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Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy I
GA 304

III. Knowledge of Health and Illness in Education

26 September 1921, Dornach

The education that has arisen from the whole anthroposophical understanding of the world—which is being put into practice in the Waldorf school in Stuttgart and other, smaller schools organized on the same principles—has to be far more comprehensive than the forms of education usual today. Above all, it has to be far more closely linked to knowledge of human beings as a whole. Once what we call anthroposophical education is properly understood, we will speak of it not so much as an objective pedagogical science or art but rather, and more importantly, as a way of understanding the whole human being. We shall speak of it in terms of the growing, unfolding child who is to be educated. And we shall know more about what one human being can mean to another and particularly what the teacher means to the pupil.

The important relationship of one human being to another existing between teacher and pupil has suffered from the tendency toward specialization that has increasingly entered all work and striving in the cultural-spiritual sphere in recent times. Specialization has gone so far that it is now believed that it is not only teachers who should influence the growing child. Since schools have to deal with the healthy or unhealthy ways in which children develop, it is now thought that the physician too should exert an influence in school. And, in most recent times, it is even considered necessary for a qualified psychologist, who has acquired specialized knowledge of the human soul by the usual methods, to be present to advise the teachers. We thus see teachers receiving advice from medical doctors on one side and from psychologists on the other. This is nothing but an introduction of specialization into the life of the school.

But if we understand correctly the close relationship that has to form between the teacher and the child who is to be educated, and understand how intimately the teacher must know what is actually happening in the growing child, then we can hardly favor such superficial forms of cooperation among people who are thrown together only by outward circumstances, each understanding only one aspect of human development. We will not think it helpful that such persons should contribute their advice in order to bring about an external form of cooperation. What is emerging here, then, is but a consequence of specialization as such. Of course, those who believe that the human soul has only an external relationship to the physical, bodily organism might believe that it is the teacher’s task to deal only with the child’s soul and that the doctor is there to give advice regarding the physical aspect of education.

It goes without saying that, though I shall speak of the importance of the teacher’s knowledge of health and illness in education, I am not referring to acute or chronic illnesses in pupils. Naturally, medical treatment in such cases lies outside the province of education. In what follows, therefore, I shall confine myself to what belongs to the general field of education. I must here state clearly that, if people believe that the doctor, as a specialist, must assist the teachers in matters of hygiene in a school, then they are encouraging a tendency to one-sidedness in the principles and the practice of education: they are separating and alienating from each other two sides of what constitute a natural whole in childhood—children’s souls and spirits on one hand and their physical-bodily nature on the other.

Depending in this way on the help of specialists—leaving physical questions in the hands of the specialists—drives educational theory and practice into abstraction. Confirming this tendency, matters have now gone so far that great surprise is shown in many quarters when one fails to conform one’s pedagogy and actual teaching to the usual abstract rules and regulations, but rather adapts them to conform to the totality of the human being, which naturally also includes the physical aspects. This aberration, as I may call it, is due to the fact that science nowadays no longer has any clear understanding of the relationship of soul and spirit to the physical-bodily aspect—if science speaks of soul and spirit as having any independent existence at all.

Clear evidence of this is shown by contemporary psychology’s frequent references to a “psycho-physical parallelism.” Psychologists feel that they must speak about human soul and spirit; but they also feel it necessary to speak about the physical aspects of the human being. However, since they no longer recognize the living interplay between soul and spirit and body, they speak of “parallelism”—as if there were spiritual phenomena on one side and, beside them, physical and bodily phenomena on the other, the two running side by side. But the way in which those two interact and interweave is naturally altogether neglected.

This external way of looking at the relationship between soul-spiritual and bodily aspects of the human being has slowly colored the theory and practice of education. Here one thing must be made clear. This is something that I can describe only by referring to anthroposophy in general. I refer to the fact that if we speak of the bodily, physical aspect of a living human being as contemporary physiology and biology do, then we are speaking about something that, in reality, does not exist in the form in which we are speaking of it—because the entire physical part of a human being is a result, a synthesis of the soul and spiritual aspects.

Furthermore, if we speak about soul and spirit in the abstract, we are not speaking about something real either. Soul and spirit live in the living human being where they permeate, build up, and shape the physical body. This means that it is not possible to speak of the relationship of soul and spirit to the physical body in general terms. Once we can see soul and spirit in their configuration—not merely in the abstract, but as they are inwardly structured—we know that every detail of soul and spirit is related in a specific way to every detail of our bodily and physical nature. If, for example, we observe the process of seeing, we find its physical and bodily location isolated in the human head, and can study the process of seeing by studying its localized organs in the head. But we find a different situation if we study the process of hearing. To study hearing, we must also study the rhythmic system. In fact, to understand the process of hearing, we must begin with the process of breathing. One cannot study hearing as if its seat were localized, isolated, in the head, as is often done in today’s abstract physiology. The same principle holds good for the whole of physiology. We must relate soul and spirit to definite organic systems when we study them. This means that a real understanding of soul and spirit is quite impossible without knowledge of the bodily and physical nature and vice versa. Comprehensive knowledge of physical nature is knowledge of soul and spirit. Although from the present-day perspective what is soul¦-spiritual and what is physical appear to part company, at most running parallel to each other, we must strive for a way of knowing that unites the soul-spiritual and physical-bodily natures in the living human being.

Members of this audience who have come to listen to these lectures because of their interest in anthroposophy know that here we do not speak of soul and spirit abstractly or theoretically. They know that in anthroposophy, knowledge of soul and spirit is truly experienced and fully and intimately interwoven with knowledge of the physical-bodily aspects.

Now, once we consider the bodily and physical aspects of the human being, we are immediately faced with the question of the relationship of health and illnesses. Extreme cases of illness, as I said, certainly do not belong to the field of education. Yet the manifold tendencies toward illness to be found in 1,001 different ways in a so-called healthy human being constitutes an area that ought to be known thoroughly by those who wish to become educators. This is an extremely important area of pedagogical knowledge. In order to make clear what I mean, let me refer to a very important concept in Goethe’s world-view.

In his theory of metamorphosis, Goethe tried to gain an understanding of organic life. And his achievements in the field of metamorphosis will certainly find greater and more unprejudiced approval in the future than has been the case so far, because present trends in science have often gone in the direction opposite to Goethe’s approach. To take the simplest example, Goethe observed how, when leaf upon leaf develops along the stem of a plant, each successive leaf, which shows a different shape from the leaf below, is in fact nothing but a metamorphosis of the lower leaf. According to Goethe, the separate organs of the plant—the simpler, lower leaves, then the more complicated leaves on the stem, followed by the sepals which again are shaped quite differently from the leaves, and the petals which have even a different color from that of the leaves on the stem—all differ outwardly in form but inwardly follow the same underlying pattern. In other words, an identical idea assumes manifold forms and designs in outer appearance.

This insight allowed Goethe to see the whole plant in the leaf and, likewise, only complex variations of a single leaf in the whole plant. For Goethe, each leaf is a whole plant. The idea of the plant, the type of the plant—the archetypal plant—assumes a definite form in outward physical appearance; it becomes simplified, and so on. Goethe said that, when it produces a leaf, the stem really wants to grow a whole plant. The inherent tendency to do this definitely exists, but the force that could produce a plant develops only to a limited degree; it is held back in the leaf. And, in the next leaf, it unfolds again only to a limited degree, and so on. In each leaf, a whole plant wants to unfold—the formative force strives to become a whole plant—but, in each case, only a fragment of a plant comes into existence. Yet the whole plant exists. It is a reality. And this invisible whole plant holds together in harmony what strives to become many different plants. Every plant wants to become many plants but does not succeed, developing only a limited formation, an organ. And every organ really wants to become an entire plant with the task of balancing the various individual, fragmentary formations for the sake of a greater harmony. This picture of metamorphosis shows us a force working developmentally in each individual organ, while limiting each organ’s developmental growth and integrating the individual organs to form the overall whole of the complete plant.

Now, Goethe was never interested in formulating abstract concepts. He did not, for instance, coin an abstract concept such as, “one sees single, fragmentary plants wanting to develop and the unifying plant that holds them all together.” That would be an abstraction. Goethe wants to know how the plant-forming force works. He wants to learn what it is that shapes itself in this way and, above all, what holds itself back in a single leaf. He wants to get a clear picture of this; he does not want to remain with only a concept. He wants to reach a living picture. Hence, what he called the “malformations” or “monstrosities” of a plant assumed great importance for him—such as when, on a definite part of a plant where one would expect to find a leaf, there is no leaf but the stem instead thickens and a malformation occurs; or when a blossom, instead of rounding itself off into petals, grows slim; and so on.

Goethe concluded that, where malformations occur in a plant, the plant-forming force reveals outwardly what it was meant to hold back. Where a leaf shows a malformation, that force was not held back but shot directly into the leaf. From this, Goethe realized that, when a malformation occurs, something that really belongs to the spiritual realm becomes physical. We see something become visible that was meant to be held back as a growth force. Hence, there is material for study in malformations, for malformations allow us to see what is active in the plant. Where such malformations do not occur, something is restrained that reveals itself later in the subsequent leaves or the other organs that follow.

For Goethe, then, malformations assume a special significance, extending to the study of the whole organism. In this sense, we are following in Goethe’s footsteps when we consider, for instance, a hydrocephalic child, suffering from dropsy of the brain. Here, we have a malformation. Goethe would say, “If rightly studied, this malformation shows me something that exists as a tendency in every child’s head but is normally held back within the spiritual sphere. Therefore, if such a malformation occurs, I can conclude that something is revealed there in the physical, sense-perceptible world that really belongs rightly to the soul-spiritual realm.”

If we now look at a human being or an animal, we find not only such outwardly perceptible malformations but also illnesses or at least tendencies toward illnesses. According to Goethe’s view, each illness reveals something living in each human being that develops one-sidedly—like a malformation—while it ought to be held back within the entire organic system. Instead of remaining within the spiritual sphere, it strikes through into an external manifestation. We can say that, if we detect a tendency toward a certain illness somewhere, that very tendency reveals something of special significance regarding the human organization. Hence, when we understand illnesses, we really have a chance to study the human spirit by means of them, just as Goethe studied malformations to understand plant types and the archetypal plant. It is of greatest significance to be able to look at the more subtle weaknesses in each child, those subtle tendencies that do not deteriorate into gross illnesses but manifest as predispositions toward one or the other extreme, becoming illnesses there. This is a kind of outer indication of what is at work in every healthy human being. We could almost say that there is a hidden hydrocephaloid in every child. We must be able therefore to study hydrocephalic children in order to discover how to treat what has worked (like a malformation) too far into the physical sphere from the soul spiritual sphere in which it belongs. Naturally, this is something that must be treated with great scientific delicacy; it is not something to be coarsely interpreted. Considerable tact and careful, precise, scientific discrimination are needed here. For we are dealing with something at work in human beings, manifesting in this case as an illness but which, if it remains in its own proper inner sphere, belongs with children’s normal developmental forces.

Since a child undergoes a constant process of growth and has tendencies toward all kinds of illness, you yourselves will be able to appreciate how, with the necessary knowledge of where those tendencies might lead, we can also become capable of harmonizing them, of calling forth counterforces when there is a danger of a child’s falling into imbalance.

There is another point to be considered. Usually, when people talk of the theory and the practice of education, they feel that they must uphold an ideal that they can then elaborate in great theoretical detail. This approach, however, can lead to rigid forms and fixed claims. When one has to deal with pedagogical questions and when, as I was for instance, one is asked to guide the Waldorf school, a thought strikes one again and again. On the whole, audiences like to hear talks about education which seem to make sense to them. People like such talks. And, indeed, anyone who is scrupulously honest—and anthroposophy must always be scrupulously honest—can’t help feeling: “There certainly is a need for our new education.” And people, hearing about it, come and say, “This is wonderful. If only we could have gone to a school like the Waldorf school!” But, so often, the very people who want to pioneer educationally in this new way are the very ones who had to go through the worst forms of education themselves. They may have had to put up with the worst, most corrupt forms of education in their own schooling. And yet, in spite of their negative experiences, they are able to call for improved educational systems. Then the idea might strike one: does one really have the right to plan and think out, right down to specific details, how children should be educated? Would it not be better by far to let them grow up wild, as many biographies testify, telling us of persons who were not pressed into any particular educational mold, but nevertheless matured into most capable and responsible people? Do we not sin against the growing child if we present a pedagogical system that has been worked out down to the finest detail?

You see how you have to weigh everything in your mind, and, if you do so, how you will find your way into the kind of education that talks less about how various details should be dealt with and is concerned primarily with giving the teachers the means of gaining the intimate relationship to the child of which I have spoken.

To achieve this, something else is needed. When we receive a child into our school, we are expected to teach and train the youngster. We introduce all kinds of activities, such as writing, reading, and arithmetic, but really we are assaulting the child’s nature. Suppose that we are to give reading lessons. If taught in the traditional way, they are certainly onesided, for we make no appeal to the child’s whole being. Essentially, we are actually cultivating a malformation, even a predisposition toward illness. And, when teaching writing, we are cultivating a tendency toward illness in another direction. In teaching young children, we are making assaults on them all of the time, even if this is not always evident because the illness lies hidden and dormant. Nevertheless, we have to make continual attacks upon the children. At our stage of civilization there is no other way. But we must find ways and means of making amends for those continual assaults on our children’s health. We must be clear that arithmetic represents a malformation, writing a second malformation, and reading a third malformation, not to speak of history or geography! There is no end to it and it leads us into a real quandary. To balance out those malformations, we must constantly provide what will make good the damage; we must harmonize what has been disturbed in the child. It is most important to be aware of the fact that, on one hand, we must teach children various subjects but that, on the other, we must ensure that, when we do so, we are not hurting them. The right method in education therefore asks: How do I heal the child from the attacks which I continually inflict? Awareness of this must be present in every right form of education.

But this awareness is possible only if we have insight into the whole human organization and really understand the conditions of that organization. We can be proper teachers and educators only if we can grasp the principle of the inflicting of malformations and their subsequent harmonization. For we can then face a child with the assurance that, whatever we are doing when teaching a subject and thereby attacking one or other organic system, we can always find ways and means of balancing the ill effects of leading the child into one-sidedness.

This is one realistic principle and method in our education that teachers can use and that will make them into people who know and understand human nature. Teachers, if they are able to know the human being as a whole, including the inherent tendencies toward health and illness, can gradually develop this ability.

Here something arises that contemporary, more materialist medicine might well consider to lie outside its province. However, it immediately gains in importance as soon as we look at growing human beings from the point of view of predisposition toward illness, or—if I make this remark somewhat prematurely—of a predisposition toward health. For then it flows into our educational philosophy of the human being.

Today, health and illness are considered polar opposites: a person is either healthy or ill. But, if we go to the root of the matter, the actual situation is not that at all. Health and illness do not represent opposing poles, for the opposite of illness is something quite different from health. Everyone has a clear idea of illness. Naturally, it is only an abstract and general concept for, actually, we have to do only with particular cases of illness and ultimately, in fact, only with the individual who is ill. However, we could certainly gain an idea of what illness is if we started from the perspective of malformation and gradually reached a picture of how such malformations came about, at first less noticeably, in an animal or human organism. What occurs in the case of illness is that a single organ, or organic system, no longer operates within the overall general organization but assumes a separate role. This has a complement in the case of a single organ completely merging into the total organization.

Let us consider this in the light of Goethe’s principle. Instead of a healthy leaf growing at a certain point, assume that a malformation occurs. But something else could also happen; namely, that the plant, instead of shooting into an individual organ, develops rather in the direction of the general, underlying tendency that really ought to remain in the spiritual sphere. In that case, the effect is that the single organ, instead of assuming its normal position within the organic whole, disperses its forces into the entire organism. The organ does not sufficiently predominate in the physical realm and consequently the whole thing becomes too spiritual, becomes too spiritualized, and the spiritual permeates the physical too strongly. This is a possibility. The situation, however, can also degenerate in a direction opposite to illness. The opposite polarity of illness consists in the single organ being sucked up, as it were, by the general organism. In human beings this is something that creates a feeling of well-being and sensual bliss. From this point of view, the opposite of illness is what we might call the ensuing overabundant bliss.

Consider the same thing from the perspective of language. If you form a verb from the adjective “sick,” you get the verb “to sicken” [German kranken = to hurt someone’s feelings]. If you take an adjective and a verb expressing the polar opposite [of kranken], you get “pleasant” and the verb, “to please”. Between these two extremes—of feeling ill, or pained and the feeling of well-being or organic bliss—a healthy human being must hold the balance. That is what health really is: holding the balance.

This assumes special significance when we face a growing child. In what condition is the growing child whom we have to teach? Let us take a child who attends primary school; that is, between the change of teeth and puberty. What is the significance of the change of teeth?

I have already described its significance in one of the “academic courses” held here in Dornach: namely, certain forces of growth saturate and form the child’s organism until the second teeth appear. During the first seven years of childhood, the forces that are active in the child’s organism, forming its physical body, behave in a way similar to latent heat when it changes into outwardly perceptible, liberated heat. I showed how what works into the human sphere of soul and spirit as an organizing principle in the physical body is transmuted into human soul and spirit in their own indigenous realm. Once the second teeth have developed, a child no longer needs the forces of growth that have been active previously in the inner organism. With the change of teeth, those forces are liberated, transformed into forces of soul and spirit, and find a healthy life through what we can do when we, as teachers, receive the child into our care.

To put it schematically, we may say that the young child’s physical organism is imbued with a force that organizes it structurally. When the child sheds its milk teeth and reaches school age, that force comes to a natural completion and what had been working previously in the child’s physical organism becomes liberated and reappears metamorphosed in the realm of soul and spirit as forces of ideation, memory, and so on. Once teachers recognize that what they engage in primary education is “liberated soul forces”—comparable to liberated heat—they can begin to understand the inner relationship of soul and spirit with the bodily-physical nature in a new way. That is, for example, whereas these soul forces were previously occupied in the physical body, they are now at our disposal. We can use them to meet the educational demands of contemporary culture. For, after all, we cannot and must not ignore the cultural conditions of our time.

Hence, at this stage we approach the child knowing that, as we receive him or her into our school, something of a soul and spiritual nature is withdrawing from the physical sheaths. We know that a part of this organizing force gradually transforms itself into soul and spirit. And yet, to a certain extent, throughout this transition, this organizing force retains its previous manner of working in the physical body—for the part that is liberated is still accustomed to working in accordance with physical forms. We are not doing the child any good, therefore, if we teach it something totally alien to its nature. We do this, for example, if we begin by teaching the letters of the alphabet. These, in themselves, are alien to the child and, besides, have undergone many changes since the days of pictorial writing.

That is why, in the Waldorf school, we introduce writing on an entirely artistic basis. We do not teach children writing directly, but let them draw and paint fundamental forms so that, through those drawn forms, they can externalize what has been released during the change of teeth. When children move their hands and fingers in drawing and painting, we find that what was weaving in the soul realm is now projected into the whole human being in accordance with the form of the body. By our bringing the child’s hands and fingers into movement in this way, what had been working previously in the soul realm as an organizing principle can continue its activity.

In this way, we become conscious of what we are really dealing with. We are dealing with the fact that, from birth to the change of teeth, a child’s body is still deeply permeated by soul-spiritual forces that, later, free themselves from the physical. Once the soul-spiritual nature withdraws, the physical aspect develops more one-sidedly. Indeed, as far as the physical aspect is concerned, we have here a process similar to those malformations in which the entire plant force shoots into a single organ. In the case of malformations, the result is simply a malformation.

In a human being, the normal course of events is that, at the time of the change of teeth, the physical body becomes separated from the soul-spiritual aspect. When the teeth change, therefore, we are actually dealing with the beginning of processes that, if they were allowed free development in a one-sided way, would become processes of illness. This explains the cause of some illnesses that often accompany the change of teeth. We can now recognize their origin. It is possible to look into the child’s organism with absolute clarity when the milk teeth are being shed. If one does so, one will see that, when the soul and physical natures separate, the physical body tends to become onesided and harden. One can see how the same forces are at work within their higher, normal limits. Should they proliferate, they would lead to processes of illness. In normal processes, there are always subtle ones present that can lead to illness if the separating tendencies are allowed free rein. We may therefore say that when a child acquires second teeth, it is at the threshold of illness. The more we as teachers engage the liberated forces of the child’s soul and spirit—in anthroposophical terminology we call them etheric forces—the greater the healing effect. This is so as long as the activities are suited to the child’s physical nature. By teaching in an artistic way, we have to re-unite a child’s soul and spirit harmoniously with its bodily-physical nature. We must be able to recognize the tendencies toward illness and health in the child’s body, for we must make that body into a fit instrument for what is evolving in the child.

Let us now look at the other end of the primary school, at puberty. There, we find exactly the opposite situation. Whereas, during the second dentition, the soul-spiritual withdraws from the child’s organism, becoming liberated from and abandoning the physical body, during puberty the soul-spiritual nature, which has meanwhile developed, longs to return to the physical body, to permeate and impregnate it. During puberty, there is a submerging of the soul-spiritual nature into the physical body. The body is being saturated and thoroughly permeated by the soul and spirit nature, which works instinctively. It is the reverse process, moving in the direction opposite to that of a state of illness; that is, it tends towards inner wellbeing and, we might say, a feeling of gratification. While teaching the child during the years of primary education, we must continually maintain a balance between what is striving toward the soul-spiritual becoming liberated at the beginning of the second dentition and what is instinctively streaming back from the soul-spiritual sphere into the physical body at puberty. The teacher must always strive toward equilibrium in the child during the coming and going that take place during the whole period between seven and fourteen.

This becomes a particularly important and absorbing task for the teacher between the child’s ninth and tenth years. Because the two streams of forces meet at the half-way stage, the child is then in a condition in which it can develop in all possible directions. Much depends on whether the teacher, as the guide, says the right words to the child, choosing the right moment between the ninth and tenth years, or whether he or she misses this unique moment. Much of great significance for the child’s entire life depends on whether the teacher knows how to meet this challenge between the ninth and tenth years.

Only if one understands the mutual interplay between soul and spirit and the physical body can one really understand the essence of childhood at this age and know how to deal with the child. One cannot talk about education at all without grasping these rising and falling processes, which are one-sided only if we separate them into soul and spirit on one hand and bodily-physical on the other. In reality, they constantly interweave and interpenetrate. We understand the child rightly only if we can see this flowing together of soul-spiritual and bodily-physical as a single unified, coherent process.

What, then, is our task as teachers after the onset of the second dentition? We must continually make sure that the soul and spiritual forces that become liberated are employed in accordance with true human growth and development. In a way, we must “copy” the forces that want to leave the physical organism; we must copy them in the realm of the soul and the spirit in order that, by this means, they can find their right place in human growth and development. In other words, we must know the child and teach in a way that activates the inner harmony of the child’s whole being. We must draw everything out of the child’s inner nature.

As teachers, when pupils approach puberty, we must look for the essence of their being in their letting their soul-spiritual nature submerge into their physical nature. Indeed, our adolescents will develop abnormally if we do not recognize that we must fill their souls and spirits that are submerging into their physical being with an interest for the whole world. If we do not do this, they will become inwardly excitable, nervous, or neurasthenic (not to speak of other abnormalities). As teachers, we must direct our pupils’ interests to the affairs of the wide world, so that our young people can take into their bodily being as much as possible of what links them to the outer world. When a child first enters school, we must know what is striving to be liberated so that we can work on it, but, at the stage of adolescence, we must become “people of the world” in order to know what can interest our adolescent students. By so doing, we can ensure a healthy descent of our teenagers’ souls and spirits, which are about to become submerged in their physical bodies. That will prevent their becoming too strongly absorbed in the flesh and they therefore will not lose themselves narcissistically in pleasure. We should aim at helping them to become persons who live in the world and who are able to become free from too much self-interest. Otherwise, they will become trapped in egotism. We must help them toward a true and harmonious relationship with the world.

These are the kind of things that can show how a method of education arising from a consideration of the whole human being must proceed. Naturally, I could give only brief indications here. It can be quite painful to hear, in response to one’s talking to educationalists and teachers—as happened to me recently—“How strange to hear that medical knowledge also happens to be a part of teaching.” These medical aspects do not “happen” to belong to education; they are an absolutely essential ingredient. Without medical awareness, a healthy pedagogy is unthinkable, for it would become lost in empty abstractions, which are useless when one really has to deal with children.

We know the spirit only if we knows how it works into matter. Spiritual science therefore does not lead into a nebulous “cloud cuckoo-land” but to real insights into the material aspects of life. Those who seek to escape from matter will find no entry into the spirit, but those who recognize the power of the spirit and how it manifests in matter will. This is the only basis for a healthy theory and practice of education. If people would only see how anthroposophical spiritual science seeks to work everywhere in a realistic way and how it is remote from all unhealthy pursuits such as proliferate today in various kinds of mysticism, spiritualism and the like—if people would only recognize how real knowledge of the spirit is a reality and at the same time true knowledge of matter—then they would be able to judge the anthroposophical approach in a healthier manner. For, after all, and one must repeat it, natural science has celebrated its great triumphs in modern times; it has cultivated great and important results for human development. But such science, in reality, is like a study of the human body without a soul or a spirit. Just as the human body makes sense only if the soul is seen as part of it, so natural science is comprehensive only when it is complemented by a science of the spirit.

If one does not know very much about spiritual science, one might not be in a position either to accept or to criticize this statement. Yet, if a person studies specific “chapters” of this science, he or she will come to realize its mission more and more. Especially in the field of education we can see how spiritual science, arriving at universal concepts, gives teachers what they need in school with regard to knowledge of tendencies toward health and sickness. Spiritual science overcomes specialization, fragmentation, and gives teachers what they need to use knowledge of health and illness when they teach children at school. If a doctor had to stand beside the teacher, their cooperation could only be external. A healthy situation is possible only when teachers let their knowledge of health and illness permeate their entire teaching. Such a thing, however, is possible only if a living science, as striven for by anthroposophy, includes knowledge of healthy and sick human beings.

How often have I emphasized that anthroposophical spiritual science addresses itself to the whole human being! In anthroposophy, the whole human being enters into a relationship to what a specific branch of spiritual science can contribute. If teachers are introduced to both healthy and sick development of children in a living way, if they can harmonize those two aspects of child development, then their own feeling life will at once be motivated. They will face each individual child with his or her specific gifts as a whole human being. Even if teachers teach writing in an artistic way, they can still be guiding their children in a one-sided way that comes very close to malformation. But, at the same time, they also stand there as whole human beings, who have a rapport with their children’s whole beings and, in this capacity, as whole human beings, they themselves can be the counterforce to such one-sidedness.

If, as a teacher who has a living relationship with everything that has to do with the human being, I must lead the child in a one-sided way when I teach reading or writing, then I must go about it in such a way that, precisely through leading the child into one-sidedness, I at the same time bring about an inner harmonization of the child’s being. The teacher who always has to work toward the wholeness of all things must stand there as a whole person, whatever subject is taught. There are two things that must always be present in education. On one hand, the goal of each particular subject and, on the other, the 1,001 imponderables which work intimately between one human being and another. If teachers are steeped in knowledge of the human being and the world—and if their knowledge begins to live in them when they face their children—we have a situation similar to that of the plant. As the entire formative force shoots into a single organ in a plant, only to withdraw again in the right way and shoot into another organ, so the teacher holds this totality, this unifying force, in his or her own being, while guiding the child from stage to stage.

Spiritual science can stimulate this way of guiding the child, for spiritual science is related to all branches of outer, natural science in the same way as the soul is related to the human body. And, as, according to the old saying, a healthy soul is to be found in a healthy body, so, too, in and through a healthy science of nature there should be found a healthy science of the spirit, a healthy anthroposophy.


Gifted educators and teachers have an instinctive feeling for what needs to be done with a child upon reaching school age, both in and out of school. But it is not clear to me what the relationship of anthroposophically-based education is toward such instinctive responses to children. I would therefore like to ask whether such pedagogical instincts are frowned on in the Waldorf school or whether, in fact, they have their place within the framework of anthroposophical pedagogy.

I would like to ask how we are to understand children’s illnesses as you have spoken of them. By “illness,” do you mean a condition that orthodox medicine would call a state of illness, or an abnormality of the child’s physical constitution, or perhaps ill humor, grumpiness, or similar disturbances?

Regarding the relationship between pedagogical instincts and what I said today, I would like to make the following observations. In general, the two approaches need not be considered contradictory, but one must be clear about the whole process of human evolution. The farther back we go in human evolution, the more consciousness decreases, until we come to what corresponds to the entirely instinctive mode of behavior of the animal world. The natural course of development in human evolution is a gradual lessening of instinctual life and a gradual supplementing of instinctive behavior by a healthy, conscious grasp of life’s realities. We can see how important it is to bring about this transformation in the right way when we observe how, precisely in our times, previously healthy instincts have to a large extent fallen into disorder. For instance, while we can see quite clearly that children living in the country will grow up harmoniously even without a great deal of schooling, we can also see clearly that if we let city children depend on their instincts or—as has happened—if we seek to guide those instincts according to current pedagogical ideas, we can cause a great deal of harm. Unless, therefore, guided by our inner being, we are moved once more in a safe direction, we will not be able to foster wholesome and healthy conditions simply by calling abstractly for more instinctive ways of living—ways of living that in fact must today be replaced by powers of reasoning and intellect. Certainly, instinctive life still plays its part, but it is more and more on the wane.

To give a striking example, I can recall something that once happened in my presence. This is the kind of situation often encountered nowadays. It certainly took me by surprise. I was invited by a good friend whom, from earlier days of friendship, I knew to be quite a healthy eater—a person who also knew when to stop eating. Once, after an interval of several years, I was invited to his house again. And there, on the table, to my great surprise, I saw a pair of scales, complete with weights, on which he weighed every piece of food that he ate. This was surely clear evidence that, in his case at least, healthy instincts had greatly decreased!

Similar symptoms can also be observed in other life situations—for instance, if one studies the current curricula in our schools. We do not find in our schools the kind of teaching material that, if healthy instincts were working, would be found appropriate for, say, children in their eighth or ninth year. The curriculum is handled there according to quite different criteria—such as abstract rules regarding human and non-human matters. But curriculum—how we plan and work out our ways of education today—has a grave consequence for our children’s health. We must find our way back to a concrete grasp of the interweaving of health-giving and illness-inducing tendencies in the human being. What I mean by health-giving or illness-inducing will become clear in a moment.

Words, such as “ill-humor” and “grumpiness” were mentioned in this regard. Such words land us immediately amid abstractions. This is certainly not what I mean, for we would then be judging a child’s whole soul being abstractly. This is the very thing that a healthy, anthroposophically-based education must overcome. An anthroposophically-based education would make us realize, for example, that when a child suffers from mood disturbances, we are to watch for irregular glandular secretions. The glandular secretions are of far greater significance to us than the outer symptoms of ill humor, which will disappear when we tackle the problem at the source; that is, in the child’s physical organism. What we must do is to look far more deeply into the whole relationship between the child’s soul and spirit on one side and its physical and bodily existence on the other.

As educators dealing with children, teachers are naturally dealing only with inherent tendencies, with nascent states of unhealthy conditions. Teachers deal with subtle, rather than cruder, symptoms. And when such symptoms become pathological, they must be dealt with appropriately. I think it clear from what I have said that, in education, we deal with tendencies toward extremes and with finding ways and means of balancing them.

We have heard that, during puberty, the adolescent is to be brought into contact with the affairs of the world and away from his or her individual spiritual self. What does this mean in concrete terms? What are the teachers supposed to do about it?

I did not say “away from his or her spiritual self.” I weigh my words carefully and what I say surely has a clear meaning. I did not say “away from his or her spiritual self” but simply away from himself or herself; that is, adolescents must be prevented from pressing the spiritual element too strongly into their inner being and thereby experiencing a kind of inner pleasure. At the onset of puberty, we must try to awaken the students’ interest for what is happening in the world. This is a fundamental objective in our curriculum for adolescents. We must awaken a particular interest in such subjects as geography and history—subjects that lead students away from themselves and out into the world. Adolescents need subjects that, because they are totally unconnected with any form of inner brooding, will counteract any too strong preoccupation that they might have with their inner life. It all depends on working out an appropriate curriculum in concrete detail.

(in answer to a further question): I have already indicated that teachers preparing their lessons should seek to work with their pupils’ natural and healthy forces of organic growth. If we know how to study the healthy growth of the human organism, we also know that implicit in different physical forms is a constant inner striving toward movement. For instance, if we look at the human hand without preconceptions, we can see that its form really makes little sense in the state of rest. Each finger is living proof of the hand’s inherent desire to move. And, conversely, such latent movement also seeks an appropriate form for the state of rest. This is an indication of something that is outwardly apparent. But such organismic tendencies can also be followed into the innermost organization of the human being. So that, if I am familiar with living anatomy, living physiology, then I also know what harmonizes with inner potentialities in the realm of movement.

From this point of view, it certainly does not correspond to the nature of children when a teacher makes a child scratch a copper-plate Gothic style letter “a” as is popular today. This is a form for which there is really no justification. There is no inner connection between the way the fingers want to move and the form of the letter that finally evolves after having gone through many intermediary stages.

During earlier phases of human evolution, quite different signs were painted to represent a form of writing which was still in harmony with the human organization. Today, the forms of our conventional letters no longer have any direct relation to the inner organization of human beings and that is why we must draw out of the child what is akin to its inner organization before introducing it to the present form of our alphabet. But, if you bring this to the attention of educational authorities, they become quite alarmed, wondering how on earth they are to know what the human organism is demanding, how they could possibly expect teaching to be done in an artistic style when pupils are aged six, and so on (this may be rather different in the case of practicing teachers who are often very open to these ideas because they can see new perspectives being opened up by them).

There is but one answer to all this—one must learn to do it! It is something that must be brought to the notice of anyone interested in education. It is not the task of anthroposophy to spread an abstract conception of the world that might satisfy people who like to rehash what they have heard, or who enjoy telling themselves what they must do for their own advancement. Anthroposophy is broadly based and has many ramifications that can lead us to the most intimate knowledge of human nature. One can truly say that anthroposophy offers an opportunity of fructifying the various sciences, especially in areas that, today, are not generally accessible to them.

And so we can say that we have to get to know the human being thoroughly so that, when we receive the child into primary education, we know from its whole organism how it should move its fingers and hands when learning to write, and also how it should learn to think.

The other day, I had the opportunity to take a visitor into a first grade writing and reading lesson. This subject can be taught in a hundred different ways. In the Waldorf school, teachers are given absolute freedom in their application of basic principles. Education is an altogether free art. The subjects might remain the same, but teachers may present their content in their own individual ways and according to the specific character of their pupils. People sometimes cannot see how these two aspects are related to each other.

How was this lesson given after the young pupils had been in the first grade for only a few months? A child was called out and told to run in a circle in a given number of steps. Immediately afterward, the teacher drew a circle on the blackboard to show how the movement experienced by the child while running looked when seen with the eyes.

Then, a second child was called out and asked to run in a much smaller circle inside the first circle, using only two steps. A third child had to run yet another circle, this time using three steps. All of the children were thoroughly involved in what was going on and they transposed what they had experienced with their whole being into what became visible on the blackboard. Their interest was directed not only to what the eye could see, but to what they experienced with their whole being. So there were three circles. When yet another one was run, the children noticed that, because of the size, the fourth circle intersected the smaller ones within the first large circle. And so it went on. This is how children were given the opportunity of gaining an experience out of their whole being that they could then transfer to the visual sphere. If, on the other hand, children are told to draw forms immediately, it is their heads that are mainly engaged—which amounts to a one-sided occupation. Everything that pupils do at this stage should come out of their whole being, writing included.

But this does not mean that every teacher is now supposed to follow the same example! I merely gave an example here to show how one teacher undertook the task of applying underlying principles in the classroom. What I introduced in the Teacher Training Course, prior to the opening of the Waldorf school in Stuttgart, was not meant to be copied pedantically by teachers in their actual teaching. It was presented as living substance so that the school could become a living organism. As for rules and regulations, they can of course always be put together. If three people—or thirty, or perhaps only twelve—sit together in order to work out what, according to their lights, are the necessary conditions for creating a model school—committing to paper every rule in order of priority and with the appropriate paragraphs—they can of course produce wonderful schemes, even if they themselves are not graced with outstanding intelligence, even if they are only of ordinary or possibly even below average intelligence. The relevant points can be discussed in detail until impressive rules and regulations are finally agreed upon. But these are not likely to be of any use at all when it comes to the actual teaching. What always matters most is how things work out in practice.

How should one proceed when educating a nervous child?

The expression “a nervous child” is extremely ambiguous. Thus, it is impossible to give definite directives. One must have a clear description of the child’s symptoms and one needs to know the age of the child. In such a case, one really must be able to consider all the relevant factors within the general context. For instance, it might happen that one is shown a child, let us say, three or four years old, who is extremely fidgety and likely to romp about wildly. There are such children. They throw themselves to the ground and go into terrible tantrums. Their behavior is distinctly discomfiting for the parents who may thereby suffer a great deal of unhappiness. Then they ask what they could possibly do with such a child. Often, though by no means in every case, one would like to ask them to do nothing at all, for the worst thing in such a situation is to suppress the symptoms. Such a child simply has to get rid of an overabundance of energy so that, later on, it may develop normally—as one might put it. It is sometimes necessary to point out that it is better not to meddle with a child’s development by taking pedagogical measures. The important thing is to find out from the child’s overall constitution what is or is not beneficial in each individual case. The same thing applies when one considers conditions of health or illness. How often does one hear these or similar remarks from persons with fixed ideas of what is normal, “If someone’s pulse beat is irregular, one has to cure it by this or the other means.” That might be perfectly correct in many instances but is by no means so in every case. Some people, due to their general constitution, actually need a slightly abnormal pulse! And so also in this case. One must know the overall constitution of a child before one can make definite statements. As always, anthroposophy aims to free people from living with abstract ideas. Such a question as “How should one deal with a nervous child?” is an abstraction. One is never confronted by a general situation, but always by a particular child who needs to be dealt with individually.

How can anthroposophy give a lead with regard to pupils’ finding their future careers?

I really do not know what is meant by this question! If I were to answer it in the abstract, I would have to say that an anthroposophical environment would in itself engender in a young person the right inclination to finding an appropriate vocation. In general, the choice of a career is dealt with far too schematically. As a rule such a choice is already linked to a person’s destiny. People are sometimes insufficiently flexible—they believe that only a particular profession can bring them inner satisfaction. That might well be so in cases where professions have a markedly individualistic stamp, but to look for a lead to finding the right career in what anthroposophy has to say on the subject sounds to me removed from the realities of life. I cannot really see the meaning of the question.

The chairman asked whether there were any further questions. There were none.

I hope that this talk, given in all brevity and presented as a mere outline of our broadly based but specific theme, has contributed something toward a better understanding of the aims of anthroposophy. These aims are never intended to be isolated from actual life situations. When the essence of anthroposophy is fully grasped, it will always lead into the realities of life, into life itself.