A Modern Art of Education
17 August 1923, Ilkley
I have already expressed my gratitude to the committee, to Miss Beverley, and to all of you who have devoted the past two weeks to studying our subject. Rest assured that a warm sense of gratitude will remain with me as a pleasant memory of this lecture course. Now, I just want to add a few words to the perspectives expressed in the lectures. Most of you are familiar with the relationship between Waldorf educational principles and spiritual science as it exists in the anthroposophic movement, and perhaps as we close this conference you will allow me to say a few words on this subject.
People today still have an erroneous view of the anthroposophic movement, perhaps because one of my wishes — however impractical — cannot be fulfilled. It is true that the Waldorf movement grew out of the anthroposophic movement, but it is equally true that I would truly prefer to give a different name to that movement every week. I realize that it would be terribly confusing, but I would very much like to do this, because names actually do a great deal of harm today. The confusion this would create in people’s minds is obvious — if letterheads were changed each week, and people were to receive a letter printed with the previous week’s name, “since superseded.” Nevertheless, it would be very good for the anthroposophic movement if it had no permanent name, because most people today are concerned only with names and never get to the subject itself.
People can turn to a Greek lexicon and, in their own language, invent words to express anthroposophy, and thus invent an idea of what spiritual science is and judge us accordingly. People form an opinion about us according to their idea of the name, thus avoiding the trouble of looking into the substance of spiritual science.
The book table at the door of this hall has disappeared, but I assure you that I shuddered every day as I arrived and saw the mass of literature there. I would be happy if there were less of it, but people must study spiritual science, of course — there is that. One cannot look only a name, and this is why it would be such a good thing if we were spared the need to have one. Obviously, that would not work, but in a lecture course about applying spiritual science to life, I think it shows how far we are from any sectarianism or any desire to fill people’s heads with dogma. The only goal of spiritual science is to acquire knowledge of the essence of cosmic truths. And if there is any wish to participate constructively in evolution, it is essential to truly understand the world’s events.
It is sad that there is so little inclination to look into the course of world events today, but this is in fact the purpose of spiritual science. This, too, is why we can speak of special areas such as education without beginning with a scheduled program or the like. In establishing the Waldorf school, we saw that it is not a matter of introducing the rigid dogma that spiritual science is believed to represent; rather, we never introduce anything of spiritual science as it is intended for adults. We realized that spiritual science must live within us as a power that leads to a fresh understanding of human nature and an unbiased observation of the world, which in turn leads to free activity.
Not long ago, I read an extraordinary criticism; it was very antagonistic. There are many such criticisms, and I have no wish to discuss them in detail. This particular critic said that I seem to make efforts to be unbiased — but the words implied a serious criticism. I would have thought it was a common duty today — especially in spiritual matters — to work toward open-minded knowledge, but apparently it can be a matter for severe reproach. Nevertheless, I think that the subject of education in particular can lead to ready understanding between the Continent and England, and when I see what your attitude has been toward these lectures, I consider it as a very good sign. When trying to describe our time, people like to use the abstract phrase, “We are living in an age of transition.” Of course, every age is an age of transition — always from one period to the next. The point is, however, what is it that is in transition? At the present time, all kinds of signs indicate that we are indeed caught up in the process of a grand transition.
Perhaps the best way to explain this is to lead your thoughts back to the stage of spiritual evolution reached in England during the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, those who claimed to be cultured spoke French. English consisted of dialects that did not enter the general culture of the people, and the language of science was Latin. If, for example, we want to study the general nature of education in England during the fourteenth century, around 1364, we can do so from Higden’s Polychronycon, which was published at the time. Written in Latin, the book makes it clear that the medium of culture was Latin. When that book was written, the language of culture was Latin, but schools were being established in which the national language was finding its way into education (and this was also true of other countries in Europe). Schools were established in Winchester and Oxford, in which the national tongue was already in use. In the late fourteenth century, we find the important transition from Latin — an international language — to the national tongue.
Similar transitions occurred earlier or later in other regions of the civilized world, and this phenomenon has great significance. Insofar as England is concerned, we can place it in the late fourteenth century. When Higden wrote his book in 1364, he was able to tell us that the Latin tongue was still the universal medium for education. When a certain Trevisa translated it into English in 1385, we are told that English had been introduced into schools. Thus, we see the transition from the international language of Latin, which cultured people all over the world used to discuss matters of education, to the age when national language rises above the level of dialect to become, for various peoples, the medium for education. This is a significant transition.
According to the anthroposophic view, we can describe it as a transition from the age of the intellectual soul, in which people felt more connected to the universe, to that of the spiritual soul, in which human beings are to become aware of their free inner power of resolve and action. This transition is the essence of modern civilization; this alone could institute the great cosmic process in which we are still immersed today.
The effects of this emerging national language did not enter human souls and hearts immediately. Initially, in England, too, the Renaissance movement, or “Humanist” movement, began to flow north from the south. In its early days, the Humanist movement indeed aspired to the qualities of the spiritual soul, but never reached the point of real understanding. Thus, it was established that, to be truly human, one must absorb the humanist, classical culture. This struggle for human freedom and the exercise of inner, spiritual activity has continued for centuries, right up to our own day. But increasingly, the needs of civilized humanity become obvious.
In the age before this urge toward spiritual soul, language itself gave rise to the element of internationalism, making it possible for the cultured people of every country to work with one another. Language was the international element. We can place the actual transition in the second half of the fourteenth century, when this language could no longer serve as a medium for international understanding. There was an urge within human beings to develop spiritual activity from depths of their own being, and they resorted to national language, which made it increasingly necessary to understand at a level higher than that of language or speech.
We need spirituality that no longer arises from mere language, but issues more directly from the soul. A true realization of spiritual science that connects history with the present time shows that its purpose is to find, throughout the world, an international medium of understanding, through which people can find their way to one another — one that transcends the level of language.
All interaction between human beings is incorporated by the faculty of speech into sounds communicated through the air. In speech, our being is truly active in the material world. If we understand one another at a level beyond speech by means of deeper elements in the soul — through thoughts carried by feeling and warmed by the heart — then we have an international medium of understanding, but we need heart for it to come into being. We must find the path to human spirit at a level beyond speech. The search for a language of thought — and everything related to philosophy, education, religion, and art — is the purpose of the anthroposophic movement during the present period of history.
Ordinary speech lives and moves through the medium of air and exists in the material world. The language that spiritual science looks for will move through the pure element of light passing from soul to soul and heart to heart — and this is not just a figure of speech. Modern civilization will need such a medium of understanding, not just for the matters of high culture, but also for everyday life. Before this can be realized, of course, many different kinds of conferences will be held, but during recent times, the fruitfulness of such congresses for healing human beings has not been very apparent. The anthroposophic movement would like to intercede for a true healing of humankind, which can arise only through mutual understanding. Because of this, we try to understand our own age within the context of history, so that we can become human in the true sense — human beings with a fully aware soul, as was true of another stage of evolution, when Latin was the medium of international understanding. The function once served by Latin must now be taken up by universal human ideas, through which we can find our way to other people all over the earth.
Anything that lives in the world requires soul and spirit as well as a physical body. In the very truest sense, spiritual science would be the soul and spirit of the “body” as it has entered our global civilization as the world economy and the other worldly activities. Spiritual science does not disdain or avoid the most practical areas of life; it would gladly infuse them with the only element that can lead to real progress in human evolution.
I am so infinitely grateful that you wish to understand how, in this sense, our educational attempts are based on the anthroposophic movement as a true expression of the present stage of evolution. I am grateful, too, for your interest in the illuminations and shades of meaning I have tried to introduce, in addition to speaking of the historical significance of the aims of this art of education. And I especially thank you for your cordial feelings toward a course of lectures given with the object of describing the goals of Waldorf education toward the progress of civilization as it confronts today’s needs.
I have tried to describe how Waldorf education points to the deepest needs of humankind in the present age, and, as I say, your sympathetic understanding will indeed remain in my heart and soul as a very good memory of this course.