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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of Education
GA 301

XI. Rhythm in Education

6 May 1920, Basel

If we look again at the three most important phases of elementary school, then we see that they are: first, from entering elementary school at about the age of six or seven until the age of nine; then second, from the age of nine until about the age of twelve; and finally from twelve until puberty. The capacity to reason independently only begins to occur when people have reached sexual maturity, even though a kind of preparation for this capacity begins around the age of twelve. For this reason, the third phase of elementary school begins about the age of twelve.

Every time a new phase occurs in the course of human life, something is born out of human nature. I have previously noted how the same forces — which become apparent as the capacity to remember, the capacity to have memories, and so forth — that appear at about the age of seven have previously worked upon the human organism up until that age. The most obvious expression of that working is the appearance of the second set of teeth. In a certain sense, forces are active in the organism that later become important during elementary school as the capacity to form thoughts. They are active but hidden. Later they are freed and become independent. The forces that become independent we call the forces of the etheric body.

Once again at puberty other forces become independent which guide us into the external world in numerous ways. Hidden within that system of forces is also the capacity for independent reasoning. We can therefore say that the actual medium of the human capacity for reason, the forces within the human being that give rise to reasoning, are basically born only at the time of puberty, and have slowly been prepared for that birth beginning at the age of twelve.

When we know this and can properly honor it, then we also become aware of the responsibility we take upon ourselves if we accustom people to forming independent judgments too soon. The most damaging prejudices in this regard prevail at the present time. People want to accustom children to forming independent judgments as early as possible.

I previously said that we should relate to children until puberty in such a way that they recognize us as an authority, that they accept something because someone standing next to them who is visibly an authority requests it and wants it. If we accustom children to accepting the truth simply because we as authorities present it to them, we will prepare them properly for having free and independent reasoning later in life. If we do not want to serve as an authority figure for the child and instead try to disappear so that everything has to develop out of the child’s own nature, we are demanding a capacity for reason too early, before what we call the astral body becomes free and independent at puberty. We would be working with the astral body by allowing it to act upon the physical nature of the child. In that way we will impress upon the child’s physical body what we should actually only provide for his soul. We are preparing something that will continue to have a damaging effect throughout the child’s life.

There is quite a difference between maturing to free judgment at the age of fourteen or fifteen — when the astral body, which is the carrier of reasoning, has become free after a solid preparation— than if we have been trained in so-called independent judgment at too early an age. In the latter case, it is not our astral aspect, that is, our soul, which is brought into independent reasoning, but our physical body instead. The physical body is drawn in with all its natural characteristics, with its temperament, its blood characteristics, and everything that gives rise to sympathy and antipathy within it, with everything that provides it with no objectivity. In other words, if a child between the ages of seven and fourteen is supposed to reason independently, the child reasons out of that part of human nature which we later can no longer rid ourselves of if we are not careful to see that it is cared for in a natural way, namely, through authority, during the elementary school period. If we allow children to reason too early, it will be the physical body that reasons throughout life. We then remain unsteady in our reasoning, as it depends upon our temperament and all kinds of other things in the physical body. If we are prepared in a way appropriate to the physical body and in a way that the nature of the physical body requires — that is, if we are brought up during the proper time under the influence of authority — then the part of us that should reason becomes free in the proper way and later in life we will be able to achieve objective judgment. Therefore the best way to prepare someone to become a free and independent human being is to avoid guiding the child toward freedom at too early an age.

This can cause a great deal of harm if it is not used properly in education. In our time it is very difficult to become sufficiently aware of this. If you talk about this subject with people today who are totally unprepared and who have no good will in this regard, you will find yourself simply preaching to deaf ears. Today we live much more than we believe in a period of materialism, and it is this age of materialism that needs to be precisely recognized by teachers. They need to be very aware of how much materialism is boiling up within modern culture and modern attitudes.

I would now like to describe this matter from a very different perspective. Something remarkable happened in European civilization around 1850, although it was barely noticed: a direct and basic feeling for rhythm was to a very large extent lost. Hence we now have people a few generations later who have entirely lost this feeling for rhythm. Such people are completely unaware of what this lack of rhythm means in raising children. In order to understand this, we need to consider the following.

In life people alternate between sleeping and being awake. People think they understand the state called wakefulness because they are aware of themselves. During this time, through sense impressions they gain an awareness of the external world. But they do not know the state between falling asleep and awakening. In modern life, people have no awareness of themselves then. They have few, if any, direct conscious perceptions of the external world. This is therefore a state in which life moves into something like a state of unconsciousness.

We can easily gain a picture of the inner connections between these two states only when we recognize two polar opposites in human life that have great significance for education. I am referring here to drawing and music, two opposites I have already mentioned and which I would like to consider from a special point of view again today.

Let us first look at drawing, in which I also include painting and sculpting. While doing so, let us recall everything in regard to drawing that we consider to be important to the child from the beginning of elementary school. Drawing shows us that, out of his or her own nature, the human being creates a form we find reflected in the external world. I have already mentioned that it is not so important to hold ourselves strictly to the model. Instead we need to find a feeling for form within our own nature. In the end, we will recognize that we exist in an element that surrounds us during our state of wakefulness in the external world, in everything that we do forming spatially. We draw lines. We paint colors. We sculpt shapes. Lines present themselves to us, although they do not exist in nature as such. Nevertheless they present themselves to us through nature, and the same is true of colors and forms.

Let us look at the other element, which we can call musical, that also permeates speech. Here we must admit that in what is musical we have an expression of the human soul. Like sculpting and drawing, everything that is expressed through music has a very rudimentary analogy to external nature. It is not possible to simply imitate with music that which occurs naturally in the external world, just as it is not possible, in a time where a feeling for sculpting or drawing is so weak, to simply imitate the external world. We must ask ourselves then if music has no content. Music does have its own content. The content of music is primarily its melodic element. Melodies need to come to us. When many people today place little value upon the melodic element, it is nothing more than a characteristic of our materialistic age. Melodies simply do not come to people often enough. We can well compare the melodic element with the sculptural element. It is certainly true that the sculptural element is related to space. In the same way the melodic element is related to time. Those who have a lively feeling for this relationship will realize that the melodic element contains a kind of sculpting. In a certain way, the melodic element corresponds to what sculpting is in the external world.

Let us now look at something else. You are all acquainted with that flighty element in the life of our souls that becomes apparent in dreams. If we concern ourselves objectively with that element of dreaming, we slowly achieve a different view of dreams than the ordinary one. The common view of dreams focuses upon the content of the dream, which is what commonly interests most people. But as soon as we concern ourselves objectively with this wonderful and mysterious world of dreams, the situation becomes different. Someone might talk about the following dream.

I climbed up a mountain, but just before I came to the peak there was an obstacle that I was unable to overcome. I was therefore unable to reach the peak. As I attempted to overcome that obstacle, I was met by evil, unfriendly animals, beings with demonic forms.

Another person might describe the following:

I was walking along a path and came to a cave. I went into the cave and it grew suddenly dark so I could go no further. I then encountered all kinds of obstacles, but I could go no further and could not reach my goal.

A third or a fourth person could tell still other stories. The pictures are quite different. One person dreams about climbing a mountain, another about going into a cave, and a third about still something else. It is not the pictures that are important. The pictures are simply woven into the dream. What is important is that the person experiences a kind of tension into which they fall when they are unable to solve something that can first be solved upon awakening. It is this moving into a state of tension, the occurrence of the tension, of becoming tense that is expressed in the various pictures.

What is important is that human beings in dreams experience increasing and decreasing tension, resolution, expectations, and disappointments, in short, that they experience inner states of the soul that are then expressed in widely differing pictures. The pictures are similar in their qualities of increase and decrease. It is the state of the soul that is important, since these experiences are connected to the general state of the soul. It is totally irrelevant whether a person experiences one picture or another during the night. It is not unimportant, however, whether one experiences a tension and then its resolution or first an expectation and then a disappointment, since the person’s state of mind on the next day depends upon it. It is also possible to experience a dream that reflects the person’s state of soul that has resulted from a stroke of fate or from many other things. In my opinion, it is the ups and downs that are important. That which appears, that forms the picture at the edge of awakening, is only a cloak into which the dream weaves itself.

When we look more closely at the world of dreams, and when we ask ourselves what a human being experiences until awakening, we will admit that until we awaken, these ups and downs of feeling clothe themselves in pictures just at the moment of awakening. Of course, we can perceive this in characteristic dreams such as this one:

A student stands at the door of a lecture room. He dreams about how another student comes up to him and says such nasty things that it is obvious that this is a challenge to duel. The student dreams that the seconds are chosen, that they go out into the forest, and that everything is prepared. First shot. The student hears this sound and awakens to find that he has knocked over a chair standing next to his bed: that was the shot. That was the only external event.

Thus the entire picture of the dream flashed through his head at that moment. However, what was clothed in those pictures is a lasting state of his soul.

Now you need to seriously compare what lies at the basis of these dreams — the welling up and subsiding of feelings, the tension and its resolution or perhaps the tendency toward something which then leads to some calamity and so forth. Compare that seriously with what lies at the basis of the musical element and you will find in those dream pictures only something that is irregular (not rhythmic). In music, you find something that is very similar to this welling up and subsiding and so forth. If you then continue to follow this path, you will find that sculpture and drawing imitate the form in which we find ourselves during ordinary life from awakening until falling asleep. Melodies, which are connected to music, give us the experiences of an apparently unconscious state, and they occur as reminiscences of such in our daily lives. People know so little about the actual origins of musical themes because they experience what lives in musical themes only during the period from falling asleep till awakening. This exists for human beings today as a still-unconscious element, though revealed through forming pictures in dreams. However, we need to take up this unconscious element that prevails in dreams and which also prevails as melody in music in our teaching, so that we rise above materialism.

If you understand the spirit of what I have just presented, you will recognize how everywhere there has been an attempt to work with this unconscious element. I have done that first by showing how the artistic element is necessary right from the very beginning of elementary school. I have insisted that we should use the dialect that the children speak to reveal the content of grammar, that is, we should take the children’s language as such and accept it as something complete and then use it as the basis for presenting grammar. Think for a moment about what you do in such a case. In what period of life is speech actually formed? Attempt to think back as far as you can in the course of your life, and you will see that you can remember nothing from the period in which you could not speak. Human beings learn language in a period when they are still sleeping through life. If you then compare the dreamy world of the child’s soul with dreams and with how melodies are interwoven in music, you will see that they are similar. Like dreaming, learning to speak occurs through the unconscious, and is something like an awakening at dawn. Melodies simply exist and we do not know where they come from. In reality, they arise out of this sleep element of the human being. We experience a sculpting with time from the time we fall asleep until we awaken. At their present stage of development human beings are not capable of experiencing this sculpting with time. You can read about how we experience that in my book How to Know Higher Worlds. That is something that does not belong to education as such. From that description, you will see how necessary it is to take into account that unconscious element which has its effect during the time the child sleeps. It is certainly taken into account in our teaching of music, particularly in teaching musical themes, so that we must attempt to exactly analyze the musical element to the extent that it is present in children in just the same way as we analyze language as presented in sentences. In other words, we attempt to guide children at an early age to recognize themes in music, to actually feel the melodic element like a sentence. Here it begins and here it stops; here there is a connection and here begins something new. In this regard, we can have a wonderful effect upon the child’s development by bringing an understanding of the not-yet-real content of music. In this way, the child is guided back to something that exists in human nature but is almost never seen.

Nearly everyone knows what a melody is and what a sentence is. But a sentence that consists of a subject, a predicate, and an object and which is in reality unconsciously a melody is something that only a few people know. Just as we experience the rising and subsiding of feelings as a rhythm in sleeping, which we then become conscious of and surround with a picture, we also, in the depths of our nature, experience a sentence as music. By conforming to the outer world, we surround what we perceive as music with something that is a picture. The child writes the essay — subject, predicate, object. A triplet is felt at the deepest core of the human being. That triplet is used through projecting the first tone in a certain way upon the child, the second upon writing, and the third upon the essay. Just as these three are felt and then surrounded with pictures (which, however, correspond to reality and are not felt as they are in dreams), the sentence lives in our higher consciousness; whereas in our deepest unconsciousness, something musical, a melody, lives. When we are aware that, at the moment we move from the sense-perceptible to the supersensible, we must rid ourselves of the sense-perceptible content, and in its place experience what eludes us in music — the theme whose real form we can experience in sleep — only then can we consider the human being as a whole. Only then do we become genuinely aware of what it means to teach language to children in such a living way that the child perceives a trace of melody in a sentence. This means we do not simply speak in a dry way, but instead in a way that gives the full tone, that presents the inner melody and subsides through the rhythmic element.

Around 1850 European people lost that deeper feeling for rhythm. Before that, there was still a certain relationship to what I just described. If you look at some treatises that appeared around that time about music or about the musical themes from Beethoven and others, then you will see how at about that time those who were referred to as authorities in music often cut up and destroyed in the most unimaginable ways what lived in music. You will see how that period represents the low point of experiencing rhythm.

As educators, we need to be aware of that, because we need to guide sentences themselves back to rhythm in the school. If we keep that in mind, over a longer period of time we will begin to recognize the artistic element of teaching. We would not allow the artistic element to disappear so quickly if we were required to bring it more into the content.

All this is connected with a question that was presented to me yesterday and which I can more thoroughly discuss in this connection. The question was, “Why is it not possible to teach proper handwriting to those children who have such a difficult time writing properly?” Those who might study Goethe’s handwriting or that of other famous people will get the odd impression that famous people often have very strange handwriting. In education, we certainly cannot allow a child to have sloppy handwriting on the grounds that the child will probably someday be a famous person and we should not disturb him. We must not allow that to influence us. But what is actually present when a child writes in such a sloppy manner? If you make some comparisons, you will notice that sloppy handwriting generally arises from the fact that such children have a rather unmusical ear, or if not that, then a reason that is closely related to it. Children write in a sloppy way because they have not learned to hear precisely: they have not learned to hear a word in its full form.

There may be different reasons why children do not hear words correctly. The child may be growing up in a family or environment where people speak unclearly. In such a case, the child does not learn to hear properly and will thus not be able to write properly, or at least not very easily. In another case, a child may tend to have little perception for what he or she hears. In that case, we need to draw the child’s attention to listening properly. In other situations it is the teacher who is responsible for the child’s poor handwriting. Teachers should pay attention to speaking clearly and also to using very descriptive language. They do not have to speak like actors, making sure to enunciate the ending syllable. But they must accustom themselves to living into each syllable, so that the syllables are clearly spoken and children will be more likely to repeat the syllables in a clear way. When you speak in a clear and complete way, you will be able to achieve a great deal with regard to proper handwriting for some children. All this is connected with the unconscious, with the dream and sleep element, since the sleep element is simply the unconscious element. It is not something we should teach to children in an artificial way.

What is the basis of listening? That is normally not discussed in psychology. In the evening we fall asleep and in the morning we awake; that is all we know. We can think about it afterward by saying to ourselves that we are not conscious during that period. Conventional, nonspiritual science is unaware of what occurs to us from the time we fall asleep until we awaken. However, the inner state of our soul is no different when we are listening than when we are sleeping. The only difference is that there is a continual movement from being within ourselves to being outside ourselves. It is extremely important that we become aware of this undulation in the life of our souls. When I listen, my attention is turned toward the outer world. However, while listening, there are moments where I actually awaken within myself. If I did not have those moments, listening would be of absolutely no use. While we are listening or looking at something, there is a continual awakening and falling asleep, even though we are awake. It is a continual undulation — waking, falling asleep, waking, falling asleep. In the final analysis, our entire relationship to the external world is based upon this capacity to move into the other world, which could be expressed paradoxically as “being able to fall asleep.” What else could it mean to listen to a conversation than to fall asleep into the content of the conversation? Understanding is awakening out of the conversation, nothing more. What that means, however, is that we should not attempt to reach what should actually be developed out of the unconsciousness, out of the sleeping or dreaming of the human being in a conscious way.

For that reason, we should not attempt to teach children proper handwriting in an artificial way. Instead we should teach them by properly speaking our words and then having the child repeat the words. Thus we will slowly develop the child’s hearing and therefore writing. We need to assume that if a child writes in a sloppy way, she does not hear properly. Our task is to support proper hearing in the child and not to do something that is directed more toward full consciousness than hearing is.

As I mentioned yesterday, we should also take such things into account when teaching music. We must not allow artificial methods to enter into the school where, for instance, the consciousness is mistreated by such means as artificial breathing. The children should learn to breathe through grasping the melody. The children should learn to follow the melody through hearing and then adjust themselves to it. That should be an unconscious process. It must occur as a matter of course. As I mentioned, we should have the music teachers hold off on such things until the children are older, when they will be less influenced by them. Children should be taught about the melodic element in an unconscious way through a discussion of the themes. The artificial methods I mentioned have just as bad an effect as it would have to teach children drawing by showing them how to hold their arms instead of giving them a feeling for line. It would be like saying to a child, “You will be able to draw an acanthus leaf if you only learn to hold your arm in such and such a way and to move it in such and such a way.” Through this and similar methods, we do nothing more than to simply consider the human organism from a materialistic standpoint, as a machine that needs to be adjusted so it does one thing properly. If we begin from a spiritual standpoint, we will always make the detour through the soul and allow the organism to adjust itself to what is properly felt in the soul.

We can therefore say that if we support the child in the drawing element, we give the child a relationship to its environment, and if we support the child in the musical element, then we give the child a relationship to something that is not in our normal environment, but in the environment we exist in from the time of falling asleep until awakening. These two polarities are then combined when we teach grammar, for instance. Here we need to interweave a feeling for the structure of a sentence with an understanding of how to form sentences.

We need to know such things if we are to properly understand how beginning at approximately the age of twelve, we slowly prepare the intellectual aspect of understanding, namely, free will. Before the age of twelve, we need to protect the child from independent judgments. We attempt to base judgment upon authority so that authority has a certain unconscious effect upon the child. Through such methods we can have an effect unbeknownst to the child. Through this kind of relationship to the child, we already have an element that is very similar to the musical dreamlike element.

Around the age of twelve, we can begin to move from the botanical or zoological perspective toward the mineral or physical perspective. We can also move from the historical to the geographical perspective. It is not that such things should only begin at the age of twelve, but rather before then they should be handled in such a way that we use judgment less and feeling more. In a certain sense, before the age of twelve we should teach children history by presenting complete and rounded pictures and by creating a feeling of tension that is then resolved. Thus, before the age of twelve, we will primarily take into account how we can reach the child’s feeling and imagination through what we teach about history. Only at about the age of twelve is the child mature enough to hear about causality in history and to learn about geography.

If you now look at what we should teach children, you will feel the question of how we are to bring the religious element into all this so that the child gains a fully rounded picture of the world as well as a sense of the supersensible. People today are in a very difficult position in that regard. In the Waldorf School, pure externalities have kept us from following the proper pedagogical perspective in this area. Today we are unable to use all of what spiritual science can provide for education in our teaching other than to apply the consequences of it in how we teach. One of the important aspects of spiritual science is that it contains certain artistic impulses that are absorbed by human beings so that they not only simply know things, but they can do things. To put it in a more extreme way, people therefore become more adept; they can better take up life and thus can also exercise the art of education in a better way.

At the present time, however, we must refrain from bringing more of what we can learn from spiritual science into education than education can absorb. We were not able to form a school based upon a particular worldview at the Waldorf School. Instead from the very beginning I stipulated that Protestant teachers would teach the Protestant religion. Religion is taught separately, and we have nothing to do with it. The Protestant teacher comes and teaches the Protestant religion, just as the Catholic religion is taught by the Catholic priest or whomever the Catholic Church designates, the rabbi teaches the Jews, and so forth. At the present time we have been unable to bring more of spiritual science in other than to provide understanding for our teaching. The Waldorf School is not a parochial school.

Nevertheless the strangest things have occurred. A number of people have said that because they are not religious, they will not send their children to the Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish religion teachers. They have said that if we do not provide a religion teacher who teaches religion based solely upon a general understanding, they will not send their children to religion class at all. Thus those parents who wanted an anthroposophically oriented religion class to a certain extent forced us to provide one. This class is given, but not because we have a desire to propagate anthroposophy as a worldview. It is quite different to teach anthroposophy as a worldview than it is to use what spiritual science can provide in order to make education more fruitful.

We do not attempt to provide the content. What we do attempt to provide is a capacity to do. A number of strange things then occurred. For example, a rather large number of children left the other religion classes in order to join ours. That is something we cannot prohibit. It was very uncomfortable for me, at least from the perspective of retaining a good relationship to the external world. It was also quite dangerous, but that is the way it is. From the same group of parents we hear that the teaching of other religions will soon cease anyway. That is not at all our intent, as the Waldorf School is not intended as a parochial school. Today nowhere in the civilized world is it possible to genuinely teach out of the whole. That will be possible only when through the threefold social organism cultural life becomes independent. So long as that is not the case, we will not be able to provide the same religious instruction for everybody. Thus what we have attempted to do is to make education more fruitful through spiritual science.