have shaped your own soul to comprehend life, life will speak to those who wish to receive it.

If you develop a genuine talent for observation, you can perceive something when standing even before a large class. You can see that when you artistically present things that will become abstract and intellectualized only later, the physiognomy of the children changes. You will see how small changes in physiognomy occur, and that between the ages of seven and nine the children understand themselves. You can see how their faces express something healthily and not nervously active. It is of enormous import for the remainder of the children’s lives that this takes place. If the physiognomy develops healthily and actively, later in life people can develop a love of the world, a feeling for the world, an inner power of healing for hypochondria and superfluous criticism and similar things. It is terrible if you as teachers do not achieve that, for children after the age of nine have externally a quite different physiognomy than before.

I also think it is best for the teacher to not change classes throughout the entire elementary school period. I believe it is best for a teacher to begin with a class in the first grade of elementary school and continue moving up with the class through the grades until the end of elementary school, at least as far as this is possible. While I am aware of all the objections to this approach, I believe it can create an intimate connection with the students that outweighs all the disadvantages. It will counterbalance all the problems that can occur at the beginning because the teacher is unacquainted with the individuality of the class or the students. The teacher and students will achieve a balance over the course of time. They will grow together more and more with the class and will learn in that connection. It is not easy to see the subtle changes in the physiognomy of the children.

For me it is not important to describe some theoretical basis for following the spiritual and soul forces of human beings in such a way that you can see their connection with the physical body. What is important is understanding that the human being is a unity and actually being able to see this in individual cases. By developing these skills, you can train yourself to observe how people become different. Perhaps you will even develop a talent for observing how a person will listen later in life. You can read in the physiognomy whether people listen as a whole, that is, whether take in what they hear with thinking, feeling, and will, or whether they only allow what they hear to affect their wills, as a choleric might. It is good for teachers to develop such a talent for observation for life in general. Everything we learn in life can help us when we want to teach children. When you see, as I can see at the Waldorf School, how the teacher works in a way appropriate to her own individuality, you will notice how each class becomes a whole together with the teacher. Out of that whole arises the development of the child. This process can be very different with each individual teacher, since these processes can always be individualized. One teacher who instructs nine-year-old boys and girls could do something very well in a particular way and another who teaches quite differently could teach them just as well. In that way there is complete individualization.

I also believe it is possible to determine the curriculum and learning goals for each grade in the elementary school out of the nature of the human being. For that reason it is of great importance that the teacher be the genuine master of the school, if I may use the term “master.” I do not mean that there should be any teaching directives. Instead the teacher should be a part not only of the methods but also of the plans of the school. Whether she is teaching the first grade or the eighth, the teacher should be totally integrated with the whole of the school, and should teach the first grade in the same manner that the eighth grade will be taught.

In my lecture the day after tomorrow, I want to characterize the curriculum in more detail and also justify the learning goals for each year. Today, of course, since we are stuck in a materialistic culture that also has an effect upon our curriculum and learning goals, we can view such things only as an ideal for the future and put them into practice only to a limited degree. If there is a loophole in the law somewhere, as there is in the elementary school law in Württemberg, it is possible to make some compromises. Nevertheless such things need to be taken up since I believe they are connected with what must occur for us to move beyond the misery of the past five or six years.