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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of Education
GA 301

VIII. Teaching Zoology and Botany to Children Nine through Twelve

3 May 1920, Basel

I have attempted to indicate from various perspectives how we can base curriculum and teaching goals upon human development. I have particularly tried to show that we can characterize the period that begins around the age of six or seven with the change of teeth, and continues until puberty, about age fourteen or fifteen, as one stage of life. I also attempted to show that there is a shorter stage within the earlier stage that lasts until approximately the age of nine. There is another important change around the age of twelve. We should view these three times, that is, about the age of nine, then about twelve, and then again around fourteen or fifteen, which is approximately when the students leave school, as important when we create the whole curriculum and teaching goals. You can easily see the importance of comprehending the development of the human being when you realize that what is important in education is that we completely develop those forces that lie buried in human nature. If we look at things in the proper way, we have to admit that we need to use all our teaching material and education to reveal those forces. It is not nearly so important to use the forces within children to teach them one detail or another. What is important is that we use the material the children are to learn in such a way that the effects of what they learn develop the natural forces within them. That is something we fail to do if we do not take into account how different the child’s physical and soul nature is before the age of nine, and then again before the age of twelve, and so forth. We must be aware that the power to differentiate through reason, which enables human beings to reason independently, in essence occurs only at puberty and that we should slowly prepare for it beginning at the age of twelve. We can therefore say that until the age of nine children want to develop under authority, but their desire to imitate is still present as well. At nine, the desire to imitate disappears, but the desire for authority remains. At about the age of twelve, while still under the guidance of authority, another important desire, namely, to reason independently, begins to develop. If we use independent reasoning too much before the age of twelve, we will actually ruin the child’s soul and bodily forces. In a certain sense, we deaden human experiencing with reason.

To anyone not completely devoid of feeling, it is not insignificant that we say yes or no to something through making a judgment. Depending upon whether we need to say yes or no, we have feelings of liking or disliking, joy or sorrow. As much as modern people tend to have egotistical feelings of liking or disliking those things that they judge, they have hardly any feelings, whether of joy or sorrow, about the world and life as a whole. That is precisely why people miss so much today. Aside from that, their incapacity to experience the world influences social desires as a whole. That is why our teaching should not only emphasize the development of proper concepts, but it should also develop a proper feeling for the world, a proper feeling for a person’s place in the world.

Today people have one overriding judgment in regard to social issues. They say to themselves that we must make the world into an earthly paradise for all human beings. In the end, what do the extremists, the radical socialists of Eastern Europe, want other than to develop a kind of earthly paradise out of some theories, even though the paradise that results is a hell? But that is something else again. Where does this come from? We need only replace that judgment with another, and we will immediately see the problem in wanting to create an earthly paradise through enforced socialization.

I don’t really want to discuss Nietzsche here, but I do want to mention the following in order to explain something else.1 Nietzsche’s first work was entitled The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. Among the many thoughtful ideas contained in that work (even though you could argue against them), Nietzsche suggests that the Greek people were not the eternally happy, laughing folk many people say they were, but instead the life of the Greeks was rooted in tragedy, in a kind of sadness. The Greeks felt that our life here upon earth between birth and death could not always be one of great happiness, and that the task of human beings lay beyond this earthly life. Nietzsche thought the Greeks had a particularly strong feeling of this and needed a strong solace for the disharmonies of earthly life, which they found in art. Nietzsche’s view of the rise of art was that art, particularly Greek art, was a solace for earthly disharmonies. Nietzsche sees music in particular as something that leads people beyond earthly disharmonies. There is certainly a contrast between what we experience in our dry, calculating thinking and what we experience through music, but these contrasts relate to one another in a quite peculiar way. Consider that we can compute tones and the relationships of tones in terms of numbers; the result is musical physics, or acoustics. However, those who give themselves over to the musical world of tones leave what we can compute completely behind. They leave the intellectual aspects of music aside. What is intellectual sleeps in music. Nietzsche had a particular feeling for what he called the tragedy of music. The tragedy of music is that people can feel in music what they should otherwise feel throughout the world. Now Nietzsche was a man who could feel throughout his body what the materialism of the nineteenth century had brought to humanity. He was the kind of a teacher who dreamed of educational institutions based upon ideas such as I just described, which could have been the source of a genuine solace for life. Someone like Nietzsche revealed through his own life what was needed by the nineteenth century. The problem is, he collapsed under the experiences of those disharmonies. If we read between the lines, we will see that fate in a way determined that this man could deeply experience things that others of his century passed through in a more or less sleepy state of soul. We can also see that he always points to those things that were missing in his own education, specifically the education he had to go through in school. In Nietzsche youhave the feeling that the forces within him remained deeply buried, that they were never developed. Surely such an insightful person as he felt the tragedy of that much more strongly than others. You could easily say that here and there he had some awareness of the three main stages of childhood, particularly the stage between the ages of six or seven and fourteen or fifteen, but he never brought that understanding into the service of education. That is something that must happen now.

At the age of nine, the child experiences a truly complete transformation of her being that indicates an important transformation of her soul life as well as her physical experience. At that time, the human being begins to feel separated from her surroundings and learns to differentiate between the world and herself. If we can observe accurately, we have to admit that until that transformation, the world and the I are more or less conjoined in human consciousness. Beginning at the age of nine (of course I mean this only approximately), human beings can differentiate between themselves and the world. We must take that into consideration in what and how we teach children starting at the age of nine. Until then, it is best not to confuse them with descriptions and characterizations of things that are separate from the human being, or that we should consider separate from the human being. When we tell a child a story or a fairy tale, we describe the animals and perhaps the plants in the way we would speak about people. In a certain sense, we personify plants and animals. We can justifiably personify them because the child cannot yet differentiate between herself and the world. That is why we should show the child the world in a way similar to the way he or she experiences it. You should be clear that what I am suggesting does not diminish childhood before the age of nine, but enriches it.

My last statement may seem quite paradoxical to you. But much of what people say about the child’s life is said in such a way that the child’s life does not actually become richer but rather poorer. Think for a moment of what modern people often say when a child injures himself on the corner of a table and hits the table in rage. Today people say that children’s souls have something called animism. In a certain sense, the child makes the table alive by pushing his or her soul into the table. This is an impossible theory. Why? Because children do not directly perceive themselves as something living, something that can put itself into the table and personify it. Rather, children do not think of themselves as any more alive than the table. Children look at the table and experience no more of themselves than they do of the table. It is not that the child personifies the table but, if I can express it this way, the child “tables” his or her own personality. Children do not make their personality anything more than the table. When you tell a child a fairy tale or story, you speak only of what the child can comprehend of the external world. That is what must occur until the age of nine. After that, you can count upon children’s ability to differentiate themselves from the world. At that time, we can begin to speak about plants and animals from the perspective of nature. I have put a lot of effort into studying the effects upon children of teaching about nature too early. Teaching about nature too early really does make children dry; so dry, in fact, that a well-trained observer can see in the changes of someone’s skin that that person was taught about the concepts of nature at too early an age.

When they are nine we may begin to teach children the concepts of nature, but only through living thoughts. Wherever possible, we should avoid teaching them about minerals, about dead things. What is living, what lives outside the human being, exists in two areas, that of animals and that of plants. However, if we attempt to present the popular descriptions of animals, their scientific characteristics and the scientific descriptions of plants, we will not really be able to teach children about them. You can see in nearly every natural history book that the content is nothing more than a somewhat simplified academic natural science—that is horrible. Of course, people have also attempted to create an illustrative teaching of nature. There are numerous books about that method too, but they suffer from the opposite mistake. They contain a great deal of triviality. In that case, the teacher attempts to discuss nothing with the children, nothing more than what they already know. As people say, the teacher tries to create a picture of nature solely out of the nature of the children themselves. We easily fall into triviality that way. We can only throw our hands up in frustration about so many of those method books because they are so terribly trivial. We may feel that if schools use such things, only triviality will be implanted in children. This triviality will come to expression later as many other things I have already mentioned, as a kind of aridness in later life, or at any rate it will make it impossible for people to look back upon their childhood with joy.

That is, however, precisely what human beings need. Throughout life, we need to be able to look back upon our childhood as something like a paradise. It is not just that we had only happy experiences then; it is really not so important that as children we had only happy experiences. Many people may have gone hungry during their childhood or have been beaten by their teachers out of a lack of understanding or were treated unkindly. Of course, nothing other than an intent to fight against all such things in the best possible way should ever form the basis of education. Nevertheless such things can occur, and even so thinking back upon childhood can still be a source of enlivening when, in one way or another, we gained a relationship to the world during childhood. As children, we need to develop that relationship by being taught about nature in the proper way. It is of no help whatsoever when we describe the various classes of animals or types of plants and so forth to children and then, in order not to be too dry, we go on a walk with the children to show them the plants outdoors. That is not at all useful. Of course, through certain instinctive tendencies, one teacher will be able to accomplish more and another less. A teacher can, through his or her own love of nature, enliven a great deal for children. However, what spiritual science can give to people’s feeling is something really quite different, something that gives people a feeling for the connections living between the human being and the remainder of the world.

In the first third of the nineteenth century, many people still felt that the entire animal world was an extended human being. In this model, we have different groups of animals. One group is one-sidedly developed in one direction, another in another direction. We can create an overview of the various groups and kinds of animals for ourselves. The human being contains all those forces, all the inner forms that are distributed among the animals. That was, for example, the view of nature that someone like Oken took. At that time people looked for the lower animals in nature. Today’s materialistic natural science says that these lower animals existed in very early times and that they slowly developed and become more complete. The result was today’s human being, a completely developed physical being. We do not need to go into all the details today, since our concern is not with conventional science, but with education. However, can’t we see that the human head, which is a bony structure outside with the softer parts inside, looks similar to that of certain lower animals? Look at a snail or a mussel and see how similar they are to the human head. If you look at our more or less developed birds, you would have to admit that they have adjusted to the air, they have adjusted their entire life to something that corresponds to the inner form of the lungs and such things in human beings. If you remove from your thoughts all those aspects of the human being contained in the limbs and imagine the entire human inner organization as adjusted to living in air, the result will be the form and function of a bird. You could also compare the organic form of a lion or a cat with that of a bovine.

Everywhere you will see that in one group of animals, one part of its form is more developed and in another group, a different part. Each group of animals is particularly well-developed in one direction or another. We can say a snail is almost entirely head. It has nothing other than the head aspect, only it is a simple and primitive head. The human head is more complicated. Of a bird we can say that it is, in a certain sense, entirely a lung developed in a particular way because all other aspects are rudimentary. Of a lion we can say that it is, in a certain sense, primarily the blood circulation and the heart. We could say cattle are entirely stomachs. Thus in external nature we can characterize the various groups of animals by looking toward individual human organs. What I have just said can be said very simply, in a primitive way. If we look at the world of animals and look at the great diversity there, then compare that with the human organism and see how in the human being everything is well-rounded—how no part of the human being is one-sidedly developed, but each part complements the other—then we can see that in animals the various organs are adapted to the external world, whereas in human beings the organs do not adapt to the external world, but rather one organ complements another.

The human being is a closed totality.

Now imagine that we used everything available to us, the nature exhibits in the school, each walk with the children, everything the children have experienced, to show in a living way how the human being is, in a certain sense, a summary of the animal world. Imagine showing children that everything in the human being is formed harmoniously, is well-rounded, and that the animals represent one-sided developments and, for that reason, are not fully blessed. We can also show that the human being represents an adaptation of one system of organs to the other and for that reason has a possibility of complete being. If we are completely convinced of this relationship of the human being to the world of animals, if it fully permeates us spiritually, we can describe that relationship in a lively way so that the description is quite objective, but at the same time children can feel their relationship to the world.

Think how valuable it is for modern people to be able to say, in our materialistic times, that they are the crown of earthly creation. People do not really understand it—they look at themselves, and they look at individual animals. However, they do not look at each individual animal and try to understand how one system of organs is one-sidedly developed in one animal and another in another animal. They also do not consider how that all comes together in the human being. If we do that, our knowledge will directly become a feeling, a perception of our position relative to the world. We will then stop experiencing ourselves only egotistically, and our feelings will go out into the universe.

You need only attempt to teach in that sense once, and you will see what value such teaching has for the feelings of the child. Such knowledge is transformed completely into feeling, and people slowly become more modest under the influence of such knowledge. In that way, the material to be taught becomes a genuine means of education. What is the use of saying we should not teach in a dry way, we should not teach the children only facts, if we have no possibility of transforming the material to be taught so that it becomes a direct means of education? Sometimes when people stress that teaching children too many facts hinders their proper development, we want to ask, “Why don’t you throw out all the material you teach if it is of no use?” We cannot do that, of course. We must make the material we teach into educational material. Teaching about nature, particularly in connection with the animal world, can become educational material when we shape it in the way I described, and when we do not teach it to children before the age of nine.

With the plant world, we cannot take the individual plants or kinds of plants, present them one-sidedly, summarize everything we find there, and expect to see it again in the human being. The approach that is so fruitful with animals and gives us such a good basis for an artistic and living presentation of the nature of animals fails with plants. We cannot consider them in the same way; it does not work. With plants, we need to use a very different approach. We need to consider the entire nature of plants in relationship to the earth as something that enlivens the entire earth.

Materialism has brought us to the point where we consider the earth only as a ball made of stones and minerals in which plants are simply placed. We cannot use the same principle with, for instance, the human head and hair. We need to consider the growth of hair as something connected with the human head. In the same way, we must consider plants as belonging to the organism of the earth. We create an abstract picture if we only think of the earth as a stone, which can at most call gravity its own. We speak of the real earth when we think of the earth as an organism with plants that belong to it just as the hair on our heads belongs to us. When we consider it that way, our picture of the earth grows together with our picture of plants, and we get the proper feeling for how to think of the earth in connection with the plant world. We can do that when we look at the earth in the course of the year. If we are to really teach children about plants, we should not compare one class or group of plants with another. Instead we need to use all the fresh plants we have, the nature exhibits in the school, walks, everything the children remember, and everything we can bring into the classroom as fresh plants. Then we can show the children how spring magically draws the plants out of the earth. We can show them how plants are magically drawn out, then go on to May, when the earth becomes somewhat different. We then continue on into summer, and the earth looks different again.

We try to consider flowers and plants in the same way children understand the development of the earth throughout the course of the year. We tell the children how, in the fall, the plant seeds return to the earth and the cycle begins anew. We consider the earth an organism and follow the sprouting and dying back of the plants. We call everything by its proper name (which of course is only convention) only after we have taught the child by saying, “Look, here is a plant (under a tree or perhaps somewhere else). We have this little plant because this kind of plant grows so well in May. It has five little petals. Remember, these plants with five little yellow petals are part of the life of the whole earth in May. It is a buttercup.” You can go on in that way and show them how the world of plants is connected with the yearly cycle of the earth. You can then go on further to more hidden things, how, for example, some plants bloom at Christmastime, and some plants can live through winter and others much longer. You go from the life of one plant that decorates the earth for one year and leaves, to others, such as the growth of a tree and so forth. You would never consider simply comparing one plant with another; you always relate the earth to its plant growth and how the growth of plants arises out of the living earth.

You now have two wonderful points in the life of nature. Everywhere in the animal realm you find things that point to the human being. People can feel how they are a synthesis of all the one-sided aspects of the animal realm. We do not take up any species of animals without indicating which aspect of the human being that animal species has developed one-sidedly. The animal kingdom becomes, therefore, a picture of the human being spread out before us—the human being unfolded like a fan. As I said, modern people laugh about such things, but during the first third of the nineteenth century that sometimes took on grotesque forms. People such as Oken have said such grotesque things as “the tongue is a squid,” and I certainly do not want to defend them. Oken had the right principle in mind. He looked at the human tongue and then sought something among the animals which he then compared with that human organ. He found the greatest similarity to the human tongue in the squid; thus the tongue is a squid. He went on to say that the stomach is a cow. All that is, as I said, an extreme presentation. We certainly do not need to go that far. At that time, people were really unable to find the proper things. Today, however, we can certainly present the entire animal world as a spread-out human being and the human being as a synthesis of the entire animal world. We thus connect everything the children observe in the animals with the human being. We therefore have a possibility of placing all the aspects of a human being in front of the child’s eyes by directing the child’s eyes outward.

In the plant world we have just the opposite. There we completely forget the human being and consider the world of plants as entirely growing out of the earth itself, out of the planet upon which we wander. In the one case we bring the animal world into a close relationship to the human being, and in the other case we bring the plant world into the same close relationship to something that exists outside the human being. In other words, on the one hand we bring forth a feeling understanding of the world of animals and the human being by observing the animal world itself. On the other hand, we teach children to objectively consider the earth as an organism upon which we run about and from which we live, and where we see in the growth of plants, in the life cycle of plants, particularly in how plants live from year to year, something that is separate from ourselves. Through these two ways of looking at things, we can bring a tremendous amount of balance between the intellect and feeling into the human soul. We will leave mere intellectualism, which is so boring and arid, behind.

Once people comprehend annual plants, green plants that grow out of the earth with their roots in the earth, leaves, and stems above it, and the green leaves that then go on to form the flower and seed; once people perceive a living connection with the earth and have enlivened that through their experiences of the yearly cycle; once they have experienced how the blossom comes forth when sunlight has connected itself in love with what pours forth out of the earth; once that is felt throughout people’s entire being as a felt knowledge; once people have felt the growth from the root through the leaf to the flower and finally to the seed from spring until fall; once people have felt all that, then they will realize something else. Here is the earth, here is a plant, an annual. This plant that lives only one year is rooted in the earth. Now let us look at a tree. Here it is wood. Here are the branches. What appears on the tree during the course of one year appears similar to an annual plant and sits on the tree in a way similar to an annual plant sitting in the earth. In a certain sense the earth and the part of the tree that is wood are the same. Through that we can create a picture that will have an enormously strong effect upon us. In the same way a tree grows into wood, the earth is built upon what lies under the surface. Where no trees, but only annual plants grow, the forces that are otherwise in the trunk of the tree is in the earth itself. We can achieve a living feeling about how to seek the flowing of the sap in the tree trunk under the surface of the earth. Just as the sap that flows within a tree brings forth the blossoming of the year, the sap flowing beneath us, which we can see is identical to the sap flowing in the tree, brings forth annual plants. What I want to say is that we can intimately connect what we see in trees with our view of the earth. We therefore gain an understanding of what is living.

Through such a living characterization of the earth, plants, animals, and human beings, you can directly enliven something in the children that they would otherwise feel as only dead, specifically, in the period from about the age of nine until twelve. During the time when children are particularly interested in gradually differentiating themselves from the world and unconsciously want to learn about the relationship between the human being and the world of animals, on the one hand and, on the other hand, the earth and earthly life separate from the human being, something will grow within children that gives them the proper relationship to the historical life of humanity on Earth. In this way the appropriate feelings develop that allow children to learn about history properly. Before the age of ten or eleven, we have told children about history only in the form of stories or biographies. At about the age of ten or eleven, we include history within the teaching of natural history, so that everywhere a feeling develops in the child through the teaching of natural history that is, in a certain sense, also held in all the concepts and ideas and feelings that can enliven the teaching of history. Only at the age of twelve can we begin to go on to actual reasoning. We will speak more of that tomorrow.

For centuries, no one has been educated in a way appropriate to human nature, which makes it quite impossible to accurately look at human life and compare it with the life of the earth. People express themselves through their view of the world. Quite understandably, people say, for example, that spring is the morning of the year, summer the day, fall the evening, and winter the night. But in reality it is quite different. When we are sleeping, everything that differentiates us from plants slips out of our human form. When we are sleeping, we are not at all justified in looking as we do. Actually, we look the way we do only because we are shaped in accord with our soul and spirit. While sleeping, we are actually more at the level of plants. At that time, as individual human beings, we are no different from the earth with its plant growth. But to which season does our sleep correspond? When we are sleeping, that corresponds to summer, that is, to that period of the year in which the plants are here. To which season does our wakefulness correspond? That is like winter, when plant life ceases and, in a sense, recedes deep within the earth. In the same way, plant life recedes into the human being and is replaced by something else during the period of awakening until falling asleep again. If we do not follow some vague analogy but follow reality, we would have to say that we need to compare human sleep with summer, and the period of human wakefulness with the earth’s winter. Thus the reality of the situation is actually just the opposite of some vague analogy.

At this point I need to say something rather unusual. I have attempted to determine if anyone working in conventional science has even the slightest idea of what I have spoken of as a result of spiritual-scientific research, namely, that the earth is actually awake in winter and asleep in summer. The only small hint I have found which, if properly developed, would lead to what I have just described, I found in the Basel school program developed in the 1840s or ’50s. In that school program there is a discussion about human sleep that is treated in a manner contradictory to normal considerations. I think it is important to make mention of that school program in Basel. At the moment, I have forgotten the name of the person who created it, but I hope I will remember it by tomorrow.