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Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy II
GA 304a

XII. Educational Issues II

30 August 1924, London

First I must thank Mrs. MacMillan and Mrs. Mackenzie for their kind words of greeting and for the beautiful way they have introduced our theme. Furthermore, I must apologize for speaking to you in German followed by an English translation. I know that this will make your understanding more difficult, but it is something I cannot avoid.

What I have to tell you is not about general ideas on educational reform or formalized programs of education; basically, it is about the practice of teaching, which stands the test of time only when actually applied in classroom situations. This teaching has been practiced in the Waldorf school for several years now. It has shown tangible and noticeable results, and it has been recognized in England also; on the strength of this, it became possible, through the initiative of Mrs. Mackenzie, for me to give educational lectures in Oxford. This form of teaching is the result not only of what must be called a spiritual view of the world, but also of spiritual research. Spiritual research leads first to a knowledge of human nature, and, through that, to a knowledge of the “human being becoming,” from early childhood until death. This form of spiritual research is possible only when one acknowledges that the human being can look into the spiritual world when the necessary and relevant forces of cognition are developed. It is difficult to present in a short survey of this vast theme what normally needs to be acquired through a specific training of the human soul, with the goal of acquiring the faculty of perceiving and comprehending not just the material aspects of the human being and the sensory world, but also the spiritual element, so that this spiritual element may work in the human will.

However, I will certainly try to indicate what I mean. One can strengthen and intensify inner powers of the soul, just as it is possible to research the sense-perceptible world by external experiments using instrumental aids such as the microscope, telescope, or other optical devices, through which the sense world yields more of its secrets and reveals more to our vision than in ordinary circumstances. By forging inner “soul instruments” in this way, it is possible to perceive the spiritual world in its own right through the soul’s own powers. One can then discover also the fuller nature of the human being, that what is generally understood of the human being in ordinary consciousness and through the so-called sciences is only a small part of the whole of human nature, and that beyond the physical aspect, a second human being exists.

As I begin to describe this, remember that names do not matter, but we must have them. I make use of old names because they are known here and there from literature. Nevertheless, I must ask you not to be put off by these names. They do not stem from superstition, but from exact research. Nevertheless, there is no reason why one should not use other names instead. In any case, the second human member, which I shall call the etheric body, is visible when one’s soul forces have been sufficiently strengthened as a means for a deeper cognition (just as the physical senses, by means of microscope or telescope, can penetrate more deeply into the sense world). This etheric body is the first of the spiritual bodies linked with the human physical body.

When studying the physical human being only from the viewpoint of conventional science, one cannot really understand how the physical body of the human being can exist throughout a lifetime. This is because, in reality, most physical substances in the body disappear within a period of seven to eight years. No one sitting here is the same, physically speaking, as the person of some seven or eight years ago! The substances that made up the body then have in the meantime been cast off, and new ones have taken their place. In the etheric body we have the first real supersensible entity, which rules and permeates us with forces of growth and nourishment throughout earthly life.

The ether body is the first supersensible body to consider. The human being has an ether body, just as plants do, but minerals do not. The only thing we have in common with the minerals is a physical form. However, furnished with those specially developed inner senses and perceptions developed by powers of the soul, we come to recognize also a third sheath or member of the human being, which we call the astral body. (Again I must ask you not to be disturbed by the name.) The human being has an astral body, as do animals. We experience sensation through the astral body. An organism such as the plant, which can grow and nourish itself, does not need sensation, but human beings and animals can sense. The astral body cannot be designated by an abstract word, because it is a reality.

And then we find something that makes the human being into a bearer of three bodies, an entity that controls the physical, etheric, and astral bodies. It is the I, the real inner spiritual core of the human being. So the four members are first the physical body, second the etheric body, third the astral body, and finally the human I-organization. Let those who are not aware of these four members of the human being—those who believe that external observation, such as in anatomy and physiology, encompasses the entire human being—try to find a world view! It is possible to formulate ideas in many ways, whether or not they are accepted by the world. Accordingly one may be a spiritualist, an idealist, a materialist, or a realist. It is not difficult to establish views of the world, because one only needs to formulate them verbally; one only needs to maintain a belief in one or another viewpoint. But unless one’s world views stem from actual realities and from real observations and experiences, they are of no use for dealing with the external aspect of the human being, nor for education.

Let’s suppose you are a bridge builder and base your mechanical construction on a faulty principle: the bridge will collapse as the first train crosses it. When working with mechanics, realistic or unrealistic assumptions will prove right or wrong immediately. The same is true in practical life when dealing with human beings. It is very possible to digest world views from treatises or books, but one cannot educate on this basis; it is only possible to do so on the strength of a real knowledge of the human being. This kind of knowledge is what I want to speak about, because it is the only real preparation for the teaching profession. All external knowledge that, no matter how ingeniously contrived, tells a teacher what to do and how to do it, is far less important than the teacher’s ability to look into human nature itself and, from a love for education and the art of education, allow the child’s own nature to tell the teacher how and what to teach.

Even with this knowledge, however—a knowledge strengthened by supersensible perception of the human being—we will find it impossible during the first seven years of the child’s life, from birth to the second dentition, to differentiate between the four human members or sheaths of which I have just spoken. One cannot say that the young child consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body and I, in the same way as in the case of an adult. Why not?

A newborn baby is truly the greatest wonder to be found in all earthly life. Anyone who is open-minded is certain to experience this. A child enters the world with a still unformed physiognomy, an almost “neutral” physiognomy, and with jerky and uncoordinated movements. We may feel, possibly with a sense of superiority, that a baby is not yet suited to live in this world, that it is not yet fit for earthly experience. The child lacks the primitive skill of grasping objects properly; it cannot yet focus its eyes properly, cannot express the dictates of the will through limb movement. One of the most sublime experiences is to see gradually evolve, out of the central core of human nature, out of inner forces, that which gives the physiognomy its godlike features, what coordinates the limb movements to suit outer conditions, and so on. And yet, if one observes the child from a supersensible perspective, one cannot say that the child has a physical, etheric, and astral body plus an I, just as one cannot say that water in its natural state is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Water does consist of hydrogen and oxygen, but these two elements are most intimately fused together. Similarly, in the child’s organism until the change of teeth, the four human members are so intimately merged together that for the time being it is impossible to differentiate between them.

Only with the change of teeth, around the seventh year, when children enter primary education, does the etheric body come into its own as the basis of growth, nutrition, and so on; it is also the basis for imagination, for the forces of mind and soul, and for the forces of love. If one observes a child of seven with supersensible vision, it is as if a supersensible etheric cloud were emerging, containing forces that were as yet little in control because, prior to the change of teeth, they were still deeply embedded in the physical organism and accustomed to working homogeneously within the physical body. With the coming of the second teeth they become freer to work more independently, sending down into the physical body only a portion of their forces. The surplus then works in the processes of growth, nutrition, and so on, but also has free reign in supporting the child’s life of imagination. These etheric forces do not yet work in the intellectual sphere, in thinking or ideas, but they want to appear on a higher level than the physical in a love for things and in a love for human beings. The soul has become free in the child’s etheric body. Having gone through the change of teeth the child, basically, has become a different being.

Now another life period begins, from the change of teeth until puberty. When the child reaches sexual maturity, the astral body, which so far could be differentiated only very little, emerges. One notices that the child gains a different relationship to the outer world. The more the astral body is born, the greater the change in the child. Previously it was as if the astral body were embedded in the physical and etheric organization. Thus to summarize: First, physical birth occurs when the embryo leaves the maternal body. Second, the etheric body is born when the child’s own etheric body wrests itself free. Due to the emergence of the etheric body we can begin to teach the child. Third, the astral body emerges with the coming of puberty, which enables the adolescent to develop a loving interest in the outside world and to experience the differences between human beings, because sexual maturity is linked not only with an awakening of sexual love, but also with a knowledge gained through the adolescent’s immersion in all aspects of life. Fourth, I-consciousness is born only in the twenty-first or twenty-second year. Only then does the human being become an independent I-being.

Thus, when speaking about the human being from a spiritual perspective, one can speak of four successive births. Only when one knows the condition of the human being under the influence of these successively developing members, can one adequately guide the education and training of children. For what does it mean if, prior to the change of teeth, the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body, and the I cannot yet be differentiated? It means that they are merged, like hydrogen and oxygen in water. This, in turn, means that the child really is as yet entirely a sense organ. Everything is related to the child in the same way a sense impression is related to the sense organ; whatever the child absorbs, is absorbed as in a sense organ.

Look at the wonderful creation of the human eye. The whole world is reflected within the eye in images. We can say that the world is both outside and inside the eye. In the young child we have the same situation; the world is out there, and the world is also within the child. The child is entirely a sense organ. We adults taste sugar in the mouth, tongue, and palate. The child is entirely permeated by the taste. One only needs eyes to observe that the child is an organ of taste through and through. When looking at the world, the child’s whole being partakes of this activity, is surrendered to the visible surroundings. Consequently a characteristic trait follows in children; they are naturally pious. Children surrender to parents and educators in the same way that the eye surrenders to the world. If the eye could see itself, it could not see anything else. Children live entirely in the environment. They also absorb impressions physically.

Let’s take the case of a father with a disposition to anger and to sudden outbursts of fury, who lives closely with a child. He does all kinds of things, and his anger is expressed in his gestures. The child perceives these gestures very differently than one might imagine. The young child perceives in these gestures also the father’s moral quality. What the child sees inwardly is bathed in a moral light. In this way the child is inwardly saturated by the outbursts of an angry father, by the gentle love of a mother, or by the influence of anyone else nearby. This affects the child, even into the physical body.

Our being, as adults, enters a child’s being just as the candlelight enters the eye. Whatever we are around a child spreads its influence so that the child’s blood circulates differently in the sense organs and in the nerves; since these operate differently in the muscles and vascular liquids which nourish them, the entire being of the child is transformed according to the external sense impressions received. One can notice the effect that the moral and religious environment of childhood has had on an old person, including the physical constitution. A child’s future condition of health and illness depends on our ability to realize deeply enough that everything in the child’s environment is mirrored in the child. The physical element, as well as the moral element, is reflected and affects a person’s health or illness later.

During the first seven years, until the change of teeth, children are purely imitative beings. We should not preconceive what they should do. We must simply act for them what we want them to do. The only healthy way to teach children of this age is to do in front of them what we wish them to copy. Whatever we do in their presence will be absorbed by their physical organs. And children will not learn anything unless we do it in front of them.

In this respect one can have some interesting experiences. Once a father came to me because he was very upset. He told me that his five-year-old child had stolen. He said to me, “This child will grow into a dreadful person, because he has stolen already at this tender age.” I replied, “Let us first discover whether the boy has really stolen.” And what did we find? The boy had taken money out of the chest of drawers from which his mother habitually took money whenever she needed it for the household. The mother was the very person whom the boy imitated most. To the child it was a matter of course to do what his mother did, and so he too took money from the drawer. There was no question of his thieving, for he only did what was natural for a child below the age of the second dentition: he imitated. He only imitated what his mother had done.

When this example is understood, one knows that, in the case of young children, imitation is the thing that rules their physical and soul development. As educators we must realize that during these first seven years we adults are instrumental in developing the child’s body, soul, and spirit. Education and upbringing during these first seven years must be formative. If one can see through this situation properly, one can recognize in people’s physiognomy, in their gait, and in their other habits, whether as children they were surrounded by anger or by kindness and gentleness, which, working into the blood formation and circulation, and into the individual character of the muscular system, have left lasting marks on the person. Body, soul, and spirit are formed during these years, and as teachers we must know that this is so. Out of this knowledge and impulse, and out of the teacher’s ensuing enthusiasm, the appropriate methods and impulses of feeling and will originate in one’s teaching. An attitude of dedication and self-sacrifice has to be the foundation of educational methods. The most beautiful pedagogical ideas are without value unless they have grown out of knowledge of the child and unless the teachers can grow along with their students, to the extent that the children may safely imitate them, thus recreating the teachers’ qualities in their own being.

For the reasons mentioned, I would like to call the education of the child until the change of teeth “formative education,” because everything is directed toward forming the child’s body, soul, and spirit for all of earthly life. One only has to look carefully at this process of formation. I have quoted the example of an angry father. In the gesture of a passionate temperament, the child perceives inherent moral or immoral qualities. These affect the child so that they enter the physical constitution. It may happen that a fifty-year-old person begins to develop cataracts in the eyes and needs an operation. These things are accepted and seen only from the present medical perspective. It looks as if there is a cataract, and this is the way to treat it, and there the matter ends; the preceding course of life is not considered. If one were ready to do that, it would be found that a cataract can often be traced back to the inner shocks experienced by the young child of an angry father. In such cases, what is at work in the moral and religious sphere of the environment spreads its influence into the bodily realm, right down to the vascular system, eventually leading to health or illness. This often surfaces only later in life, and the doctor then makes a diagnosis based on current circumstances. In reality, we are led back to the fact that, for example, gout or rheumatism at the age of fifty or sixty can be linked to an attitude of carelessness, untidiness, or disharmony that ruled the environment of such a patient during childhood. These circumstances were absorbed by the child and entered the organic sphere.

If one observes what a child has absorbed during the stage of imitation up to the change of teeth, one can recognize that the human being at this time is molded for the whole of life. Unless we learn to direct rightly the formative powers in the young human being, all our early childhood education is without value. We must allow for germination of the forces that control health and illness for all of earthly life.

With the change of teeth, the etheric body emerges, controlling the forces of digestion, nutrition, and growth, and it begins to manifest in the realm of the soul through the faculty of fantasy, memory, and so on. We must be clear about what we are educating during the years between the second dentition and puberty. What are we educating in the child during this period? We are working with the same forces that effect proper digestion and enable the child to grow. They are transformed forces of growth, working freely now within the soul realm. What do nature and the spiritual world give to the human being through the etheric body’s forces of growth? Life—actual life itself! Since we cannot bestow life directly as nature does during the first seven years, and since it is our task to work on the liberated etheric body in the soul realm, what should we, as teachers, give the child? We should give life! But we cannot do this if, at such an early stage, we introduce finished concepts to the child. The child is not mature enough yet for intellectual work, but is mature enough for imagery, for imagination, and for memory training. With the recognition of what needs to be done at this age, one knows that everything taught must have the breath of life. Everything needs to be enlivened. Between the change of teeth and puberty, the appropriate principle is to bestow life through all teaching. Everything the teacher does, must enliven the student. However, at just this age, it is really too easy to bring death with one’s teaching.

As correctly demanded by civilization, our children must be taught reading and writing. But now consider how alien and strange the letters of the alphabet are to a child. In themselves letters are so abstract and obscure that, when the Europeans, those so-called superior people, came to America (examples of this exist from the 1840s), the Native Americans said: “These Europeans use such strange signs on paper. They look at them and then they put what is written on paper into words. These signs are little devils!” Thus said the Native Americans: “The Palefaces [as they called the Europeans] use these little demons.” For the young child, just as for the Indians, the letters are little demons, for the child has no immediate relationship to them.

If we introduce reading abstractly right away, we kill a great deal in the child. This makes no sense to anyone who can see through these matters. Consequently, educational principles based on a real knowledge of the human being will refer to the ancient Egyptian way of writing. They still put down what they had actually seen, making a picture of it. These hieroglyphics gave rise to our present letters. The ancient Egyptians did not write letters, they painted pictures. Cuneiform writing has a similar origin. In Sanskrit writing one can still see how the letters came from pictures. You must remember that this is the path humanity has gone on its way to modern abstract letters, to which we no longer have an immediate relationship. What then can we do? The solution is to not plague children at all with writing and reading from the time they begin school. Instead, we have them draw and paint. When we guide children in color and form by painting, the whole body participates. We let children paint the forms and shapes of what they see. Then the pictures are guided into the appropriate sounds.

Let’s take, for example, the English word fish. By combining the activity of painting and drawing with a brush, the child manages to make a picture of a fish. Now we can ask the child to pronounce the word fish, but very slowly. After this, one could say, “Now sound only the beginning of the word: ‘F.’” In this way the letter F emerges from the picture that was painted of the fish. One can proceed in a similar way with all consonant sounds. With the vowels, one can lead from the picture to the letters by taking examples from a person’s inner life of feeling. In this way, beginning at the age of seven or eight, children learn a combined form of painting and drawing. Teachers can hardly relax during this activity, because painting lessons with young children inevitably create a big mess, which always has to be cleaned up at the end of the lesson. Yet this inconvenience must be carried by the teacher with understanding and equanimity. The first step is for the children to learn to create resemblances of outer shapes, using color and form. This leads to writing. In learning to write, the child brings the whole body into movement, not just one part. Only the head is involved when we read, which is the third step, after writing. This happens around the ninth year, when the child learns to read through the activity of writing, which was developed from painting.

In doing this, the child’s nature gives us the cue, and the child’s nature always directs us in how to proceed. This means that teachers are forced to become different human beings. They can’t learn their lessons and then apply them abstractly; they must instead stand before the class as whole human beings, and for everything they do, they must find images; they must cultivate their imagination. The teachers can then communicate their intentions to the students in imperceptible ways. The teachers themselves have to be alert and alive. They will reach the child to the extent that they can offer imaginative pictures instead of abstract concepts.

It is even possible to bring moral and religious concepts through the medium of pictures. Let us assume that teachers wish to speak to children about the immortality of the human soul. They could speak about the butterfly hidden in a chrysalis. A small hole appears in the chrysalis, and the butterfly emerges. Teachers could talk to children as follows: The butterfly, emerging from the chrysalis, shows you what happens when a person dies. While alive, the person is like the chrysalis. The soul, like the butterfly, flies out of the body only at death. The butterfly is visible when it leaves the chrysalis. Although we cannot see the soul with our eyes when a person dies, it nevertheless flies into the spiritual world like a butterfly from the chrysalis.

There are, however, two ways teachers can proceed. If they feel inwardly superior to the children, they will not succeed in using this simile. They may think they are very smart and that the children’s ignorance forces them to invent something that gets the idea of immortality across, while they themselves do not believe this butterfly and chrysalis “humbug,” and consider it only a useful ploy. As a result they fail to make any lasting impression on the children; for here, in the depths of the soul, forces work between teacher and child. If I, as the teacher, believe that spiritual forces in nature, operating at the level of the newly-emerged butterfly, provide an image of immortality, if I am fully alive in this image of the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, then my comparison will work strongly on the child’s soul. This simile will work like a seed, and grow properly in the child, working beneficently on the soul. This is an example of how we can keep our concepts mobile, because it would be the greatest mistake to approach a child directly with frozen intellectual concepts.

If one buys new shoes for a three-year-old, one would hardly expect the child to still be wearing them at nine. The child would then need different, larger shoes. And yet, when it comes to teaching young children, people often act exactly like this, expecting the student to retain unchanged, possibly until the age of forty or fifty, what was learned at a young age. They tend to give definitions, meant to remain unchanged like the metaphorical shoes given to a child of three, as if the child would not outgrow their usefulness later in life! The point is that, when educating we must allow the soul to grow according to the demands of nature and the growing physical body. Teachers can give a child living concepts that grow with the human being only when they acquire the necessary liveliness to permeate all their teaching with imagination.

We need education that enlivens the human being during the years between the change of teeth and puberty. The etheric body can then become free. For example, take the word mouth. If I pronounce only the first letter, “M,” I can transform this line as picture of a mouth to this:


Similarly, I can find other ways to use living pictures to bridge the gap to written letters of the alphabet. Then, if the intellect (which is meant to be developed only at puberty) is not called on too soon, the ideas born out of the teacher’s imagination will grow with the child. Definitions are poison to the child. This always brings to mind a definition that once was made in a Greek philosophers’ school. The question, “What is a human being?” received the answer, “A human being is a creature with two legs and no feathers.” The following day, a student of the school brought a goose whose feathers had been plucked out, maintaining that this was a human being—a creature with two legs and without feathers. (Incidentally, this type of definition can sometimes be found in contemporary scientific literature. I know that in saying this I am speaking heresy, but roughly speaking, this is the kind of intellectual concept we often offer children.)

We need rich, imaginative concepts, that can grow with the child, concepts that allow growth forces to remain active even when a person reaches old age. If children are taught only abstract concepts, they will display signs of aging early in life. We lose fresh spontaneity and stop making human progress. It is a terrifying experience when we realize we have not grown up with fantasy, with images, with pictures that grow and live and are suited to the etheric body, but instead we grew up merely with those suited to abstraction, to intellectualism—that is, to death.

When we recognize that the etheric body really exists, that it is a living reality—when we know it not just in theory but from observing a developing child—then we will experience the second golden principle of education, engraved in our hearts. The golden principle during the first seven years is: Mold the child’s being in a manner worthy of human imitation, and thus cultivate the child’s health. During the second seven years, from the change of teeth to puberty, the guiding motive or principle of education should be: Enliven the students, because their etheric bodies have been entrusted to your care.

With the coming of puberty, what I have called the astral body is freed in a new kind of birth. This is the very force that, during the age of primary education until the beginning of puberty, was at the base of the child’s inmost human forces, in the life of feeling. This force then lived undifferentiated within the latent astral body, still undivided from the physical and etheric bodies. This spiritual aggregate is entrusted to the quality of the teachers’ imaginative handling, and to their sensitive feeling and tact. As the child’s astral body is gradually liberated from the physical organization, becoming free to work in the soul realm, the child is also freed from what previously had to be present as a natural faith in the teacher’s authority. What I described earlier as the only appropriate form of education between the change of teeth and puberty has to come under the auspices of a teacher’s natural authority.

Oh! It is such great fortune for all of life when, at just this age, children can look up to their teachers as people who wield natural authority, so that what is truth for the teacher, is also very naturally truth to the students. Children cannot, out of their own powers, discriminate between something true and something false. They respect as truth what the teacher calls the truth. Because the teacher opens the child’s eyes to goodness, the child respects goodness. The child finds truth, goodness, and beauty in the world through venerating the personality of the teacher.

Surely no one expects that I, who, many years ago, wrote Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom, would stand for the principle of authoritarianism in social life. I am saying here that the child, between the second dentition and puberty, has to experience the feeling of a natural authority from the adults in charge, and that, during these years, everything the student receives must be truly alive. The educator must be the unquestioned authority at this age, because the human being is ready for freedom only after having learned to respect and venerate the natural authority of a teacher. Only after reaching sexual maturity, when the astral body has become the means for individual judgments, can the student form judgments instead of accepting those of the teacher.

Now what must be considered the third principle of education comes into its own. The first one I called “the formative element,” the second one “the enlivening element.” The third element of education, which enters with puberty, can be properly called “an awakening education.” Everything taught after puberty must affect adolescents so that their emerging independent judgment appears as a continual awakening. If one attempts to drill subjects into a student who has reached puberty, one tyrannizes the adolescent, making the student into a slave. If, on the other hand, one’s teaching is arranged so that, from puberty on, adolescents receive their subject matter as if they were being awakened from a sleep, they learn to depend on their own judgments, because with regard to making their own judgments, they were indeed asleep. The students should now feel they are calling on their own individuality, and all education, all teaching, will be perceived as a stimulus and awakener. This can be realized when teachers have proceeded as I have indicated for the first two life periods. This last stage in education will then have a quality of awakening. And if in their style, posture, and presentation, teachers demonstrate that they are themselves permeated with the quality of awakening, their teaching will be such that what must come from those learning will truly come from them. The process should reach a kind of dramatic intensification when adolescents inwardly join with active participation in the lessons, an activity that proceeds very particularly from the astral body.

Appealing properly in this way to the astral body, we address the immortal being of the student. The physical body is renewed and exchanged every seven years. The etheric body gives its strength as a dynamic force and lasts from birth, or conception, until death. What later emerges as the astral body represents, as already mentioned, the eternal kernel of the human being, which descends to Earth, enveloping itself with the sheaths of the physical and etheric bodies before passing again through the portal of death. We address this astral body properly only when, during the two previous life periods, we have related correctly to the child’s etheric and physical bodies, which the human being receives only as an Earth dweller. If we have educated the child as described so far, the eternal core of the human individuality, which is to awaken at puberty, develops in an inwardly miraculous way, not through our guidance, but through the guidance of the spiritual world itself.

Then we may confidently say to ourselves that we have taken the right path in educating children, because we did not force the subject matter on them; neither did we dictate our own attitude to them, because we were content to remove the hurdles and obstacles from the way so that their eternal core could enter life openly and freely. And now, during the last stage, our education must take the form of awakening the students. We make our stand in the school saying, “We are the cultivators of the divine-spiritual world order; we are its collaborators and want to nurture the eternal in the human being.” We must be able to say this to ourselves or feel ashamed. Perhaps, sitting there among our students are one or two geniuses who will one day know much more than we teachers ever will. And what we as teachers can do to justify working with students, who one day may far surpass us in soul and spirit, and possibly also in physical strength, is to say to ourselves: Only when we nurture spirit and soul in the child—nurture is the word, not overpower—only when we aid the development of the seed planted in the child by the divine-spiritual world, only when we become “spiritual midwives,” then we will have acted correctly as teachers. We can accomplish this by working as described, and our insight into human nature will guide us in the task.

Having listened to my talk about the educational methods of the Waldorf school, you may wonder whether they imply that all teachers there have the gift of supersensible insight, and whether they can observe the births of the etheric and astral bodies. Can they really observe the unfolding of human forces in their students with the same clarity investigators use in experimental psychology or science to observe outer phenomena with the aid of a microscope? The answer is that certainly not every teacher in the Waldorf school has developed sufficient clairvoyant powers to see these things with inward eyes, but it isn’t necessary. If we know what spiritual research can tell us about the human being’s physical, etheric, and astral bodies and about the human I-organization, we need only to use our healthy soul powers and common sense, not just to understand what the spiritual investigator is talking about, but also to comprehend all its weight and significance.

We often come across very strange attitudes, especially these days. I once gave a lecture that was publicly criticized afterward. In this lecture I said that the findings of a clairvoyant person’s investigations can be understood by anyone of sane mind who is free of bias. I meant this literally, and not in any superstitious sense. I meant that a clairvoyant person can see the supersensible in the human being just as others can see the sense-perceptible in outer nature. The reply was, “This is what Rudolf Steiner asserted, but evidently it cannot be true, because if someone maintains that a supersensible spiritual world exists and that one can recognize it, one cannot be of sane mind; and if one is of sane mind, one does not make such an assertion....” Here you can see the state of affairs in our materialist age, but it has to be overcome.

Not every Waldorf teacher has the gift of clairvoyance, but every one of them has accepted wholeheartedly and with full understanding the results of spiritual-scientific investigation concerning the human being. And each Waldorf teacher applies this knowledge with heart and soul, because the child is the greatest teacher, and while one cares for the child, witnessing the wonderful development daily, weekly, and yearly, nothing can awaken the teacher more to the needs of education. In educating the child, in the daily lessons, and in the daily social life at school, the teachers find the confirmation for what spiritual science can tell them about practical teaching. Every day they grow into their tasks with increasing inner clarity. In this way, education and teaching in the Waldorf school are life itself. The school is an organism, and the teaching faculty is its soul, which, in the classrooms, in regular common study, and in the daily cooperative life within the school organism, radiates care for the individual lives of the students in all the classes.

This is how we see the possibility of carrying into our civilization what human nature itself demands in these three stages of education—the formative education before the change of teeth, the life-giving education between the change of teeth and puberty, and the awakening education after puberty, leading students into full life, which itself increasingly awakens the human individuality.

Formative education—before the change of teeth.
Life-giving education—between the change of teeth and puberty.
Awakening education—after puberty.

When we look at the child properly, the following thoughts may stimulate us: In our teaching and educating we should really become priests, because what we meet in children reveals to us, in the form of outer reality and in the strongest, grandest, and most intense ways, the divine-spiritual world order that is at the foundation of outer physical, material existence. In children we see, revealed in matter in a most sublime way, what the creative spiritual powers are carrying behind the outer material world. We have been placed next to children in order that spirit properly germinates, grows, and bears fruit. This attitude of reverence must underlie every method. The most rational and carefully planned methods make sense only when seen in this light. Indeed, when our methods are illuminated by the light of these results, the children will come alive as soon as the teacher enters the classroom. Teaching will then become the most important leaven and the most important impulse in our present stage of evolution. Those who can clearly see the present time with its tendency toward decadence and decline know how badly our civilization needs revitalization.

School life and education can be the most revitalizing force. Society should therefore take hold of them in their spiritual foundations; society should begin with the human being as its fundamental core. If we start with the child, we can provide society and humanity with what the signs of the times demand from us in our present stage of civilization, for the benefit of the immediate future.