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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of Education
GA 301

XIV. Further Perspectives and Answers to Questions

11 May 1920, Basel

I would be very sorry if anything I have said here were to be taken dogmatically or to become one-sided in some way. That spiritual science can be fruitful for education is the basis of everything I have said. Anthroposophy could help teaching and education to gain a more living character, and the general directions I have described here can be put into practice in many ways. It would be good if there were an exchange of opinions among the listeners as well as others who are interested in some way in the further development of education as it is conceived here. It is important to arrive at what is necessary in our time through a living comprehension of human development as a whole and of present developments in education. We are not concerned with developing a new formal basis for education, but rather with extending the circle of people who have an interest in the perspective presented with regard to human development.

What is the state of the development of humanity today? What must we teach children if we are to take into account the perspective of the present state of humanity today and of the near future? If we do not recognize what has recently occurred as a clear indication of the need of a renewal in education, we do not understand our present time.

Of course there are an uncountable number of details to mention. Consider for a moment how appropriate it would be to include my characterization of arithmetic—to place analytical methods alongside synthetic methods, and to work with the sum and products and not simply from adding and factoring—along with what is normally done. You can see how appropriate it would be to treat fractions and everything connected with them from this perspective. When we move from working with whole numbers to working with fractions, we move in a quite natural way into the analytical. Moving from whole numbers to fractions means just that: analyzing. It is therefore appropriate to bring in another element when working with fractions than we use when working with whole numbers.

We certainly cannot object to the fact that in the nineteenth century computing machines were introduced into schools. Nevertheless computing machines should not lead to an overly materialistic valuation of illustrative materials. While we should be clear about the value of examples, what is important is that human capacities be developed through teaching. The primary task of the period from the change of teeth until maturity is to develop memory. We should avoid underestimating the value of examples as a basis for forming memory as well as the value of memory when viewing examples. We should begin in a simple way—and here for those who are capable of teaching in a living way, the ten fingers on our hands are sufficient—by presenting the number ten in all kinds of ways that show the various arithmetic operations. In doing so, however, we should present arithmetic in a way that is appropriate to life, to the life of the soul in a human being. There are certainly detailed discussions in philosophy, whole sections of philosophy, concerning what a number or fraction really is. This shows that as children, we may learn about numbers or fractions, but in later life, even if we were philosophers, we could say that we now need to research what a number signifies in reality, or what a fraction is in reality. It is not necessary to go into all kinds of minute details if we want to make this process clear to children. Instead we need to bring many other things to children that then become part of their memory and which only can be studied in more detail later, when they are mature enough. I have already spoken about such things from another perspective.

Working with fractions is another question. Since fractions are in a certain sense analytical, we need to take the need for analysis into account, as I mentioned in some of the previous lectures. For that reason, we would do well to make working with fractions as visual as possible. We could perhaps divide a large cube into smaller cubes, for example, taking a large cube and dividing it into sixteen smaller cubes. From that, we can go on to the concept of a quarter by dividing the large cube first into quarters, then each quarter again into a further quarter. In this way you can show the children all kinds of relationships between a sixteenth or an eighth and so forth. If, later, you give each of the portions a different color, you can then place the various fractions of the larger cube together again in different way, which then gives a very pretty picture.

I do not want to make the transition from normal fractions to decimal fractions in some irrational way, in a way that does not correspond to reality. From the very beginning, the children should gain a feeling that the use of decimal fractions is based upon human convention or convenience. They should also gain a feeling that the way we write decimal fractions is nothing more than a continuation of the way in which we write normal numbers: we first count to ten and then, when we go on to twenty, which is twice ten, the first series of ten is included in that so that by going to twenty, we have simply added a new series of ten, and so forth. If we work toward the left using the same principle that we used when working with decimal numbers to the right, the children will realize that all this is relative and that it would form a unity if I set the decimal point two places to the right. From the very beginning, we should teach children about these conventions, which are hidden in the way we divide things. In this way many other kinds of conventions then fit into the social fabric. Many erroneous beliefs in authority would disappear if we show the children that everything that is based simply upon tradition is nothing more than social convention. Most important, however, is that through a spiritual-scientific permeation of education, we attempt to work with children during the period from the change of teeth until puberty by taking into account everything that I have said here about that period of life and how different capacities appear in different periods.

In addition, we need to give children an idea of the practicalities of life. Each topic in our teaching should be used to guide the children to a view of practical life. If we understand children properly, we will begin to teach them about physics and chemistry at around the age of twelve as well as teaching them about minerals in the way I have discussed here. At about the same time, or perhaps one year earlier, we might attempt to present arithmetic similarly to the way we would teach about minerals, physics, or chemistry, namely, by always taking the practical into account. In arithmetic, the children should gain an idea about how monetary exchange rates work—what a discount rate is, how financial accounts are held. They should learn about writing letters describing business and financial practices or relationships with another business. Instruction from the ages of twelve until about fourteen or fifteen needs to be arranged that by the time children are fifteen years old and leave grammar school to go on to a higher school or into life, they have a real and practical idea about the most important areas of life.

Some may object by saying, where are we to find the time for all this? How are we to find time to give children a real idea of how paper or soap or cigars or such things are manufactured? If we are well-organized, we can take typical examples, such as typical industries or typical methods of transportation. We can enable children to go out into the world with an understanding of all the major areas in the environment that confront them. We can certainly see how children from the city have not the slightest idea of the difference between rye and wheat. We can also see how children who do not live near a soap factory do not have the slightest idea of how soap is made. But even children who live near a soap factory still have no idea how soap is manufactured because they have been taught nothing about what is in their neighborhood.

Consider how many people today step onto or leave a streetcar without having even the dimmest idea of how a streetcar is made or how it moves and so forth. Generally speaking, today we use the products of our culture without having the slightest idea of what these products actually are.1 For this reason we have become anxious. If we are continuously surrounded by things we do not understand, we become confused, and that confusion has an effect upon our subconscious. Of course it is not possible for people to understand everything in modern life in all details. But everything that is not directly connected with our own jobs or professions should not remain a mystery. If a person is not a bookkeeper, generally accounting is a mystery. Or if a person is not a teacher, how school is held is a mystery. All those things that fragment our modern society need to be overcome. We need to understand one another again.

We should not allow children’s capacities to understand practical life to lie fallow. During the period beginning at the age of twelve, when the capacities for human reason develop, it is possible to teach children about the most important aspects of practical life. I do not know what the subjects for essays are here in Switzerland (though I have read the school curriculum), but in the former monarchical countries, instead of writing essays about frivolous subjects such as the monarch’s birthday, essays should be written that somehow involve business life, sales practices, or industrial questions.

This is certainly not an area that should be based upon idealism or some intellectual perspective. A spiritual perspective does not need to continuously emphasize ideals and how they should be taught. Instead a spiritual attitude can be held by having the students work out of a spiritual impulse, that is, by allowing that which desires to arise out of the spirit from year to year to rise to the surface. In that way the overall perspective is connected with the individual details.

I have been asked whether it is possible to explain the late eruption of the wisdom teeth from a spiritual-scientific perspective. Is the growth of wisdom teeth connected with the freeing of certain cognitive forces in the same way as the regular change of teeth?

The change of teeth indicates that certain forces, which previously permeated the entire organism and gave it strength, have now become free and have become, as I have explained to you earlier, the forces of independent thinking. We certainly cannot strictly encapsulate everything that occurs in the organism, as that would certainly be contrary to the way things develop. The things that are primary during one period of human development continue to exist, but to a much lesser extent. We grow wisdom teeth much later because at a later time in the life of our organism there is something that continues to work that was particularly active up to the age of seven. Some small amount must still remain. If everything were suddenly completed, then people would experience a very strong jolt every time they would want to begin thinking of something. When we begin to think about something, we voluntarily activate those forces that were involuntarily active in the organism before the age of seven. Those things must exist as a bridge between the separated realms of the spirit soul. What was organic at that time must continue to exist to a certain extent. For imaginative thinking we need to become independent, but at the same time we still need to be connected to our organism. That is what is expressed by the late eruption of the wisdom teeth. Some of the strength that is freed for imaginative thinking still remains in organic development. We could discover all kinds of things in human development that are similar to the situation with wisdom teeth.

Another interesting question was posed: to what extent is it possible for teachers working out of a spiritual-scientific pedagogy to help children recognize their capacities and find their right place in social life?

From the perspective of spiritual science, such questions are of little importance, since they are based upon rationalistic and materialistic thinking. In fact we have to protect children from situations where they might pose such abstract questions as, how can I find my proper place in life based upon my own capacities? Children need to slowly come to such decisions through all the stages associated with feeling. If some day the abstract question of how can we utilize our capacities in the service of humanity should arise in our soul, that is actually an illness of the soul. We need to grow slowly into our relationship to the development of humanity and to other human beings. We will do that if we have been brought up in the way I described here. In that case, we would never fall into the unwholesome situation of asking, how can I be of social service with my specific capacities? We would have a healthy, practical understanding by the time we leave grammar school, so we would recognize that life itself will present us with our position in it. The fact that such questions arise and are seriously discussed shows how much we have fallen into an intellectual and materialistic way of thinking in our time.

For that reason, I would like to mention how concrete general rules can always be developed into practical action if we have the will to do so. I would therefore like to answer in detail a question given to me about what we should do about those who are weak in spelling where the weakness arises in words where what is written is not clearly indicated, for example, whether an h or an e is in the word to form a longer sound.

As I already mentioned, training in clear listening is the basis of proper spelling. Training in proper hearing will support proper spelling. Clear hearing, if trained properly, will also train precise seeing. The different capacities support one another. If one capacity is developed in the proper way, the others will also have to develop properly. If we accustom ourselves to exact listening, we will tend to retain the appearance of the word as such, that is, its inner appearance. Exact listening supports exact seeing. For words that appear to have an arbitrary spelling, such as those that have silent letters that make the preceding vowel long, we can support the child’s proper spelling by having the child repeat the syllables of the word clearly and with varying emphasis.

I would ask you not to take what I have just said in a dogmatic way. Instead you should take it so that it can be used in many various ways. For example, someone may view the position of the Greeks in the general course of Western culture differently than I did in my discussion of teaching history a few days ago. Someone could have a very different perspective but could nonetheless present it with the same methods I used. For me, it is not important to say something dogmatic about the Greeks. I wanted to show how a particular perspective about one topic or another could be taught through a symptomatological understanding of history. I believe that it is particularly necessary for teachers today to be aware of how much we need to allow the spirit and the influences of the spiritual upon the totality of human activity to flow into teaching. We need to look without prejudice at what children bring with them if we are to raise them as they need to be raised so that the next generation will move past the social ills that have such a terrible effect upon us at present.

If you objectively observe human life, you will see that by developing the intellect in children, something that is so terribly characteristic of human nature arises: the desire for comfort, even laziness. What is necessary in order to develop intellect is—and you may laugh at this paradox—the development of will. Children will have a healthy intellect if we develop a healthy will in them through the methods I previously discussed; that is, through an introduction to art at the earliest possible time in elementary school, since art strengthens the will. We develop the will and thus in a quite particular way take care of the intellect. The reverse is also true. If we widen the view of the child by presenting broad and noble pictures, as it is possible to do in teaching history and religion, we will also have an effect upon the will.

Strangely, the proper development of intellect activates the will, and the proper development of will activates the intellect. Because of the terrible materialism of the last few centuries, an enormous dark cloud has spread over such things. Today we hardly notice how in the depths of human nature there is a certain kind of inner laziness in the soul that acts against the development of thinking. We should study egotism because it has such a subtle yet strong effect on the development of feeling today. That is something we always need to be aware of. People can develop a strong will in the proper way only if we continue to enlarge their perspective and direct them toward those things that act spiritually in the world, those things coming from the stars that have a spiritual effect upon world history and upon the depths of the human heart. It is only when people’s worldview includes the spiritual that they can properly activate their wills.

We need to move beyond certain things. In the attitudes that we have toward teaching, there is still much too much Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe and everything connected with him is characteristic of all the narrow-mindedness, all the pedantry of life. Robinson Crusoe was created for the hard-hearted middle class worldview of the eighteenth century and was then imitated everywhere else afterward. The English Robinson was barely there and then came the Czech, Polish, German, even a Croatian Robinson? There are Robinsons in every European language. Robinson Crusoe is a person who is not actually a person, because in a certain way he is a person who was mechanically placed in a situation of need and left alone so that out of his own inner activity and out of his external circumstances only those things necessary for healthy human development could develop piece by piece.

We could go through page by page of the Robinson Crusoe story and show the narrow-mindedness that is expressed through his character. We could show the weakness of a rationalistic religious worldview, which says that God is a unity and that human beings are good only when they are not spoiled through one thing or another. This unimaginative view completely puts aside the fact that human beings need a living spirit, one that permeates their souls, one that can be found everywhere in history and which has an effect right up to the stars. This Robinson Crusoe view lives even where the book is not read as the general attitude. This narrow-minded attitude must be removed from humanity, as it has subtly formed life as it is today,so that we find everywhere only a sense for what is mediocre, and people today can no longer rise above a certain level. It is Robinson Crusoe who has brought about this feeling for only the average, for nothing that is special or spectacular.

By pointing to Robinson Crusoe and his imitators and by making people aware of the intellectual adventures of the European- American civilization that overvalues the Robinson Crusoe ideal, I realize I am going against the feelings of many people. We need to leave people with that feeling a little bit, the feeling that they have moved into a little bit of the realm in which they grew up. People grew up with a Robinson Crusoe attitude and now need to think about it a little, in order to rid themselves of that part of this attitude that has permeated modern humanity.

In one sense Robinson Crusoe was a kind of protest against something that has developed more and more in Christianity. Although this is not the original Christian impulse, Christianity has developed in such a way that it assumes human nature is spoiled. Rationalism and the eighteenth-century Enlightenment out of which Robinson was conceived and written assume that human nature is still good and that all that is needed is for its evil enemies to be removed so that that goodness can come forth. Both of these positions are terribly one-sided. It is certainly understandable that a prejudice toward the basic goodness of human nature arose to oppose the prejudice of the basic evil of human nature. Basically, it is nothing more than the last remains of narrow-mindedness, but a very severe form of narrow-mindedness in which Jean- Jacques Rousseau3 lives. It is essentially the opinion that if we allow people to grow as some child of nature, they will do everything just as Robinson Crusoe did in the best and most conscientious way (even though they may be under the influence of some French Baptist minister). That is about what people think.

From the present point of cultural development, we cannot progress if we allow ourselves to fall into either of these one-sided perspectives. This one-sidedness needs to be resolved through a normal synthesis. Human beings are certainly naturally good; human nature is good. Children as they enter the world as imitative beings certainly show that they unconsciously believe in the goodness of the world that has accepted them. Nevertheless, although it is true that human beings in their nature are good, it is just as true that human beings are a product of living. Fresh meat is good, but after eight days it is no longer good. It is bad because it then stinks, and something must be done to improve it if we are still to enjoy eating it after a week. Human beings are in their nature basically good. However, if they remain as they are when they entered the physical world from their pre-earthly existence, they become bad if the strength is not awakened in them to improve themselves.

There you have both: human beings are in their original nature good, but strengths must be awakened in them in order to retain the good. They are not bad in their origins, but can be spoiled if we do not awaken the forces in them that can enable them to retain their original strengths. It is just as erroneous to say that the good would shine through if we allowed people to be as they like as it is erroneous to say that people are basically not good. What is correct to say is that human beings by their nature are good, but the forces must be reawakened in them that enable what is good within to develop. If it is not supported with guidance toward the good, human nature will spoil.

We should always carry this attitude within us in regard to human development. It will be transferred to children when we tell a fairy tale or describe a ladybug or a star in such a way that it is possible to perceive, either in the details or in the general context, that we are convinced that human beings have something which is good. However, this goodness must be continuously cared for; the goodness of the world depends upon our care for human beings. It is the responsibility of human beings to participate in the formative development of the world.

In this regard we have moved away from the wisdom of our ancestors. This kind of wisdom genuinely exists in humanity. It is curious how even in ancient Greece, not to mention Egypt, it was common practice for all instruction, all activities of the priests or other religious people with the general population, to be connected with healing. In ancient times, providing knowledge was closely connected with healing. I could even say that in essence a physician was just another kind of priest and a priest another kind of physician. (Even today we find a deep-seated feeling among people that being a doctor is somehow connected with making better. “Dr. Mammon” is, of course, simply a product of the present.) All things connected with learning or understanding and providing it to others, such as being a teacher or a physician, were one in the original instincts of humanity, and the concept of healing was connected with all of them. Why is that? It was based upon a particular perspective, a perspective that we today in our materialistic times unfortunately no longer have, but one toward which we must turn again. It is the perspective that to the extent that natural forces play a role in the historical development of humanity, there is an element of demise, an element that leads toward decadence, and human beings are called upon out of their own strength to transform that decline continuously into ascent.

Culture continually threatens to become ill. Through teaching and activity, humans continually need to heal what tends to become ill in culture. History contains forces of decline, and we cannot expect these forces of decline to support humanity. The fact that Marxism today lives from the idea that everything is based upon economic forces and that which is spiritual is only a superstructure is fundamentally based upon the materialism of the past centuries. What would occur if these purely economic forces were left to themselves, if people did not continuously attempt to improve? Those forces would only make social life ill. Trotskyism and Leninism only mean to make the entire cultural development of Europe ill. If Marxism is realized, if Marxism permeates schools, then the East will become an artificial illness of European culture. It assumes that culture can develop only out of those things lying outside of human beings. But culture can only develop when human beings continuously heal what exists outside of humanity and which tends to decline.

We must revive the idea that a teacher, when he or she enters the school, acts as a kind of physician for the development of the human spirit and provides the medicine for cultural development to developing children. It is neither vanity nor arrogance when a teacher feels herself to be a physician for culture. If this is felt in the proper way, it gives us a feeling, particularly if we are teachers, to look toward those things that have always been of greatest interest to humanity. The teacher’s view cannot be broad enough. The teacher’s importance cannot be high enough. If we are aware of what education should achieve for humanity, the high-mindedness of the educator’s view will always bring with it the necessary sense of responsibility and humility.

During these lectures, you will have seen that I have attempted to make true for a spiritual-scientific foundation of education something Herbart said: he could not imagine instruction that was not at the same time upbringing, nor could he think of any upbringing without instruction. It is important to permeate ourselves with enough spirit that is sufficiently alive that we bring all the material available to us about the progressing development of humanity into school, so that in our hands it becomes an upbringing for the children. Humanity as a whole has given us a very high task. We need to recognize what humanity has achieved and transform it so that it is appropriate for even the youngest child. We can do this if we comprehend the spirit with such liveliness as it is presented in spiritual science, and as it should be perceived here when we speak of a fructification of education through spiritual science.

I do not want to bring these lectures to a conclusion with some kind of summary. Rather I prefer to let them resound with something that I say without sentimentality, but which arises out of what I have attempted to present to you. Education can only be properly practiced if it is understood as healing and when educators are aware that they are also healers. If these lectures have provided some insight toward deepening an awareness of education so that we can all again feel how we are healers; and how we must become physicians of the spirit if we are to teach and educate in the highest sense, then these lectures will have at least achieved a hint of their goal. I hope only for what the chairman of this conference has already spoken of, namely, for a working through of the material of these lectures. I am, of course, always ready to do what you wish so that what I have presented in an incomplete form in these fourteen lectures, and which I wish so much to enter into the awareness of humanity, can be realized so that it continues to pervade our consciousness.