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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy II
GA 304a

VI. Why Base Education on Anthroposophy I

30 June 1923, Dornach

It gives me great pleasure to talk to teachers once again about education, so may I welcome you all most warmly, especially those in this audience who are actively engaged in teaching.

The pedagogy that arises from anthroposophy is neither theoretical nor utopian, but one of practice and application; so you will appreciate that two brief lectures allow me to give only a few outlines. Some time ago, during a longer conference of Swiss teachers here at the Goetheanum, I took the liberty of speaking about education at greater length; but even then the allotted time proved too short. During that conference there was greater opportunity to go into details than is possible in only two sessions, and much of teaching is precisely about details. Nevertheless, I shall try to describe at least a few aspects, especially about our chosen theme: Why base education on anthroposophy?

This question is bound to come up for the most varied reasons. To begin with, it will be asked because anthroposophy is still often regarded as a form of sectarianism and as a philosophy of life suited to the personal tastes of certain people. The question will then be: Should education be influenced at all by a particular worldview? Can any fruitful results be expected when people draw conclusions for education from their particular beliefs or ideas? If such a question were justified, then what we may call anthroposophical pedagogy would probably not exist at all.

Now it happens to be the case that in this century every religion and every philosophy of life has developed its own particular ideas or set up its own particular demands about education. And one can always discern the underlying ideological background in educational institutions.

This, however, is exactly what an anthroposophical education should make impossible. Let me begin by mentioning that for a number of years now in Stuttgart, we have tried to run a primary and secondary school in the spirit of anthroposophical ways of teaching. To a certain extent, our ideal there has been that everything should proceed naturally and in harmony with human nature and its development, and thus no one should even consider it the realization of some anthroposophical idea, or that any particular brand of philosophy is being disseminated there.

The reason this question comes up at all is that, when something is represented before the world, one is obligated to name it. But I assure you that I would personally prefer that what is being represented here at the Goetheanum needed no name at all, or if one were free to call it one name now, and later another. For we are concerned here, not with certain ideas that usually underlie a view of the world, but with a certain mode of research and a way of viewing life that could be given many different names from the most varied standpoints. Actually, the names they are usually given tend to be misleading anyway.

I will illustrate this with a rather trivial example, which may nevertheless help you to understand what I mean. When it comes to naming spiritual movements and so on, humanity is no further along than it was with personal names a few centuries ago in Europe, when a person’s last name was a literal reference to physical characteristics or line of work. By now we have forgotten the origins of these names, just as they should have been forgotten. (Keep in mind that the following example is quite trivial!) There once was a famous linguist whose name was Max Müller [Miller]. Now suppose someone had mentioned a “Miller,” a person (referring to the linguist) living in such and such a house; and suppose another person overhearing this proceeded to take sacks of grain to that address hoping to have it milled!

Most of us know better than to take people’s names literally. But when it comes to spiritual movements, that’s just what we do. Instead of looking for fundamentals, we analyze the names and base our ideas on them. So one analyzes and interprets the name anthroposophy and then forms a view of it. Just as the word “miller” has little relevance in the case of the great linguist of that name, so does the word “anthroposophy” cover only a small portion of what is intended to be a spiritual science and a spiritual view of life. Hence, as I’ve said, I would prefer to give a new name every day to the spiritual research accomplished and to the spiritual lifestyle practiced here. For the very multitude of names would be an outer expression of their essential reality. At best, what we can do is to characterize more or less fully what anthroposophy wishes to contribute to today’s world. It is not possible to give a definition of it that, by itself, would make sense. Today and tomorrow I will try to show, at least to some extent, how anthroposophy can become fruitful for the education and training of the growing child. The description I shall give will necessarily be rather incomplete, for the fullness of what is intended cannot possibly be communicated in only two lectures.

If we look around today with real interest in the spiritual development of the world, we find ourselves in a whirl of demands, programs, and ideas, all clamoring for attention. Among them is the question of education. Schemes for reform emerge one after another, their authors all more or less well qualified for this task, and more often than not they are mere dabblers. Whatever the case, this phenomenon demonstrates a deep and real need for clear insights about questions of education.

However, this phenomenon is connected with another fact; it is exceedingly difficult today to come to satisfactory, let alone fruitful, ideas about the treatment of the growing human being. And if we want to see why there is so much talk of educational reform and educational ideas today, we need to look a little more deeply into some aspects of our modern civilization. If we look, on the one hand, at material life today and, on the other, at spiritual life, the life of mind and thought, we find that tremendous advances have been made in practical life through technology, yet there is a deep gulf, a deep abyss, between the realm of scientific theory—that is, what one has to learn if one wishes to be an educated person—and that of practical life situations. More and more in modern life a peculiar trend has developed regarding the subjects studied and practiced in our academic and educational institutions.

Take the sphere of medicine, for example. Young medical students go through their course of studies. They learn what modern science has to offer. Along with their studies, they also undergo much “practical” laboratory and hospital training. And yet, when medical students have passed their final examinations, they still have to go through a period of clinical practice. That is to say, the final examination is not sufficient for the student to be recognized as a qualified doctor in practical medicine. Moreover, doctors in general find that remarkably little of all the theoretical work they went through to begin with finds useful applications in actual practice.

I have chosen medicine as an example, but I could equally well have shown the same trend in almost every academic profession. Nowadays, when we have acquired a certain training in one sphere or another, we still have a large gap to bridge before we become proficient in the various practical fields. This is so in almost every sphere. It applies not only to the medical student, but also to the technical student, the barrister, or the student of commerce and economics; and, above all, it applies to the teacher. In the learned and scientific climate of our age, teachers have been introduced to the theory of education in more or less scientific and psychological terms. Having attained a certain standard in educational theory and knowledge, teachers still have to find their own way into practical teaching.

What I have said so far can, most likely, be accepted as a correct assessment of the situation. There is, however, something else that will not be accepted quite so readily: the gulf is so great between theoretical learning, which occupies the main part of our intellectual life today, and the practical aspects of life, that this gulf cannot be bridged in any field except one. The single exception is the technical and engineering profession, whose members have to fulfill the most stringent tests. If the structure of a bridge is sound in theory, but faulty in other ways, it will collapse when the first train crosses it. In this case, natural laws inexorably react to anything that is wrong. In this field a person is forced to acquire practical expertise.

But when we deal with the human being, we find ourselves in a different situation. Here it is definitely impossible to answer the question of how many patients a doctor has treated correctly and how many have been treated wrongly, for in this case there is little possibility of conclusive proof. If we now consider education, we may well hold the opinion that there already is excessive criticism and that teachers have plenty to put up with! But it will hardly be possible to ascertain whether, according to the facts of life, a given educational method has been right or wrong. For life’s answers are not as cut and dried as those we receive from dead, mineral nature. Nevertheless, there is generally a justified feeling that the way to the acquisition of the theory of education is not necessarily a direct road to practical experience. If there is one domain in the world that demonstrates the blind alley that such a gap between theory and practice forces us into, it is everything that pertains to the human being.

During the last few centuries, and especially in the nineteenth century, we have developed a scientific spirit. Every human being, even the supposedly illiterate, exists amid this scientific spirit. All our thinking is in this mode. Yet see how alienated from the world this spirit is; what a pity the last few years have been, as world history rolled over us in powerful waves, facing us with immensely significant facts; how pitiable it was to see that people, no matter how clever their theories, cannot make anything of the path life has actually taken! At the beginning of the war, did we not hear brilliant economists declare: “Economic science teaches us that the commercial and other economic relations of the world are now so closely interwoven that a war could last at most a few months?” The facts contradicted these false predictions—the war actually continued several years. The thoughts people had arrived at out of their scientific reasoning, the speculations they had made about the course of world events, none of those were in the least applicable to the events themselves.

The human being, growing into life and appearing before us in what I should like to call the most sublime form as child, cannot be understood by a culture that has produced such a gulf between theory and practice.

Only very rigid materialists would imagine that what grows up in the child can be reduced to physical bodily development. We look with immense devotion and reverence at the manifestations of the creative powers that appear before us in the child during the first few weeks of life. Everything in the child is still indefinite in character then, and yet what the child will achieve in later life already lives innately in the baby. We look at growing children as, over weeks, months, and years, they unfold forces out of inner being. We see these forces make the individual features of the child more and more distinct, movements more and more coordinated and purposeful. In this developing human being, we see the whole riddle of creation revealing itself most wonderfully before our eyes. We see the first unfocused look in a little child’s eyes and watch them grow full of inner warmth, of inner fire, as the child becomes active; we see the at first imprecise motions of arms and fingers, we see them turning most beautifully meaningful, like letters in an alphabet. And seeing all this with real human interest forces us to acknowledge that there is more at work here than physical nature; soul and spirit are at work behind it. Every particle of the human being is at the same time a manifestation of soul and spirit. Every shade of color in the child’s cheek expresses something of soul and spirit. It is completely impossible to understand this coloring of the cheek merely on a material basis, impossible to understand it at all, if we do not know how the soul pours itself into the pink color of the cheek. Here, spirit and physical nature are one.

We simply bypass children if we now approach them with today’s old encrusted outlook on life, with its open gulf between theoretical pursuits and practical application. Neither theories nor instincts can make sense of the child; in any case, in our civilization the instincts cannot comprehend the spirit. Modern life has separated our spiritual pursuits from the physical world, and in so doing, our spiritual aims have become abstract theory.

And so abstract theories about education have arisen, Herbartian pedagogy, for instance—in its way full of spirit, and theoretically grand, but unable to actively penetrate real life. Or else, in all our attempts to live in the spiritual realm, we go astray, deciding we will have nothing to do with any scientific pedagogy at all, and rely instead on our educational instincts—something many people today propose.

There is another phenomenon of our age that shows how much this gulf between our theoretical understanding of the spiritual and our comprehension of practical needs has estranged us from true human nature. Modern science has evolved most remarkably, and, naturally enough, saw a need to create a scientific pedagogy. But it had no way of reaching the growing human being, the child. Science has much to say about the sensory world, but the more it did so in the modern age, the less it could say anything about the human being. Thus, on the model of the natural sciences, human beings were experimented on. Experimental pedagogy came into being.

What is the significance of this urge for experimental pedagogy? Please do not misunderstand me. I have no objections to experimental psychology or to experimental pedagogy as such. Scientifically, they can accomplish a great deal. In theory they provide excellent results. The point here is not to judge these things critically, but to see what tendency of our time they express. We will have to continue experimenting with the child in an external fashion to find out how memory, will forces, and powers of attention work in one child or another; external experiments are necessary because we have lost touch with the inner human being. People can no longer meet and mingle with their fellow human beings, soul to soul, and so they try to do this through experiment, to read from bodily reactions the expressions of the soul that they can no longer approach directly. Today’s experimental pedagogy and psychology are living proof that our science is powerless when it tries to approach the whole human being, who is spirit, soul, and body, all in one.

We must take these things seriously if we wish to deal with modern questions of schooling and education, for they will slowly help us realize that genuine progress in this field depends first and foremost on a true knowledge of the human being. But such a knowledge will not be attained unless we bridge the gulf between theory and practice, which has widened to such an appalling extent. The theories we have today deal only with the human physical body, and whenever we try to approach the human soul and spirit, we fail despite all our frantic efforts. Soul and spirit must be investigated by ways other than the recognized scientific methods of today. To gain insight into human nature, we must follow a different path from the one commonly upheld as the standard of scientific exactitude and accuracy. The task of anthroposophy is to approach the true human nature, to search for a real knowledge of the human being, which sees spirit, soul, and body as a whole. Anthroposophy sets out to know again not only the physical aspect of the human being, but also the whole human being.

Unfortunately there is as yet little realization of where the real tasks lie—the tasks that life in its fullness sets us. I will give you one example to point out where our attention must turn, if real knowledge of the human being is once more to be attained. When I was young—a very long time ago—among other views of the world, one emerged that was initiated by the physicist Ernst Mach. This philosophy became very well known at the time. What I am about to say is intended only as an example, and I ask you to treat it as such. The essential point in Mach’s argument follows. He said:

It is nonsense to speak of a thing-in-itself, such as, for example, an “atom.” It is also nonsense to speak of an “I,” existing as a “thing” within ourselves. We can speak only of sensations. Who has ever perceived an atom? One can perceive red, blue, and yellow, or perceive C-sharp, G, and A in music; one perceives sour, sweet, and bitter tastes. We perceive with the sense of touch hard or soft things. In a nutshell, we perceive only sensations. When we make a picture of the world, it is made up of nothing but sensations. And if we then look into ourselves, there, too, we find sensations and only sensations. There is nothing beyond sensations—sensations that we then link together. A soft velvety feeling associated with the redness of a rose, the sensation of being burned with the reddish appearance in a red-hot poker—in every case, sensations are linked one to another.

So much for Ernst Mach. One must admit that, compared to the idea of an atomic world, which of course no one can see, Mach’s idea was, in his time, a true advance. Today this idea has been forgotten again. But I am not going to speak of the idea itself. I am going to take this case only as an example of the nature of the human being.

Ernst Mach once told the story of how he came to his view of things. He reached the core of his views when he was a youth of seventeen. He was out for a walk on an exceptionally hot summer day, when it dawned upon him that the whole notion of “things-in-themselves” is really superfluous in any view of the world; it is “the fifth wheel of the cart,” as the saying goes. Out in the world, there are only sensations. They merge with the sensations of our own bodily nature, our own human being. In the outer world the sensations are connected rather more loosely, in the inner life more firmly, thus conjuring the idea of “I.” Sensations, and nothing but sensations. This is what flashed through the boy of seventeen on a hot summer day. According to him, all he did later was to elaborate and expand the theory. But his whole worldview came to him in a flash, as described, on a hot day in summer, when he suddenly felt himself merging with the scent of the rose, the redness of the rose, and so on.

Now, if it had been just a little hotter, this whole philosophy of one’s own being flowing together with sensations might never have arisen at all, for good old Mach as a youth of seventeen might have been overcome by light-headedness, or, if hotter still, he might have suffered sunstroke! We thus have three successive stages a person might go through: The first stage is evolving a certain philosophy, conceived in a somewhat flushed and loosened inner condition; the second, feeling faint; and the third, is the possibility of suffering a sunstroke.

If contemporary scholars were to take up the task of discovering externally how a man like the learned Mach had arrived at his view of the world, I can easily imagine they would think of all sorts of things, such as what Mach had studied, who his teachers were, what his dispositions and his talents were, and so on; but they would hardly have placed in the foreground of their argument the significant fact that he had passed through the first of the three stages mentioned. And yet, this fact actually happened, as he relates himself. What was its real basis?

You see, unless you can understand a phenomenon like this, you cannot expect to know the human being proper. What was it that happened when the seventeen-year-old Mach went for a walk? Evidently he grew very hot. He was midway between feeling comfortably warm and being hot enough to lose consciousness. Now, we have no proper knowledge of such a condition unless we know from anthroposophical research that the human being has not only a physical body, but, above and beyond it, a supersensible, invisible body, which I have described in my books as the etheric or formative-forces body. Today, of course, I cannot relate all the research on which the assumption of this supersensible formative-forces body rests, but you can read about it in the anthroposophical literature. It is as secure and well established a result of scientific research as any other.

Now what about this etheric body? In the waking state we are ordinarily entirely dependent on our physical body. Materialists are quite right in stating that the thought the human being evolves in the physical world is connected to the brain or nervous system. We do need the physical body for ordinary thinking. But the moment we deviate even a little from this ordinary thinking to a certain freedom of inner life and experience, as in the case, for example, of exercising artistic imagination, the almost imperceptible activity of the etheric body grows more intense. Therefore, if a person is thinking in the ordinary “matter- of-fact” way (we must do so in ordinary life, and I am really not speaking of it in a derogatory sense), then thinking must occur mainly with the organs of the physical body, while the etheric body is called into play only to a lesser extent.

But if I switch to imaginative creation, let us say to poetic creation, the physical body sinks a little into the background, while human ideation, using the etheric body, grows more mobile and active during this process. The various viewpoints are joined together in a more living way, and the whole inner being acquires a mobility greater than in the exercise of ordinary, matter-of-fact, everyday thinking.

The decision to think creatively, imaginatively, is subject to one’s free choice. But there is something else that is not so much subject to free choice, that might be caused by external conditions. If a person becomes very warm, the activity of the physical body, including thinking, decreases, while that of the etheric body becomes more and more lively. Thus, when Mach at the age of seventeen went for a walk and was subjected to the oppressive heat of the sun, his etheric body simply grew more active. All other physicists developed their science of physics with the physical body predominant. The heat of the Sun so affected the young Mach that he could think, not unlike the other physicists, but with more flowing concepts: “The whole world consists of nothing but sensations!”

Had the heat been even more intense, the connection between his physical body and his etheric body would have been loosened to such an extent that the good Mach would no longer have been able to think with his etheric body either, or even to be active at all. The physical body ceases to think when it is too hot and, if the heat increases further, becomes ill and suffers a sunstroke.

I give you this example because it enables us to see how necessary it is to understand that a supersensible limb in the human being plays a vital part in the person’s activities. This supersensible limb is the etheric, or formative forces, body, which gives us form (our shape and our figure), maintains the forces of growth in us, and so on.

Anthroposophy further shows that there are still other supersensible members in the human being. Please do not be stopped by the terms we use. Beyond the formative forces of the etheric body, we have the astral body, which is the vehicle of sensation, and, in addition to these three “bodies,” we come to the true I-being, the ego. We must learn to know not just the human being’s physical body; we must also come to a practical knowledge of the interactions between the human being’s other bodies.

Anthroposophy takes this step from what is accessible to the senses (which contemporary science worships exclusively) to what is accessible to the higher senses. This is not done from any mystical or fanciful inclination, but from the same disciplined scientific spirit that orthodox science also uses. Physical science applies this strictness of approach only to the world of the senses and to the concrete intellectual activity bound to the physical body. Anthroposophy, through an equally strict scientific process, evolves a knowledge, a perception, and therewith a feeling, for the supersensible.

This process does not lead merely to the existence of yet another science beyond accustomed science and learning. Anthroposophy does not provide us with another form of science of the spirit, which again might represent a theory. If one rises to the supersensible, science remains no longer a theory, but of its own accord assumes a practical nature. Science of the spirit becomes a knowledge that flows from the whole human being. Theory takes hold only of the head, but knowledge of the human being involves the human being as a whole. Anthroposophy gives us this knowledge, which is really more than just knowledge. What then does it teach us?

From anthroposophy, we learn to know what is contained in the etheric or formative-forces body, and we learn that we cannot stop short with the rigid definitions applied to the physical world today. All our concepts begin to grow mobile. Then a person who looks at the world of plants, for example, with this living, mobile knowledge, sees not merely fixed forms that could be rendered in a drawing, but living forms in the process of transformation. All of my conceptual life grows inwardly mobile. I feel the need for a lively freshness, because I no longer look at the plant externally; in thinking of it, I become one with its growth, its springing and its sprouting. In my thoughts I become spring in the spring, autumn in the autumn. I do not just see the plant springing from the soil and adorning itself with flowers, or the leaves fading, growing brown, and falling to the ground; not only do I see, but I also participate in the entire process. As I look out at the budding, sprouting plant in the springtime, and as I think and form ideas of it, my soul is carried along and joins in the sprouting and budding processes. My soul has an inner experience as if all concepts were becoming sun-like. Even as I penetrate deeper and deeper into the plant nature, my thoughts strive continually upward to the sunlight. I become inwardly alive.

In such an experience we become human beings whose souls are inwardly alive, instead of dry theoreticians. When the leaves lose their colors and fall to the ground, we go through a similar experience, through a kind of mourning. We ourselves become spring, summer, autumn, and winter. In our innermost soul, we feel cold with the snow as it falls on the earth, covering it with its veil of white. Instead of remaining in the realm of arid, dead thoughts, everything is enlivened within us.

When we speak of what we call the astral body, some people become scornful of the idea, thinking it a crackpot theory, a figment of someone’s imagination. But this is not the case. It is something observed as is anything in the real world. If this is really understood, one begins to understand something else too. One begins, for example, to understand love as inner experience, the way love weaves and works through all existence. As the physical body mediates an inner experience of cold or warmth, so the experience of the astral body grants an inner perception of whether love or antipathy is weaving and working. These experiences enrich our whole lives.

However much you study the many fashionable theories today, you cannot say that what you have studied is absorbed by your full human being. It usually remains a possession of the head. If you want to apply it, you must do so according to some external principle. On the other hand, anthroposophical study passes into your whole being like the blood running throughout your whole body; it is the substance of life that penetrates you, the spiritual substance of life, if I may use such a contradictory expression. You become a different human being when you take on anthroposophy.

Take a part of the human body, let’s say this finger. The most it can do is touch. In order to do what the eye does, it would have to organize itself very differently. The eye, like the finger, consists also of tissues, but the eye has become inwardly selfless, inwardly transparent, and thus it mediates the outside world for human perception.

When someone has internalized the essence of the astral body, the astral body also becomes a means for perceiving what is out there; it becomes an “eye of the soul.” Such a person then looks into the soul of another, not in any superstitious or magical way, but in a perfectly natural way. Thus, a perception of what is in the soul of another human being takes place consciously, a perception that in ordinary situations is achieved, unconsciously, only in love. Contemporary science separates theory from practice. Anthroposophy introduces knowledge directly into the stream of life.

When studying anthroposophy, it is inconceivable to study first and then have to go through a practical course. It would be a contradiction in terms, for anthroposophy in its wholeness penetrates the soul and spirit just as blood penetrates the growing and developing human embryo. It is a reality.

This knowledge will not lead us to engage in external experiments on other human beings, but will introduce us to the inner texture of the soul. It gives us a real approach to our fellow human beings. And then we also learn something else; we learn to recognize the degree of intimacy in the relationship between human conceptual life and human physical growth.

What does contemporary psychology know about this relationship? On the one hand, one talks of how concepts or ideas are formed; on the other hand, physiologists talk about how the human being grows. But they know nothing at all of the close and intimate connection between the two, between physical growth and conceptual activity. Hence, they do not know what it means to bring the wrong kinds of concepts to a child between the ages of seven and fourteen. They do not know how harmfully this affects the bodily growth processes. They do not realize how growth processes are hindered if the child is forced to memorize too many facts. Nor do they know that in giving the child too little to remember, they encourage an overactivity of the growth processes, which can also cause certain illnesses. This intimate connection between the body and the supersensible soul force is simply not known. Without such knowledge, education and teaching remain a mere groping about in the dark. Originally the aim of anthroposophy was by no means to produce a new form of education. The aim was to provide a real understanding of the human being and, in so doing, the educational side arose almost out of its own accord.

In looking around at the reformist ideas that have arisen here and there in our time, we find that they are all well meant, and many of them deserve the greatest respect. Reformers cannot help, to begin with, that they do not possess a real and true knowledge of the human being. Were there such a knowledge behind the various schemes for educational reform, there would be no need for anthroposophy to say anything. On the other hand, if there were a real knowledge of the human being, this in itself would be nothing but anthroposophy with a different name.

In the absence of true knowledge of the human being in our modern civilization as a whole, anthroposophy came to fill the gap. Education can be based only on a knowledge of the human being. It can be fruitful only if one doesn’t separate theory from practice, and if, instead, knowledge passes into activity, as in the case of a true artist, into creative activity. It can bear fruit only if all knowledge is art—if, instead of being a science, educational science becomes an art, the art of education. Such an active form of knowledge of the human being must then become the basis of all educational work.

This is why there is an anthroposophical pedagogy at all. Not because certain people are fanatics of anthroposophy, thinking of it as some “jack of all trades” that can do everything, and therefore, among other things, can also educate children! Anthroposophical pedagogy exists because it is inherently necessary. An art of education can grow only from a realistic, mature knowledge of the human being, the knowledge that anthroposophy attempts to provide. This is why we have an anthroposophical art of education.

Following this introduction, we will return tomorrow to this subject.