Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy II
IV. Education and the Moral Life
26 March 1923, Stuttgart
Everyone involved to any degree at all in social life will certainly feel that the moral aspect is one of the most important aspects in the entire field of education. At the same time, one realizes that it is precisely this aspect that is the most subtle and difficult one to handle, for it relates to the most intimate area of education.
I have already emphasized that educational practice needs to be built on real knowledge of, and insight into, the human being. The comprehension, perception and observation that I tried to characterize last night will give the knowledge necessary to train the child’s cognitional capacities. Practically speaking, knowledge of the human being, supported by the science of the spirit, will enable one to reach, more or less easily, the child’s powers of cognition. One will be able to find one’s way to the child. If, on the other hand, one wishes to appeal to a child’s artistic receptivity as described yesterday, which is equally important, it is necessary to find a way to each child individually, to have a sense for the way various children express themselves from an artistic comprehension of the world. When it comes to moral education, all of one’s skill for sensitive observation and all of one’s intimate psychological interest must be kept in mind, so that all the teacher’s knowledge of the human being and of nature can be put at the service of what each child brings forth individually. To reach children in a moral way, the only choice is to approach each child on an individual basis. However, with regard to moral education, yet another difficulty has to be overcome — that is, an individual’s sense of morality can only be appealed to through full inner freedom and with full inner cooperation.
This requires that educators approach moral teaching so that, when later in life the students have passed the age of formal education, they can feel free as individuals in every respect. What teachers must never do is to pass on to developing students the relics of their own brand of morality or anything derived from personal sympathies or antipathies in the moral realm. We must not be tempted to give our own ethical codes to young people as they make their way into life, since these will leave them unfree when it becomes necessary that they find their own moral impulses. We must respect and acknowledge the young person’s complete inner freedom, particularly in the realm of moral education. Such respect and tolerance truly demand a great deal of selflessness from educators, and a renunciation of any self-interest. Nor is there, as is the case in all other subject matters, the opportunity of treating morality as a subject in its own right; as such, it would be very unfruitful. The moral element must be allowed to pervade all of one’s teaching.
These difficulties can be overcome if we have truly made our own and imbued with spiritual science the knowledge that we bring to the pupils. Such knowledge, by opening one’s eyes to each individual child, is all-important, particularly in this moral sphere. Ideally speaking, moral education would have to begin with the first breath taken in by the newborn, and in a certain sense, this really is what must be done. The great pedagogue Jean Paul (who is far too little recognized, unfortunately) said that a child learns more of value during the first three years of life than during the three years spent at university. If these words were to be applied more to the moral aspect of education than to the cognitive and esthetic realms, they could be rephrased as follows: How an adult educator acts around the child is particularly important during the child’s first years, until approximately the change of teeth — that is, until we receive the child into our schools.
The first life period really needs to be examined closely. Those who have embarked on the path to a true knowledge of the human being will need to consider three main stages during this first life period. At first sight, they do not seem directly connected with the moral aspect, but they nevertheless shed light on the child’s entire moral life to come, right up to the point of death. In the first developmental phase of the child, the moral is tightly linked with the natural. In fact a crude psychology makes it difficult to notice the connection between later moral development and the child’s natural development during these first years. The three stages in the child’s development are usually not granted enough importance, yet they more or less determine the whole manner in which the child can become a human being inhabiting the Earth. The first one, when the child arises from what could be termed an animal-like existence yet in the human realm, is generally called “learning to walk.” In learning to walk, the child has the possibility of placing into the world the entire system of movements — that is, the sum of all potential movements that human beings can perform with their limbs, so that a certain equilibrium is achieved. The second stage, when the child gains something for the entire course of life, is “learning to speak.” It is the force through which children integrate themselves into the human environment, whereas by learning to walk, children learned to integrate themselves into the whole world through a whole system of movements. All of this happens in the unconscious depths of the human soul. And the third element the child appropriates is “learning to think.” However indistinct and childlike thinking may appear during the first life period, it is through learning to speak that the child gradually develops the capacity to make mental images, although in a primitive way at first.
We may ask: How does the child’s acquisition of the three capacities of walking, speaking, and thinking lead to further development, until the conclusion of the first life period when the permanent teeth appear? The answer seems simple enough at first, but when comprehended with some depth, it sheds tremendous light on all of human nature. We find that during this first life period, ending with the change of teeth, the child is essentially a being who imitates in a state of complete unconsciousness, finds a relationship to the world through imitation and through trial and error. Until age seven, children are entirely given over to the influences coming from their environment. The following comparison can be made: I breathe in the oxygen of the air, which is part of my surroundings, to unite, at the next moment, my bodily nature with it, thus changing some part of the external world into my own inner world, where it works, lives, and weaves within me. Likewise, with each indrawn breath, children up to the age of seven bring outer influences into their “inner soul breath,” by incorporating every gesture, facial expression, act, word, and even each thought coming from their surroundings. Just as the oxygen in my surroundings pulsates in my lungs, the instruments of my breathing, and blood circulation, so everything that is part of the surroundings pulsates through the young child.
This truth needs to stand before the soul’s eye, not just superficially, but with real psychological impact. For remarkable consequences follow when one is sufficiently aware of the child’s adaptation to its surroundings. I will discover how surprisingly the little child’s soul reverberates with even an unspoken thought, which may have affected my facial expression only fleetingly and ever so slightly, and under whose influence I may have slowed or speeded up my movements, no matter how minutely. It is astonishing how the small details that remain hidden within the adult’s soul are prolonged into the child’s soul; how the child’s life is drawn into the physical happenings of the surroundings, but also into the soul and spiritual environment. If we become sensitive to this fact of life, we will not permit ourselves even one impure, unchaste, or immoral thought near young children, because we know how imponderable influences work on children through their natural ability to imitate everything in their surroundings. A feeling for this fact and the attitude it creates are what make a person into a real educator.
Impressions that come from the company of adults around the child make a deep, though unconscious, imprint in the child’s soul, like a seal in soft wax; most important among them are those images of a moral character. What is expressed as energy and courage for life in the child’s father, how the father behaves in a variety of life situations, these things will always stamp themselves deeply into the child’s soul, and will continue their existence there in an extraordinarily characteristic, though subtle and intimate, way. A father’s energy will energize the entire organization of the child. A mother’s benevolence, kindness, and love, surrounding the child like an invisible cocoon, will unconsciously permeate the child’s inner being with a moral receptivity, with an openness and interest for ethical and moral matters.
It is very important to identify the origin of the forces in the child’s organization. As unlikely and paradoxical as this may sound to modern ears, in the young child these forces derive predominately from the nerve-and-sense system. Because the child’s ability to observe and perceive is unconscious, one does not notice how intensely and deeply the impressions coming from the surroundings enter its organization, not so much by way of various specific senses, as through the general “sensory being” of the child. It is generally known that the formation of the brain and of the nerves is completed by the change of teeth. During the first seven years the nerve-and-sense organization of the child could be compared with soft wax, in its plasticity. During this time, not only does the child receive the finest and most intimate impressions from the surroundings, but also, through the workings of energy in the nerve-and-sense system, everything received unconsciously radiates and flows into the blood circulation, into the firmness and reliability of the breathing process, into the growth of the tissues, into the formation of the muscles and skeleton. By means of the nerve-and-sense system, the child’s body becomes like an imprint of the surroundings and, particularly, of the morality inherent in them. When we receive children into school at the time of the change of teeth, it is as if we received the imprint of a seal in the way the muscles and tissues are formed, even in the rhythm of breathing and blood circulation, in the rhythm of the digestive system with its reliability or its tendency toward sluggishness; in short, in the children’s physical makeup we find the effects of the moral impressions received during the first seven years.
Today we have anthropology and we have psychology. Anthropology’s main concern is the abstract observation of the physical aspect of the human being, while that of psychology is the abstract observation of the human soul and spirit as entities separate from the physical body. What is missing is the anthroposophical perspective, which observes the human being — body, soul, and spirit — as a unity; a point of view that shows everywhere how and where spirit is flowing into matter, sending its forces into material counterparts. The strange feature of our materialistic age is that materialism cannot recognize matter for what it is. Materialism believes it can observe matter wholly externally. But only if one can see how soul and spiritual processes are everywhere streaming and radiating their forces into material processes, does one really know what matter is. Through spiritual knowledge, one learns to know how matter works and what its real nature is. One could answer the question, “What is materialism?” by saying, “Materialism is the one worldview that does not understand matter.”
This can be followed up even in details. If one has learned how to see the nature of the human being by viewing body, soul, and spirit as a unity, one will also recognize, in the formation of the muscles and tissues and in the breathing process, the ethical courage inherent in surroundings to which children have adapted during the first seven years. One sees, not only the moral love that warmed them, in the form of harmonious ethical attitudes in their environment, but also the consequences of disharmonious ethical attitudes and lack of love in the surroundings. Here a perceptive educator cannot help feeling that, by the time children are received by the school, they are already formed from the moral viewpoint — an insight that, taken seriously, could in itself engender a mood of tragedy. Given the difficult, disorderly, and chaotic social conditions of our time, it might almost seem preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one’s care soon after birth. For if one knows the human being out of a sensitive and refined psychology, one realizes how serious it is that by the time the child loses the first teeth, moral predispositions are fixed. On the other hand, this very same psychological insight offers the possibility of identifying the child’s specific moral disposition and needs.
Children absorb environmental impressions, especially those of an ethical nature, as if in a dream. These dreams go on to affect the inmost physical organization of children. If children have unconsciously experienced and perceived courage, moral goodness, chastity, and a sense of truth, these qualities will live on in them. The presence of these qualities will be such that during the second life period, by the time children are in school, these qualities can still be mobilized.
I would like to illustrate this with an example: Let’s assume that a child has spent the earliest years under the influence of an environment conducive to introversion. This could easily happen if a child witnesses lack of courage and even downright cowardice in the surroundings. If a child has seen in the environment a tendency to opt out of life, witnessed dissatisfaction with life or despondency, something in the child’s inner being, so to speak, will evoke the impression of a continuously suppressed pallor. The educator who is not perceptive enough to observe such symptoms will find that the child takes in more and more intensely the effects of the lack of energy, the cowardice and doubt that has been witnessed in the surroundings. In some ways, even the child will exhibit such characteristics. But if one can view these things with greater depth, one will find that, what thus began as a distinct characterological disposition during the first seven years, can now be seized educationally and directed in a more positive way. It is possible to guide a child’s innate timidity, lack of courage, shyness or faintheartedness so that these same inherent forces become transmuted into prudence and the ability to judge a situation properly; this presumes that the teacher uses classroom opportunities to introduce examples of prudence and right judgment appropriate to the child’s age and understanding.
Now let’s assume that a child has witnessed in the surroundings repugnant scenes from which the child had inwardly recoiled in terror. The child will carry such experiences into school life in the form of a characterological disposition, affecting even the bodily organization. If such a trait is left unnoticed, it will continue to develop according to what the child had previously absorbed from the environment. On the other hand, if true insight into human nature shows how to reorient such negative characteristics, the latter can be transformed into a quality of purity and a noble feeling of modesty.
These specific examples illustrate that, although the child brings into school an imprint — even in the physical organization — of the moral attitudes witnessed in the earlier environment, the forces that the child has thus absorbed can be redirected in the most diverse ways.
In school we have an immensely important opportunity to correct an unbalanced disposition through a genuine, intimate, and practical sense of psychology, which can be developed by the educator who notices the various tendencies of character, will, and psyche in the students. By loving attentiveness to what the child’s nature is revealing, the teacher is in a position to divert into positive channels what may have developed as an unhealthy or harmful influence from the early environment. For one can state explicitly that, in the majority of cases, nothing is ever so negative or evil in an ethical predisposition that the child cannot be changed for the better, given a teacher’s insight and willing energy.
Contemporary society places far too little trust in the working of ethical and moral forces. People simply do not know how intensely moral forces affect the child’s physical health, or that physical debilitation can be improved and corrected through proper and wholesome educational practice. But assuming we know, for example, that if left uncorrected a characteristic trait in a child could turn into violence later on, and that it can be changed so that the same child will grow into a courageous adult, quick and ready to respond to life’s tasks — assuming that an intimate yet practical psychology has taught us these things, the following question will arise: How can we guide the moral education of the child, especially during the age of primary education? What means do we have at our disposal? To understand the answer, we will again have to look back at the three most significant stages in the development of the very young child.
The power of mental imagery and thinking that a child has developed until this point will continue to develop. One does not notice an abrupt change — perhaps at most, with the change of teeth, that the kind of mental imagery connected with memory takes on a different form. But one will notice that the soul and physical forces revealed in speech, which are closely linked to breathing and to the rhythmic system, will reappear, metamorphosed, during the years between the change of teeth and puberty. The first relationship to the realm of language is founded through the child’s learning to speak during the first years of life. Language here includes not just language itself in the restricted meaning of the word, for the entire human being, body, soul, and spirit, lives in language. Language is a symptom of the entire threefold human being.
Approximately between the ages of seven and fourteen years, however, this relationship to language becomes prominent in the child in an entirely different — even reversed — way. At that point, everything related to the soul, outwardly expressed through the medium of language, will reach a different phase of development and take on a different character. It is true that these things happen mostly in the unconscious, but they are nevertheless instrumental for the child’s entire development. Between the ages of seven and fourteen, the child wrestles with what lives in the language, and if he or she should speak more than one language, in all the languages spoken. The child knows little of this struggle because it remains unconscious. The nature of this wrestling is due to increasingly intense merging of the sounds issuing from the rhythmic system with the pupil’s thoughts, feelings, and will impulses. What is trying to evolve during this life period is the young adolescent’s hold on the self by means of language.
It is extremely important, therefore, that we understand the fine nuances of character expressed in the ways students bring their speech and language into the classroom. The general directions I have already presented regarding the observation of the pupils’ moral environment now sound back to us out of the tone of their voices, out of the very sound of their speech, if we are sensitive enough to perceive it. Through the way children use language, they present us with what I would call their basic moral character. Through the way we treat language and through the way students speak during lessons, every hour, even every minute, we are presented with the opportunity as teachers to guide what is thus revealed through speech, into the channels we consider appropriate and right. Very much can be done there, if one knows how to train during the age of primary education what, until the change of teeth, was struggling to become speech.
This is where we meet the actual principle of the growth and development that occurs during the elementary school age. During the first years up to the change of teeth, everything falls under the principle of imitation. At this stage the human being is an imitator. During the second life period, from the second dentition until puberty, the child is destined to surrender to what I would call the authority of the teacher. You will hardly expect me, the author of Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, to plead for the principle of authority per se. But for the time between the child’s change of teeth and puberty, one has to plead for the principle of self-evident authority, simply because during these years the child’s very nature needs to be able to look up to what comes from the authority of the adult.
The very young child observes the surroundings unconsciously. One could almost say that a child breathes in the whole character of the environment during the first seven years. The next seven years are spent not so much breathing in the environment, but listening to what it has to say. The word and its meaning now become the leading motive. The word becomes the guiding principle as a simple matter of human nature. During this stage the child learns to know about the world and the cosmos through the mediation of the educator. Whatever reaches the pupils through the mouth of the teacher as authority represents the truth to them. They observe beauty in gestures, in general conduct and again in the words spoken around them. Goodness is experienced through the sympathies and antipathies engendered by those in authority.
These few words give the main direction for moral education during the age between the second dentition and puberty. If we attempt to give the child abstract moral values upon its way, we will encounter inner resentment, not because of any inherent shortcomings in the child, but because of a natural response. On the other hand, if we can create moral pictures for the child, perhaps taken from the animal kingdom, letting animals appear symbolically in a moral light, and possibly extending this approach to include all of nature, then we can work for the good of the child, particularly during the seventh, eighth, and ninth years of life. If we create vivid, colorful human characters out of our own imagination and allow our own approval or disapproval of their deeds to shine through our descriptions, and if we allow our sympathies and antipathies to grow into definite feelings in the children that will lead them over into a more general moral judgment of good and evil, then our picture of the world cultivates ageappropriate moral judgements based in perceptions and feelings. But this particular way of presenting the world is of the essence. During the first years, the child has learned from direct perception. As we reach the primary school age, whatever comes toward the child, to strengthen a moral feeling leading to moral judgment, must have passed through the medium of those in authority. Now the teacher and educator must stand before the child as representatives of the order of the world. The child meets the teachers in order to receive the teachers’ picture of the world, colored by their sympathies and antipathies. Through the feelings with which children meet the teachers, and through instinctual life, children themselves must find what is good and what is evil. The students have to receive the world through the mediation of the educator. The children are happy who, thanks to a teacher’s interpretation of the world can form their own relationship to the world.
Those who have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed such a relationship with their teachers in childhood have gained something of value for the rest of their lives. People who say that children should learn intellectually and through their own observations, free from the influence of authority, speak like flagrant amateurs; for we do not teach children merely for the years during which they are under our care, but to benefit their whole lives. And the various life periods, right up to the point of death, are mutually interrelated in very interesting ways.
If, because of their teachers’ natural authority, pupils have once accepted subject matter they could not yet fully comprehend with their powers of reasoning — for the intellectual grasp belongs to a later stage of development and works destructively if enforced too early — if they have accepted something purely out of love for their teachers, such content remains deeply preserved in their souls. At the age of thirty-five or forty perhaps, or possibly even later in life, it may happen that they speak of the following strange experience: Only now, after having lived through so many joys, pains, and disappointments, only now do I see the light of what I accepted at the age of eight out of my respect for my teacher’s authority. This meaning now resurfaces, mingling with the many life experiences and the widening of horizons that have occurred meanwhile. What does such an experience mean for later life? A sensitive and empathetic psychology tells us that such events give off life-invigorating forces even into old age. Education gains new meaning from knowing that such an expansion of childhood experiences into older ages brings with it a new stimulus for life: we educate not only to satisfy the short-term needs of the child while at school, but also to satisfy the needs of life as a whole. The seeds laid into the child’s soul must be allowed to grow with the child. Hence we must be aware that whatever we teach must be capable of further growth. Nothing is worse than our pedantic insistence that the child learn rigid, sharply outlined concepts. One could compare this approach with that of forcing the child’s delicate hands into an iron glove to stop them from growing. We must not give the child fixed or finished definitions, but concepts capable of expansion and growth. The child’s soul needs to be equipped with the kind of seeds that can continue to grow during the whole of the life to come. For this growth to take place, it is not enough just to apply certain principles in one’s teaching; one has to know how to live with the child.
It is especially important for the moral and ethical aspect of education that we remember, for the ages between seven and fourteen, that the child’s moral judgment should be approached only through an appeal to feelings called forth by verbal pictures illustrating the essentials of an inherent morality. What matters at this age is that the child should develop sympathy for the moral and antipathy for the immoral. To give children moral admonitions would be going against their nature, for they do not penetrate the souls of children. The entire future moral development is determined by those things that, through forming sympathies, become transformed into moral judgments. One single fact will show the importance of the teacher’s right relationship to the child with regard to moral development. If one can educate with a discriminating, yet practical, sense of psychology, one will notice that, at a certain time around the ninth or tenth year (the exact age may vary in individual cases), the children’s relationship to the world — an outcome of sympathies and antipathies that can be cultivated — will be such that they forget themselves. Despite a certain “physical egotism” (to give it a name), the child will still be fully open to environmental influences. Just as teachers need clear insight into the child’s developmental stages when they use observational methods in object lessons with children of nine or ten, such insight is particularly important when it comes to moral education. If one pays sufficient attention to the more individual traits emerging in pupils, an interesting phenomenon can be observed at that age: the awareness that the child has a special need for help from the teacher. Sometimes a few words spoken by the child can be like a call for help. They can be the appropriate signal for a perceptive teacher, who now must find the right words to help the child over the hump. For the child is passing through a critical stage, when everything may depend on a few words spoken by the teacher to reestablish the right relationship between pupil and teacher.
What is happening at this time? By wrestling with language, the young person becomes aware, very consciously, for the first time that “There is a difference between myself and the world.” (This is unlike the time during the first seven-year period when, unconsciously, the child first learned to refer to the self as “I.”) The child now strongly demands a new orientation for body, soul, and spirit vis-à-vis the world. This awareness happens between the ninth and the tenth year. Again, unconsciously, the child has a remarkable experience in the form of all kinds of seemingly unrelated sentiments, feelings, and will impulses, which have no outward relationship with the behavior. The experience is: “Here before me stands my teacher who, as authority, opens the world for me. I look into the world through the medium of this authority. But is this authority the right one for me? Am I receiving the right picture of the world?” Please note that I am not saying this thought is a conscious one. All this happens subtly in the realm of the child’s feelings. Yet this time is decisive for determining whether or not the child can feel the continued trust in the teacher’s authority necessary for a healthy development until the onset of puberty. And this experience causes a certain inner unrest and nervousness in the child. The teacher has to find the right words to safeguard the child’s continued confidence and trust. For together with this consolidation of trust, the moral character of the child also becomes consolidated. At first it was only latent in the child; now it becomes inwardly more anchored and the child attains inner firmness. Children grasp, right into the physical organism, something that they had perceived thus far as a self-evident part of their own individual self, as I described earlier.
Contemporary physiology, consisting on the one side of anthropology and on the other of an abstract psychology, is ignorant of the most fundamental facts. One can say that, until the second dentition, all organic formations and functions proceed from the nerve-and-sense system. Between the change of teeth and puberty, the child’s physical fitness or weakness depends on the good functioning of the rhythmic system, on the breathing and blood circulation. Between the ninth and the tenth birthdays, what previously was still anchored primarily in the breathing, in the upper part of the organism, basically shifts over to the blood circulation; this is the time when the wonderful number relationship of one to four is being developed, in the approximately eighteen breaths and the seventy-two pulse beats per minute. This relationship between breathing and blood circulation becomes established at this time of life. However, it is only the outer expression of deep processes going on in the child’s soul, and the reinforcement of the trust between teacher and child must become part of these processes, for through this trust the consolidation of the child’s inner being also occurs.
These interactions between physiological and moral development must be described in detail if one wishes to speak of moral education and of the relationship between pedagogy and morality. As an educator, whether or not I am aware of this particular point in a child’s life will determine whether or not I exercise a beneficial or a harmful influence for the rest of a person’s life.
I should like to show, as a comparison, how things done at this stage continue to affect all of the rest of life. You may have noticed that there are people who, when they grow old, exert an unusual influence on those around them. That there are such people is generally known. Such people don’t even need to say much when they are with others. Their mere presence is enough to bring what one may call an “air of blessing” to those around them. A grace emanates from them that brings about a relaxed and balanced atmosphere. If one has the patience and energy to trace the origin of this gift, one will find that it has developed out of a seed that came into being during childhood through a deeply felt respect for the authority of someone in charge. One could also describe it by saying that, in such a case, the child’s moral judgment had been enhanced by a feeling of veneration that gradually reached the level of religious experience. If a child, between the change of teeth and puberty, experiences the feeling of reverence for certain people, reverence tinged even with a genuine religious feeling that lifts moral feelings into the light of piety, expressed in sincere prayer, then out of this childlike prayer grows the gift of blessing in old age, the gift of radiating grace to one’s fellow human beings. Using pictorial language, one could say: Hands that have learned to pray in childhood have the gift of bestowing blessing in old age. These words, though symbolic and pictorial, nevertheless correspond to the fact that seeds planted in childhood can have an effect right to the end of life.
Now, for an example how the stages of human life are interrelated; one example in the moral realm is, as I said earlier, that the child’s ability to form mental images in the thinking process develops along a continuous line. Only memory will take on a different character after the change of teeth. Language, on the other hand, becomes somehow inverted. Between the second dentition and puberty, the young person develops an entirely different relationship to language. This new relationship can be properly served by bringing to the child at this time the grammar and logic inherent in language. One can tackle practically every aspect of language if, instead of rashly bringing to consciousness the unconscious element of language from early childhood, one makes this translation in a way that considers the child.
But what about the third relationship: the young child’s creation of an individual equilibrium with the external world after having learned to walk? Most people interpret the child’s attempt to use the legs for the first time in a purely external and mechanistic way. It is not generally known, for example, that our ability for spatial imagination and our capacity for mathematical imagery is an upward projection of our limbs’ potential movements into the intellectual sphere; in this projection, the head experiences, as mental activity, what is experienced in our limbs as movement. A deeply hidden soul element of the human being lives especially in this system of movement, a deep soul element linked to outer material forces.
After crawling on hands and knees, the child assumes the vertical position, lifting vertically the bodily axis, which in the case of the animals remains parallel to the Earth’s surface. This upright achievement of the child is the physical expression of the moral potential for human will forces, which lift the human being above the level of the animals.
One day a comprehensive physiology, which is at the same time anthroposophy, will learn to understand that moral forces express themselves in the way a child performs physical movements in space. What the child achieves by assuming the upright posture and thus becoming free of the forces that keep the animal’s spine parallel to the Earth’s surface, what the child achieves by rising into a state of equilibrium in space, is the physical expression of the moral nature of its will energy. It is this achievement that makes the human individual into a moral being.
The objection may be raised that during sleep the position of the human spine is also parallel to the Earth’s surface. However I am speaking here about the general human organization, and about the way spatial dimensions are organized into the human being. Through an accurate assessment of these matters, within this upright position the physical expression of human morality can be seen, which allows the human countenance to gaze freely into the world.
Let me compare what actually happens in the child with a certain phenomenon in nature. In the southern region of old Austria, (now part of Italy) there is a river named the Poik, whose source is in the mountains. Suddenly this river disappears, completely vanishes from sight, and surfaces again later. What appears as the second river does not have its own source, but after its reemergence, people call it the Unz. The Unz disappears again, and resurfaces as a river called The Laibach. In other words, this river flows, unseen, in the depths of the Earth for part of its journey. Similarly, what the child has absorbed from its surroundings in its early years rests unperceived during childhood sleep. During the first years of life, when the child is unconsciously given over to moral forces inherent in the environment, the child acquires the ability to use the limbs in an upright position, thus becoming free of animality. What the child puts into this newly won skill is not noticeable between the change of teeth and puberty, but reappears as freedom in the making of moral judgements, as the freedom of human morality in the will sphere. If the teacher has cultivated the right moral sympathies and antipathies in the child at primary school age — without, however, being too heavy-handed — then, during the time before puberty, the most important aspects of the will can continue their “underground existence.” The child’s individual will, built on inner freedom, will eventually become completely a part of a human sense of responsibility, and will reappear after puberty so that the young person can be received as a free fellow human being. If the educator has refrained from handing down interdicts, and has instead planted sympathies and antipathies in the pupils’ emotional baggage, but without infringing upon the moral will now appearing, the young person can transform the gifts of sympathies and antipathies according to individual needs. After puberty, the young person can transform what was given by others into moral impulses, which now come freely from individuality.
This is how to develop, out of real empathy with the human being, what needs to be done at each age and stage. If one does so properly between the seventh and fourteenth years by allowing moral judgements to mature in the pupil’s life of feeling, what was given to the child properly with the support of authority will be submerged into the human sphere of free will. The human being can become free only after having been properly guided in the cultivation of moral sympathies and antipathies. If one proceeds in this manner regarding moral education, one stands beside the pupils so that one is only the motivator for their own self-education. One gives them what they are unconsciously asking for, and then only enough for them to become responsible for their own selves at the appropriate age, without any risk or danger to themselves.
The difficulty regarding moral education to which I drew your attention at the beginning of today’s meeting, is solved in this way. One must work side by side with one’s pupils, unselfishly and objectively. In other words, the aim should be never to leave behind a relic of one’s own brand of morality in the psychological makeup of the pupils; one should try instead to allow them to develop their own sympathies and antipathies for what they consider morally right or wrong. This approach will enable them to grow rightly into moral impulses and will give them a sense of freedom at the appropriate age.
The point is to stand beside the child on the basis of an intimate knowledge and art of psychology, which is both an art of life and an art of spiritual endeavor. This will do justice not only to artistic, but also to moral education. But one should have due respect for the human being and be able to rightly evaluate a child’s human potential. Then one’s education will become a moral education, which means that the highest claim, the highest demand, for the question of morality and education is contained in the following answer: The right relationship between education and morality is found in a moral pedagogy whereby the entire art of education is itself a moral deed. The morality inherent in an art of education is the basis for a moral pedagogy.
What I have said so far applies to education in general, but it is nearest to our heart at the present time, when an understandable and justified youth movement has been growing apace. I will not attempt to characterize this youth movement properly in just a few words. For many of you here, I have done so already in various other places. But I wish to express my conviction that, if the older generation of teachers and educators knows how to meet the moral impulses of the younger generation on the basis of an art of education as outlined here, this problem of modern youth will find its proper solution. For in the final resort, the young do not wish to stand alone; they really want to cooperate with the older generation. But this cooperation needs to happen so that what they receive from their elders is different, something other, from what they can themselves bring; they need to be able to perceive it as the thing which their soul needs and which the older people can give.
Contemporary social life has created conditions regarding this question of the younger generation that I would characterize in this way: It is often said that the old should retain their previous youthful forces in order to get on better with the young. Today (present company, as always, excluded) the older generation appears excessively youthful, because its members have forgotten how to grow old properly. Their souls and spirits no longer know how to grow into their changed bodies. They carry into their aging bodies what they used to do in their young days, but the human garment of life no longer fits. If now the old and the young meet, the ensuing lack of understanding is not caused by old age as such, but, on the contrary, because the old have not grown old properly and, consequently, cannot be of much help to the young. The young expect that the old should have grown old properly, without appearing childish. When today’s young meet their elders, they find them not very different from themselves. They are left with the impression that, although the old people have learned more in life, they do not seem to understand life more deeply, to be wiser. The young feel that the old have not used their age to become mature, that they have remained at the same human level as the young themselves. Youth expects that the old should have grown old in the right way.
For this concept to enter social life properly, a practical art of education is needed, which ensures that the seeds planted in education bear fruit right into ripe old age, as I have described it in various examples. One has to be able to unfold the appropriate life forces for each stage of life. One must know how to grow old. When the old understand how to grow old properly, they are full of inner freshness, whereas if they have become gray and wrinkled while remaining childishly immature, they cannot give anything to the young that the latter don’t have already. This sheds some light on the present situation. One must only look at these things objectively. Basically, those who find themselves in this situation are quite innocent of the problems involved. What matters is that we tackle this most important and topical human problem by looking closely at our contemporary education, and in particular at the moral factor in education. Coming to terms with it is of great import, not only from the educational point of view, but for the entire social life.
When all is said and done, the moral education of the human being is the crown of all education and teaching. In Faust, Goethe puts the following strange words into the mouth of the Creator-God:
The good person, in darkest aberration,
is of the right path conscious still.
It is worth noting that although Goethe let these words be spoken by the Lord God Himself, pedantic minds could not resist nitpicking over them. They said, “‘The good person, in darkest aberration ... is conscious...’ ”; this is a contradiction in terms, for the darkest aberration is purely instinctive and certainly not conscious. How could Goethe write such words in his Faust?” So much for erudite barbarians. Well, I believe that Goethe knew very well what he had written in this sentence. He wanted to express the idea that, for those who look at the moral life without prejudice, morality is connected with the darkest depths of the human being, and that in this realm one approaches the most difficult area of the human being. In today’s meeting, we saw for ourselves the difficulty of approaching moral issues in practical education. In these areas the darkest realms of the human being are encountered. Goethe clearly recognized this, but he also recognized that what the moral person can achieve only through the brightest rays of the spirit light, has to be attained in the darkest depths of the soul. I would like to think that Goethe’s words consecrate the moral aspect of education, for what do they really say? They express a deep truth of life, into which I wish to condense all that has been said about the meaning of moral education.
I therefore will sum up in the sense of Goethe’s words what I outlined for you today by concluding as follows: If you wish to enter the land of knowledge, you must follow the Spirit-light of day. You must work your way out of the darkness into the light. If you wish to find your way to the land of art, you must work your way, if not to the dazzling light of the Sun itself, at least into the colored brightness that Spirit-light radiates into the world. For in this light and in this light alone is everything turned into art.
However, it would be sad if, before becoming a morally good person, I first had to work my way toward these two goals. To become a morally good person, the innermost kernel of the human being has to be taken hold of down to its deepest recesses, for that is where the right orientation is needed. And the following must be said too: True, in our search for knowledge, we must work our way toward the light, and the pursuit of art means striving toward the colorful light of day; but it is equally true that, in the moral life, the human being who has found the right orientation can be a good person without light, and also without brightness; it is possible to be a good person through all the darkness and obscurity of life. If, as “the good person,” one is “conscious of the right path still,” one will be able to find the right way through all existing darkness, into the light and into all the colorful brightness of the world.