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The Roots of Education
GA 309

Lecture Three

15 April 1924, Bern

In the preceding lectures I have repeatedly spoken of how important it is that teachers turn their attention in particular toward the drastic changes, or metamorphoses, that occur during a child’s life—for example, the change of teeth and puberty. We have not fully developed our observation of such changes, because we are used to noticing only the more obvious outer expressions of human nature according to so-called natural laws. What concerns the teacher, however, arises in reality from the innermost center of a child’s being, and what a teacher can do for the child affects a child’s very inner nature. Consequently, we must pay particular attention to the fact that, for example, at this significant change of teeth, the soul itself goes through a transformation.

Memory Prior to the Change of Teeth

Let us examine a single aspect of this soul-life—the memory, or capacity for remembering. A child’s memory is very different before and after the change of teeth. The transitions and developments in human life occur slowly and gradually, so to speak of the change of teeth as a single fixed event in time is only approximate. Nevertheless, this point in time manifests in the middle of the child’s development, and we must consider very intensively what takes place at that time.

When we observe a very young child, we find that the capacity to remember has the quality of a soul habit. When a child recalls something during that first period of life until the change of teeth, such remembering is a kind of habit or skill. We might say that when, as a child, I acquire a certain accomplishment—let us say, writing—it arises largely from a certain suppleness of my physical constitution, a suppleness that I have gradually acquired. When you watch a small child taking hold something, you have found a good illustration of the concept of habit. A child gradually discovers how to move the limbs this way or that way, and this becomes habit and skill. Out of a child’s imitative actions, the soul develops skillfulness, which permeates the child’s finer and more delicate organizations. A child will imitate something one day, then do the same thing again the next day and the next; this activity is performed outwardly, but also—and importantly—within the innermost parts of the physical body. This forms the basis for memory in the early years.

After the change of teeth, the memory is very different, because by then, as I have said, spirit and soul are freed from the body, and picture content can arise that relates to what was experienced in the soul—a formation of images unrelated to bodily nature. Every time we meet the same thing or process, whether due to something outer or inner, the same picture is recalled. The small child does not yet produce these inward pictures. No image emerges for that child when remembering something. When an older child has a thought or idea about some past experience, it arises again as a remembered thought, a thought “made inward.” Prior to the age of seven, children live in their habits, which are not inwardly visualized in this way. This is significant for all of human life after the change of teeth.

When we observe human development through the kind of inner vision I have mentioned—with the soul’s eyes and ears—we will see that human beings do not consist of only a physical body that can be seen with the eyes and touched with the hands. There are also supersensible members of this being. I have already pointed out the first so-called supersensible human being living within the physical body—the etheric human being. There is also a third member of human nature. Do not be put off by names; after all, we do need to have some terminology. This third member is the astral body, which develops the capacity of feeling.

Plants have an etheric body; animals have an astral body in common with humans, and they have feeling and sensation. The human being, who exists uniquely as the crown of earthly creation, has yet a fourth member—the I-being. These four members are entirely different from one another, but since they interact with one another they are not generally distinguished by ordinary observation; the ordinary observer never goes far enough to recognize the manifestations of human nature in the etheric body, the astral body, or I-being. We cannot really aspire to teach and educate, however, without knowing these things. One hesitates to say this, because it may be regarded as fantastic and absurd within the broader arena of modern society. It is nevertheless the truth, and an unbiased knowledge of the human being will not disagree.

The way that the human being works through the etheric body, astral body, and I-being is unique and is significant for educators. As you know, we are used to learning about the physical body by observing it—living or dead—and by using the intellect connected with the brain to elucidate what we have thus perceived with the senses. This type of observation alone, however, will never reveal anything of the higher members of human nature. They are inaccessible to methods of observation based only on sense-perception and intellectual activity. If we think only in terms of natural laws, we will never understand the etheric body, for example. Therefore, new methods should be introduced into colleges and universities. Observation through the senses and working in the intellect of the brain enable us to observe only the physical body. A very different training is needed to enable a person to perceive, for example, how the etheric body manifests in the human being. This is really necessary, not just for teachers of every subject, but even more so for doctors.

The Etheric Body and the Art of Sculpting

First, we should learn to sculpt and work with clay, as a sculptor works, modeling forms from within outward, creating forms out of their own inner principles, and guided by the unfolding of our own human nature. The form of a muscle or bone can never be comprehended by the methods of contemporary anatomy and physiology. Only a genuine sense of form reveals the true forms of the human body. But when we say such things we will immediately be considered somewhat crazy. But Copernicus was considered a bit mad in his time; even as late as 1828 some leaders of the Church considered Copernican theories insane and denied the faithful any belief in them!

Now let’s look at the physical body; it is heavy with mass and subject to the laws of gravity. The etheric body is not subject to gravity—on the contrary, it is always trying to get away. Its tendency is to disperse and scatter into far cosmic spaces. This is in fact what happens right after death. Our first experience after death is the dispersal of the etheric body. The dead physical body follows the laws of Earth when lowered into the grave; or when cremated, it burns according to physical laws just like any other physical body. This is not true of the etheric body, which works away from Earth, just as the physical body strives toward Earth. The etheric body, however, does not necessarily extend equally in all directions, nor does it strive away from Earth in a uniform way. Now we arrive at something that might seem very strange to you; but it can in fact be perceived by the kind of observation I have mentioned.

When you look up into the heavens, you see that the stars are clustered into definite groups, and that these groups are all different from one another. Those groups of stars attract the etheric human body, drawing it out into the far spaces. Let’s imagine someone here in the center.


The different groups of stars are drawing out the etheric body in varying degrees; there is a much stronger attraction from one group of stars than from another, thus the etheric body is not drawn out equally on all sides but to varying degrees in the different directions of space. Consequently, the etheric body is not spherical, but, through this dispersion of the etheric, certain definite forms may arise in the human being through the cosmic forces that work down from the stars. These forms remain in us as long as we live on Earth and have an etheric body within us.

If, for example, we take the upper part of the thigh, we see that both the form of the muscle and the form of the bone are shaped by influences from the stars. We need to discover how these very different forms can arise from different directions of cosmic space. We must try to model these varying forms in clay, and we will find that, in one particular form, cosmic forces act to produce length; in another the form is rounded off more quickly. Examples of the latter are the round bones, and the former are the more tubular bones.

Like sculptors, therefore, we must develop a feeling for the world—the kind of feeling that, in ancient humankind, was present as a kind of instinctive consciousness. It was clearly expressed in the Eastern cultures of prehistory, thousands of years before our era; but we still find it in Greek culture. Just consider how contemporary, materialistic artists are often baffled by the forms of the Greek sculptors. They are baffled, because they believe the Greeks worked from models, which they examined from all sides. But the Greeks still had a feeling that the human being is born from the cosmos, and that the cosmos itself forms the human being. When the Greeks created their Venus de Milo (which causes contemporary sculptors to despair), they took what flowed from the cosmos; and although this could reveal itself only imperfectly in any earthly work, they tried to express it in the human form they were creating as much as possible. The point is that, if you really attempt to mold the human form according to nature, you cannot possibly do it by slavishly following a model, which is the contemporary studio method. One must be able to turn to the great “cosmic sculptor,” who forms the human being from a feeling for space, which a person can also acquire.

This then is the first thing we must develop. People think they can gauge the human form by drawing a line going through vertically, another through the outstretched arms and another front to back; there you have the three dimensions. But in doing this, they are slaves to the three dimensions of space, and this is pure abstraction. If you draw even a single line through a person in the right way, you can see that it is subject to manifold forces of attraction—this way or that, in every direction of space. This “space” of geometry, about which Kant produced such unhappy definitions and spun out such abstract theories—this space itself is in fact an organism, producing varied forces in all directions.

Human beings are likely to develop only the grosser physical senses, and do not inwardly unfold this fine delicate feeling for space experienced in all directions. If we could only allow this feeling for space to take over, the true image of the human being would arise. Out of an active inner feeling, you will see the plastic form of the human being emerge. If we develop a feeling for handling soft clay, we have the proper conditions for understanding the etheric body, just as the activity of human intellect connected with the brain provides the appropriate conditions for understanding the physical body.

We must first create a new method of acquiring knowledge—a kind of plastic perception together with an inner plastic activity. Without this, knowledge stops short at the physical body, since we can know the etheric body only through images, not through ideas. We can really understand these etheric images only when we are able to reshape them ourselves in some way, in imitation of the cosmic shaping.

The Astral Body in Relation to Music

Now we can move on to the next member of the human being. Where do things stand today in regard to this? On the one hand, in modern life the advocates of natural science have become the authorities on the human being; on the other hand we find isolated, eccentric anthroposophists, who insist that there are also etheric and astral bodies, and when they describe the etheric and astral bodies, people try to understand those descriptions with the kind of thinking applied to understanding the physical body, which doesn’t work. True, the astral body expresses itself in the physical body, and its physical expression can be comprehended according to the laws of natural science.

However, the astral body itself, in its true inner being and function, cannot be understood by those laws. It can be understood only by understanding music—not just externally, but inwardly. Such understanding existed in the ancient East and still existed in a modified form in Greek culture. In modern times it has disappeared altogether. Just as the etheric body acts through cosmic shaping, the astral body acts through cosmic music, or cosmic melodies. The only earthly thing about the astral body is the beat, or musical measure. Rhythm and melody come directly from the cosmos, and the astral body consists of rhythm and melody.

It does no good to approach the astral body with what we understand as the laws of natural science. We must approach it with what we have acquired as an inner understanding of music. For example, you will find that when the interval of a third is played, it can be felt and experienced within our inner nature. You may have a major and minor third, and this division of the scale can arouse considerable variations in the feeling life of a person; this interval is still something inward in us. When we come to the fifth interval, we experience it at the surface, on our boundary; in hearing the fifth, it is as though we were only just inside ourselves. We feel the sixth and seventh intervals to be finding their way outside us. With the fifth we are passing beyond ourselves; and as we enter the sixth and the seventh, we experience them as external, whereas the third is completely internal. This is the work of the astral body—the musician in every human being—which echoes the music of the cosmos. All this is at work in the human being and finds expression in the physical human form. If we can really get close to such a thought in trying to comprehend the world, it can be an astonishing experience for us.

You see, we are speaking now of something that can be studied very objectively—something that flows from the astral body into the human form. In this case, it is not something that arises from cosmic shaping, but from the musical impulse streaming into the human being through the astral body. Again, we must begin with an understanding of music, just as a sculptural understanding is necessary in understanding the etheric body’s activities. If you take the part of the human being that goes from the shoulder blades to the arms, that is the work of the tonic, the keynote, living in the human being. In the upper arm, we find the interval of the second. (You can experience all this in eurythmy.) And in the lower arm the third—major and minor. When you come to the third, you find two bones in the lower arm, and so on, right down into the fingers.

This may sound like mere words and phrases, but through genuine observation of the human being, based on spiritual science, we can see these things with the same precision that a mathematician uses in approaching mathematical problems. We cannot arrive at this through any kind of mystical nonsense: it must be investigated with precision. In order that students of medicine and education really comprehend these things, their college training must be based on an inner understanding of music. Such understanding, permeated with clear, conscious thinking, leads back to the musical understanding of the ancient East, even before Greek culture began. Eastern architecture can be understood only when we understand it as religious perception descended into form.

Just as music is expressed only though the phenomenon of time, architecture is expressed in space. The human astral and etheric bodies must be understood in the same contrasting way. We can never explain the life of feeling and passion with natural laws and so-called psychological methods. We can understand it only when we consider the human being as a whole in terms of music. A time will come when psychologists will not describe a diseased condition of the soul life as they do today, but will speak of it in terms of music, as one would speak, for example, of a piano that is out of tune.

Please do not think that anthroposophy is unaware of how difficult it is to present such a view in our time. I understand very well that many people will consider what I have presented as pure fantasy, if not somewhat crazy. But, unfortunately, a socalled “reasonable” way of thinking can never portray the human being in actuality. We must develop a new and expanded rationality for these matters. In this connection, it is extraordinary how people view anthroposophy today. They cannot imagine that anything exists that transcends their powers of comprehension, but that those same powers can in fact eventually reach.

Recently, I read a very interesting book by Maeterlinck translated into German. There was a chapter about me, and it ended in an extraordinary and very amusing way. He says: “If you read Steiner’s books you will find that the early chapters are logically correct, intelligently thought-out and presented in a perfectly scientific form. But as you read on, you get the impression that the author has gone mad.” Maeterlinck, of course, has a perfect right to his opinions. Why should he not have the impression that the writer was a clever man when he wrote the first part of the book, but went mad when he wrote the later part? But simply consider the actual situation. Maeterlinck believes that in the first chapters of these books the author was clever, but in the last chapters he had gone mad. So we get the extraordinary fact that this man writes several books, one after the other. Consequently, in each of these books the first few chapters make him seem very smart, but in later chapters he seems mad, then clever again, then mad, and so on. You see how ridiculous it is when one has such a false picture. When writers—otherwise deservedly famous—write in such a way, people fail to notice what nonsense it is. This shows how hard it is, even for such an enlightened person as Maeterlinck, to reach reality. On the firm basis of anthroposophy we have to speak of a reality that is considered unreal today.

I-being and the Genius of Language

Now we come to the I-being. Just as the astral body can be investigated through music, the true nature of the I-being can be studied through the word. It may be assumed that everyone, even doctors and teachers, accepts today’s form of language as a finished product. If this is their standpoint, they can never understand the inner structure of language. This can be understood only when you consider language, not as the product of our modern mechanism, but as the result of the genius of language, working vitally and spiritually. You can do this when you attempt to understand the way a word is formed.

There is untold wisdom in words, way beyond human understanding. All human characteristics are expressed in the way various cultures form their words, and the peculiarities of any nation may be recognized in their language. For example, consider the German word Kopf (“head”). This was originally connected with the rounded form of the head, which you also find in the word Kohl (“cabbage”), and in the expression Kohlkopf (“head of cabbage”). This particular word arises from a feeling for the form of the head. You see, here the I has a very different concept of the head from what we find in testa, for example, the word for “head” in the Romance languages, which comes from testifying, or “to bear witness.” Consequently, in these two instances, the feelings from which the words are formed come from very different sources.

If you understand language in this inward way, then you will see how the I-organization works. There are some districts where lightning is not called Blitz but Himmlitzer. This is because the people there do not think of the single flashes of lightning so much as the snakelike form. People who say Blitz picture the single flash and those who say Himmlitzer picture the zig-zag form. This then is how humans really live in language as far as their I is concerned, although in the current civilization, they have lost connection with their language, which has consequently become something abstract. I do not mean to say that if you have this understanding of language you will already have attained inward clairvoyant consciousness, whereby you will be able to behold beings like the human I. But you will be on the way to such a perception if you accompany your speaking with inner understanding.

Thus, education in medical and teacher training colleges should be advanced as indicated, so that the students’ training may arouse in them an inner feeling for space, an inner relationship to music, and an inner understanding of language. Now you may argue that the lecture halls are already becoming empty and, ultimately, teacher training colleges will be just as empty if we establish what we’ve been speaking of. Where would all this lead to? Medical training keeps getting longer and longer. If we continue with our current methods, people will be sixty by the time they are qualified!

The situation we are speaking of is not due in any way to inner necessity but is related to the fact that inner conditions are not being fulfilled. If we fail to go from abstractions to plastic and musical concepts and to an understanding of the cosmic word—if we stop short at abstract ideas—our horizon will be endless; we will continue on and on and never come to a boundary, to a point where we can survey the whole. The understanding that will come from understanding sculpting and music will make human beings more rational—and, believe me, their training will actually be accelerated rather than delayed. Consequently, this inner course of development will be the correct method of training educators, and not only teachers, but those others who have so much to contribute to educational work—the doctors.

The Therapeutic Nature of Teaching

Given what I spoke of in the introductory lectures concerning the relationship between educational methods and the physical health of children, it should be clear to you that real education cannot be developed without considering medicine. Teachers should be able to assess various conditions of health or disease among their children. Otherwise, a situation will arise that is already being felt—that is, a need for doctors in the schools. The doctor is brought in from outside, which is the worst possible method we could adopt. How do such doctors stand in relation to the children? They do not know the children, nor do they know, for example, what mistakes the teachers have made with them, and so on. The only way is to cultivate an art of education that contains so much therapy that the teacher can continually see whether the methods are having a good or bad influence on the children’s health. Reform is not accomplished by bringing doctors into the schools from outside, no matter how necessary this may seem to be. In any case, the kind of training doctors get these days does not prepare them for what they must do when they are sent into the schools.

In aiming at an art of education we must provide a training based on knowledge of the human being. I hesitate to say these things because they are so difficult to comprehend. But it is an error to believe that the ideas of natural science can give us full understanding of the human being, and an awareness of that error is vital to the progress of the art of education. Only when we view children from this perspective do we see, for example, the radical and far-reaching changes that occur with the coming of the second teeth, when the memory becomes a pictorial memory, no longer related to the physical body but to the etheric body. In actuality, what is it that causes the second teeth? It is the fact that, until this time, the etheric is almost completely connected with the physical body; and when the first teeth are forced out, something separates from the physical body. If this were not the case, we would get new teeth every seven years. (Since people’s teeth decay so quickly nowadays, this might seem to be a good thing, and dentists would have to find another job!) When the etheric body is separated, what formerly worked in the physical body now works in the soul realm.

If you can perceive these things and can examine the children’s mouths without their knowledge, you will see for yourself that this is true. It is always better when children do not know they are being observed. Experimental psychology so often fails because children are aware of what is being done.

You can examine a child’s second teeth and find that they have been formed by the etheric body into a modeled image of the memory; and the shape of the teeth created by the etheric will indicate how the memory of the child will develop. Except for slight alterations in position here or there, you cannot physically change the second teeth once they are through—unless you are able to go so far as, for example, the dentist Professor Romer. He has written a book on dentistry—a new art of medicine based on anthroposophic principles—where he speaks of certain changes that can be effected even after the second teeth are established. But this need not concern us further.

When the etheric body is loosened and exists on its own after the change of teeth, the building of memory leaves the physical realm and remains almost entirely in the element of soul; indeed, this fact can put teachers on the right track. Before this change, the soul and spirit formed a unity with the physical and etheric. After this, the physical—previously acting in conjunction with the soul—is expressed as the second teeth, and what collaborated with the physical in this process separates and manifests as an increased power to form ideas and as the formation and reliability of memory.

Once you have acquired such insight into human nature, you will discover much that will help in your teaching. You must permeate yourselves with this spiritual knowledge of the human being and enliven it in yourselves; your observations of children will then inspire you with ideas and methods for teaching, and this inner inspiration and enthusiasm will penetrate your practical work. The rules established in introductory texts on education produce only abstract activity in the soul. But what arises from anthroposophic knowledge penetrates the will and the efforts of teachers; it becomes the impulse for everything done in the classroom.

A living knowledge of the human being brings life and order to the soul of a teacher. But if teachers study only teaching methods that arise from natural science, they may get some clever ideas of what to do with the children, but they will be unable to carry them out. A teacher’s skill and practical handling of children must arise from the living spirit within, and this is where purely scientific ideas have no place. If teachers can acquire a true knowledge of the human being, they will become aware of how, when the etheric body is freed at the change of teeth, the child has an inner urge to receive everything in the form of images. The child’s own inner being wants to become “image.” During the first stage of life, impressions lack this picture-forming tendency; they are transformed instead into habits and skills in the child; memory itself is habit and skill.

Children want to imitate, through the movement of the limbs, everything they see happening around them; they have no desire to form any inner images. But after the change of teeth, you will notice how children come to know things very differently. Now they want to experience pictures arising in the soul; consequently, teachers must bring everything into a pictorial element in their lessons. Creating images is the most important thing for teachers to understand.

Teaching Writing and Reading

When we begin to view the facts, however, we are immediately faced with certain contradictions. Children must learn to read and write, and when they come to school we assume they will first learn to read, and after that they will learn to write in connection with their reading. Let’s consider, however, the reality of letters—what it means when we take a pen to paper and try to express through writing what is in the mind. What is the relationship between the printed letters of today and the original picture-language of ancient times? How were we taught these things? We show children a capital A and a lowercase a, but what in the world do these letters have to do with the sound “ah”? There is no relationship at all between the form of the letter A and the sound “ah.”

When the art of writing arose, things were different. In certain areas, pictorial signs were used, and a kind of pictorial painting was employed. Later, this was standardized; but originally those drawings copied the process and feeling of the sounds; thus, what appeared on paper was, to some extent, a reproduction of what lived in the soul. Modern characters, however, are alien to a small child’s nature, and it is little wonder that when certain early peoples first saw printed letters, it had a peculiar effect on them. When the people of Europe came among the Native Americans and showed them how they expressed their thoughts on paper, the Native Americans were alarmed and considered it the work of the devil; they were afraid of the little demons lurking behind those written letters. They immediately concluded that the Europeans engaged in black magic, since people have a habit of attributing to black magic whatever they cannot understand.

But what is the truth of the matter? We know that when we utter the sound “ah,” we express wonder and admiration. Now, it is very natural to try to reproduce this sound with the whole body and express it in a gesture of the arms. If you copy this gesture (stretching the arms obliquely above the head) you get the capital A. When you teach writing, you can, for example, begin with a feeling of wonder, and proceed with the children to some kind of painting and drawing, and in this way you can bring their inner and outer experiences into that painting and drawing.

Consider another example. I tell a girl to think of a fish and ask her to paint it (awkward though this may be). It must be done in a particular way, not simply as she might prefer, but with the head of the fish in front, like this, and the rest of the fish here. The child paints the fish, and thus, through a kind of painting and drawing, she produces a written character. You then tell her to pronounce the word fish—“fish.” Now take away the ish, and from fish you have arrived at her first written letter, f.

Fish to Eff

In this way a child will come to understand how pictorial writing arose, and how it developed into contemporary writing. The forms were copied, but the pictures were abandoned. This is how drawing the various sounds arose. You do not need to make a special study of how such things evolved. This is not really necessary for teachers, since they can develop them out of their own intuition and power to think. Have a boy, for example, paint the upper lip of a mouth, and then pronounce the word mouth. Leave out the outh, and you get the m. In this way you can relate all the written characters to some reality, and the child will constantly develop a living, inner activity.


Thus, you should teach the children writing first, and let today’s abstract letters arise from tangible reality; when a child learns to write in this way, the whole being is engaged in the process. Whereas, if you begin with reading, then only the head organization participates in an abstract way. In writing, the hand must participate as well, and in this way the whole human being is aroused to activity. When you begin with writing—writing developed through the formation of images and drawing forms—your teaching will approach the child’s whole being. Then you can move on to teaching reading; and what was developed out of the child’s whole being through drawing can be understood by the head. This method of teaching writing and reading will naturally take longer, but it will have a far healthier effect on the whole earthly life from birth to death. These things can be done when the practical work of the school flows out of a real spiritual knowledge of the human being. Such knowledge can, through its own inner force, become the teaching method in our schools. The desires of those who earnestly seek a new art of education live in this; but its essence can be truly found only when we are unafraid to look for a full knowledge of the human being in body, soul, and spirit.