Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy II
X. Moral and Physical Education
19 November 1923, The Hague
The desire has been expressed that I should say more about Waldorf education. Because today’s meeting had not been arranged yet when I spoke to you last Wednesday, tonight’s talk may have to be somewhat aphoristic.
A few days ago I pointed out how the art of education as discussed here is meant to be based on true knowledge of the human being. Such a knowledge and insight regarding the human being must be comprehensive — that is, it must consider more than the physical and soul aspects of the human being and include the entire human being, made up of body, soul, and spirit working together as a unified whole.
On the other hand, I have also emphasized that, if we want to practice a real art of education, we must keep in mind the life-span of each student from birth to death, because much of what is implanted through education during the first life period, with regard to both health and illness, often manifests only during the last stages of a person’s life. If teachers and educators consider only the students’ present physical and soul-spiritual conditions, and if they develop their methods only according to what they see at that particular stage, they will not be capable of laying the proper foundations for a balanced and healthy development of their students in later years, thus enabling them to grow into strong, harmonious, and able people. To lay such a foundation, however, is precisely the aim of the art of education we are speaking of here. Because of this goal, our education is not in any way one-sided. One could easily believe that, because this education is the offspring of anthroposophical spiritual science, it would tend one-sidedly toward a spiritual perspective. But this is just not the case. Simply because it stays conscientiously focused on the entire human being, the physical aspect of its students receives the same full consideration that the soul-spiritual aspect receives. One could even say that the educational treatment of the child’s soul and spirit is dealt with so that whatever the educator develops in the child will affect the physical organization in the best possible way.
In the Waldorf school in Stuttgart, as well as in other schools that follow similar educational principles and methods, we educate in order that the spiritual may have the best possible effect on the students’ physical organization with every step toward a spiritual development. This is how it has to be in a true and genuine art of education. In children the soul and spiritual spheres are not yet distinct from the physical body as they are in adults.
We all know the difficulties that today’s so-called philosophers encounter when trying to clearly picture the relationship between the spiritual and physical aspects of the human being. On the one side is the spiritual aspect. It is experienced inwardly through thinking and the soul life. Essentially, it is completely different from what we meet when studying the human physical body in physiology and anatomy. It is not easy to build a bridge from what we experience inwardly as our own soul and spirit to what an examination of the physical human body offers.
If one observes the child’s development without prejudice, however, and if one has an eye for what is happening during the change of teeth, when the child undergoes its first important metamorphosis in life, one cannot help realizing that at this point the child’s entire soul life goes through a great change. Previously, the child’s representations emerged in an elemental, dreamy way. During this stage of life, we witness the development of memory; good observers will notice a transformation of the memory during, or because of, the change of teeth. Observation shows that until the change of teeth, the inner activity involved in remembering — that is, the inner activity that lives in memory — is really in the nature of a habit developed through the physical body. The child remembers — indeed, remembers remarkably well. This remembering, however, feels more like practiced repetition of an activity that has become an acquired skill. Indeed, memory as a whole during the first period of life really is an inner skill, the development of an inner habit. Only from the change of teeth onward, does a child start looking back on past experiences — that is, surveying past experiences in its mind — in a kind of review. In the evolving of memory, the soul life of the child undergoes a radical change.
The child’s ability to form representations presents us with the same picture. When you look without bias at a young child’s mental imagery, you will find that the will forces are very active. The child under seven cannot yet separate inner will experience from the experience of will in thinking. This separation begins during the change of teeth. In other words, with the change of teeth, the child’s soul life goes through a complete metamorphosis. But what has actually happened? What is revealed as the child’s true soul life after the change of teeth obviously couldn’t have appeared from nothing. It must have been there already, but it did not manifest in the same way as during the later stage. It was active in the organic forces of growth and nourishment. It was an organic force that transformed into the force of memory, into freed soul forces.
If we want to progress in education in a way that is proper and professional, we must develop the same inner scientific courage shown in modern physics. There the concept of “latent heat” has been accepted, a concept that implies heat is bound to certain substances without radiating any externally measurable warmth. If, however, through some outer process this heat is drawn from the substance, it becomes so-called “liberated heat.” Previously it had been “latent” heat. In physics we are used to such a concept. We should have the courage to form a similar concept when speaking about the human being. We should say: With the change of teeth the child’s soul life has been liberated. Previously it was latent, bound to organic forces of growth, and worked in the form of nutrition and growth processes. Some of these forces, needed for later life, are still retained there, but part of them have separated off to become transformed into the liberated life of soul.
If these matters are not merely spoken of abstractly (and they need to be talked about), if as a teacher one can observe them concretely, a great wonder hidden in an intimate, tender, and refined way is revealed. The greatest wonder to be experienced in the world is for an attentive observer to watch the as yet indistinct features of an infant’s face gradually assume more definition, and the jerky, undirected movements become more and more coordinated into meaningful limb movements. It is wonderful to see something rise to the surface of the whole organism from the child’s center. If we can follow it with the open eyes of an artist, we experience wonderful world secrets in this unfolding of form and figure.
Similarly, when the child reaches school age — that is, during the change of teeth — we can see how what was working before through the forces of growth, is now liberated and develops as the child’s life of soul. If we see this happening concretely and in detail, enthusiasm for education really awakens in us. It then becomes possible to gradually and appropriately guide the forces that had lived within the child until the second dentition.
Until the change of teeth, the child is a being of will — not in the same sense as a human being in later life, but a being of will who, at the same time, is completely a sense being. The following is meant as a metaphor but, if I may express myself in this way, the child really is one great and comprehensive sense organ. Within each sense organ, there lives more than the ability to perceive; there is also a certain will force, although in the actual sense organs this element of will is somewhat hidden. Likewise, in the will element of the child, the will lives like a sense organ until the coming of the second dentition. The child perceives everything in the surroundings in a much more intimate and sensitive way, and in such a way that everything is imitated inwardly, right down to the most internal organic formations. The child is a refined imitator. It is interesting that the child not only reacts to what is seen in the movements and gestures of other people (and of course the child also learns to speak by imitating what is heard), the child not only perceives these outer things, but also imitates people’s moods, even their thoughts. One should be aware of life’s imponderables. While in the proximity of a young child, we should not allow ourselves even one impure thought, because the fine processes of vibrations, set in motion by our thoughts, are imitated by the child’s physical organism. Usually, people are totally unaware of such interplay between one human being and another. And scientific opinion is still fairly vague about this.
Permit me an aside to illustrate the strange relationships, not just between human beings, but even between a human being and an animal. It is something that does not easily fit into what one can perceive with one’s eyes in the ordinary ways of sense perception, and it touches on the supersensible element to which I have frequently referred during the last few days. Some time ago, there was much talk about the “counting horses.” I have not actually seen the main performing horses, which, as far as I know, were kept in Elberfeld, but I did observe one of these horses in action: It was the horse belonging to Mister von Osten in Berlin. I was able to study this horse and all its achievements. Spectators who observed superficially what was happening could see Mister von Osten standing next to his horse, presenting it with simple problems of arithmetic. The horse stamped the answers with one of its hooves, and this struck the onlookers as a great miracle.
However, ordinary members of the public were not the only ones to come and see this wonder; among the audience was also a university lecturer who wrote a treatise about Mister von Osten’s horse. It is a very interesting book, although one might disagree with it. Now this university lecturer came to a very peculiar conclusion. He could not arrive at a proper explanation of the fact that Mister von Osten’s horse could stamp “eleven” after being asked, “What is five plus six?” Because it is obvious to anyone who knows the limitations of such a creature that the horse could not possibly calculate numbers with anything like human sense. Consequently, it would be nonsense for anyone to believe the horse really could answer simple arithmetic problems.
To discover how these results were obtained, one needs to ponder what was happening below the surface. Still, the fact remained: the horse did answer the questions correctly. This led the university lecturer to theorize that Mister von Osten continued to count numbers up to eleven silently in his mind as he was asking the question, “Five plus six is?” And when he reached the number representing the answer, he made a very subtle facial expression. The author of the treatise believed that the subtle play in Mister von Osten’s face was giving the horse the hint, and while he counted to eleven, specific vibrations emanated from him that were different from those accompanying previous numbers. According to the lecturer, the horse was supposed to notice these vibrations, which caused it to stamp the answer with one of its hooves. Thus, the trick was presumably due to the fine vibrations the horse was able to perceive.
So much for the lecturer’s theory. There is, however, one flaw, and the lecturer was well aware of it. Apart from the horse, any observer should be able to detect the fine play of expressions in Mister von Osten’s face. The author of the treatise explained this away by saying that human beings cannot detect such a play of features — which amounts to an admission that a horse had a greater capacity for observing a human face than a university lecturer! This really goes a little too far, and the crux of the matter is actually very different.
While I was studying the relationship between Mister von Osten and his horse, the most important factor for me was the strange feeling rapport with the horse, which Herr von Osten kept going all the time by taking sugar lumps from his pocket and giving them to his horse while it was answering the problems. In this way an animalistic feeling of sympathy arose. Here, I was witnessing one of life’s imponderables. This feeling of gratitude must have enabled the horse to perceive what was in its master’s mind, not through the play of features on Mister von Osten’s face, but on the waves of the animals’s own feelings of gratitude for the sugar lumps, enabling it to know to stamp when hearing its master call out the number eleven as answer to the question, “What is six plus five?” The secret of this phenomenon was an intimate relationship between master and horse, enabling the horse to feel its way into what lived in von Osten’s mind. This is how a kind of telepathy of sentiments came about. I do not wish to go into this matter further, but only wanted to mention it in this context. I came to my conclusion after careful consideration. I mention it as proof that even in more primitive creatures, empathy can occur between one living being and another.
A similar thing happens very much in the young child. The child also experiences in other people what cannot be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears, and these experiences have a lasting inner effect. Consequently we should not allow a single unworthy thought to enter our minds while around a young child, even though we cannot possibly prove the existence of such a thought by specific vibrations. Yes, the child is a very fine sense organ and completely an imitator. You must try to realize what this means. You must imagine that whatever happens in the proximity of the child will have an effect right into the physical organization, even if the effect cannot be proved with the aid of crude external instruments. If, for example, a choleric father bursts into tempers in the presence of a child, and if such outbursts become part of daily life, the child will experience these scenes right into its blood circulation and into the formation of its glandular secretions.
The whole physical organization of the child will be formed according to what the soul and spirit experienced from the surroundings. The child is an imitator during the first period of life, up to the second dentition. But this form of imitation has a direct effect on its physical organism. In the blood, in the blood vessels, and in the fine structure of the nervous system, we all carry throughout our lives a certain constitution resulting from what influenced us during the first life period. From this point of view, the very first education or upbringing, either in the parental home or anywhere else in the child’s environment, very naturally amounts to a physical education par excellence. All spiritual influences around the child also enter the physical, bodily realm of the child. Whatever the delicate organization of the child absorbs in the bodily realm has lasting effects during its entire earthly life until the moment of death.
When a child has gone through the second dentition, this fine sense perception decreases. The child’s own ideation begins to separate from sense perceptions. But the essential quality of the sense perceptions, which during the first life period completely sets the tone, is the pictorial element, because the child naturally cannot yet comprehend abstract concepts. Introducing these to a child would be an act of gross folly. Living in pictures is of paramount importance for the child’s life of ideation — indeed, for the child’s entire soul life until the beginning of puberty — and any intellectual teaching before the age of puberty is a sin against the development of the child’s entire soul life. A child needs to be taught through a pictorial and artistic presentation. During this stage the relationship between teacher and student is immensely important. I would like to clarify this with an example.
To anyone who wants to introduce a higher truth to the child — for example, the truth of the immortality of the human soul — it will be obvious that one has to begin in the form of an image. One could gradually lead the child to the concept of immortality by saying, “Look at the caterpillar that turns into a cocoon.” One can show the child a cocoon, or a chrysalis. Then one shows how a butterfly emerges. Finally one can tell the child that the human soul is resting in the body, just as the butterfly rests in the chrysalis, except that the human soul is not outwardly visible; nevertheless, it flies out of the body after death.
Of course, such an approach is not meant to demonstrate the immortality of the soul. This approach would provoke legitimate objections that have already been voiced by various people. All I have in mind is to show how one can give the child a picture of the immortality of the human soul. The child will become acquainted with the proofs at a later stage in life. The point is that between the change of teeth and puberty the child must receive content in the form of images. Such pictures enliven the soul and make it fertile for the entire life to come.
In this context there are two ways to proceed. Some teachers may feel vastly superior in intelligence to the child, whom they consider immature and as yet ignorant. This is a very natural feeling, or so it would appear, at least — how else could a teacher teach a child? Consequently, such teachers may think up a picture of the emerging butterfly for the benefit of the ignorant child and then describe it. They will not be very successful, for their efforts will make little impact upon the child’s soul.
There is, however, another possibility; a teacher may not feel at all intelligent, and that the child is stupid. By the way, I am not suggesting here that teachers should assume the opposite either. Nevertheless, one can take a different approach. A teacher may hold the view that this picture reveals a truth that spiritual powers have revealed in a natural process, and in this case one believes in the truth of this picture. One really believes in the truth of this simile. A teacher may well feel and believe that the creative forces of nature have placed before our eyes a picture of what actually happens on a higher level when a human soul leaves the physical body at death. If one permeates such a picture with one’s own belief, thus feeling fully united with it, and if one speaks to a child with the naturally ensuing enthusiasm, then such a picture will live in the child and become fertile for life.
This example shows that being smart in itself is not necessarily the hallmark of a good teacher. Of course intelligence and cleverness will help in many ways and, in any case, it is obviously preferable and better if the teacher is clever rather than foolish. Still, cleverness alone does not make a teacher into a real artist of education. Artistry in teaching is achieved only when the teacher faces the world with a mind and soul that brings about a truly living relationship between teacher and student, so that what lives in the teacher can continue in the soul of the child. Then a natural sense of authority will develop in the child rather than one artificially imposed.
All teaching during the time between the change of teeth and puberty has to be built on this natural sense of authority. This is why we must place the greatest emphasis on the use of a pictorial approach during the early school years (from around six to approximately fourteen). During these years we must introduce our subject matter in images. At the latest possible time (maybe not until the approach of puberty between thirteen and fourteen) we can gradually introduce subjects that need to be understood abstractly. It is best to wait as long as possible before drawing children out of a direct, realistic experience of life in their surroundings. This is because, even between the change of teeth and puberty, something is left, although weakened, that was present during the first tender age of childhood up to the second dentition; even now, everything a child encounters from the outside world has after-effects within the physical corporeality.
During the second life period, whatever the child perceives now has a less powerful effect on the organic constitution than during the years preceding the change of teeth. Nevertheless, how teaching content is introduced to children matters very much in how it effects physical development. Here the teacher must achieve something that cannot be accomplished theoretically, but only through the artistic approach that must weave and work throughout education. Let us again keep to a single detail; no matter how much one insists that a child’s memory should not be overloaded — a request that, in the abstract, is correct — it is nevertheless in the child’s nature to develop memory. The child’s memory forces need to be cultivated. But it is essential that, through proper knowledge of the growing child, the teacher should be able to feel and observe how much pressure upon the memory becomes harmful. A very great deal depends on this faculty of good judgment.
Teachers who have become artists of education will see in the students’ outer appearance something like a barometer, which will tell them how much memorizing they may expect from the students and when to stop appealing to the powers of memory. Here are the facts: What happens when we strain the students’ memory too much? Where does the force of memory originate? Remember what happens during the second dentition — that the forces of growth working in the nutritive processes are liberated and now work in the realm of the soul. This also happens continually, though to a lesser extent, later in life, which is why we need forces of growth through the digestive processes of nutrition. The entire human life is a transformation of healthy forces of growth, working to build the organs and the blood, into liberated soul forces.
What happens in the child at the change of teeth — in a big way and all at once, as it were — happens again and again, whenever we absorb something into memory. Whatever works on us when we perceive something with the senses, or when we perceive something in words, affects our entire physical organism. Anyone expected to remember something — by memorizing a poem, for example — will experience the necessity for the physical organism’s cooperation. Just look at someone who is told to remember something; you will observe much physical activity in the act of memorizing. What has found a seat in the physical organism cannot be remembered yet, however, because it is linked to the forces of growth and nourishment, and it must first be transformed into soul forces. In the realm of the soul, this is done through memory.
Whenever I give a child too much to remember, I use up too much of the child’s life forces, the vital forces; consequently, if I can see through the entire process, I will notice the child becoming pale and anxious, because I am appropriating organic forces. One needs to watch for this pallor and for subsequent anxiety and nervousness. You see, by aiming continuously and rigorously at training the child’s memory, we weaken the growth forces. If we activate the students’ memory too much, we stunt their physical growth. Such retarding of the forces of growth is caused by an exaggerated appeal to the memory forces. What is done to the students’ organism in such a case is expressed years later in various metabolic illnesses caused by harmful deposits of uric acid or kindred substances.
The most important point is this: We must guide children’s education in ways that work in proper harmony with their physical organism. We must avoid planting seeds of metabolic diseases for later life. Too little is known about the links between old-age gout and rheumatism, and the wrong kind of schooling through overtaxing students’ memory; if more were known, we would stand on a more realistic ground in education. One would then also recognize the fallacy of separating education into academic and physical subjects, since everything one does in the academic subjects works into the physical constitution of the child, and, conversely, everything one does in physical education works back again into the child’s spiritual conditions. If you perceive a melancholic temperament in one child, or a sanguine temperament in another, this observation should immediately color your treatment of the two different types of children.
If you notice, for example, that a child’s pronounced melancholic character is endangering the physical health, then the parents must be contacted. The Waldorf school is built entirely on direct and close contact with the parents. In the Waldorf school, the students’ parents are called to parent meetings every month, and sometimes even more frequently. Matters that require cooperation between home and school are discussed in such meetings. Many points must be brought to the parents’ notice. For example, there may be a child of a strongly melancholic temperament. One recognizes that this disposition is connected with the secretion of the liver, and that this in turn is related to the sugar consumption. In meetings with the parents, every possibility is offered to reach an agreement to increase the sugar intake by sweetening the child’s foods. As an educator, one always has to consider the physical aspect, insofar as it has a spiritual counterpart. On the other hand, one educates the child so that, with the help of the spiritual, one can effect the best possible conditions for physical health.
Let us now take the opposite case, not an overloading of memory, but the opposite. I am thinking of modern teachers who may advocate never straining the students’ memory, and who consequently omit altogether the cultivation and training of the memory in their teaching. I often feel tempted to say to those who always clamor for the observational methods of object lessons: If one neglects the training of the memory, one will also notice physical symptoms in the children. The child’s skin becomes unhealthily red. The child begins to complain about all kinds of inner pressures, and finally one realizes that the child is growing at an alarming rate.
By following such a case, we may notice that the neglect of memory training is weakening the physical body’s ability to absorb food into various organs. If memory is insufficiently stimulated, the stomach reacts by not secreting enough acids, or the acids secreted are not adequate for a proper digestion. This tendency will spread over the whole organism, and the ability to absorb necessary substances decreases. After many years, one may discover that the physical body of such a person is always hungry, yet it cannot function properly, organically speaking. Such a person has a tendency toward lung diseases and kindred illnesses. Any education based on real knowledge of the human being will not drift into a “never-never land” of vague spirituality, but will continually observe the whole human being, encompassing spirit, soul, and body. This is absolutely essential to the art of education.
Teaching must be arranged so that there is enough variety within the lessons. On the one hand, students must be kept occupied intellectually. (The intellectual approach is used only for subjects directed to the immediate realm of the soul; the intellectual element as such must be avoided until the approach of puberty.) In physical training, the children are kept busy with gymnastics, eurythmy, and similar activities. If the children’s day is organized on the basis of abstract requirements, however (and this happens only too often for mere scheduling convenience), one’s efforts are unlikely to be fruitful. One must keep in mind that, when we teach children reading, writing, and arithmetic, which work most of all on their soul life, there is an opposite process going on at the same time in the physical organism, indicating that everything engaging the child’s head has the opposite effect in the limb and motor system. It is incorrect to say, for example, that children tire less in gymnastics lessons than in reading or writing lessons, which is what experimental psychology claims to have determined. In reality, if you put gymnastics between two other lessons — for example, an arithmetic lesson from nine to ten A.M., gymnastics from ten to eleven, and history from eleven to twelve — then the child, having had gymnastics in the previous lesson, is not rested for the history lesson, but quite the contrary.
The real point is something very different. A person who can apply real knowledge of the human being knows that something is always working in the physical organism, even if only subconsciously. Within the child, much remains only partially conscious. It escapes observation, therefore, and is not taken up consciously later. It then happens that, through the activity of soul and spirit, a process of desire is stimulated. This must be allowed to proceed so that our teaching does not remain external to the child. Lessons that appeal to soul and spirit must be arranged so that, through the lessons, an inner physical mood for gymnastics is stimulated. If I engage a child in gymnastics who has no inner organic desire for this activity, the child will soon show signs of being unable to direct the forces inward as a continuation of outer movements. Everything that is developed while the body is engaged in physical movements must be prolonged inwardly. While the body is moving, inner metabolic processes occur. Something we could call a process of combustion, transformed into conditions for life, occurs. And what is thus activated, continues to work throughout the organism.
If I allow a child to do gymnastics when there is no inner desire for it, the child cannot cope with these inner metabolic processes. As a result, I may notice the child becoming somewhat emotional through doing gymnastics in these circumstances. All kinds of passionate feelings may develop. If I force a child to do gymnastics, a child who has no organic desire for it, I can arouse an unhealthy inner mood that can even lead to fits of anger. Such a mood may become a chronic part of a child’s characterological disposition.
All this can be avoided. The enhancement of a healthy physical development can be achieved only when, as an artist of education, one is guided by the right instincts of soul to give gymnastics lessons their proper place in the timetable relative to other subjects, where soul and spirit are engaged so that a desire for gymnastics is awakened. Then the organism can use properly the forces developed through the activity of gymnastics.
It is very important that the teacher be a kind of artist, who can affect the child with an artistic outlook, but also with a tremendous sense of responsibility. While the latter is not absolutely imperative in other artistic pursuits — where the material used is not living — it is essential for teaching. The teacher works with the growing human being — that is, with this wonderful interplay of thousands of forces working into each other. This interplay cannot be comprehended through a theoretical kind of pedagogy any more than one could teach someone to regulate the digestion through theoretical physiology. It can be comprehended only through intuition.
Consequently, anyone who educates out of full knowledge of human nature will train their students’ spiritual faculties in a way that enhances the healthy development of their physical bodies. They will arrange the physical aspect of education so it can be the basis for an all-around development of the spiritual aspect. This development, however, is only possible with the kind of intimate adjustment between teacher and student that I have indicated with the example of the emerging butterfly as a picture of the human soul’s immortality. If such a close-knit relationship exists, the natural feeling for the authority of the teacher, which I presented as an essential feature in education, will develop naturally. To the students the teacher becomes the unquestioned representative of truth, beauty, and goodness. The child should not have to judge abstractly what is true or false, beautiful or ugly, good or evil; this faculty of moral judgments belongs to a later age. The student’s sense of truth should be guided by the teacher’s revered personality. The teacher has to be the portal for the experience of beauty, truth, and goodness. The student’s sense of truth will be the natural consequence of the right relationship between teacher and child.
Something absolutely essential is achieved in this way for the moral development of the child, and it has to be accomplished by the proper means. For, from the moral perspective, a young person is morally crippled by a premature introduction of moral commandments in the form of “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not.” Children need to experience what is good or evil through the living medium of a teacher. For this to happen, the teacher’s attitude must engender in children a spontaneous love for good, a pleasure in what is good, and a feeling of aversion toward evil. In our moral teaching, we must not insist on moral commandments, or the prohibition of what we consider morally wrong; please note this carefully, Ladies and Gentlemen, because much depends on precisely this nuance. We must nurture in children, between the change of teeth and puberty, an experience of what is good or evil in the emotional sphere — not in will impulses. The good must bring inner pleasure. We must engender love and sympathy for the good before we turn it into a moral duty by appealing to the will sphere. What eventually must become moral action first has to grow from an experience of moral pleasure or aversion in the realm of feeling.
Again, we work best toward this goal when we approach it through imagery. If teachers have the necessary imagination to present to their students the moral or immoral actions of well-known historical people, which the children will then wish either to emulate or to shun, if teachers know how to describe a historical situation in such a lively way that they evoke inner pleasure or displeasure in the students, or if they invent such stories (which is even better because through their own creativity they are more closely linked to this inner pleasure or displeasure in students), then moral appreciation is awakened in the students’ feeling life.
And then something interesting will happen; when the children reach sexual maturity, the right moral impulses for the will life will develop out of a properly conducted feeling of moral pleasure or displeasure, just as sexual love grows naturally from physical development. The hallmark of a right education is that whatever is meant to develop through inner maturity of soul out of a previous budding stage, will do so on its own. This approach is far better than grafting preconceived moral codes onto students. If we wish to cultivate morality, it must grow in the sphere of the will. This growth will occur only when we plant the seeds for it in young children. We can do this by kindling feelings of pleasure for good and feelings of aversion for evil during the stage of life when children need to experience love and sympathy for the educator.
Everything depends on bringing the appropriate content to children at the right time of life. That content will then work itself out properly in later life. Just as when we plant an acorn in the soil, branches, leaves, and fruits will grow above it, so when we plant the right seeds within children at seven or eight in the form of moral pleasure or displeasure, the appropriate sense of moral duty will evolve as the child turns seventeen or eighteen.
It is especially important in this sense to know how to guide the child’s religious development. It cannot be genuine and inwardly true if it is brought about solely through religious stories or creeds; it depends rather on the teacher’s ability to engender a religious mood in the child. Religious education achieves its goals only when the religious mood rises spontaneously from the depths of children’s souls. However, if the teachers themselves are not permeated with a religious mood, it cannot develop in the child. If, on the other hand, this mood is there in the teachers, they need only do as we do in our so-called free religion lessons in the Waldorf school.
I want to emphasize strongly at this point that the Waldorf school is definitely not an ideological school. We do not wish to educate students to become young anthroposophists; but we do wish to use our anthroposophical knowledge so that the school can become an organization using proper methods in the truest sense. With the help of anthroposophy, we want to develop the right methods of education in every sphere. It is simply untrue to say that the Waldorf school’s intention is to indoctrinate students into anthroposophy. To prevent such an unfounded rumor from gaining ground, I have given instructions for religion lessons to be given by members of the various religious denominations. This means that Roman Catholic children will receive their religious instruction from Roman Catholic priests, Protestant children from Protestant ministers, and so on.
Due to the inherent circumstances of the Waldorf school’s beginning, however, many of our first students were children of religious dissenters. For these children, “free” Christian religious lessons — that is, free of established denominations — were initially included on a trial basis in the Waldorf school schedule. We were gratified to find that children of thoroughly atheistic parents attended these lessons with their parents’ consent. One can truly say that these free religious lessons are supported extremely well. Nevertheless, we take great care not to be mistaken as a denominational or an ideological school, but to show that our interest is in the practice of definite educational methods.
One of these methods, for example, consists of introducing the appropriate lesson material in the right way and at the appropriate age. These free religious lessons are there only for children who attend them voluntarily. Admittedly these now include considerably more students than are receiving religious instruction from Catholic or Protestant religion teachers. We cannot be held responsible for this situation. Students feel greatly stimulated by these free religious lessons, which bear a thoroughly Christian viewpoint and character; otherwise students would shun them. I mention this merely as a fact and not with the intention of judging.
The religious lessons are based on the premise that a religious atmosphere can be created in every lesson and subject. Such an atmosphere is created in our school. When teachers, through their own soul mood, connect everything that exists in the sensory world to the supersensible and divine, everything they bring to their classes will naturally transcend the physical, not in a sentimental or vaguely mystical way, but simply as a matter of course. All that is needed for this is the necessary feeling of tact. Then everything introduced to the students in various subjects can be summed up, as it were, in a religious mood. Our few specific religion lessons are given as additional lessons during each week. What lives in all of the other lessons anyway, and leads students to the divine-spiritual, is brought together in the free religious lessons, and lifted to the divine and spiritual level, through interpretation of natural phenomena and observation of historical events. Eventually, through the right cultivation of the religious mood, the children will experience moral impulses as the divine speaking in human nature and in the human being.
To bring about the right cultivation of a religious mood, something easily overlooked nowadays needs to be developed in the children; an honest, entirely open, feeling of gratitude must be nurtured beginning at an early age. Certainly, love must grow in the natural relationship between teacher and student during the years between the change of teeth and puberty, and much care must be given in nurturing this love. Gratitude has to be developed so that children experience it for everything received. Whatever it may be, whatever has been received from another person calls forth a feeling of gratitude. An immense enrichment of the soul is achieved through the experience of this feeling of gratitude. One should see to it that, even in a very young child, a feeling of thankfulness is developed. If one does this, a feeling of gratitude will be transformed into love when the child enters the second period of life. In every situation in life, love will be colored through, permeated with gratitude. Even a superficial observation of social life demonstrates that a valuable impulse for the social question can be fostered when we educate people toward a greater feeling of gratitude for what their fellow human beings are doing. For this feeling of gratitude is a bridge from one human soul and heart to another; without gratitude, this bridge could never be built.
If people had a greater sense of gratitude toward other human beings, we would not see so much of what passes for social demands, social radicalism, and so on, occasionally of a rather grotesque kind. When I say this, I am not siding with one or another social group. My own contribution to the subject can be read in my book Towards Social Renewal. However, if this feeling of gratitude is nurtured in the child at an early age, and experienced in the child’s love for the teacher between the second dentition and puberty; if gratitude is encouraged to enter the child’s soul so that with the arrival of sexual maturity the soul can unfold genuine love for other human beings, as well as for all of nature and the divine and spiritual beings; if gratitude becomes all-pervasive, then out of gratitude, the religious mood will develop in the human being. Gratitude toward the divine and spiritual powers sustaining life can be a tremendous protection for the soul. It is an important factor in the generation of inner warmth and a sense of security in life. The feeling of gratitude toward the divine and spiritual powers is in itself a great source of revitalization for our earthly life. I would like to put it this way: What intensifies the physical organic forces in the blood is comparable to what vitalizes the human soul spiritually when it develops love and gratitude toward the entire universe.
Working in the art of education as we advocate avoids one-sidedly physical or spiritual-mental education. It allows instead the beneficial confluence of spirit working in matter and matter as the bearer of creative spirit. Then we educate the spiritual and the physical sides simultaneously. This is the only adequate way, because the human being is a unity of spirit and the physical. However, such an education must never degenerate into one-sided theorizing, but must remain a true art, an art that lives in the person of the teacher. But one needs to have faith that nature herself is the great artist working in harmony with divine, spiritual forces. Basically, unless one can lead abstract natural laws into an artistic appreciation, one does not understand what is weaving and living in nature.
What is the central point of such an attitude toward education? Today there is much talk about how children should be educated. Prescriptions are handed out for a more or less intellectual kind of education, or for more emphasis on the will aspect in education. Great! One talks a lot about children, and rightly so. Of course, children should be at the center of all educational endeavor. But this is possible only if each individual teacher is really capable of deep insight, with an artistic eye that can see the human being as an entity. That is why all realistic discussions about education ultimately come down to the question of finding the right teachers. To do this, Waldorf pedagogy has been created from the work of the teachers’ faculty meetings and various staff meetings. Ultimately, the faculty of teachers is the soul of the school, but this can be only when the various teachers can work together.
To conclude, let me say this: If one enters a school run according to the aims of this art of education, if one views the attitude of the teaching staff, from which everything radiates that happens in each class and affects each child, one would be reminded of the words above the door of the room where the teachers meet for their consultations, the ever admonishing words: “All your educational endeavors should bring out in you the urge for self-education! Your self-education is the seed for everything you do for your children. Indeed, whatever you achieve can only be a product and result of your self-education.”
This must not remain just a more or less external admonishment; it must be engraved deeply into the heart, mind, and soul of every teacher. Ultimately, human beings are educated into becoming good citizens of the world, of use to their fellow human beings. Only one thing can and must be achieved in education, especially at a time when life has become so complex and demands so much constructive energy to supplant the forces of decay; this one thing is the recognition that true education, education toward love, will be fostered through the dedicated efforts of the head, the soul, and the heart of each individual teacher.