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The Essentials of Education
GA 308

Lecture One

8 April 1924, Stuttgart

Dear friends! Our assignment for this educational conference is to answer the question: What is the role of education and teaching to be for the future in terms of both the individual and society? Anyone who looks with an unbiased eye at modern civilization and its various institutions can hardly question the importance of this theme today (by “today” I mean the current decade in history). This theme touches on questions deep in the souls and hearts of a great many people.

Knowledge of the Whole Human Being

In our modern civilization, we have seen people develop a peculiar attitude toward their own being. For over a century, our civilization has witnEssentialEd the ambitious development of natural science and its consequences for humanity; indeed, all of contemporary life has been affected by the knowledge and ideas engendered by natural science. From the perspective of natural science, however, wherever we look and no matter how exactly we observe the mineral kingdom and develop ideas of nature’s other realms, one thing is clear: although there was close and intimate self-knowledge of human beings in earlier cultural epochs, this is no longer the situation today. Whatever achievements natural science may have brought to humankind, it cannot be applied directly to the human being.

We can ask: What are the laws that govern the development of the world beyond humankind? However, none of the answers come close to the essence of what lives within the limits of the human skin. Answers are so inadequate that people today haven’t a clue about the ways that external natural processes are actually transformed within the human being through breathing, blood circulation, nutrition, and so on.

Consequently, we have come to the point where, even in terms of the soul, we do not look at the soul itself, but study its external manifestations in the human body. Today people experiment on human beings. However, I don’t intend to criticize psychological or pedagogical experimentation. We must acknowledge what can be accomplished in this way, but mostly this approach is a symptom of our cultural milieu, since in fact the results of such experiments tell us little about the human being.

In earlier times, people had a sense of inner empathy with the spirit and soul of other human beings, which gave them an intuitive impression of the soul’s inner experiences; it made sense that what one knew about the inner spirit and soul life would explain external physical manifestations. Now, we do just the opposite. People experiment with external aspects and processes very effectively, since all contemporary natural science is effective. The only thing that has been demonstrated, however, is that, given our modern views of life, we take seriously only what is sense-perceptible and what the intellect can comprehend with the help of the senses. Consequently, we have come to a point where we no longer have the capacity to really observe the inner human being; we are often content to observe its outer shell. We are further removed from the human being. Indeed, the very methods that have so eagerly illuminated life in the outer world—the working of nature—have robbed us of the most basic access between souls.

Our wonderfully productive civilization has brought us very close to certain natural phenomena, but it has also driven us away from the human being. It should be obvious that the aspect of our culture most harmed by this situation is education—everything related to human development and teaching children. Once we can understand those we are to shape, we will be able to educate and teach, just as painters must understand the nature and quality of colors before they can paint, and sculptors must first understand their materials before they can create, and so on. If this is true of the arts that deal with physical materials, isn’t it all the more true of an art that works with the noblest of all materials, the material that only the human being can work with—human life, the human being and human development?

These issues remind us that all education and all teaching must spring from the fountain of real knowledge of the human being. In the Waldorf schools, we are attempting to create such an art of education, solidly based on true understanding of the human being, and this educational conference is about the educational methods of Waldorf education.

Knowledge of the human being! I can hear people saying how far we have come in our knowledge of the human being in our time! I must reply that, although we have made extraordinary advances in our knowledge of the human physical body, the human being is really body, soul, and spirit. The worldview at the foundation of Waldorf education—that is, anthroposophic spiritual science—consists equally of knowledge of the human body, the human soul, and the human spirit, being careful to avoid any imbalance.

In the following lectures, I will have much more to say about such knowledge of the human being. But first, let me point out that true knowledge of the human being does not come from merely looking at an isolated individual with three aspects. Knowledge of the human being primarily tries to keep sight of what happens among human beings during earthly life.

When one human being encounters another, a fully conscious knowledge of each other’s being does not develop between them—such a thing would be absurd. We couldn’t begin to interact socially if we were to view one another with analytical questions in mind. But we all carry an unconscious knowledge of the other within ourselves as unconscious perceptions, feelings, and, most importantly, impulses that lead to action. We will see that knowledge of the human being has suffered a great deal in the modern world, and this has given rise to many social evils. In a sense, however, knowledge of human beings has only withdrawn to deeper levels of the unconscious than ever before. Nevertheless, it is still available to us, since, if it weren’t, we would pass each other with no means of understanding one another.

It is certainly true that when one person meets another—whether or not we are aware of it—sympathies and antipathies arise, and impressions are formed. They tell us whether the other person can be allowed to get close, or if we would prefer to stay clear of that other person. Other impressions arise as well. Immediately, we may say, “This is an intelligent person,” or “that person is not very gifted.” I could mention hundreds and hundreds of impressions that spring from the depths of the soul. During most of our life, such impressions are pushed back down again, where they become a part of our soul’s attitude toward the other person; we guide our behavior toward that person in terms of these first impressions. Then, too, what we call empathy—which is essentially one of the most significant impulses of human morality—also belongs to such unconscious knowledge of the human being.

The Relationship between Teacher and Child

In our adult interactions, we use our knowledge of the human being so unconsciously that we are unaware of it, but we nevertheless act according to it. In our capacity as teachers, however, the relationship between our human soul as teacher and the child’s human soul must be much more conscious so that we have a formative effect on the child. But we also must become aware of our own teacher’s soul so that we experience what is necessary to establish the right mood, the right teaching artistry, and the right empathy with the child’s soul. All of these things are necessary to adequately performing our educational and teaching task. We are immediately reminded that the most important aspect in education and teaching is what occurs between the teacher’s soul and the child’s soul.

Let’s start with this knowledge of the human being; it is knowledge with “soft edges.” It lacks sharp contours to the extent that it is not pointed directly at any one person. Rather, over the course of the educational relationship it glides, as it were, weaving here and there between what happens in the teacher’s soul and in the child’s soul. In certain ways, it is difficult to be very sure of what is happening, since it is all very subtle. When we teach, something is present that flows like a stream, constantly changing. It is necessary to develop a vision that allows us to seize anything that is developing between human beings in this intimate way.

We might consider a few specific examples as an introduction to the way these currents form. In doing this, we must consider one thing: when we deal with a human being “in-process,” a growing child, knowledge of the human being is too often applied in an exact way. We take the child at a specific point in life and get to work, asking about the child’s developmental forces, how they operate at that particular age, and so on, and we ask how we can properly meet these developmental forces at this particular time. But knowledge of the human being as intended here is not concerned only with these moments of experience, but with the person’s whole earthly life. It is not really as easy as observing a precise time span in a human life. But educators and teachers must be able to look at the whole human life; whatever we do in the eighth or ninth year will have effects upon the forty- or fifty-year-old adult, as we will see a little later.

As a teacher, anything I do to a child during the years of education will sink deeply into the physical, psychological, and spiritual nature of that individual. Whatever I do that plants a seed at the beginning of life will in some way go on living and working for decades beneath the surface, reappearing in remarkable ways many years later, perhaps not until the very end of life. It is possible to affect childhood in the right way if we consider not just childhood but all of human life as seen from the perspective of a real knowledge of the human being.

This is the knowledge I have in mind as I give you a few examples about the intimate ways the teacher’s soul can affect the child’s soul. I will present only a few indications for today—we will go into greater detail later. We can understand how to prepare the intellect for activities of the will only if we can answer this question: What happens between the teacher and the child, simply because the teacher and the child are present together, each with a unique nature and temperament—a particular character, level of development, constitution of body and soul? Before we even begin to teach and educate, the teacher and the child are both present. There is already an interaction. The teacher’s relationship to the child presents the first important question.

Rather than wandering off in abstractions, let’s just look at specifics; we shall examine one particular characteristic in human nature—the temperament. Let’s not view a child’s temperament, which of course offers us no choice—we must educate each human being regardless of temperament (we will speak later of the children’s temperaments); but let’s begin rather by looking at the teacher’s temperament. The teacher approaches the child with a very specific temperament—choleric, sanguine, melancholic, or phlegmatic. The question is: As educators, what can we do to control our own temperaments; how can we perhaps educate ourselves in relation to our own temperament? To answer this question we must first look directly at the fundamental question: How does a teacher’s temperament affect the child, just by being what it is?

The Choleric Temperament

We will begin with the choleric temperament. The teacher’s choleric temperament may be exprEssentialEd when the teacher lets loose and vents anger. We will see later how teachers can control themselves. Let’s assume for starters that the teacher has a temper, which is exprEssentialEd in powerful, vehement expressions. It may drive the teacher to act or handle the child in ways that arise from a choleric temperament, which is regretted later on. The teacher may do things in the presence of the child that cause fright (we will see the fragile nature of a child’s soul). The child’s fright may not last for long, but nevertheless take root deep in the child’s physical organism. A choleric adult may have such an effect that the child always approaches the teacher in fear, whereas another child may just feel pressured. In other words, there is a very specific way the choleric temperament works on a child, having subtle, intimate effects.

Let’s consider the preschool child. At that stage a child is a single entity; the child’s three members—body, soul, and spirit—separate later on. Between birth and the change of teeth (which is a very important point in the child’s development) there is a period of time when the child is, for all practical purposes, entirely a sensory organ; this is not generally emphasized enough.

Let’s imagine a sensory organ—the eye, for example. This eye is organized in very integral ways that unite with the impressions made by colors. Without a person having any say in the matter, the slightest external impression is immediately transformed into activity, which is only then experienced in the soul. The entire life of the child before the change of teeth is ruled in this way by sensory perceptions that impress the soul. All inner experiences are a kind of soul experience.

Children absorb impressions from all the people around them with the same intensity that sensory organs receive impressions from the environment. The way we move around children—whether slowly, displaying a relaxed soul and spirit or with stormily, showing a heavy soul and spirit—is absorbed by them; they are completely sensory. We might say that an adult tastes with the mouth, or with the palate or tongue. Children, however, experience taste in the very depths of their organism; it’s as though the sense of taste were spread throughout the whole body. This is also true of the other senses. The effects of light relate internally to a child’s respiratory system and circulation. What is to an adult a separate visual perception, the child experiences in the whole body; and without any forethought, a child’s will impulses take the shape of reflexes. A child’s whole body responds reflexively to every impression in the environment.

This means that the spirit, soul, and body of a small child are still undifferentiated, still interwoven as a unified whole. The soul and spirit work in the body and directly influence the circulatory and digestive processes. It is remarkable how close a child’s soul and metabolism are to each other and how closely they work together. Only later, at the change of teeth, does the soul element become differentiated from the metabolism. Every stimulation of a child’s soul is transcribed in the blood circulation, breathing, and digestion. This means that a child’s environment affects a child’s whole body.

And so, when a choleric teacher gets near a child and lets loose with fits of temper, anything done under this influence—if the teacher has not learned to deal with this—enters the child’s soul and takes root in the body. The remarkable thing is that it sinks into the foundations of the child’s being, and anything implanted in the growing human body reappears later. Just as a seed is planted in the autumn and reappears in the spring as a plant, so whatever is planted as a seed in a child of eight or nine comes out again in the adult of forty-five or fifty. And we can see the effects of an uncontrolled choleric teacher’s temperament in the form of metabolic illnesses in the adult, or even in the very old.

If we could only verify the reason this or that person suffers from arthritis, or why another has all kinds of metabolic disorders, poor digestion, or gout, there would be only one answer: many of these things can be attributed to the violent temperament of a teacher who dealt with the child at an early age.

If we achieve pedagogical understanding by looking at the whole human being and not just at the child—which is much more comfortable—it becomes clear that education and teaching play a central role in the course of human life. We see how often happiness or unhappiness in the spirit, soul, or physical life is related to a person’s education and schooling. Just consider this: doctors are asked by older people to correct the mistakes of their educators, when in fact the problems have sunk so deeply into the person that no more can be done. The impressions on the child’s soul have been transformed into physical effects, and the psychological interacts with the physical; knowing all this, we begin to pay attention in the right way, and we acquire a proper appreciation for teaching methods and what is required for a viable education according to the reality of human nature.

The Phlegmatic Temperament

Now, let us consider the phlegmatic teacher. We will assume again that this teacher makes no attempt at self-knowledge or self-education regarding temperament. It can be said of the phlegmatic that whatever comes to the child from such a person is not strong enough to meet the inner activity of the child’s soul. The inner impulses want to come out, to flow out, and the child wants to be active, but the teacher is phlegmatic and just lets things be. This teacher is unable to engage what flows out of the child, failing to encounter it with enough impressions and influences. It’s as if one were trying to breathe in a rarefied atmosphere, to use a physical analogy. The child’s soul “asphyxiates” when the teacher is phlegmatic. When we see such a child in later life, we can understand why some people are nervous or suffer from neurasthenia, and so on. By going back to their childhood, we find that it is related to the uncontrolled phlegmatic temperament of an educator who failed to do important things with the child.

We might even be able to explain widespread cultural pathologies in this way. Why is it that nervous diseases such as depression are so widespread today? You might be thinking I’m trying to convince you that, when the current generation of neurasthenic adults was being educated, the whole teaching profession was phlegmatic! I will reply that it did consist of phlegmatics—not in the usual sense of the word, but in a much deeper sense. We are speaking of the historical period of the nineteenth century when materialism rose. The materialistic worldview turns away from the human being, and develops a monstrous indifference in the teacher toward the most intimate movements of the souls of those being educated.

If, in an unbiased way, we can observe the cultural manifestations of the modern era, we find that a person may be a phlegmatic in that sense, even though that same person might angrily react to a child who spilled ink yelling: “You should not do that! You should not throw ink because you are angry; I’ll throw it back at you, you rascal!” Such outbursts of choleric temper were not the exception during the time I just described, nor am I suggesting that there was any shortage of sanguine or melancholic teachers. But in their actual teaching, they were still phlegmatics and acted phlegmatic. The materialistic worldview was uninterested in meeting the human being, and certainly not the growing human being. Phlegma became an aspect of all education in the materialistic era. And it has a lot to do with the appearance of nervous disease, or nervous disorganization, in our culture. We will look at this in detail later. Nevertheless, we see the effect of phlegmatic teachers whose very presence next to children triggers nervous disorders.

The Melancholic Temperament

If a teacher succumbs to a melancholic temperament and becomes too self-absorbed, the thread of the child’s spirit and soul nature is constantly in danger of breaking, dampening the feeling life. In this way, the melancholic teacher’s influence causes the child to suppress soul impulses. Instead of expressing them, the child retreats within.

If a teacher gives in to a melancholic temperament while with children, it can lead in later life to breathing and circulatory problems. Teachers should not educate with only childhood in mind. And doctors should look beyond the specific onset of disease to a particular age, with a capacity to observe human life as one connected whole. In this way, people can see that many cases of heart trouble between forty and forty-five began with the whole mood generated by the uncontrolled melancholic temperament of a teacher.

Obviously, when we observe the spiritual and psychic imponderables that play between the teacher’s soul and that of the child, we must ask: How should teachers and education professionals educate themselves about the various temperaments? We can understand that it is not enough for the teacher to say, “I was born with my temperament; I can’t help myself.” First of all, this is untrue, and even if it were true, the human race would have died out long ago due to wrong education.

The Sanguine Temperament

The teacher who gives full vent to a sanguine temperament is susceptible to all kinds of impressions. When a student makes a mess, the teacher looks the other way instead of getting angry. A student may whisper to a neighbor, and the teacher again looks the other way. This is typical of the sanguine temperament; impressions come quickly, but do not penetrate deeply. Such a teacher may call on a little girl to ask a brief question; but the teacher is not interested in her for long and almost immediately sends her back to her seat. This teacher is completely sanguine.

Again, if we look at the whole human life, we can trace many cases of insufficient vitality and zest for life—which may even be pathological—to the effects of a teacher’s undisciplined sanguine temperament. Without self-knowledge, a teacher’s sanguine temperament suppresses vitality, dampens the zest for life, and weakens the will that wells up from the child’s essential being.

These relationships, as revealed by a spiritual science, help us understand the human being. With this in mind, we can realize how comprehensive the real art of education is; we can see the way teaching must view the nature of the human being and the limits of looking only at what is immediately present and obvious. This is not enough, and we are faced with the essential demand of our current civilization—the civilization that has already brought enough discord to human existence.

But, given the various simple and superficial observations of research, statistics, and other ingenious methods—which form the basis of almost all education and didacticism—how can we educate in a way that equally considers the whole human experience and the eternal nature of the human being that shines through human experience? Something much deeper appears in relation to these matters. As an introduction, I have tried to show you what is at play between teacher and student just because they are there—even before anything is done consciously, but merely because the two are there. This is especially revealed in the different temperaments.

It will be argued that there comes a point where we must begin to educate. Yes, and immediately we encounter the opinion that anyone can teach someone else whatever one has already learned. If I have learned something, I am, so to speak, qualified to teach it to someone else. People frequently fail to notice that there is an inner attitude of temperament, character, and so on, behind everything a teacher brings to teaching, regardless of self-education, formal training, or assimilated knowledge. Here, too, a real knowledge of the human being leads more deeply into human nature itself.

Let’s inquire, then, about teaching an unschooled child something we have learned. Is it enough to present it to the child just as we learned it? It certainly is not. Now I will speak of an observed phenomenon, the results of a real observation of the whole life of a human being in body, soul, and spirit. It concerns the first period of life, from birth until the change of teeth.

The Teacher and the Three Stages of Childhood

When we understand the interrelationship between teacher and child in terms of the temperaments, we see that, during this first stage of life, what we have learned is relatively unimportant to teaching and educating a child. The most important considerations have to do with the kind of person one is, what impressions the child receives, and whether or not one is worthy of imitation.

As far as this life period is concerned, if a civilization never spoke of education and in its elementary, primitive way simply educated, it would have a much healthier outlook than ours. This was true of the ancient Eastern regions, which had no education in our sense of the word. There the adult’s body, soul, and spirit was allowed to affect the child so that the child could take this adult as a guide, moving a muscle when the teacher moved a muscle and blinking when the teacher blinked. The teacher was trained to do this in a way that enabled the child to imitate. Such a teacher was not as the Western “pedagogue,” but the Eastern data. A certain instinctive quality was behind this. Even today, it is obvious that what I have learned is totally irrelevant in terms of my ability to effectively teach a child before the change of teeth. After the change of teeth, the teacher’s knowledge begins to have some significance; but this is again lost, if I merely impart what I learned as it lives in me. It must all be transformed artistically and made into images, as we shall see later. I must awaken invisible forces between the child and myself.

In the second life period, between the change of teeth and puberty, it is much more important that I transform my knowledge into visual imagery and living forms, unfolding it and allowing it to flow into the child. What a person has learned is important only for children after puberty until the early twenties.

For the small child before the change of teeth, the most important thing in education is the teacher’s own being. The most important element for teaching the child between the change of teeth and puberty is the teacher who can enter living artistry. Only after the age of fourteen or fifteen can the child really claim what the teacher has learned. This continues until after the early twenties, when the child is fully grown (even though it’s true that we call the teenager a young lady or young gentleman). At twenty years, the young person can meet another human being on equal terms, even when the other is older.

Things like this enable us to look deep into the human nature—and we shall see how this is deepened in the presence of true human wisdom. We come to realize what has often been thought—that we do not become acquainted with the teacher by examining what the person knows after going through college. That would show us only a capacity for lecturing on some subject, perhaps something suitable for students between fourteen and twenty. As far as earlier stages are concerned, what the teacher does in this sense has no relevance whatever. The qualities necessary for these early periods must be assEssentialEd on a very different basis.

Thus, we see that a fundamental issue in teaching and education is the question of who the teacher is. What must really live in the children, what must vibrate and well up into their very hearts, wills, and eventually into their intellect, lives initially in the teachers. It arises simply through who they are, through their unique nature, character, and soul attitude, and through what they bring the children out of their own self-development. So we can see how a true knowledge of the human being, cultivated into embracing everything, can be the single foundation for a true art of teaching and fulfill the living needs of education.

In the lectures that follow, I want to go into these two things more fully—the pedagogy, and the living needs of education.