Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy I
GA 304

II. Education and Practical Life from the Perspective of Spiritual Science

27 February 1921, The Hague

In my first lecture, I drew your attention to the essence of anthroposophical spiritual science. I mentioned how methods have been sought in spiritual science that enable the spiritual investigator to penetrate a supersensible world with the same clarity as natural science penetrates the outer, sense-perceptible world with the sense organs and the intellect, which systematizes and interprets the results of sensory impressions. I described these methods in my last lecture. And I emphasized that, in addition to today’s ordinary science, another science exists. This uses spiritual methods and, by its path of research and the inner experiences unfolding along it, furnishes full proof of our being surrounded by a supersensible world, just as, in the ordinary state of consciousness, we are surrounded by the sense world. I would now like to return to a prior point, elaborated during the last lecture, that, at least to a certain extent, will form the basis of what I have to say today.

The anthroposophical science of the spirit, referred to here, is not at all opposed to what has become—over the last three or four centuries—the natural-scientific world-view. As I already pointed out, this spiritual science is opposed only to viewpoints that do not take into account the results of modern natural science and thereby become more or less dilettantish. Spiritual science wishes to be an extension or continuation of natural-scientific thinking. Only, this spiritual-scientific continuation allows a person to acquire the kind of knowledge that can answer the deepest longings in the minds and the souls of modern human beings. Thus, through spiritual science, one really comes to know human beings.

Not so long ago, modern science, in a way fully recognized by spiritual science, gave us a wonderful survey of the gradual development of living organisms right up to human beings. And yet, when all is said and done, the human being stands there only as the end product of evolution.

Biology speaks of certain muscles that are found both in human beings and in various animal species. We also know that a human being has a certain number of bones and that this number corresponds with the bones of the higher animals. Altogether, we have grown accustomed to explaining the emergence of the entire bone structure of higher animals and human beings as a development from a lower stage to a higher one. But we have no idea of the essential characteristics that are uniquely and exclusively human. Anyone willing to look at the situation without prejudice has to admit the fact that we are ignorant of what constitutes a human being. In general, natural phenomena and all living organisms are scrupulously investigated up to and including homo sapiens, and the conclusion is then drawn that human beings are encompassed by what is to be found in external nature. But, generally, there is no really adequate idea of what is essentially human.

In ordinary, practical life, we find a similar situation, very much as a result of natural-scientific thinking and knowledge. We find its effects overshadowing modern life, causing a great deal of perplexity and distress. The consequence of not knowing the essential nature of human beings becomes all too obvious in what is usually referred to as the social question. Millions of people who belong to what is called the proletariat, whom the traditional religions and confessions have abandoned, believe that reality is no longer to be found in the human soul, but only in the material aspects of life, in the processes of production within the outer economic sphere. Morality, religion, science, and art, as cultivated by humanity throughout the ages, are regarded as nothing more than a kind of ideological superstructure, built on a solid material or even economic material substructure. The moral and cultural aspects of life appear almost as a kind of vapor, rising from the only reality—material reality. Here, again, what is truly the human soul and spirit—what is psychical-spiritual in human beings—has been eliminated.

Not to be able to reach knowledge of the human being and, consequently, to be debarred from beholding and experiencing the truth of human nature, and from bringing down human ideals into will impulses in the social sphere—these seem to be the characteristic features of modern times.

Anthroposophical spiritual science, on the other hand, is only too aware of what needs to be accomplished in this direction for the sake of the deepest, yet often unconscious, longing of the souls of some of the best of our contemporaries. It is to be accomplished, first, by true knowledge of the human being and, second, by an inner sense of fulfillment strong enough to enable one to carry into public life truly social impulses arising in the soul. For, without these impulses arising from the depths of our humanity, even the best of outer practical arrangements will not lead to what in the widest circles is regarded as unrealizable, but toward which many people are striving nevertheless, namely to a dignified human existence.

The path leading into the spiritual world as I described it here a few days ago could easily be understood as something that estranges one from life rather than leading one to the two weighty questions that I have put before you once again today. For this reason, it was of paramount importance that anthroposophical spiritual science be practiced in the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. Despite the unfinished state of the building, spiritual science has the possibility of pursuing practical activities there, demonstrating how knowledge of human nature and human faculties can enter into the practical sphere of life.

One of the most important practical activities is surely education of the young.

Those who work in the field of educating children are basically dealing with what will enter the world with the next generation, and this means a very great deal. Raising and educating children are a direct way to work into the near future. In its quest for a method of understanding human nature, anthroposophical spiritual science finds itself able to understand the human being in its becoming—the child—in a wide, comprehensive manner. From such comprehensive knowledge of the growing child, spiritual science seeks to create a real art of education. For what spiritual science can provide in understanding and penetration of human nature does not end in abstractions or theories, but eventually develops into an artistic comprehension, first of the human form and then of the potential of the human soul and spirit. It is all very well to maintain that science demands what is often called a sober working with objective concepts. But, ladies and gentlemen, what if the whole world, if nature, did not work with such concepts at all? What if it were to scorn our wish to restrict its creativity to the kind of natural law into which we try to confine it? What if the creativity of the world were to elude our sober, merely external grasp and our rather lightweight logical concepts? We can certainly make our demands, but whether by doing so we will attain real knowledge depends on whether nature works and creates according to them.

At any rate, more recent scientific attitudes have failed to recognize the essence of human nature because they have failed to consider the following. In her upward climb, at each successive step of the evolutionary ladder—from the mineral kingdom, through the plant and animal kingdoms, to the human kingdom—nature’s creativity increasingly escapes our intellectual grasp and sober logic, forcing us to approach her workings more and more artistically. What ultimately lives in a human being is open to many interpretations and shows manifold aspects. And because spiritual science, in its own way, seeks the inner harmony between knowledge, religious depth, and artistic creativity, it is in a position to survey rightly—that is, spiritually—the enigmatic, admirable creation that is a human being and how it is placed in the world.

Last time, I spoke of how it is possible to look with scientific accuracy into the world where human beings live before they descend into physical existence at conception or birth. I indicated how, with mathematical clarity, the human spirit and soul, descending from the spiritual worlds, place themselves before the spiritual eyes of the anthroposophical investigator, showing themselves to be at work on the interior of the future earthly body and drawing only material substances from the stream of heredity bequeathed by previous generations.

Anyone who talks about such things today is quickly judged inconsistent. And yet the methods pursued by spiritual science are much the same as those employed by natural science. The main difference is that the work entailed in the various branches of natural science is done in the appropriate laboratories, clinics, or astronomical observatories, whereas the science of the spirit approaches human nature directly in order to observe it as methodically as a natural scientist observes whatever might belong to his or her particular field of study. In the latter case, however, the situation is more straightforward for it is easier to make one’s observations and to search for underlying laws in natural science than in spiritual science.

As a first step, I would like to draw your attention to what one can observe in a growing human being in a truly natural-scientific way. Of course, in the case of spiritual science, we must include in our observations the gradual development of the human being through several different life periods. One of those periods extends from birth to the change of the teeth; that is, until about the seventh year. To recognize a kind of nodal point around the seventh year might easily create the impression of an inclination toward mysticism which is not, however, the case. The following observations have as little to do with mysticism as the distinction between the seven colors of the rainbow has. They are simply an outcome of objective, scientific observation of the growing child. Even from a physical point of view, it is evident that a powerful change occurs when, in about a child’s seventh year, forces from within drive the second teeth out of the organism. This event does not recur, indicating that some kind of conclusion has been reached.

What is going on becomes clearer when we do not restrict our observations to the physical or change-of-teeth aspect of this seventh year, but extend them to parallel developments occurring alongside the physical changes. In this case, if we are capable of observing at all, we will see how a child’s entire soul life undergoes a gradual change during this period. We can observe how the child, who previously could form only blurred and indistinct concepts, now begins to form more sharply contoured concepts—how it is only now in fact that the child begins to form proper concepts at all. Furthermore, we notice how quite a different kind of memory is now unfolding. Formerly, when younger, the child might often have displayed signs of an excellent memory. That memory, however, was entirely natural and instinctive. Whereas there was before no need for any special effort in the act of remembering, the child who has passed this watershed must now make a mental effort to remember past events clearly. In short, it becomes obvious that, with the change of teeth around the seventh year, a child begins to be active in the realm of mental imagery, in forming simple thoughts, and in the sphere of conscious will activity.

But what is actually happening here? Where had this force been that we can now observe in the child’s soul and spirit, forming more clearly-defined mental images and thoughts? Where was that force before the child’s milk teeth were shed? This is the kind of question that remains unasked by our contemporary theorizing psychologists.

When physicists observe in a physical process an increase of warmth that is not due to external causes, they explain this phenomenon by the concept of “latent heat becoming liberated.” This implies that the heat that emerges must have existed previously within the substance itself. A similar kind of thinking must also be applied in the case of human life. Where were those forces of soul and spirit before they emerged in the child after the seventh year? They were latent in the child’s physical organism. They were active in its organic growth, in its organic structuring, until, with the pushing out of the second teeth, a kind of climax was reached, indicating the conclusion of this first period of growth, so particularly active during the child’s early years. Psychology today is quite abstract. People cogitate on the relationship of soul to body, and devise the most remarkable and grandiloquent hypotheses. Empty phrases, however, will not lead to an art of education. Spiritual science, for its part, shows that what we see emerging cognitively in a child after the seventh year was actively engaged in its inner organism before the second dentition. It shows that what appears in a child’s soul after the change of teeth was active before as an organic force that has now become liberated.

In a similar way, a true spiritual researcher observes in a concrete manner—not abstractly—the entire course of human life. To illustrate that concrete manner of observation, let us now consider a well-known and specific childhood phenomenon. Let us look at children at play, at children’s games. If we can do so without preconception and with dedicated interest in the growing human being, we know—although every game has a certain form and shares common, characteristic features—that, whatever the game, each child will play it with his or her own individual style. Now those who raise or educate young children can, to a certain extent, influence or guide how a child plays according to the child’s own nature. Also, depending on our pedagogical skills, we can try to steer our children’s play into more purposeful directions. And, if we pay attention to all this, we can clearly discriminate between the various individual styles of playing until the child reaches an age when they are no longer so clearly identifiable. Once a child enters school and other interests are crowding in, however, it becomes more difficult to see the future consequences of his or her characteristic style of playing. Nevertheless, if we do not observe superficially and, realizing that the course of life represents a whole, extend the range of our observations to span the entire earthly life, we might discover the following.

Around twenty-four or twenty-five—that is, when young adults must find their links with the outer world, and when they must fit themselves into the social fabric of the wider community—there will be those who prove themselves more skillful than others in dealing with all aspects and details of their tasks. Now, careful observation will reveal that the way in which people in their twenties adapt themselves to outer conditions of life, with greater or lesser skill, is a direct consequence of their play activity during early childhood.

Certain rivers, whose sources may be clearly traced, disappear below the earth’s surface during their course, only to resurface at a later stage. We can compare this phenomenon with certain faculties in human life. The faculty of playing, so prominent in a young child, is particularly well developed during the first years of life. It then vanishes into the deeper regions of the soul to resurface during the twenties, transmuted into an aptitude for finding one’s way in the world. Just think: by guiding the play of young children, we, as educators, are directly intervening in the happiness or unhappiness, the future destiny, of young people in their twenties!

Such insights greatly sharpen our sense of responsibility as educators. They also stimulate the desire to work toward a genuine art of education. Tight-fitting, narrow concepts cannot reach the core of human nature. To do so, a wide and comprehensive view is needed. Such a view can be gained if we recognize that such interconnections as I have mentioned affect human life. It will also make us realize that we must distinguish between definite life periods in human development, the first of which extends from birth to the change of teeth and has a character all its own.

At this point, I should mention that those who choose to become teachers or educators through anthroposophical spiritual science are filled with the consciousness that a message from the spiritual world is actually present in what they meet in such enigmatic and wondrous ways in the developing human being, the child. Such teachers observe the child with its initially indeterminate features, noticing how they gradually assume more definite forms. They see how children’s movements and life stirrings are undefined to begin with and how directness and purpose then increasingly enter their actions from the depths of their souls. Those who have prepared themselves to become teachers and educators through anthroposophical spiritual science are aware that something actually descending from the spiritual worlds lives in the way the features of a child’s face change from day to day, week to week, and year to year, gradually evolving into a distinct physiognomy. And they know too that something spiritual is descending in what is working through the lively movements of a child’s hands and in what, quite magically, enters into a child’s way of speaking.

To learn to recognize this activity of the spiritual world, which is so different from that of the physical world; to meet the child as an educator with such an inner attitude and mood as I have described: this means that we see in the vocation of teaching a source of healing. This vocation could be expressed as follows: The spiritual worlds have entrusted a human soul into my care. I have been called upon to assist in solving the riddles that this child poses. By means of a deepened knowledge of the human being—transformed into a real art, the art of education—it is my task to show this child the way into life.

Such deepened knowledge of human nature reveals that, in the first period of life, a child is what I would like to call an “imitating” being. (You will find a more detailed account of this characteristic feature in my booklet The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy.) Descending from the spiritual world, the child brings to outer expression—like an echo from the spiritual world—the last experiences undergone there. As anthroposophists, when we educate our children, we are aware that the way in which children imitate their surroundings is childish and primitive. They copy what is done before them with their movements. They learn to speak entirely and only through imitation. And, until they lose their milk teeth, they also imitate what happens morally in their environment.

What lies behind all of this can be rightly understood only with the help of spiritual science. Before conception or birth, a child lives in the spiritual world, the same spiritual world that can be known and consciously experienced if we strengthen the power of memory and develop the power of love in the ways I described during our last meeting. In that spiritual world, the relationship of one being to another is not one in which they confront one another outwardly; rather, each being is capable of living right into another—objectively, yet full of love. Children then bring this relationship of spiritual beings to one another down to earth. It is like a resonant echo of the spiritual world. We can observe here how children become creatures of imitation, how everything they learn and make their own during these first seven years, they learn through imitation. Any genuine art of education must fully respect this principle of imitation—otherwise, it is all too easy to misjudge our children’s behavior.

To illustrate this point, let me give you an example, just one of hundreds that could be chosen. The father of a boy, aged about five, once came to me and told me that a very sad thing had happened; namely, that his boy had been stealing. I suggested that we begin by carefully examining whether in fact the child had really stolen. The father told me that the boy had taken money from the drawer where his wife kept it and had then bought candy with it, which he shared with other children in the street. I asked the father what usually happened with the money kept in the drawer. He replied that the boy’s mother took the amount of money needed for the household that day out of her drawer every morning. Hearing this, I could reassure him that his boy had not stolen at all. I said, “The child is five years old. This means that he is still fully in the stage of imitation. Therefore, it is only good and proper that he should do what he sees done in his environment. His mother takes money out of the drawer every day, and so he naturally copies her. This is not stealing but merely behavior appropriate to the fundamental principle of a child’s development during the first seven-year period.”

A real teacher must know these things. During the first seven years of life, one cannot guide and direct a child by reprimands, nor by moral commands. During this period, one must guide a child by one’s own deeds and by setting an example. But there are of course imponderables to be reckoned with in human as in outer nature. We guide a child not only with external deeds, but also with inner thoughts and feelings. If children enjoy the company of grown-ups who never allow unworthy thoughts or feelings to enter into their lives, something noble and good could become of them. On the other hand, if adults allow themselves mean, ignoble thoughts or feelings when they are around young people, believing that such thoughts or feelings do not matter since everyone is safely ensheathed within an individual bodily structure, they are mistaken, for such things do work on children. Imponderables are at work.

Such imponderables also manifest themselves in the second period of life, which begins after the change of teeth—when the child enters school—and lasts until the age of puberty, around fourteen. When we were working out the fundamentals of a truly spiritual-scientific, spiritually artistic pedagogy for the Waldorf school in Stuttgart—founded by Emil Molt and directed by myself—we had to make a special study of this transition from the first life period, that of imitation, to the second period, from the change of teeth to puberty. For all teaching, education, and upbringing at the Waldorf School is to be based entirely upon anthroposophical insight into human nature. And because children change from the stage of imitation into quite a different stage—I shall say more about this presently—we had to make a special effort to study this time of transition.

During the second period, leading up to puberty, imitation alone no longer suffices to form the faculties, the child’s whole being. A new impulse now emerges from the depths of the child’s soul. The child now wishes to regard the teacher as a figure of undisputed authority. Today, when everything goes under the banner of democracy, the demand is easily made that schools, too, should be “democratized.” There are even those who would do away with the distinction between teacher and pupil altogether, advocating “community schools,” or whatever name these bright ideas are given. Such ideas are a consequence of party-political attitudes, not knowledge of human nature. But educational questions should not be judged from partisan positions; they should be judged only on their own merits. And, if you do this, you will find that, between second dentition and puberty, a child is no longer obliged to imitate, but now has a deep desire to learn what is right or wrong, good or evil, from a beloved and naturally respected authority figure.

Happy are those who throughout their lives can remember such childhood authorities and can say of themselves, “I had a teacher. When I went to visit her, opening the door to her room, I already felt full of awe. To me, it was perfectly natural that my teacher was the source of everything good and true.” Such things are not subject to argument on social or any other grounds. What is important is to gain the insight into human nature so that one can say, “Just as a young child’s urge to play, which manifests in individually different ways, resurfaces as more or less skill in fitting into life when the young person is in his or her twenties, so another, similar transformation also occurs regarding a child’s reverence for the teacher as a figure of authority. That is, only if faith in the authority of the adults in charge develops fully between the ages of approximately seven and fifteen will the right sense of freedom develop later, when the feeling for freedom must be the basis for all social life.”

People cannot become free as adults unless they found as children support in the natural authority of adults. Likewise, only those who during the first period of life are allowed to pass through the process of adjusting themselves to their environment through the inborn desire to imitate can be motivated as adults to take a loving interest in the social sphere. This ability to adjust based on imitation does not last; what is needed in later life is a social awareness, the development of which depends on how far educators of children under seven can become worthy models of imitation. We need people today who are able to place themselves into life with a genuine sense of freedom. They are those who were able to look up to their educators and teachers as persons of authority during the time between their second dentition and puberty.

If one has stated publicly—as I already did in my book Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, published in 1892—that the sense of freedom and the feeling for freedom are the basic facts of social life, one is hardly likely to speak against freedom and democracy. But, just because of this positive attitude towards freedom, one must also acknowledge that the practice of education as an art depends on the sense of authority, developed by the child during the second period of life. During this same period, the child also has to make a gradual transition from living in mental images—or pictures—to a more intellectual approach, a process that moves through and beyond another important turning point.

A true art of education must be able to penetrate such important issues.

The turning point to be discussed now occurs around a child’s ninth year—but sometimes not before the tenth or even the eleventh year. When our teachers recognize that a child is passing this point, they accompany the change with an appropriate change in pedagogy. In early childhood, a child learns to speak, gradually learning to refer to itself as “I”. Up to the ninth year, however, the distinction between the child’s “I” and the surrounding world is still rather undefined. Those who can observe things carefully recognize that the period when a child learns to differentiate between self and surroundings—approximately between the ninth and the eleventh years—is critical. It is a time when the child is actually crossing a Rubicon. The way in which the teachers respond to this change is of greatest importance for a child’s future life. Teachers must have the right feeling for what is happening. They must realize that the child no longer experiences itself as an organic part of its environment—as a finger might experience itself as a part of the body if it had its own consciousness—but as a separate, independent entity. If they do so and respond in the right way as teachers, they can create a source of lasting joy and vitality in life. But if they fail to respond rightly, they open the way to barren and weary lives for their pupils later on. It is important to realize that, prior to this significant change, the child still lives in a world of pictures so closely related to its own nature that, unable to appreciate the difference between self and environment, it merges into its surroundings. Therefore, in assisting a child to establish its relationship to the world at this stage, a teacher must use a pictorial approach.

We receive the children into our school from their parental homes. Today, we live in an age when writing and reading have produced conventional symbols no longer bearing any direct inner relationship to the human being. Compare the abstract letters of our alphabet with the picture writing used in ages past. What was fixed into written forms in ancient times still bore a resemblance to people’s mental images. But writing nowadays has become quite abstract. If we introduce children directly to these abstract letters in reading and writing lessons, we introduce them to something alien to their nature, or at least something inappropriate for six-, seven-, or eight-year olds. For this reason, we use a different method in our Waldorf school.

Instead of beginning with the letters of the alphabet, we engage our young pupils in artistic activity by letting them paint and draw; that is, work with colors and forms. In this activity, not only the head is engaged—which would have a very harmful effect—but the child’s entire being is involved. We then let the actual letters emerge out of these color-filled forms. This is how our Waldorf pupils learn writing. They learn writing first. And only afterward do they learn to read, for printed letters are even more abstract than our handwritten ones. In other words, only gradually do we develop the abstract element, so necessary today, from the artistic element which is more closely allied to life. We proceed similarly in other subjects, too. And we work in this way toward a living, artistic pedagogy that makes it possible to reach the very soul of the child. As for the nature of what we usually think of as plant, mineral, and so forth, this can be fruitfully taught only after the child has passed the turning point just characterized and can differentiate itself from its surroundings.

Working along these lines, it might well happen that some of our pupils learn to read and write later than pupils in other schools. But this is no drawback. On the contrary, it is even an advantage. Of course, it is quite possible to teach young children reading and writing by rote and get them to rattle off what is put before their eyes, but it is also possible to deaden something in them by doing this, and anything killed during childhood remains dead for the rest of one’s life. The opposite is equally true. What we allow to live and what we wake into life is the very stuff that will blossom and give life vitality. To nurture this process, surely, is the task of a real educator.

You will doubtless have heard of those educational ideas already published during the nineteenth century that emphasize the importance of activating a child’s individuality. We are told that, instead of cramming children with knowledge, we should bring out their inherent gifts and abilities. Certainly, no one would wish to denigrate such great geniuses of education. Important things have certainly been said by the science of education. On the other hand, though one can listen carefully to its abstract demands, such as that the individuality of the child should be developed, positive results will be achieved only if one is able to observe, day by day, how a child’s individuality actually unfolds. One must know how, during the first seven years, the principle of imitation rules the day; how, during the following period from the seventh to the fourteenth year, the principle of authority predominates; and how this latter principle is twinned with the child’s gradual transition from mental imagery—which is essentially of a pictorial or symbolic nature and based on memory—to the forming of concepts by the awakening intellect: a process that begins in the eleventh to twelfth year. If we can observe all of this and learn from a spiritual-scientific and artistic way of observing how to respond as a teacher, we shall achieve much more than if we attempt to follow an abstract aim, such as educating a child out of its individuality. Spiritual science does not create abstractions, it does not make fixed demands; rather, it looks toward what can be developed into an art through spiritual perceptiveness and a comprehensive, sharpened sense of observation.

Last time, I was able to describe only briefly the kind of knowledge of the human being given by spiritual science that can form a basis for dealing with such practical matters as education. The pressing demands of society show clearly enough the need for such knowledge today. By complementing the outer, material aspects of life with supersensible and spiritual insights, spiritual science or anthroposophy leads us from a generally unreal, abstract concept of life to a concrete practical reality. According to this view, human beings occupy a central position in the universe. Such realistic understanding of human nature and human activities is what is needed today. Let me reinforce this point with a characteristic example.

Imagine that we wanted to convey a simple religious concept—for instance, the concept of the immortality of the human soul—to a class of young children. If we approach the subject pictorially, we can do this before a child’s ninth year. For example, we can say, “Look at the butterfly’s chrysalis. Its hard shell cracks open and the butterfly flutters out into the air. A similar thing happens when a human being dies. The immortal soul dwells in the body. But, when death breaks it open, just as the butterfly flies from the chrysalis into the air, so the soul flies away from the dead body into the heavenly world, only the human soul remains invisible.”

When we study such an example from the point of view of a living art of education, we come face to face with life’s imponderables. A teacher might have chosen such a comparison by reasoning somewhat as follows: “I am the one who knows, for I am much older than the child. I have thought out this picture of the caterpillar and the butterfly because of the child’s ignorance and immaturity. As someone of superior intelligence, I have made the child believe something in which I myself do not believe. In fact, from my own point of view, it was only a silly little story, invented solely for the purpose of getting the child to understand the concept of the immortality of the soul.” If this is a teacher’s attitude, he or she will achieve but little. Although to say this might sound paradoxical in our materialistic age, it is nevertheless true: if teachers are insincere, their words do not carry much weight.

To return to our example. If Waldorf teachers had chosen this comparison for their classes, the situation, though outwardly similar, would have been very different. For they would not have used it—nor, for that matter, any other picture or simile—unless they were convinced of its inherent truth. A Waldorf teacher, an anthroposophically oriented spiritual researcher, would not feel, “I am the intelligent adult who makes up a story for the children’s benefit,” but rather: “The eternal beings and powers, acting as the spiritual in nature, have placed before my eyes a picture of the immortal human soul, objectively, in the form of the emerging butterfly. Believing in the truth of this picture with every fibre of my being, and bringing it to my pupils through my own conviction, I will awaken in them a truly religious concept. What matters is not so much what I, as teacher, say to the child, but what I am and what my heartfelt attitude is.” These are the kinds of things that must be taken more and more seriously in the art of education.

You will also understand when I tell you that visitors to our Waldorf school, who come to see the school in action and to observe lessons, cannot see the whole. It is almost as if, for instance, you cut a small piece out of a Rembrandt painting, believing that you could gain an overall impression of the whole picture through it. Such a thing is not possible when an impulse is conceived and practiced as a comprehensive whole—as the Waldorf school is—and when it is rooted in the totality of anthroposophical spiritual science.

You might have been wondering which kind of people would make good teachers in such a school. They are people whose entire lives have been molded by the spiritual knowledge of which I spoke last time. The best way of learning to know the Waldorf school and of becoming familiar with its underlying principles is by gaining knowledge of anthroposophical spiritual science itself at least as a first step. A few short visits in order to observe lessons will hardly convey an adequate impression of Waldorf pedagogy.

Plain speaking in such matters is essential, because it points toward the character of the new spirit that, flowing from the High School of Spiritual Science centered in Dornach, is to enter all practical spheres of life—social, artistic, educational, and so forth.

If you consider thoroughly all that I have been telling you, you will no longer think it strange that those who enter more deeply into the spirit underlying this art of education find it absolutely essential to place themselves firmly upon the ground of a free spiritual life. Because education has become dependent on the state on the one hand and on the economic sphere on the other, there is a tendency for it to become abstract and programmatic. Those who believe in the anthroposophical way of life must insist on a free and independent cultural-spiritual life. This represents one of the three branches of the threefold social order about which I wrote in my book The Threefold Commonwealth.

One of the demands that must be made for spiritual life—something that is not at all utopian, that may be begun any day—is that those actively engaged in spiritual life (and this means, above all, those involved in its most important public domain; namely, education) should also be entrusted with all administrative matters, and this in a broad and comprehensive way.

The maximum number of lessons to be taught—plus the hours spent on other educational commitments—should allow teachers sufficient time for regular meetings, in both smaller and larger groups, to deal with administrative matters. However, only practicing teachers—not former teachers now holding state positions or retired teachers—should be called on to care for this side of education. For what has to be administered in each particular school—as in all institutions belonging to the spiritual-cultural life—should be only a continuation of what is being taught, of what forms the content of every word spoken and every deed performed in the classroom. Rules and regulations must not be imposed from outside the school. In spiritual life, autonomy, self-administration, is essential.

I am well aware that people who like to form logical “quickly tailored” concepts, as well as others who, somewhat superficially, favor a more historical perspective, will readily object to these ideas. But in order to recognize the necessity of making spiritual- cultural life into a free and independent member of the social organism, one really must be acquainted with its inherent nature. Anyone who has been a teacher at a working-class adult education center for several years—as I was in the school founded by Wilhelm Liebknecht, thereby gaining first-hand experience of the social question—knows only too well that this is not merely a matter of improving external arrangements or of dealing with dissatisfaction caused by unjust outer conditions. As I say, if one has taught in such circles, one knows that one word comes up repeatedly in proletarian circles, but extends far beyond proletarian life, namely, the word “ideology,” the meaning of which is set out in the first chapter of The Threefold Commonwealth. Now, what is hidden behind this?

Long ago, in the ancient East, people spoke of the great illusion or “maya.” According to this view—already decadent today and hence unsuited to our Western ways—maya refers to the external sensory world which offers us only semblance or outer appearance. To ancient sages, true reality of being—the reality that sustained human beings—lived and grew in the soul. All else, all that the outer senses beheld, was only maya.

We live today in an age that expresses—especially in its most radical philosophies—a total reversal of this ancient view. For most people today true reality resides in outer, physical nature and in the processes of production, while what can be found inwardly in the human soul as morality, art, religion, knowledge is maya, illusion. If we want to translate the word maya correctly, we must translate it as “ideology.” For modern humanity, all other translations fail. But ideology refers to exactly the opposite of what maya was for the ancient oriental. The widest circles of the population today call maya what the ancient oriental called the sole reality. And this reversal of the word’s meaning is of great significance for life today.

I have known people of the leading classes who lived under the influence of the philosophy that gave rise to ideology. I have learned to know the perplexity of people who reasoned thus: if we trust what natural science tells us, the entire origin of the cosmos can be traced to a primeval nebula. According to these theories, all of the different species of nature began during this stage. At that time, too, human beings densified out of the nebula. And, while this process continued, something not unlike soap bubbles unfolded in the human soul. According to natural science, what rises in the human soul as ethics, religion, science or art, does not represent reality. Indeed, if we look toward the end of earthly evolution as it is presented by science, all that is offered is the prospect of an immense cemetery. On earth, death would follow, due either to general glaciation, or to total annihilation by heat. In either case, the result would be a great cemetery for all human ideals—for everything considered to be the essence of human values and the most important aspect of human existence. If we are honest in accepting what natural science tells us—such people had to conclude—then all that remains is only a final extinction of all forms of existence.

I have witnessed the sense of tragedy and the deep-seated pain in the souls of such materialistically minded members of today’s leading circles, who could not escape the logical conclusions of the natural-scientific outlook and who were consequently forced to look on all that is most precious in the human beings as mere illusion. In many people, I have seen this pessimism, which was a result of their honest pursuit of the natural-scientific conception of the world.

This attitude took a special form in the materialism of the working class. There, everything of a spiritual nature is generally looked upon as a kind of a superstructure, as mere smoke or fog; in a word, as “ideology”. And what enters and affects the soul condition of modern people in this way is the actual source of the contemporary anti-social sentiment—however many other reasons might be constantly invented and published. They amount only to a form of self deception. It is the influence of this attitude which is the real origin of the dreadful catastrophes that are dawning—undreamt of by most people—in the whole East. So far, they have started in Russia, where they have already assumed devastating proportions. They will assume even greater dimensions unless steps are taken to replace an ideology by a living grasp of the spirit.

Anthroposophical spiritual science gives us not only ideas and concepts of something real but also ideas and concepts by which we know that we are not just thinking about something filled with spirit. Spiritual science gives us the living spirit itself, not just spirit in the form of thoughts. It shows human beings as beings filled with living spirit—just like the ancient religions. Like the ancient religions, the message of spiritual science is not just “you will know something,” but “you will know something, and divine wisdom will thereby live in you. As blood pulses in you, so by true knowing will divine powers too pulse in you.” Spiritual science, as represented in Dornach, wishes to bring to humanity precisely such knowledge and spiritual life.

To do so, we need the support of our contemporaries. Working in small ways will not lead to appropriate achievements. What is needed is work on a large scale. Spiritual science is free from sectarianism. It has the will to carry out the great tasks of our times, including those in the practical spheres of life. But to bring this about, spiritual science must be understood in a living way by contemporary society. It is not enough to open a few schools here and there, modeled on the Waldorf school, as some people wish. This is not the way forward, for it will not lead to greater freedom in spiritual life.

Often, I have had to suffer the painful experience of witnessing the conduct of certain people who, because of their distrust in orthodox, materialistic medicine, approached me, trying to tempt me into quackery. They wanted to be cured by creeping through the back door, as it were. I have experienced it to the point of revulsion. There was, for instance, a Prussian government official, who publicly supported materialistic medicine in parliament, granting it sole rights, only to enter by the back door to be treated by the very people whom he had opposed most violently in parliament.

The Anthroposophical Society—which could, from a certain point of view, be justly described as willing to make sacrifices and whose members have dedicated themselves to the cultivation of anthroposophical spiritual science—seeks a powerful impetus, capable of affecting and working into the world at large. What is at issue today is nothing less than the following—that a true spiritual life, such as our present society needs, can be created only by those interested in it, which fundamentally includes everyone, many of whom have children, and that these must bring about the right conditions in which children can mature into free human beings so that those children, in turn, can create an existence worthy of humanity. As far as spiritual- cultural life is concerned, everyone is an interested party and should do his or her share to work for what the future will provide in the form of spiritual-cultural life.

Thus, what I would like to call “a world school movement,” based on the ideas I have put forward today, should meet with approval in the widest quarters. What really ought to happen is that all those who can clearly see the need for a free spiritual-cultural life should unite to form an international world school movement. An association of that kind would offer a stronger and more-living impetus for uniting nations than many other associations being founded these days on the basis of old and abstract principles. Such a union of nations, spiritually implied in a world school movement, could be instrumental in uniting peoples all over the globe by their participation in this great task. The modern state school system superseded the old denominational schools relatively recently. It was good and right that this happened. And yet, what was a blessing at the time when the state took this step would cease to be one if state-controlled education were to become permanent; for then, inevitably, education would become the servant of the state. The state can train theologians, lawyers, or other professionals to become its civil servants, but if the spiritual life is to be granted full independence, all persons in a teaching capacity must be responsible solely to the spiritual world, to which they can look up in the light of anthroposophically oriented spiritual science.

A world school movement, as I envisage it, would have to be founded on an entirely international basis by all who understand the meaning of a truly free spiritual life and what our human future demands in social questions. Gradually, such a world school movement would give birth to the general opinion that schools must be granted independence from the state and that the teachers in each school must be given the freedom to deal with that school’s own administration. We must not be narrow minded or pedantic in these matters, as many are who doubt that enough parents would send their children to such schools. That is the wrong kind of thinking. One must be clear that freedom from state interference in education will be the call of the future. Even if there are objections from some parents, ways and means will have to be found for getting children to attend school without coercion by the state. Instead of opposing the founding of independent schools because of dissenting parents, ways and means will have to be found of helping free schools to come into existence despite possible opposition or criticisms—which must then be overcome in an appropriate way. I am convinced that the founding of a world school movement is of the greatest importance for the social development of humanity. Far and wide, it will awaken a sense for a real and practical free spiritual life. Once such a mood becomes universal, there will be no need to open Waldorf schools tucked away in obscure corners and existing at the mercy of governments, but governments will be forced into recognizing them fully and refraining from any interference, as long as these schools are truly founded in a free spiritual life.

What I have said so far about freedom in the cultural-spiritual sphere of life—namely that it has to create its own forms of existence—applies equally to the social sphere known by spiritual science as the sphere of economic life. Just as the sphere of cultural spiritual life must be formed on the basis of the capacities of every individual, so too must economic life be formed on the basis of its own principles, different though these are. Fundamentally, such economic principles derive from the fact that, in economics, a judgment made by an individual cannot be translated directly into deeds, into economic actions. In the cultural-spiritual sphere, we recognize that human souls strive for wholeness, for inner harmony. Teachers and educators must take that wholeness into account. They approach a child with that wholeness as their aim. In the economic sphere, on the other hand, we can be competent in a professional sense only in narrower, more specialized areas. In economics, therefore, it is only when we join together with people working in other areas that something fruitful may be achieved. In other words, just as free spiritual-cultural life emerged as one member of the threefold social organism, so likewise must economic life, based upon the associative principle, arise as another, independent member of this same threefold organism. In the future, economic life will be run on a basis quite different from what we are used to out of the past.

Economic life today is organized entirely according to past practices, for there is no other yardstick for earnings and profits. Indeed, people are not yet ready to contemplate a change in the economic system which is still entirely motivated by profit. I would like to clarify this by an example that, though perhaps not yet representing purely and simply the economic sphere, nevertheless has its economic aspects. It shows how the associative principle can be put into practice in the material realm.

There is, as you know, the Anthroposophical Society. It might well be that there are many people who are not particularly fond of it and regard it as sectarian, which it certainly is not. Or they may be under the impression that it dabbles in nebulous mysticism, which again is not the case. Rather, it devotes itself to the cultivation of anthroposophical spiritual science. Many years ago, this Society founded the Philosophic- Anthroposophic Publishing Company in Berlin. To be exact, two people who were in harmony with the Anthroposophical Society’s mode of thinking founded it. This publishing company, however, does not work as other profit-making companies, which are the offspring of modern economic thinking, do. And how do these profit-making enterprises work? They print books. This means that so and so many people have to be employed for processing paper; so and so many compositors, printers, bookbinders; and so on. But now I ask you to look at those strange and peculiar products that make their appearance every year and which are called “crabs” in the book trade. These are newly printed books, which have not been purchased by the book sellers and which, consequently, at the next Easter Fair wander back to the publishers to be pulped. Here we have a case where wares have been put on the market, the production of which had occupied a whole host of workers, but all to no avail.

Such unnecessary and purposeless expenditure of labor represents one important aspect of the social question. Nowadays, because one prefers to live with phrases rather than an objective understanding, there is too much talk about “unearned income.” It would be better to look at the situation more realistically, for similar situations arise in all branches of our external, material life. Until now, the Philosophic-Anthroposophic Publishing Company has not printed one single copy in vain. At most, there are a few books that were printed out of courtesy to our members. That was our conscious motive; they were printed as a kind of offering to those members. Otherwise there was always a demand for whatever we printed. Our books always sold out quickly and nothing was printed unnecessarily. Not a single worker’s time was wasted and no useless labor was performed within the social framework. A similar situation could be achieved in the whole economic sphere if one organized cooperation between consumers who have an understanding of needs and demands in a particular domain, traders who trade in certain products, and last, the actual producers. Consumers, traders, and producers would form an association whose main task would be the fixing of prices. Such associations would have to determine their own size; if they grew too large, they would no longer be cost effective. Such associations could then unite to form larger associations. They could expand into what might be called global or world-economic associations—for the characteristic feature of recent economics is its expansion of economies into a world economy.

A great deal more would have to be said to give an adequate account of what I can indicate here only in principle. I must, however, say that the concept of associative life implies nothing organizational. In fact, although I come from Germany (and have lived there frequently even though my main sphere of activity is now Dornach, Switzerland) the mere word “organization” produces a thoroughly distasteful effect in me. “Organization” implies an ordering from above, from a center. This is something that economic life cannot tolerate. Because the Middle-European states, penned in between the West and the East, were trying to plan their economies, they were actually working against a healthy form of economic life. The associative principle which must be striven for in economics leaves industry, as also industrial cooperatives, to their own devices. It only links them together according to levels of production and consumption regulated by the activity of the administrators of the various associations. This is done through free agreements among single individuals or various associations.

A more detailed description of this subject can be found in my book The Threefold Commonwealth, or in other of my writings, such as The Renewal of the Social Organism, which is supplementary to The Threefold Commonwealth.

Thus, in order to meet the needs of our times, anthroposophical spiritual science, based on practical life experience, calls for two independent members of the social organism—a free spiritual life and an associative economic life. Those two are essential in the eyes of anyone seriously and honestly concerned about one of the fundamental longings in the hearts of our contemporaries; namely, the longing for democracy.

Dear friends, I spent the first half of my life in Austria—thirty years—and have seen with my own eyes what it means not to take seriously society’s heartfelt demand for democracy. In the 1860s, the call for parliamentarianism was heard in Austria, too. But because it could not bring about the right social conditions, this land of political experimentation was the first to go under in the last great World War. A parliament was formed. But how was it constituted? It was composed of four assemblies: landowners, the chamber of commerce, the department of towns, markets and industrial areas, and, finally, the assembly of country parishes. In other words, only economic interests were represented. There were thus four departments, each dealing with various aspects of the national economy. Together, they constituted the Austrian Parliament, where they were supposed to come to decisions regarding political and legal matters as well as matters pertaining to general affairs of the state. This means that all decisions, reached by majority vote, represented only economic interests. Such majorities, however, can never make fruitful contributions to the social development of humanity. Nor are they the outcome of any expert knowledge. Truly, the call for democracy, for human freedom, demands honesty.

At the same time, however, one must also be clear that only certain issues are suitable for parliamentary procedures, and that democracy is appropriate only when the issues treated lie within the areas of responsibility of each person of voting age. Thus, between free spiritual life on one side and associative economic life on the other, the sphere of democracy becomes the third member of the threefold social organism. This democratic sphere represents the political sphere of rights within the social organism. Here each individual meets the other on equal terms. For instance, in such questions as the number of working hours and the rights of workers in general, each person of age must be considered competent to judge.

Let us move toward a future in which questions of cultural and spiritual life are decided freely and entirely within their own sphere, a future in which freedom in education is striven for so that schools can work out of the spirit and, consequently, produce skillful, practical people. Then, practical schools, too, will develop from such a free spiritual life. Let us move toward a future in which spiritual life is allowed to work within its own sphere and in which the powers of the state are limited to what lies within the areas of responsibility of each person of voting age; a future in which economic life is structured according to the principle of associations, where judgments are made collectively on the strength of the various members’ expertise and where agreements are made with others who are experts in their fields. If we approach the future with these aims in mind, we shall move toward a situation that will be very different from what many people, unable to adapt themselves to new conditions, imagine today.

There will be many who believe that a nebulous kind of cultural spiritual life, alienated from ordinary life, emanates from Dornach. But such is not the case at all. However absurd it may sound, according to the spirit prevailing in Dornach, no one can be a proper philosopher who does not also know how to chop wood or dig potatoes. In short, according to this spirit, one cannot be a philosopher if one cannot turn a hand to tasks requiring at least a modicum of practical skill. Spiritual science does not estrange people from practical life; on the contrary, it helps them develop skills in coping with life. It is not abstract. It is a reality, penetrating human beings with real strength. It therefore not only increases people’s thinking activity, it also makes them generally more skillful. At the same time, spiritual science is intimately connected to a sense of inner dignity and morality; that is, to morality, religion, and art. Visitors to the Goetheanum can convince themselves of this—although the building is not finished yet by any means. Indeed, in order to bring it even into its present state, people with an understanding for the impulse it embodies have already made many sacrifices. The Goetheanum is not a result of our employing the services of an architect and a builder to erect a building in a more or less conventional style—be it in Gothic, Renaissance, or any other style. The living quality of the science of the spirit spoken of here could not have tolerated that. Spiritual science had to evolve its own style in keeping with its own nature. This manifests in the various artistic forms. Just as the same growth forces that produce a nut’s kernel also form its shell—for the shell can be formed only by the same principle as also works in the kernel—so the outer shell of our building, the center of what is being willed in Dornach, can arise only from the same spiritual sources from which all of the teaching and researching in Dornach also flows. The words spoken there and the results of research conducted there all proceed from the same sources as the artistic forms of the building’s pillars and the paintings inside the cupolas. All of the sculpture, architectural design, and painting—and these are not empty symbolism or allegories—arise from the same spiritual impulses that underlie all of the teaching and researching. And, because all this is part of the one cultural-spiritual life that we hope to quicken in the human being, the third, religious element, is closely linked to the arts and to science, forming a unity with them.

In other words, what we are striving for as spiritual science—as it enters into the practical spheres of life as the “threefolding” (or tripartition) of the social organism—brings to realization the three great ideals that resound from the eighteenth century in such a heart-rending, spirit-awakening way. I refer to the threefold call to humanity: freedom, equality, brotherhood. Learned people in the nineteenth century pointed out repeatedly that it was impossible for those three ideals to be put into practice simultaneously under any one state or government. Such was their considered opinion and, from their point of view, justifiably so. But the apparent incongruity rests on false premises. Freedom, equality, and brotherhood do resound to us from the eighteenth century as the three great and justly-claimed ideals. The source of misunderstanding is the tacit assumption that the state must be given sole prerogative in matters pertaining to all three spheres of society. The thought never occurred that, in accord with its own nature, such a monolithic state should be membered into three social organisms: the free spiritual organism; the organism representing the sphere of politics and rights, built on equality; and the organism of the economic sphere, built on the principle of association.

Objections have been raised against these views by people who expect to be taken seriously in social questions and who maintain that, by demanding a tripartition of society, I seek to destroy its unity. But the unity of the human organism is not destroyed because it naturally consists of three parts. Nor is the unity of the human being disturbed because the blood, as it circulates rhythmically through the body, is sustained by a part of the organism different from the one in which the nerves are centered. Likewise, the unity of the social organism is enhanced rather than disturbed by recognition of its threefold nature (if the human head, apart from sending forth the nerves, would also have to produce the blood, then the unity of the human organism would certainly be destroyed). All of this is explained in much greater detail in my book Riddles of the Soul.

I would like to conclude these considerations about spiritual science and its practical application in social life by pointing out that, although the three great ideals of humanity—liberty, equality, fraternity—are not realizable within the framework of an all-powerful state monopoly—where any attempted implementation would be founded upon illusion—they can nevertheless penetrate human life in the form of a threefold ordering of society. Here, the following order would prevail: full freedom in the cultural-spiritual sphere; equality in the realm where each person of voting age shares in democratic rights and responsibilities on equal terms with fellow citizens of voting age; and brotherhood in the economic sphere which will be realized by means of the principle of associations. Unity will not be destroyed by this ordering, for every human being stands in all three spheres, forming a living link toward unity.

Basically, one may consider the meaning of world evolution to reside in the fact that the particular ways of its working and its underlying forces culminate in the human being as the apex of the entire world organism. Just as the forces of nature and the entire cosmos—the macrocosm—are to be found again on a minute scale in the microcosm, in the threefold human being, so the great ideals—liberty, equality, and fraternity—must come together again in the social organism. But this must not be brought about by external or abstract means: it must proceed in accordance with reality, so that these three ideals can work in harmony with the human nature in its integral unity. As free individuals, every human being can share in the free spiritual life to which all belong. Sharing equal rights with our fellow citizens, we can all participate in the democratic life of the state, based on the principle of equality. Finally, by participating in economic life, we share in the brotherhood of all human beings.

Liberty in the cultural spiritual sphere; equality in political life and the sphere of rights; fraternity in economic life. These three working together harmoniously will lead to the healing and further evolution of humanity—to new resources in the struggle against the forces of decline.

A combination of these three in a genuine social organism, a concurrence of freedom, equality, and brotherhood in integral human nature—this appears to be the magical password for the future of humanity.