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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Essentials of Education
GA 308

Lecture Three

10 April 1924 a.m., Stuttgart

Before education can be helpful, teachers and educators must gain the right perspective, one that allows them to fully understand the source and the formation of a child’s organism. For the sake of clarity in this area I would like to begin with a comparison.

Let’s take reading — the ordinary reading of adults. If we wanted to describe what we gain from our usual reading of a book, we would not say, “the letter B is shaped like this, the letter C like that” and so on. If I read Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, it wouldn’t occur to me to describe the individual letters as a result of my reading, since the real substance assimilated is not on the paper at all, it’s not even contained within the covers of the book. Nevertheless, if I want to comprehend in any way the content of Wilhelm Meister, I would have had to have learned how to read the letters and their relationships — I must be able to recognize the forms of the letters.

The Ability to Read the Human Being

A teacher’s relationship with children is similar; it must constitute a reading of the human being. What a teacher gets from a strictly physical understanding of the physiology and anatomy of the organs and their functions amounts to no more than learning the letters. As teachers and educators, it is not enough to understand that the lungs or heart have this or that appearance and function in the physical realm; that kind of an understanding of the human being is similar an to illiterate person who can only describe the forms of letters but not the book’s meaning.

Now in the course of modern civilization, humankind has gradually lost the habit of reading nature and, most of all, human nature. Our natural science is not reading but mere spelling. As long as we fail to recognize this specifically, we can never develop a true art of education that arises from real knowledge of the human being. This requires knowledge that truly reads, not one that only spells. People are obviously unhappy at first when they hear such a statement, and it is left at that. They argue: Isn’t the human race supposed to be making continual progress? How can it be, then, that during our time of momentous progress in the natural sciences (which philosophical anthroposophists are the first to acknowledge) we are moving backward in terms of penetrating the world more deeply?

We must answer: Until the fourteenth or fifteenth century, human beings were unable to “spell out” nature. They saw natural phenomena and received instinctive, intuitive impressions, primarily from other human beings. They did not get as far as describing separate organs, but their culture was spiritual and sensible, and they had an instinctive impression of the human being as a totality. This kind of impression only arises when one is not completely free in one’s inner being, since it is an involuntary impression and not subject to inner control.

Thus, beginning with the fourteenth or fifteenth century, a time had to come in the historical evolution of humanity — an epoch of world history that is about to end — when human beings would forgot their earlier, instinctive knowledge, and become more concerned with learning the “alphabet” of human nature. Consequently, in the last third of the nineteenth century and, in effect, until the present period of the twentieth century, as human beings we were faced with a larger culture whose worldview is void of spirit. This is similar to the way we would face a spiritual void if we could not read, but only perceived the forms of the letters. In this age, human nature in general has been strengthened, just because the involuntary life and being of the spirit within it were absent, especially among the educated.

We must have the capacity to observe world history in depth, since otherwise we would be incapable of forming a correct assessment of our position as human beings in the sequence of eras. In many ways, modern people will be averse to this, because we are endowed, as I have already indicated, with a certain cultural pride, especially when we think we have learned something. We place an intrinsically higher value on a “letter” reading of nature than we do on what existed in earlier periods of earthly evolution. Of course, anatomists today think they know more about the heart and liver than those of earlier times. Nevertheless, people then had a picture of the heart and liver, and their perception included a spiritual element.

We must be able to empathize with the way the modern anatomist views the heart, for example. It is seen as something like a first-rate machine — a more highly developed pump that drives the blood through the body. If we say that an anatomist is looking at a corpse, the response would be denial, which from that viewpoint is appropriate, since an anatomist wouldn’t see the point of such a distinction. Ancient anatomists, however, saw a kind of spiritual entity in the heart, working in a spiritual and psychic sense. The sensory content of perception was permeated and simultaneous with a spiritual aspect. Such perception of the spiritual could not be fully clear and conscious, but was involuntary. If humankind had been forced to continue to experience a simultaneous revelation of spirit in sense perception, complete moral freedom could not have been attained. Nevertheless, at some point it had to enter historical evolution.

When we go back over the whole course of history since the fourteenth century, we find a universal struggle toward freedom, which was ultimately exprEssentialEd in the revolutionary movements of the eighteenth century (particularly in the widespread fermentation in the more developed regions, beginning with the Bohemian-Magyar brotherhoods in Central Europe, where a definite pedagogic impulse was trying to make itself felt) and onward to Wycliffe, Huss, and the so-called Reformation. This struggle of humanity for the inner experience of freedom still continues.

None of this could have happened while the old perceptual mode persisted. Human beings had to be liberated for a while from the spirit working involuntarily within them so that they could freely assume that spirit itself. An unbiased observation of the activity of spiritual culture leads one to say: It is of primary importance that educators develop full awareness of the process of human evolution on Earth. Whereas there used to be an unconscious bond between teacher and student — which was true of ancient times — they must now develop a conscious bond. This is not possible if culture arises from mere spelling, which is the way of all science and human cognition today. Such a conscious relationship can arise only if we learn to progress consciously from spelling to reading. In other words, in the same way we grasp the letters in a book but get something very different from what the letters say (indeed, the letters themselves are innocent in terms of the meaning of Wilhelm Meister), so we must also get from human nature something that modern natural science cannot express by itself; it is acquired only when we understand the statements of natural science as though they were letters of an alphabet, and thus we learn to read the human being.

This explains why it is not correct to say that anthroposophic knowledge disregards natural science. This is not true. Anthroposophic knowledge gives a great deal of credit to natural science, but like someone who respects a book through the desire to read it, rather than one who merely wants to photograph the forms of the letters. When we try to truly describe the culture of our time, many interesting things can be said of it. If I give someone a copy of Wilhelm Meister, there is a difference between someone wanting to quickly get a camera to photograph every page, not bothering at all about the content of the book, and someone else who longs to know what the book is about. If I can be content with only natural science to help me understand the human being, I am like the first person — all I really want is photographs of the external forms, since the available concepts allow no more than a mere photograph of the forms.

We are forced to use radical expressions to describe the relationship that people today have with one another and with the world. This relationship is completely misunderstood. The belief is that human beings really have something higher today than was available before the fourteenth century; but this is not true. We must develop to the degree that we learn to manipulate consciously, freely, and deliberately what we have, just as in earlier times we gained our concepts of human nature through instinctive intuition. This development in modern culture should pass through teacher training education like a magic breath and become a habit of the soul in the teachers, since only it can place the teachers at the center of that horizon of worldview, which they should perceive and survey.

Thus, today it is not as necessary that people take up a scientific study of memory, will, and intelligence. It is more important that pedagogical and didactic training be directed toward evoking the attitude I described within the teachers’ souls. The primary focus of a teacher’s training should be the very heart of human nature itself. When this is the situation, every experience of a teacher’s development will be more than lifeless pedagogical rules; they will not need to ponder the application of one rule or another to a child standing in front of them, which would be fundamentally wrong.

An intense impression of the child as a whole being must arise within the whole human nature of the teacher, and what is perceived in the child must awaken joy and vitality. This same joyful and enlivening spirit in the teacher must be able to grow and develop until it becomes direct inspiration in answer to the question: What must I do with this child? We must progress from reading human nature in general to reading an individual human being. Everywhere education must learn to manipulate (pardon this rather materialistic expression) what is needed by the human being. When we read, what we have learned about the relationships between the letters is applied. A similar relationship must exist between teacher and pupils. Teachers will not place too much nor too little value on the material development of the bodily nature; they will adopt the appropriate attitude toward bodily nature and then learn to apply what physiology and experimental psychology have to say about children. Most of all, they will be able to rise from a perception of details to a complete understanding of the growing human being.

The Implications of the Change of Teeth

A deeper perception reveals that, at the elementary school age, children are fundamentally different after their change of teeth. Let’s look into the nature of the human being before the change of teeth. The teeth are the outer expression of something developing within the human organism as a whole (as I described yesterday). There is a “shooting up” into form — the human soul is working on the second bodily nature, like a sculptor working at shaping the material. An inner, unconscious shaping process is in fact happening. The only way this can be influenced externally is to allow children to imitate what we do. Anything I do — any movement I make with my own hand — passes into the children’s soul building processes when they perceive it, and my hand movement causes an unconscious shaping activity that “shoots up” into the form.

This process depends completely on the element of movement in the child. Children make movements, their will impulses change from chaotic irregularity into inner order, and they work on themselves sculpturally from without. This plastic activity largely moves toward the inner being. When we meet children at the elementary age, we should realize that in the development of their spirit, soul, and body, the process that initially lived only in the movements passes into a very different region. Until the change of teeth, blood formation in the child depends on the system in the head. Think of a human being during the embryonic period, how the head formation dominates, while the rest of the organic structuring depends on external processes; regardless of what takes place in the mother’s body, everything that proceeds from the baby itself begins with the formation of the head. This is still true, though less so, during the first period of life until the change of teeth. The head formation plays an essential role in all that happens within the human organism. The forces coming from the head, nerves, and sensory system all work into the motor system and the shaping activity. After the child passes through the change of teeth, the activities of the head move to the background. What works in the limbs now depends less on the head and more on the substances and forces passing into the human organism through nourishment from outside.

I would like you to consider this carefully. Suppose that, before the change of teeth, we eat some cabbage, for example. The cabbage contains certain forces intrinsic to cabbages, which play an important part in the way it grows in the field. Now, in the child those forces are driven out of the cabbage as quickly as possible by the process of digestion being carried on by forces that flow down from the child’s head. Those forces flow from the head of the child and immediately plunge into the forces contained in the vegetable. After the change of teeth, the vegetable retains its own forces for a much longer time on its way through the human organism; the first transformation does not occur in the digestive system at all, but only where the digestive system enters the circulatory system. The transformation takes place later, and consequently, a completely different inner life is evoked within the organism. During the first years before the change of teeth, everything really depends on the head formation and its forces; the important thing for the second life stage from the change of teeth until puberty is the breathing process and meeting between its rhythm and the blood circulation. The transformation of these forces at the boundary between the breathing process and the circulatory system is particularly important. The essential thing, therefore, during the elementary school age, is that there should always be a certain harmony — a harmony that must be furthered by the education — between the rhythm developed in the breathing system and the rhythm it encounters in the interior of the organism. This rhythm within the circulatory system springs from the nourishment taken in. This balance — the harmonization of the blood system and the breathing system — is brought about in the stage between the change of teeth and puberty.

In an adult, the pulse averages four times as many beats as breaths per minute. This normal relationship in the human organism between the breathing and the blood rhythms is established during the time between the change of teeth and puberty. All education at that time must be arranged so that the relationship between the breathing and blood rhythms may be established in a way appropriate to the majesty and development of the human organism.

This relationship between pulse and breath always differs somewhat among people. It depends in each individual on the person’s size, or whether one is thin or fat; it is influenced by the inner growth forces and by the shaping forces that still emanate from hereditary conditions during the early years of childhood. Everything depends on each human being having a relationship between the breathing and the blood rhythms suited to one’s size and proportions. When I see a child who is inclined to grow up thin, I recognize the presence of a breathing system that, in a certain sense, affects the blood system more feebly than in some fat little child before me. In the thin child, I must strengthen and quicken the imprint of the breathing rhythm to establish the proper relationship. All these things, however, must work naturally and unconsciously in the teacher, just as perception of individual letters is unconscious once we know how to read. We must acquire a feeling of what should be done with a fat child or with a thin child, and so on. It is, for example, extremely important to know whether a child’s head is large or small in proportion to the rest of the body. All this follows naturally, however, when we stand in the class with an inner joy toward education as a true educational individual, and when we can read the individual children committed to our care.

It is essential, therefore, that we take hold, as it were, of the continual shaping process — a kind of further development of what takes place until the change of teeth — and meet it with something that proceeds from the breathing rhythm. This can be done with various music and speech activities. The way we teach the child to speak and the way we introduce a child to the music — whether listening, singing, or playing music — all serve, in terms of teaching, to form the breathing rhythm. Thus, when it meets the rhythm of the pulse, it can increasingly harmonize with it.

It is wonderful when the teacher can observe the changing facial expressions of a child while learning to speak and sing — regardless of the delicacy and subtlety of those changes, which may not be so obvious. We should learn to observe, in children between the change of teeth and puberty, their efforts at learning to speak and sing, their gaze, physiognomy, finger movements, stance and gait; with reverence, we should observe, growing from the very center of very small children, unformed facial features that assume a beautiful form; we should observe how our actions around small children are translated into their developing expressions and body gestures. When we can see all this with inner reverence, as teachers we attain something that continually springs from uncharted depths, an answer in feeling to a feeling question.

The question that arises — which need not come into the conscious intellect — is this: What happens to all that I do while teaching a child to speak or sing? The child’s answer is: “I receive it,” or, “I reject it.” In body gestures, physiognomy, and facial expressions we see whether what we do enters and affects the child, or if it disappears into thin air, passing through the child as though nothing were assimilated. Much more important than knowing all the rules of teaching — that this or that must be done in a certain way — is acquiring this sensitivity toward the child’s reflexes, and an ability to observe the child’s reactions to what we do. It is, therefore, an essential intuitive quality that must develop in the teacher’s relationship with the children. Teachers must also learn to read the effects of their own activity. Once this is fully appreciated, people will recognize the tremendous importance of introducing music in the right way into education during the elementary years and truly understand what music is for the human being.

Understanding the Fourfold Human Being

Anthroposophy describes the human physical body, a coarse, material principle, and the more delicate body, which is still material but without gravity — in fact, its tendency is to fly against gravity into cosmic space. The human being has a heavy physical body, which can fall to the ground when not held upright. We also have a finer etheric body, which tends to escape gravity into cosmic space. Just as the physical body falls if it is unsupported, so the etheric body must be controlled by inner forces of the human organism to prevent it from flying away. Therefore, we speak of the physical body, the etheric body, and then the astral body, which is no longer material but spiritual; and we speak of the I-being, which alone is completely spirit. If we want to gain a real knowledge of these four members of the human being — a true understanding of the human being — we might say: The methods of modern anatomy and physiology allow for an understanding of the physical organism, but not the etheric human being and certainly not the astral human being.

How can we understand the etheric body? This requires a much better preparation than is usual for understanding the human being today. We understand the etheric body when we enter the shaping process, when we know how a curve or angle grows from inner forces. We cannot understand the etheric body in terms of ordinary natural laws, but through our experience of the hand — the spirit permeated hand. Thus, there should be no teacher training without activities in the areas of modeling or sculpture, an activity that arises from the inner human being. When this element is absent, it is much more harmful to education than not knowing the capital city of Romania or Turkey, or the name of some mountain; those things can always be researched in a dictionary. It is not at all necessary to know the masses of matter required for exams; what is the harm in referring to a dictionary? However, no dictionary can give us the flexibility, the capable knowledge, and knowing capacity necessary to understand the etheric body, because the etheric body does not arise according to natural laws; it permeates the human being in the activity of shaping.

And we shall never understand the astral body simply by knowing Gay-Lussac’s law or the laws of acoustics and optics. The astral body is not accessible to such abstract, empirical laws; what lives and weaves within it cannot be perceived by such methods. If we have an inner understanding, however, of the intervals of the third or the fifth, for example — an inner musical experience of the scale that depends on inner musical perception and not on acoustics — then we experience what lives in the astral human being.

The astral body is not natural history, natural science, or physics; it is music. This is true to the extent that, in the forming activity within the human organism, it is possible to trace how the astral body has a musical formative effect in the human being. This formative activity flows from the center between the shoulder blades, first into the tonic of the scale; as it flows on into the second, it builds the upper arm, and into the third, the lower arm. When we come to the third we arrive at the difference between major and minor; we find two bones in the lower arm — not just one — the radius and ulna, which represent minor and major. One who studies the outer human organization, insofar as it depends on the astral body, must approach physiology not as a physicist, but as a musician. We must recognize the inner, formative music within the human organism.

No matter how you trace the course of the nerves in the human organism, you will never understand what it means. But when you follow the course of the nerves musically — understanding the musical relationships (everything is audible here, though not physically) — and when you perceive with spiritual musical perception how these nerves run from the limbs toward the spine and then turn upward and continue toward the brain, you experience the most wonderful musical instrument, which is the human being, built by the astral body and played by the I-being.

As we ascend from there, we learn how the human being forms speech through understanding the inner configuration of speech — something that is no longer learned in our advanced civilization; it has discarded everything intuitive. Through the structure of speech, we recognize the I-being itself if we understand what happens when a person speaks the sound “ah” or “ee” — how in “ah” there is wonder, in “ee” there is a consolidation of the inner being; and if we learn how the speech element shoots, as it were, into the inner structure; and if we learn to perceive a word inwardly, not just saying, for example, that a rolling ball is “rolling,” but understand what moves inwardly like a rolling ball when one says “r o l l i n g.” We learn through inner perception — a perception really informed by the spirit of speech — to recognize what is active in speech.

These days, information about the human organism must come from physiologists and anatomists, and information about what lives in language comes from philologists. There is no relationship, however, between what they can say to each other. It is necessary to look for an inner spiritual connection; we must recognize that a genius of speech lives and works in language, a genius of speech that can be investigated. When we study the genius of speech, we recognize the human I-being.

We have now made eurythmy part of our Waldorf education. What are we doing with eurythmy? We divide it into tone eurythmy and speech eurythmy. In tone eurythmy, we evoke in the child movements that correspond to the form of the astral body; in speech eurythmy we evoke movements that correspond to the child’s I-being. We thus work consciously to develop the soul by bringing physical elements into play in tone eurythmy; and we work consciously to develop the spirit aspect by activating the corresponding physical elements in speech eurythmy.

Such activity, however, only arises from a complete understanding of the human organization. Those who think they can get close to the human being through external physiology and experimental psychology (which is really only another kind of physiology) would not recognize the difference between beating on a wooden tray and making music in trying to evoke a certain mood in someone. Similarly, knowledge must not remain stuck in abstract, logical rules, but rise to view human life as more than grasping lifeless nature — the living that has died — or thinking of the living in a lifeless way. When we rise from abstract principles to formative qualities and understand how every natural law molds itself sculpturally, we come to understand the human etheric body. When we begin to “hear” (in an inner, spiritual sense) the cosmic rhythm expressing itself in that most wonderful musical instrument that the astral body makes of the human being, we come to understand the astral nature of the human being.

What we must become aware of may be exprEssentialEd this way: First, we come to know the physical body in an abstract, logical sense. Then we turn to the sculptural formative activity with intuitive cognition and begin to understand the etheric body. Third, as a physiologist, one becomes a musician and views the human being the way one would look at a musical instrument — an organ or violin — where one sees music realized. Thus, we understand the astral human being. And when we come to know the genius of speech as it works creatively in words — not merely connecting it with words through the external memory — we gain knowledge of the human I-being.

These days, we would become a laughing stock if in the name of university reform — medical studies, for example — we said that such knowledge must arise from the study of sculpture, music, and speech. People would say: Sure, but how long would such training take? It certainly lasts long enough without these things. Nevertheless, the training would in fact be shorter, since its length today is due primarily to the fact that people don’t move beyond abstract, logical, empirical sense perception. It’s true that they begin by studying the physical body, but this cannot be understood by those methods. There is no end to it. One can study all kinds of things throughout life — there’s no end to it — whereas study has its own inner limits when it is organically built up as a study of the organism in body, soul and spirit.

The point is not to map out a new chapter with the help of anthroposophy, adding to what we already have. Indeed, we can be satisfied with what ordinary science offers; we are not opposed to that. We are grateful to science in the sense that we are grateful to the violin maker for providing a violin. What we need in our culture is to get hold of all of this modern culture and permeate it with soul and permeate it with spirit, just as human beings themselves are permeated with soul and spirit. The artistic must not be allowed to exist in civilization as a pleasant luxury next to serious life, a luxury we consider an indulgence, even though we may have a spiritual approach to life in other ways. The artistic element must be made to permeate the world and the human being as a divine spiritual harmony of law.

We must understand how, in facing the world, we first approach it with logical concepts and ideas. The being of the universe, however, gives human nature something that emanates from the cosmic formative activity working down from the spheres, just as earthly gravity works up from the central point of the Earth. And cosmic music, working from the periphery, is also a part of this. Just as the shaping activity works from above, and physical activity works from below through gravity, so cosmic music works in the movements of the starry constellations at the periphery.

The principle that really gives humanity to the human being was divined in ancient times when words were spoken — words such as “In the primal beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and a God was the Word.” That Cosmic Word, Cosmic Speech, is the principle that also permeates the human being, and that being becomes the I-being. In order to educate, we must acquire knowledge of the human being from knowledge of the cosmos, and learn to shape it artistically.