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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy II
GA 304a

VIII. Waldorf Pedagogy

10 August 1923, Ilkley

3First of all, I would like to apologize for being unable to talk to you in your native language. Since this is not possible, I will speak in German, which will then be translated for you.

The methods of the Waldorf school, which I have been asked to speak about, owe their existence to the merging of two streams in cultural and spiritual life. The school was founded in Germany during the restless and disturbed times following the war, when efforts were made to create new conditions in the social realm. It all began with the ideas of the industrialist Emil Molt, who wished to begin a school for the children of the employees in his factory. This school was to offer an education that would enable the students to grow eventually into adults, well equipped to participate in social life as rational and full human beings, based on the idea that social change should not be at the mercy of political agitators. This constituted the primary element at first; the other came later.

Emil Molt had been a long-standing member of the anthroposophical movement, which is trying to reintroduce spiritual knowledge into the social life of the present times, a spiritual knowledge equally well grounded in the realities of human truths as the natural sciences, which have reached outstanding prominence and made great achievements during the last few centuries. Mister Molt asked me, in my capacity as the leader of the anthroposophical movement, to introduce pedagogical and practical methods into this new Waldorf school.

The school’s approach is not the product of the current movements for educational reform; it is based instead on a pedagogy drawing on deep concrete knowledge of the human being.

Over the course of our civilization we have gradually lost true knowledge of the human being. We turn our eyes increasingly to external nature and see only the physical and natural foundation of the human being. Certainly, this natural physical foundation must not be considered unimportant in the field of education; nevertheless, the human being consists of body, soul, and spirit, and a real knowledge of the human being can be achieved only when spirit, soul, and body are recognized equally.

The principles of Waldorf pedagogy do not depend in any way on local conditions, because this pedagogy is based on a knowledge of the human being, including that of the growing human being, the child. From this point of view it is immaterial whether one thinks of rural or city schools, of boarding schools or of day schools. Because Waldorf schools are based strictly on pedagogical and pragmatic principles, they can meet and adapt to any possible external social conditions.

Furthermore, the Waldorf school is a school for all types of children. Although at first it was opened for the children of Mister Molt’s factory, today, children from all social classes and backgrounds have been accepted there, because pedagogical and practical impulses based on real knowledge of the human being are universally human; they are international in character and relevant for all classes and races of humanity.

Here I do not want to give a detailed account of the Waldorf curriculum—there is too little time for that. In general, the school is built not so much on a fixed program as on direct daily practice and immediate contact with the children according to their character, therefore, I can give only brief indications of the main principles that underlie the Waldorf school, and I must ask you to keep this in mind.

To know the human being means, above all, to have more than the usual knowledge about how the human being’s life goes through different life stages. Although educational theories have generally considered these stages more or less, in Waldorf pedagogy they are considered in full.

In this context I must emphasize that around the child’s seventh year—at the change of teeth—a complete transformation takes place, a complete metamorphosis in the life of the child. When the second teeth begin to appear, the child becomes an altogether different being. Where does this transformation originate? With the arrival of the seventh year, the forces that had been the forces for physical growth, working in the child’s breathing and blood circulation and building the organism in its nutritive and growth activity, are now released. While leaving a remainder behind to carry on with this organic task, these forces themselves go through an important transformation as they enter the child’s metamorphosing soul life.

Recently, many psychological studies have examined how the soul works into the child’s physical organism. A proper science of the spirit does not float around in a mystical fog, but observes life and the world with clear perception, based on direct experience. Thus, spiritual science does not pose abstract questions about how soul and body are related, but asks instead through direct experience, while observing life itself, as clearly as external scientific experiments are observed.

One finds, therefore, that between birth and the change of teeth, the child’s soul forces manifest as organic forces working in the child’s physical body. These same forces, in a somewhat emancipated form, manifest purely in the soul realm (the child’s thinking and memory) in the following period between the change of teeth and puberty. The teacher’s first prerequisite, which has to become thoroughly integrated into attitude and character, is to sharpen the perception of the metamorphosis in human life that takes place around the age of seven and, further, to be conscious of the immense metamorphosis that occurs at puberty, at fourteen or fifteen.

If the growing child is approached with this viewpoint, one fact looms very large in one’s knowledge—that, until the age of seven, every child is a universal sense organ that relates as an organism to the surroundings, just as the eyes or ears relate as sense organs to the external world. Each sense organ can receive impressions from its surroundings and reflect them pictorially. Until the seventh year, the child inwardly pulsates with intense elemental forces. Impressions are received from the surroundings as if the child’s whole being were one large sense organ. The child is entirely an imitating being.

When studying the child, one finds that, until the seventh year, the physical organization is directly affected by external impressions, and later on this relationship is spiritualized and transformed into a religious relationship. We understand the child up to the change of teeth only when we perceive the forces and impulses that, based on the physical and soul organization, turn the child entirely into homo religiosus. Consequently it is incumbent on those who live close to the young child to act according to this particular situation. When we are in the presence of a young child, we have to act only in ways that may be safely imitated. For example, if a child is suspected of stealing, facts may be discovered that I can illustrate with a particular case: Parents once approached me in a state of agitation to tell me that their young boy had stolen. I immediately told them that one would have to investigate properly whether this was really the case. What had the boy done? He had spent money which he had taken from his mother’s cupboard. He had bought sweets with it and shared them with other children. He had even performed a sociable deed in the process! Every day he had seen his mother taking money from a certain place before she went shopping. He could see only what was right in his mother’s action, and so he imitated her. The child simply imitated his mother and was not a thief.

We must make sure that the child can safely imitate whatever happens in the surroundings. This includes—and this is important—sentiments and feelings, even one’s thoughts. The best educators of children under the age of seven do not just outwardly act in a way that is all right for the child to imitate—they do not even allow themselves any emotions or feelings, not even thoughts, other than what the child may imitate without being harmed.

One has to be able to observe properly how the entire process of education affects the child from the spiritual point of view. During the first seven years of life, everything that happens around the child affects the physical organization of that child. We must be able to perceive the effects of people’s activity in front of children. Let’s imagine, for example, that someone is prone to outbursts of a violent temper. Consequently, a child near that person is frequently subjected to the actions of a violent temperament and experiences shocks caused by an aggressive nature. These shocks affect not only the soul of the child, but also the breathing and blood circulation, as well as the vascular system.

If one knows human nature completely and observes not just particular ages but the entire course of life from birth to death, one also knows that anything that affects the vascular system, the blood circulation, and the intimate processes of breathing through physical and spiritual causes and impressions coming from the external world, will manifest in a person’s organization until the fortieth and fiftieth year of life. A child who is tossed about by confusing impressions will suffer from an unreliable coordination of breathing and blood circulation. We are not necessarily talking about obvious medical problems, but of subtle effects in the blood circulatory system, which must be recognized by those who wish to educate children.

The seventh year brings the change of teeth, which represents the end of a chapter, since we change our teeth only once in a lifetime. The forces that led to the second dentition are now liberated for later life, and now enter the mind and soul of the human being; for during the time of elementary schooling, the forces that had previously been involved in plastically shaping the child’s organism can now be seen working musically, so to speak, in the organism until puberty. Until the age of seven, the head organization works on the rest of the human organism. The human head is the great sculptor that forms the vascular system and the blood circulation, and so on. From the ages of seven to fifteen, the rhythmic system in the widest sense becomes the leading system of the human organism. If we can give rhythm and measure to this rhythmic system in our lessons and in our way of teaching—measure in the musical sense—as well as of giving a general musical element through the way we conduct our teaching in all lessons, then we meet the essential demands of human nature at this stage of life.

Education from the change of teeth until puberty should appeal primarily to the artistic aspect in children. An artistic element definitely pervades the Waldorf curriculum from the students’ seventh to fourteenth years. Children are guided pictorially in every respect. Thus, the letters of the alphabet are not taught abstractly. There is no human relationship to the abstract symbols that have become letters in our civilization. Written symbols are abstractions to children. We allow the letters to evolve from pictures. At first, we let our young students paint and draw, and only then do we evolve the forms of the letters from the drawings and paintings that flowed directly from their human nature. Only after the child’s whole organism—body, soul, and spirit—has become fully immersed in writing, through an artistic activity, only then do we go over to another activity, one involving only a part of the human being. Only then do we go to reading, because reading does not involve the complete human being, but only a part, whereas writing is evolved from the entire human organization. If one proceeds this way, one has treated the human individual according to the realities of body, soul, and spirit. If one’s teaching is arranged so that the artistic element can flow through the children, so that in whatever the teachers do they become artists in their work, something rather remarkable can be observed.

As you know, much thought has gone into the question of avoiding exhaustion in students during lessons. Diagrams have been constructed to show which mental or physical activities tire students most. In Waldorf schools, on the other hand, we appeal to the particular human system that never tires at all. The human being tires in the head through thinking, and also gets tired when doing physical work—when using will forces in performing limb movements. But the rhythmic system, with its breathing and heart system (the basis of every artistic activity) always works, whether one is asleep or awake, whether tired or fresh, because the rhythmic system has a particular way of working from birth until death. The healthiest educational system, therefore, appeals to the human rhythmic system, which never tires.

You can see, therefore, that all teaching, all education, in order to be faithful to a fundamental knowledge of the human being, must be based on the rhythmic system, must appeal to the students’ rhythmic forces. By bringing flexibility and music into all teaching, always beginning with the pictorial, rhythmical, melodious, and a generally musical element, one may notice something rather surprising—that, as the child progresses as a result of artistic activities, a powerful need is expressed in relation to what was developed through this pictorial and musical understanding of the world. It becomes evident that this artistic approach is too rich for permanent inner satisfaction. Soon—by the age of ten or eleven—students feel the need for a more direct approach and for simplification, because the artistic realm becomes too rich for their continued inner enjoyment. The desire for simplification becomes a natural and elementary need in the students.

Only when this process begins, has the right moment arrived for making the transition from an artistic approach to a more intellectual one. Only after the child has been allowed to experience artistic wealth is it possible to introduce the relative poverty of the intellectual element without the risk of disturbing the child’s physical and soul development. This is why we extract the intellectual from the artistic qualities. On the other hand, if one lets the children perform artistic movements, if one has them move their limbs musically, as in eurythmy (which is being performed here in Ilkley), if one encourages a sculptural, formative activity in the child, as well as musical movements that take hold of the entire body, then a remarkable hunger makes itself felt in the child—a spiritual, soulful, and bodily hunger. At this stage the child’s whole organization demands specific physical exercises, a specific physical hygiene, because a physical hygiene is healthy for the development of the human organism only when a mysterious kind of hunger is felt for the kinds of movements performed in gymnastics. In other words, the students’ feeling of a need for intellectual pursuit and for will activities arises from artistic development.

As a result of this, we have education that does not aim to develop only a particular part of human nature, but aims to develop the whole human being. We are given the possibility, for example, to train the child’s memory for the benefit of the physical organization. In this context, I would like to say something that sounds paradoxical today, but will be fully accepted by physiology in the future: Everything that works spiritually in the child affects the physical organization at the same time, and even enters the corporeality, the physical organism itself. For example, we might see people today who, around their fiftieth year, begin to suffer from metabolic diseases, such as rheumatism. If, as educators, we do not limit our observations of students only to the age of childhood, but recognize that childhood is like a seedbed for all of life to come—like the seed in the life of the plant—then one also recognizes that, when we strain the child’s powers of memory, the effect will bear right through the organism, so that in the forties or fifties metabolic illnesses will appear that the physical organization can no longer correct.

When I suggest these interconnections, you may believe me that in the Waldorf school we make every effort to ensure that the soul and spiritual aspect will have a beneficial effect on the student’s physical constitution. Every lesson is looked at from the hygienic viewpoint because we can see how spirit continues to affect the human organism. Because our pedagogy and our methods rest on our insight into the human being, we are in a position to create our curriculum and our educational goals for the various ages from direct observation of the growing child. We take up only what the child reveals as necessary. Our pedagogy is completely based on applied knowledge of the human being.

This approach makes us confident that our education is accomplished not just from the perspective of childhood, but also from the viewpoint of the entire earthly life of any child in our care. There are people who, for example, believe that one should teach a child only what can be understood through the child’s own observation; now, from a different perspective, this may be a valid opinion, but those who make such a statement ignore the value that the following situation has for life.

Between the age of seven and puberty it is most beneficial for students if their attitude toward the teacher results from a natural authority. Just as, until the age of seven, the ruling principle is imitation, so also between seven and fourteen the ruling principle is the teacher’s authority. At this stage, much of what is as still beyond the student’s comprehension is accepted in the soul simply through trust in the teacher’s authority, through a respect and an attitude of love toward the teacher. This kind of love is one of the most important educational factors.

It is important to know that, at the age of thirty or forty, one may remember something that one had accepted at the age of eight or nine on the strength of a beloved teacher’s authority. Now, as it rises up to the surface again in the soul, it permeates one’s adult consciousness. Through one’s powers, which have matured in the meantime, one begins to understand what was accepted at the age of eight or nine based merely on a beloved teacher’s authority. When such a thing happens, it is a source of human rejuvenation. It really revitalizes the entire human being in later life if, after decades, one eventually understands what one had accepted previously through a natural feeling of authority. This is another example of the need to consider the entire vista of human life and not only what is perceptible in a one-sided way in the present condition.

I would like to give another example from a moral perspective. If a child’s inherent religious feelings are nourished during religious education—feelings that live naturally in every child—the following observation can be made: Are there not people who, having reached a certain age, merely by their presence create a mood of blessing in those around them? We have all experienced how such a person enters a gathering. It is not the words of wisdom such people may speak that radiate this effect of blessing; their presence, tone of voice, and gestures are enough to create a mood of blessing in those around them. Such persons can teach us when we look back to their childhood days, at how they achieved this ability to bring grace and blessing to those around them. In childhood they respected a loved authority with almost religious veneration. No one in old age can be a blessing who has not learned in childhood to look up in loving veneration to a revered person of authority. I would like to express this symbolically in this way: If one wishes to be able in later life to lift one’s hands in blessing, one must have learned to fold them in prayer during childhood. Symbolically, the folded hands of prayer during childhood lead to the blessing hands of old age.

At all times and everywhere we must consider the whole human being. During childhood we plant the seeds for an inner religious sense of morality and for an adulthood strong enough to meet life’s demands. This can be done when one tries to build a pedagogy from full knowledge of the human being, knowledge that is the result of observation, from birth to the grave. Striving toward educational renewal has become prominent and intensive in our time because the greatest social question is really a question of education.

I have spoken only briefly here about the deep inner attitude that, permeated with a universal love for humanity, glows throughout Waldorf pedagogy. Therefore, however weak and imperfect our attempts may be, we nevertheless cherish the hope that an education based on a fuller knowledge of the human being can, at the same time, be an education for all of humanity in the best sense. To work at school through observation of human life may be the best way also to work toward the good of life everywhere. This will certainly be the fundamental question inherent in most of the striving for educational reform in our time.