Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Education for Adolescents
GA 302

Lecture One

12 June 1921, Stuttgart

My dear friends:

After almost two years of Waldorf education, and in view of the opening of yet another important class in September, we shall again consider a number of curriculum issues. I shall, however, leave this till tomorrow. Today I shall take a look at the results of our work so far. New ideas may arise from this review that could further improve our teaching.

In order to prevent a possible misunderstanding of what I am going to say today, I can assure you that I have noticed and appreciated the progress made during these two years. The way you are teaching—the presentation of subjects—is already such that it can be said: You have progressively come to grips with your tasks. You have, in an extraordinarily healthy way, fused with the goals of these tasks.

But it behooves us to consider such details as can provide the basis for a positive development of our work. I believe that in reviewing your work, all of you will have this initial feeling that our work with the children has kept helping us to improve our methods. There is, however, something we might have missed—perhaps with a degree of pain. It is relatively easy to mediate the subject matter to the children, to give them a momentary understanding for what we teach them. But we have not yet succeeded in making the subject matter last for them, in making it a part of their whole being, so that it can stay with them throughout their lives, so that we may achieve the same results with our teaching as with our talks at special festive occasions.

Our teaching must live. It must reach beyond the ideas, images, feelings, and skills the children have acquired. We must give them something that can—depending on their dispositions and possibilities—continue into their adult lives.

Just as the limbs of any living creature are developing during the growing stages, are becoming bigger and more complicated, so also should the ideas, feelings, and skills we give our children be not fully formed but rather capable of growth and development. We must see to it that our teaching does not remain rigid, static, but that it can grow with them, change as they change during the course of development, so that at the age of thirty or forty they will still have the benefit of what they learned at seven or eight, because the learning has grown and developed as their complicated limbs have developed, because it has slowed down at the appropriate time, and so forth. Our teaching must enter the children’s being deeply, so that it can continue to develop with them, can live or fade away. This means that the children will have to absorb whatever we present to them and make it their own. The question arising from this realization is: How can we achieve this? The answer will come from assumptions quite different from those we generally make.

My dear friends, what we need to do is to make every effort at understanding the human being in his or her totality—in our case, this is the child—as a being consisting of body, soul, and spirit. Such understanding will allow us to comprehend the inner processes in the children when we teach them various subjects, and, as a result, we shall learn to adjust our work to these processes. Today, therefore, we shall concentrate on gaining a complete picture of how we ought to teach and educate.

To begin, let me draw your attention to the many erroneous ideas that are current regarding the human being. Teachers, especially, are convinced that what and how we teach—be it through visual perception or stories or activities—will increase children’s skills, ideas, and concepts, will strengthen their feeling, and that the increase and strengthening will last throughout the children’s lives. But this is not so. Let us proceed by example. We give the children certain ideas and mental images—in a history lesson, in the history of literature, in mathematics, or in geography—assuming that they will retain them as lasting possessions. It is generally assumed that such concepts descend somewhere into the lower regions of the soul, into the sub- or unconscious spheres, and that there they remain in one way or another, to be called upon whenever a situation arises. This is the function of memory, so they say.

But this assumption is not true. The ideas, the mental images, which we produce in the children and which, with us, they elaborate and develop, immediately change when the children occupy themselves with other things after the lesson. In no way does a concept swim about in the unconscious in its original form, to be called up at random. This is certainly not the case. The ideas and concepts we produce in the children are, when the children are no longer thinking about them, no longer present anywhere. They are not swimming about; they are no longer there. The process by which children later recollect is quite different from what is generally assumed—namely, that the ideas and concepts are called forth from the unconscious.

Not only may the processes taking place in recollecting and perceiving be compared; in a certain respect, they may be considered as one and the same. When we perceive something, when in the case of children we direct their soul activity to some outer object and develop with them an idea or concept, the activity will certainly be the children’s very own; they are preoccupied, are working with the idea or concept. We call this process perception.

When the children remember something, the same process is involved, but now it is directed inward. Something is happening within the children. The children are working with, developing, something in the same way as in the perception of an outer object. These inner processes that continue when the original mental images of perception are no longer directly present are extremely complicated. It is very difficult to describe in any specific instance how a mental image prepares to reconnect with the human being in order to emerge as memory—so that the image may again be perceived, this time as an inner event. But when we remember, we really perceive inner events in the same way we perceive outer objects.

It is really not all that important to have an exact knowledge of these processes. We need to be aware of something else. We need to know that the continuing effects of mental images and ideas that, later, emerge in memory actually take place in the sphere of our feelings. It is our life of feelings—with its joys, pains, pleasures, displeasures, tensions, and relaxations—that is the actual vehicle for the enduring qualities of the ideas and mental images that we can recall at a later stage. Our mental images change into stirrings of feeling, and it is these stirrings of feeling that we later perceive and that enable us then to remember.

It is important for us to understand this process because we must pay special attention to it in education. If in line with the convictions of most teachers today, we merely present to the children things to be looked at, to be accurately perceived by the senses, we are not giving them anything that will help them to remember later in life. Their memory will be greatly enhanced, however, if we put feeling into our words, if we teach with warmth, if we spice our lessons with the possibility of allowing the children to experience corresponding emotions, if we make them smile or feel sad, if we endeavour to go beyond the merely intellectual aspects to the life of feeling. I cannot overemphasize the importance of such an approach. It is, of course, more difficult. It demands great presence of mind. Mere intellectual instruction is easier than a teaching that wishes to stimulate the children’s feeling, that makes for an inner connection with a subject. We need not be pedantic in this teaching, need not necessarily always connect feeling directly to the subject taught. We may refer to something else in order to stimulate feelings. The important thing is that the children’s feelings are engendered during a lesson. Such stirrings of feeling aid memory. And this fact we must not lose sight of. Even in the driest of subjects, such as physics or geometry, we should try to appeal to the children’s feelings. If, for example, we interrupt a thought process and ask a child, “If you were to do this and something unexpectedly were to happen …?”—we add feeling to the lesson. We add tension, expectation, and relaxation that will permeate and benefit the thought process.

Never underestimate the effect of the unknown or half known. The effect of such on feeling is extremely important. If toward the end of a lesson we say, “and tomorrow we shall do this…”—the children need not know anything about “this”; their expectation and curiosity will still be aroused. If, for example, I have taught the properties of the square before those of the triangle and I conclude the lesson by saying, “Tomorrow we shall learn about the triangle”—the children do not yet know anything about the triangle, but it is exactly this fact that causes a certain tension, an expectation of what is to come, a looking forward to the next day’s lesson. The effect will carry the day. We ought to make use of the unknown or half known in order to facilitate the children’s effort at fitting the details into a totality. We really must not ignore such matters.

As we get used to working in this way we shall, on the one hand, in a quite elementary way, connect teaching with education and, on the other hand, feel the need to make ourselves ever more familiar with the nature of the human being, the child. And then, as out of our anthroposophical knowledge we ponder this nature, this wisdom of the human being, much will become clear to us and lead to increased teaching skills.

Developing such wisdom and teaching skills will ever more be of the gravest importance. It will allow the subject matter to fuse with the children, to become their very own possession. We have not yet achieved enough here.

Essentially our lessons consist of two interacting parts. We instruct, we exhort the children to participate, to use their skills, to be physically active. Be it in eurythmy, music, physical education, even writing or the mechanical processes in arithmetic—we try to engender activity. The other part of our lessons is concerned with contemplation. Here we ask the children to think about, to consider the things we tell them.

Although these two aspects always interact, they are fundamentally different. It is not generally appreciated how much the teacher of a contemplative subject, such as history, owes to a colleague who is more concerned with skills and aptitudes. Concentrating merely on contemplation leads the children to a stunted, prosaic adult life, with a tendency to boredom. They will have a superficial view of life, will not feel inclined to observe accurately, will not pay attention to events around them. Children who are trained predominantly in contemplation become benumbed, confused adults. We really owe a great deal, as teachers of contemplative subjects, to the teachers of handwork, music, and eurythmy. We can go so far as to say that the history teacher actually lives off the music or singing teacher and that, vice versa, the singing and music teachers live off the contemplative elements in history, and so forth.

In a situation that calls for directing the children’s attention to something of a contemplative nature, when they are sitting on their chairs listening to and concentrating on a story or on something that demands their judgment—however great our efforts may be to get them to think for themselves, if they merely sit and listen, this is no more than, if I may use the paradox, a “waking sleeping activity.” The children are, in a certain sense, outside the body with the soul and spirit, and it is only because the separation is not as complete as in sleep that the body’s participation continues. Indeed, especially during a contemplative lesson, we can observe the same phenomenon that is present in sleep—namely, an ascending organic activity. In children who are merely listening to stories, organic processes are called forth that are identical to those occurring during sleep, when the metabolic processes ascend to the brain. Making the children sit and listen, we engender in them, in the organism, a delicate sleep-like activity.

It is generally assumed that sleep strengthens and replenishes the organism. Waking up with a headache could correct this view. We must be clear about the fact that the unhealthy parts of our organism are kept back by the awake activity of the upper organs, so that they cannot ascend. But during sleep they rise, ascend. And this rising upward of what is amiss in the organism is continuously engendered by our insistence on making the children listen, think, and contemplate. When, on the other hand, we teach them eurythmy, when we make them sing, or play instruments, when we employ them in physical activities, as in handwork and gymnastics, even when we make them write something—when they are in fact doing things, the organic processes thus stimulated are an intensification of waking activity.

Even if the effect is not noticed, singing and eurythmy are hygienic, even therapeutic activities. This cannot be denied. This hygienic, therapeutic activity will perhaps be the healthier the less we approach it in an amateurish medical way, the more we simply do it out of our healthy imaginative conception of life.

Still, it is good for the teachers to know that they cooperate as partners, that the children owe the healthy ascent of their body fluids—essential during a contemplative lesson such as history—to the singing or eurythmy lesson of the previous day. We can only benefit from such a comprehensive overview of education, which will encourage us, should a problem arise, to cooperate with our colleagues. We shall discover that we can advise each other if, for example, as a teacher of history I can discuss a child with the music teacher.

Little, if anything, will happen if this consultation takes place in a didactic, routine way. Positive results will be achieved only when—from the comprehensive overview—we feel the urge to discuss a problem with a colleague. Then we may be convinced that when the physics teacher notices a problem and talks it over with the singing teacher, the problem will be lessened or solved when the appropriate steps are taken in singing. The singing teacher will know better what to do than the physics teacher and will be grateful to that teacher for having drawn attention to the problem. Only in this way will we establish a fruitful cooperation as teachers. Only in this way will we be enabled to consider the totality of the human being. The rest will follow, one thing developing from another.

This greater mobility in education will result also in something we cannot do without—humor. We need humor not only for thinking, at the right moment, of the unknown or half known, through which we evoke tensions and relaxations as memory aids, but for something else as well. As we make our teaching ever more mobile, as we get used to considering the whole human being instead of merely the subject matter, we shall in time learn to enlarge certain aspects of our lessons. This widening of subject in all directions is again of enormous importance, especially when it occurs in the direction I shall shortly speak about.

Consider a physics lesson. We are certainly not in favor of having apparati in our classrooms or of methodically developing experiments. Such methods can be employed, can even be very intelligent. It could be asserted that such an approach has proved itself and that a great deal is achieved by it. But the effect is short-term, and we cannot be concerned merely with short-term effects. What we intend to do is to provide the children with something that will benefit them throughout life. To succeed in this intent, we have continuously to enlarge concepts. We must, of course, teach the phenomena in optics and hydraulics. But we must also learn to be ready, at appropriate moments, to relate certain aspects of lessons to other things in life.

Let me give you an example. We could, at a given opportunity, spontaneously refer to the weather, to climatic conditions, to phenomena occurring across the globe in a distant country, so that the students realize that there are connections everywhere in the world. They will then experience the feelings that arise when we are led from one phenomenon to another; the tensions and relaxations that result will allow them to identify with the subject, grow together with it, make it their very own possession.

The most important connection we can establish is the one with the human being. We should never miss an opportunity for making this connection. Every situation—be it during a discussion of an animal, of a plant, or of the phenomenon of warmth—every situation presents an opportunity, without losing sight of the subject, without diverting the students from it, to connect with the human being. What, indeed, is there to prevent us, when talking about the phenomenon of warmth, from mentioning fever? What is to prevent us, when talking about elastic balls in physics, from mentioning the phenomenon of vomiting, a process similar to the repulsion in elastic balls? Vice versa, what is there to prevent us, during a lesson on reflexes in the human organism, from mentioning the simple phenomenon of repulsion in elastic balls, and so forth?

Such connections to life in general can be established already in the lower grades, can gradually get the children used to seeing the human being as the confluence of all world phenomena. When we teach the things that lie outside the human being as natural phenomena, they will always tend to be forgotten. When, on the other hand, we relate them to the human being, when we consider the corresponding phenomena in the human being, we shall notice another tendency: that it is really impossible to regard something that is connected with the human being without feelings. We cannot describe the functions of the ear or of the heart without evoking feelings in the children. By relating the outer world to the human being we always stimulate their feelings—and this is so very important.

Making this connection is, therefore, so very important in subjects treating the objective world, subjects that are usually taught “objectively,” as unconnected with the human being. We should always try to find such connections, and in fact, the most objective subjects are the ones that lend themselves most easily to our doing so, because all the world can be found within the human being.

Again, we have the means of aiding the children’s memory. We can be quite sure that the children will soon forget facts learned by rote in physics. They will not identify with them; the facts will not become inner possessions. But as soon as we relate such facts to the human being, demonstrate what is happening for the human being, the facts will remain, will become an intrinsic part of the children’s experience. What is explained to the human being about the human being becomes the human being’s very own possession. It is necessary for us to avoid abstractions, on the one hand, and on the other hand, what Schlegel referred to as the “crude-material-concrete.” Both should be avoided, especially in our lessons and education.

Let me give you another example. Recently I observed a lesson on comedy and tragedy in class eight. It is relatively easy to think of quite persuasive definitions of the comical, the humorous, the tragic, the beautiful, and so on. They can be found in current literature. But most, if not all, of them are abstractions and will not allow living mental images to arise. What actually happens is that our experience of a tragic, a sad event affects our metabolic processes, slows them down. Our experience of tragedy is, indeed, connected with our physical processes, as though something in our stomach cannot be digested, cannot pass into the intestine.

A deeply sad experience has the effect of literally hardening our metabolism, even though these processes are delicate. Indeed, if you happen to be unhappy, sad, or depressed, you are working against your digestion. The experience is identical to the feeling one has when food lies like a lump in the stomach, a crudely material but qualitatively comparable phenomenon. In a healthy digestion, the food passes naturally from the stomach to the intestine, is absorbed by the villi, passes into the blood, then penetrates the diaphragm, so that it can be distributed in the upper organism. This physical process is, qualitatively understood, identical to the effect of laughing, when we artificially induce the vibrations of the diaphragm. Laughing is a process that makes us organically healthy; its effect is similar to that of a healthy undisturbed digestion.

Such knowledge will allow us to relate the humorous to the digestive processes. We are learning to think in the way the ancient Greeks did, are beginning to understand the Greeks’ concept of hypochondria, of abdominal ossification. An objective observation will confirm this connection. Living toward the upper organism, getting the diaphragm into movement, stimulated by a healthy digestion and passing to the world outside—this physical process does, indeed, provide the connection of a humorous, happy mood to the physical body. By avoiding such abstract explanations as “humor allows us to rise above a situation,” we shall succeed in establishing the confluence of the abstract with the concrete. We establish a totality. We show the children how to combine, in their minds, spirit and soul with the physical, corporeal. We repress the absolutely harmful modern ideas of continuously teaching the human cultural aspects—soul and spirit—without relating them to the physical and, vice versa, at the other pole of the pendulum, of speaking about the physical in crudely materialistic ways. Taken separately, neither approach is truthful; for the ideas interact, flow into each other.

It behooves us to evoke total, comprehensive ideas and images, by binding humor and tragedy not to abstract concepts but to the diaphragm. A possible objection is that doing so might encourage a materialistic view of the world. This is certainly not so. It is exactly by showing how spirit and soul are living in the physical that we bring people to the point of seeing that the whole of the material world owes its existence to soul and spirit. As soon as we can imagine—when somebody is laughing, when somebody experiences laughter in the soul and spirit—that the event is connected with the diaphragm, we shall also gradually arrive at the idea of the effects of spirit and soul in rain, thunder, and lightning. We are led to these realizations by relating everything to the human being.

In relating everything to the human being it is important not to dwell too much on the egocentric—because much or exclusive self-interest, egocentricity, would result in contemplative egotism. If, on the other hand, in our contemplative lessons, we connect everything to the human being, we produce in the human being—simply by making one see oneself as consisting of body, soul, and spirit—a disposition that provides the best basis for one’s working from the depths of one’s being during physical activities. If our lessons allow the contemplative thinking elements to connect with the human being, we shall educate our students through history, geography, physics to become singers, to become truly musical people. Affecting our students in such a way that we let them think what they themselves physically want, we produce something in them which we really ought continuously to be creating.

In order to achieve this creation, we must acquire certain concepts. As you well know, it is not possible to remain well fed without the need of eating again. We cannot feed a person and say: “This is it, you need no longer be hungry!” Living processes proceed in rhythms. This truth applies to music, to everything in life. A human being must live in rhythmic alternations, so that one’s “being led back to oneself” is subjected to the highest tension and, in turn, to relaxation. The concepts we teach our students about stomach, lungs, and liver will produce in them a disposition that will again be offset in singing, in the way hunger alternates with eating—a rhythmic process. Only rhythm maintains life. The correct handling of the contemplative subjects will produce faculties that will correspondingly manifest in the other subjects.

If instead of merely enumerating Julius Caesar’s actions, successes, and failures, we would at the same time give the children imaginative pictures of the man, paint as it were a historical situation, so that the children feel impelled to have in their imagination a kind of shadowy picture of him, see him walk, follow his walk in their minds—if they were to imagine Julius Caesar in such a way that they did not merely copy the image in a painting but actually modeled it in their minds, and if they then proceeded to a handwork lesson, you may be absolutely sure that they would knit better than they would have without Caesar.

Such connections are as mysterious as those between hunger and satiation. Ignoring the connections produces different results. For example, if we teach for an hour without stimulating the imagination of the children, their stomachs will be filled with acid, will have excessive pepsin. This cannot be avoided in a contemplative lesson. It is, however, not only a matter of acidifying the food in the stomach; there is also a spiritual dimension. All matter is at the same time spirit. When the children are singing, the pepsin’s role is to produce in them the inner prickling they should feel during singing. This prickling cannot occur if the pepsin remains stuck in the folds of the stomach. And it does remain there if one only talks, without stimulating the imagination. When the imagination is stirred, the pepsin is distributed throughout the body, with the result that the singing teacher will be confronted by children whose organs are permeated by this prickling, this effervescent sensation. Without such experience—especially in the speech organs—the children will be lethargic and lazy, and they will sing without enthusiasm.

I tell you these things so that you can appreciate the importance of considering the totality of the school organism, of seeing it as a unit. Interfering in things that do not concern one does not help. Of course, each teacher must feel free to do what he or she thinks best. But one will gradually acquire the necessary skills by studying the nature of children and by appealing to their imagination. The children long for this attention, need it. And the teacher will greatly benefit from a preoccupation with this aspect of education.

A lively interest in human nature is, of course, the condition for succeeding in this endeavor. Such interest can be developed, and anthroposophy will provide you with all the hints you need. What I especially recommend to you—from a direct pedagogical/didactic point of view—is that you avoid getting stuck in abstractions when you develop your own concepts. You should instead endeavor to understand the human being in regard to organization.

You must actually become pioneers in a certain sphere, must tell yourselves: “We have today, on the one hand, the abstract sciences—history, geography, even physics, and so on. They are practiced in the most abstract ways. People acquire concepts. On the other hand, we have the sciences of the human being—anatomy, physiology—by means of which we learn about the human being, as though the organs were cut out of leather and reassembled.” Truly, as cut from leather—because there is really no difference between the descriptions of living organs presented by our anatomists and cut-out leather pieces. The human being is not described as a totality. The spirit is ignored.

You can, however, be pioneers. You can contribute positively to education by making use of both the abstractions, the lifeless concepts propagated today, and the crudely materialistic approach. You may teach both, but only in order to combine them in a living way, by interweaving them. You could teach history in such a way that it enlivens anatomy, and anatomy in order to bring life to history. The function of the liver could, for example, give you an idea for treating the history of the later Egyptian culture, because the nuance, this special nuance in the presentation, the (let me say) aroma one has to spread across the later stages of Egyptian history, one acquires during the contemplation on the function of the liver in the organism. The effect is the same.

By interweaving subjects in this way you will not only give humanity something that is culturally interesting; you will also meet an educational need by bringing together the so-called physical, which does not as such exist, and the abstract spiritual, which again has no meaning as such. Thus you may enter the classroom in such a way that your words carry weight and, at the same time, acquire wings. You will not torture the children with words that merely fly away, nor will you teach them skills and aptitudes that weigh them down.