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 Four

15 June 1921, Stuttgart

Our talks so far will have shown you the necessity of including exact knowledge of the physical human being when you prepare your lessons. The reason we consider such apparently remote matters is the important step our school is taking in adding a tenth grade class to the present elementary grades. In the tenth grade class we shall have girls and boys who are already more mature, who are at an age that will have to be treated especially carefully. I would like to spend the next few days in giving you a thorough understanding of this age when, as you know, important developmental stages occur.

You may well say that this is surely the business only of those who teach at this level. But this is not so. The teachers in our school must develop ever more into a complete organism, and all of you will, directly or indirectly, be concerned with all age groups, with the total education of every child.

However, before I address myself to the needs of the fourteen-, fifteen-, and sixteen-year-old students, I must today touch on some preliminary matters. During our meetings we shall then work on the tenth grade curriculum.

Let us, therefore, continue in the way we began during the last two days. I would like to impress on you the connection between the spirit/soul and the physical/corporeal aspects of the human being, especially of the child. Today’s culture regards spirit and soul merely intellectually. Our cultural life does not include an actual and living spiritual life. And in the mainly Catholic central European countries, Catholicism has assumed forms that are no longer true, so that even there one cannot expect any help regarding the religious mediation of spiritual life. The Protestant spiritual life has become more or less fully intellectualistic. As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists. We do not teach anthroposophy—our school must not represent a world conception—but through the way the teachers are acting, through their inner life, the soul and spirit elements enter the school as though through the imponderables of the soul.

When we now teach the various subjects expected of a school—reading, the thought processes in arithmetic, those in the natural sciences, everything that is of a cognitive nature—we give the children ideas and mental pictures. The ideas and mental images are for the child’s organism an activity that is quite different from physical/corporeal instruction—which, although it participates in the education of the thought processes, is also carried out independently. Physical/corporeal instruction is carried out quite independently in eurythmy, in physical education, and in instrumental music, but no longer in singing. Everything is, of course, relative. But there is a great difference, a polarity, between what the children are asked to do in these subjects—and also when they are learning reading and writing, when we strongly appeal to the physical activity—and what they are asked to do in subjects such as arithmetic, in which case the physical activity plays a subordinate role. In handwriting, on the other hand, physical activity plays a predominant part.

We should really go into details. Let me single out the subject of writing and show you the role physical activity plays. There are two types of people in regard to writing. (I believe I have already mentioned this to those of you who have attended previous lectures.) There are those who write as though the writing is flowing from their wrists. The forming of the letters is carried out from the wrist. Future business people are actually trained to write in this way. Their writing flows from their wrists, and this is all there is to it. That is one of the two types of people in regard to writing. The other type is disposed to looking at the letters. These people always contemplate what they write, deriving an almost aesthetic pleasure from it. These are the painter type, and they do not so much write from the wrist. Those of the first type do not paint.

I actually got to know the special training for people who are prepared for business. They are encouraged to put a kind of flourish to the letters. Their writing is characterized by continuous flourishes emanating from a certain swinging motion of the wrist. Taken to an extreme, this kind of writing will lead to something that is really quite awful. I know people who carry out all sorts of swinging motions with their pens in the air before they begin to write—a quite terrible thing when taken to an extreme.

We really ought to get people to write in a way that is akin to painting. Writing in that way is far more hygienic. When writing is accompanied by an aesthetic pleasure, the mechanical aspect is pushed into the body. It is the inner organism rather than the wrist that is writing. And this is most important, because the mechanical aspect is then diverted from the periphery to the whole of the human being. You will notice that when you teach children to write in this painting way, they will also be able to write with their toes. This would, in fact, constitute a triumph, a success—when a child is able to hold a pencil between the toes and form adequate letters. I do not say that this ability should be developed artistically. But we do have in such an instance a shifting of the mechanical activity to the whole human being. You will agree that in this regard most of us are extremely clumsy. Can you think of anyone who is able to pick up a piece of soap from the floor with his or her toes? To do this at least should be possible. It sounds grotesque, but it points to something of great significance.

We should cultivate this painting-like writing. It pushes the actual mechanical activity into the body, and the writer’s connection to the writing is brought to and beyond the surface. The human being is imparted into his or her environment. We should really get used to seeing everything we do, rather than doing things thoughtlessly, mechanically. Most people do write mechanically, thoughtlessly. Because writing is thus a manysided activity, we can, in a certain way, consider it as a significant aspect in our lessons. In arithmetic, on the other hand, the actual writing has a subordinate position, because with that subject it is the thinking that preoccupies the student.

We must now be quite clear about the processes taking place during reading. The activity of reading is initially spiritual and then continues into the physical body. It is especially the activities that are of a cognitive, mental/spiritual nature that considerably tax the delicate parts of the physical organization. You can picture, physiologically, the deeper parts of the brain, the white matter. The white matter is the actual, the more perfectly organized part of the brain. It is organized toward the more functional tasks, whereas the gray matter at the surface—which is especially well developed in humans—provides the brain’s nourishment. The gray matter has remained behind, in a very early stage of evolution. In regard to evolution, it is the deeper part of the brain that is more perfect.

If we teach a child to observe well, as in reading, we greatly tax the gray matter, engendering a very delicate metabolic process. And this delicate metabolic process then spreads throughout the organism. It is especially when we believe ourselves to be occupying the children mentally and spiritually that we affect their physical organism most strongly. The observation and comprehension during the reading of and listening to stories engender metabolic processes that tax the children to an inordinately strong degree. We could call what is happening the impression of the spiritual into the physical. A kind of incorporation of what we observe and comprehend during a story is necessary. Something akin to a physical phantom must develop and then impart itself into the whole organism. The organism is filled with delicate salt deposits. Not coarsely, of course. A salt phantom is imparted into the whole organism, and the necessity arises to dissolve it again through the metabolism.

This process takes place when the children read or listen to stories. When we believe ourselves to be occupying the mind and spirit in our lessons, we really evoke metabolic processes. And this must be considered. We cannot do anything else but to see to it that our stories and reading material are faultless in two respects. First, the children must be interested in the subject. Genuine interest is connected with a delicate feeling of pleasure that must always be present. That feeling expresses itself physically in very subtle glandular secretions that absorb the salt deposits caused during reading and listening. We must endeavor never to bore the children. Lack of interest, boredom, leads to all sorts of metabolic problems. This is especially the case with girls. Migraine-like conditions are the result of a one-sided stuffing of material that must be learned without pleasure. The children are then filled with tiny spikes that do not get dissolved. They tend toward developing such spikes. Yes—we must be aware of these problems.

Second, immediately connected with the metabolic problems arising from boredom is the unhappy situation that does not allow us enough time for everything we ought to do. We should really see to it that the currently available readers—which can drive you up the wall—are not used. The books I have seen in the classrooms are really quite awful.

We must not forget that we are preparing the children’s physical constitutions for the rest of their lives. If we make them read the trivial stuff contained in most readers we affect their delicate organs accordingly. The children will turn into philistines rather than into complete human beings. We must know that the reading material we give our children strongly affects their development. The results are unavoidable in later life.

I really would like to ask you to compile your own anthologies, including the classics and other worthwhile authors, and to refrain from using the available books. This additional effort is necessary. We must do something. It is, after all, the task of the Waldorf school to use methods different from those practiced elsewhere. What matters is that in reading or storytelling, and also in the presentation of the natural sciences, we take great care not to harm the children in these two ways.

Eurythmy and singing lessons can be said to be working in the opposite direction, engendering an organic process that is quite different. All the organs connected with these activities contain spirit. When the children are doing eurythmy they move, and during the moving the spirit in the limbs is streaming upward. When we ask the children to do eurythmy or to sing, we liberate the spirit. The spiritual, of which the limbs abound, is liberated—a very real process. In our singing and eurythmy lessons we release the spiritual from the children. As a consequence, the released or liberated spirit expects to be made use of after these exercises. I explained this to you in yesterday’s lecture in another connection. The spirit now also waits to be consolidated.

In singing, eurythmy, and physical education we spiritualize the children. They are quite different beings at the end of the lesson; there is much more spirit in them. But this spirit wishes to consolidate, wishes to remain with the children. We must not allow it to dissipate. We can prevent it from dissipating quite simply and effectively by making the children sit or stand quietly at the end of the lesson. We should try to maintain this calm for a few minutes. The older the children, the more important this will be. We should pay attention to these things if we wish to prepare the children in the best possible way for the following day. It is not in the children’s interest for us to let them rush out of the room immediately after a gym, singing, or eurythmy lesson. We should, instead, let them calm down and sit quietly for a few minutes.

In considering such matters we really touch on a cosmic principle. There are many and diverse theories about matter and spirit. But both, matter and spirit, contain something that is more than either of them, a higher element. We may say that if this higher element is brought to a state of calm, it is matter; if it is brought into movement, it is spirit. This being a high principle, we can apply it to the human being. Through the short period of calm following a gym, singing, or eurythmy lesson or other such activity, we produce in ourselves—for the spirit we have liberated—a delicate physical phantom, which then deposits itself in our organism for us to make use of. Knowing about this process can help us make discoveries that will have corresponding effects in our other interactions with the children.

We shall now consider further uses for this knowledge. There are children in our school with a very vivid imagination, and there are children with very little imagination. We need not jump to the conclusion that half of our students are poets and the other half not. We notice the difference not so much in the actual way the imagination shows itself but rather in the way memory develops. Memory is strongly related to imagination. We have some children—and we should notice them—who quickly forget what they have experienced and heard during a lesson, who cannot hold on to the pictures of what they have experienced, for whom the pictures disappear. And we have other children for whom the pictures remain, assume an independent life of their own, and surface continuously, cannot be controlled. We should be well aware of these two types of children. There is, of course, a whole range between these extremes. For children with a vivid imagination, memory causes the pictures to surface in a changed form. Most frequently, however, the pictures surface unchanged, as reminiscences. The children are then slaves to what they have experienced during their lessons. And then there are the children for whom everything disappears, evaporates.

It is now a matter of dealing with these two types of children appropriately. It is possible to occupy groups of children in the most diverse ways if we develop a routine in the best sense of the word—a routine in a spiritual sense. Children with poor memory, who have difficulty in getting the pictures to surface, should be made to observe better during reading. We should try to get them to listen better. With children who are slaves to their mental pictures, we should see to it that they become more physically active, mobile; we should make them concentrate more on writing. We could have two groups in the class—giving the children who are poor in imagination the opportunity for cultivating their reading and observation, while for the other group, the children with a vivid imagination, we could especially cultivate painting and writing. Naturally, it is a matter of degree, because everything is relative.

We can take this distinction further. (But the following observation is especially important: We can only gradually learn these things; we cannot cover everything during the first year.) Children who are poor in imagination—that is, children who cannot easily remember—should be asked to do eurythmy standing up, mainly with their arms. Children with a vivid imagination who are tormented by their mental pictures will benefit by moving the whole body, be it by running or by walking. This we can encourage. It really is very important that we pay attention to such matters.

In addition, we ought to know the value of the consonants for phlegmatic children who find it difficult to recall mental pictures, whereas the children who are tormented by their ever-surfacing mental pictures will greatly benefit from eurythmy exercises that concentrate mainly on vowel sounds. It can indeed be observed that vowel exercises have a calming effect on the rising mental pictures, while consonant exercises engender them. Acting on this knowledge can help both groups.

The same distinction applies to music lessons. Children poor in imagination and memory should be encouraged to play musical instruments; children with a vivid imagination should be occupied with singing. It would be ideal—if we had the necessary rooms—to teach both groups simultaneously, one in singing, the other in instrumental music. If we could practice a twofold method—listening to and making music—this would have a tremendously harmonizing effect on the children. It would be most valuable if we could make it possible to alternate between singing and listening: to let half the class sing and the other half listen, and then vice versa. This practice should really be cultivated, because listening to music has a hygienic, a healing effect on what the head is to do in the human organism; singing has a healing effect on what the body is to do in the head. If we carried out everything that we could in this way, we would have far healthier people about.

We are not really aware of the fact that we have regressed in human evolution. In the past, children were allowed to grow up without being educated; their freedom was not invaded. Now we violate this freedom when we begin to educate them in the sixth or seventh year. We must make up for this crime, this destruction of freedom, by educating them correctly. We must be quite clear that it is the manner of education, the “how,” that we have to improve if we wish to avoid a terrible future situation. It does not matter how much today people insist on stressing the cultural progress, the dwindling number of illiterates—they themselves are no more than imprints, the automata made by the schools. We must avoid this end, must not produce mere imprints in our schools. We must allow our children to develop in their individuality.

This issue becomes especially important when we make use of artificial methods such as learning by rote or by heart. In repeating something in this way the children transmit the content of what they have learned from the soul and spirit to the physical organism. What is learned by heart must first be understood. But during the process of learning by heart the children gradually slither into an ever more mechanical, physical way of learning. This is the way along which the content of learning is taken—from the initial subjective element to the objective element.

We must be honest in such matters. When the content is taken to the objective level, we must make the children listen to themselves, must make them aware that they are hearing themselves speak. We must bring the children to the point that, to the same extent as they recite the lines, they listen to themselves. We can succeed in this if, for example, the children differentiate the sounds they produce. We tell them: “What you are speaking is all about you, and you can hear it.” We must try to get the children to the point that they can hear themselves speak.

But this is not enough. Something else is even more important. We shall never succeed in letting the children find the transition from having the content of the words in their thoughts and feelings to learning it by heart if we do not appeal most strongly to their feelings before the memorizing begins. The children must never be asked to learn anything by heart before they have a deep feeling for all the details contained in the words—especially a feeling that allows them to relate to the content in the right way.

Let us consider an extreme case. Let us think of a prayer. The children should, when asked to learn a prayer, be urged to be in a mood of devotion. It is up to us to see to this. We must almost feel a horror if we teach the children a prayer without first establishing this mood of reverence or devotion. And they should never say a prayer without this mood. We should thus not make the children recite a lovely poem without first arousing in them a faint smile, a pleasure or joy; we should not order them to have these feelings but rather allow the content of the poem to awaken them. This principle applies to other subjects as well.

Much harm has been done to humankind during the course of evolution. Certainly, things have improved a little in this respect. But my generation remembers the way children were made to memorize, for example, historical dates and other facts. I myself remember history lessons during which teacher and children read a paragraph in a textbook and the children were afterward supposed to remember it; they simply learned it by heart. I heard an intelligent boy speak of the “Car of Jerusalem” instead of the “Czar of Russia”! He did not notice the gaffe during his mechanical recital of a passage in the book. This is not an isolated case. This method of learning things by heart in such subjects as geography and history has greatly contributed to our present cultural decadence.

It is essential to prepare the children correctly for such things that are to be learned by heart: prayers and poems. Their feelings must be engendered, the feelings they must have when they listen to themselves. Especially during the saying of a prayer, the children must have the feeling: “I grow above myself. I am saying something that makes me grow above myself.” This mood must apply to everything that is beautiful and graceful.

The mood also affects the physical organism, has a hygienic significance, because every time we teach something of a tragic or exalted nature we affect the metabolism. Every time we teach something of a graceful, dainty nature we affect the head, the nerve-sense organism. We can thus proceed in a hygienic way. Children who are flippant, light-headed, who are always bent on sensations, we shall try to cure by producing in them the mood they must have for something of a sublime, tragic nature. This will already be beneficial. We must pay attention to such matters in our lessons.

You will be able to do this if you yourselves have the right attitude to your teaching. Every now and then, in an almost meditative way, you ought to answer the question: How does my teaching of history or geography affect the children? It is necessary for us as teachers to know what we are doing. We have spoken about the way history and geography ought to be taught, but it is not enough to know it; it must be recalled in brief meditations. Does the teacher of eurythmy, for example, know that he releases the spirit from the children’s limbs? Does the teacher, during a reading lesson, know that she incorporates the spirit in the children?

If the teacher becomes aware of these things, she will almost see that when she is reading in the wrong way, when she bores the children, they will tend toward metabolic illness; she will feel that by making a child read a boring piece of literature, she actually produces a diabetic in later life. She will then develop the right sense of responsibility. By occupying the children continuously with boring material, you produce diabetics. If you don’t calm the released spirit after a physical exercise or a singing lesson, you produce people who lose themselves in life.

It is extraordinarily important that teachers thus occasionally reflect on what they are doing. But the reflection need not be oppressive. The teacher who is primarily concerned with reading will through it develop the feeling that she is actually continuously incorporating something, that she is working at the physical organism, and that she makes the children, through the way they are reading, into physically strong or weak adults. The teacher of handwork or crafts will be able to say to himself that he affects especially the spiritual in the children. If we let the children do things in handwork or crafts that are meaningful, we shall do more for the spirit than if we let them do things that are generally believed to be spiritual.

Much can be done in this direction, because much of what the children are doing nowadays in handwork is quite wrong. We can work in a more positive way that will have especially good results. I immediately noticed the children in Dornach making pillows, little cushions, which they then embroidered. If the embroidery is merely arbitrary, it isn’t really a cushion. The embroidery must be such that it invites the ear to lie on the cushion. The children seemed to especially enjoy making tea cosies. But they must be made properly. If I am to open the cosy at the bottom, the movement of my hands must be continued in the embroidery; the embroidery must indicate the opening of the cosy. But the children have been so ruined by the conditions of our time that they embroider the bottom of their cosies like this:

Embroidered cozy

This is the wrong way round. The drawing must show where the opening is. When embroidering the top of a blouse or shirt, the children must learn that the embroidered band at the throat must widen toward the bottom and narrow toward the top. An embroidery on a belt must immediately show that it opens to both sides simultaneously; it must be widest at the center. Everywhere the children should learn to find the correct form.

Very much can be achieved by these things if we do not so much bother about the eye, but produce them in the feeling. You must get the children to feel what their design indicates: it widens at the bottom, it presses down from above. This must be translated into feeling; we must get, what the hands are supposed to do, into the hands. The human being is here essentially fully occupied in his whole being, thinks with his whole body. We really must try to see to it that such things are felt. The handwork lessons must be directed to feeling. The child should, when embroidering a corner, have the feeling: this corner must be embroidered in such a way that, when I put my finger into it, it can’t get through. If it happens to be something else, the embroidery must indicate this. This is the way we ought to teach. The handwork teacher can then say: I teach in a way that I especially engender the children’s spiritual activity. No teacher needs to feel that he or she occupies an inferior position in the school.