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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Meditatively Acquired Knowledge of Man
GA 302a

I. The Pedagogy of the West and of Central Europe: The Inner Attitude of the Teacher

15 September 1920, Stuttgart

I had intended during the time I am able to spend here to give a kind of supplement to many of the things which I brought before you last year in our introductory educational courses. However, the days are so few, and according to what I have just learned there are so many things to be done during this time, that I am hardly able to say whether we shall get further than these scanty words of introduction today. It is hardly possible to speak of any kind of program.

What I would like to speak of in this introduction is this: to what I gave you last year I should like to add something about the teacher himself, about the educator. Of course what I shall have to say about the nature of the teacher should be taken quite aphoristically. It would indeed be best if it were to take shape in you gradually, if it were to develop further through your own thinking and feeling.

It is especially teachers whose attention should be drawn to the fact—and in doing so we are taking our stand on an anthroposophically oriented spiritual science, and it is our intention to shape out of this the education necessary for the present time—it is this crucial fact above all, to which attention should be drawn: the teacher must really have a deep feeling for the nature of the esoteric.

In our time—an age of democracy and journalism—it is of course true that we hardly have a real sense, a valid sense for what is meant by the esoteric. We believe today that what is true is true, what is right is right, and that it should be possible to proclaim what is true and right before the world, once it has been formulated in a way one deems to be correct. Now in real life this is not so: here matters are quite different. The essential point is that you can unfold a certain kind of effectiveness in your actions only if the impulses that produce them are guarded in the soul as a most sacred, hidden wealth. And it would be necessary for the teacher especially to guard much as sacred, hidden wealth, regarding it as something that plays a role only in the proceedings and debates taking place within the body of teachers. The meaning of such a statement is not particularly clear to begin with; nonetheless it will become clear to you. I should have to say a great deal to make it fully understandable, but it will become clearer if to begin with I say the following.

The principle I have just stated has a universal significance, embracing the entire civilization of our time. If we think of the education of young people today, we must always bear in mind that we are working on the feelings, the ideas, the will impulses of the next generation. We must be clear that our present work is to prepare this next generation for definite tasks that will have to be accomplished sometime in the future of mankind. When something of this sort has been said, the question at once arises: what is the real cause for mankind having fallen into the widespread misery in which it is today? Mankind has come into such misery because it has for the most part made itself dependent, dependent through and through, on the manner of thinking and feeling peculiar to western man. We can say that if someone in Central Europe today speaks of Fichte, Herder, or even of Goethe, then—if he is active in public life (say as a journalist, as a writer of best-selling books, or the like)—he is much farther removed from the true spiritual impulse living in Fichte, Herder or Goethe when he is active or thinking in Berlin or Vienna, than he is from what is being felt and thought today in London, Paris, New York or Chicago. Fundamentally speaking, matters have gradually worked out in such a way that our whole civilization has been flooded by impulses arising from the world view of the western peoples; our entire public life lives according to the philosophy of these nations.

We have to admit that this is particularly true where the art of education is concerned, for from the last third of the 19th century onwards the peoples of Central Europe have taken their lead in such matters from the people of the West. It is taken for granted today among men who debate educational matters among other topics that they should utilize the habits of thought that come from the West. If you were to trace back all the educational ideas considered reasonable in Central Europe today, you would find their source in the views of Herbert Spencer or men of his sort. We do not pay attention to the numerous pathways by which the views of such men enter the heads of people who set the tone in spiritual matters in Central Europe. Nonetheless these paths exist and are to be found. And if you take the spirit of an educational philosophy such as appeared through a man like Fichte (I will not lay any special importance on its details), you will find it not merely totally different from what is generally considered sensible pedagogy today; it is fact that the men of our time are hardly capable of bringing their souls into the way of thinking and feeling that would permit them to conceive how the intentions of a Fichte or Herder might be developed farther. Thus what we experience today in the field of pedagogy, in the art of education, what has become the rule there, is precisely the opposite of what it ought to be. Let me draw your attention to something Spencer has written.

Spencer was of the opinion that object lessons should be so handled that they would lead over into the experiments of the naturalist, into the research of the man of science. What, according to this, should be done in school? We should teach children in such a way that when they are grown up and the opportunity presents itself, they can pursue further what they have learned from us in school about minerals, plants, animals, etc. and become then proper scientific researchers or thinkers. It is true, this sort of idea is frequently contested; nonetheless it is done in practice, and for the reason that our textbooks are written with this in mind (and it would occur to nobody to alter, re-think or do away with textbooks.) It is a fact, for example, that textbooks about botany are written more for a future botanist than for human beings in general. Similarly, textbooks for zoology are so conceived that they serve the future zoologist but not human beings in general.

Now the peculiar thing is, that we should be striving today for precisely the opposite of what Spencer laid down as a true educational principle. It would be hard to imagine a graver error in elementary school teaching, than to train children to deal with objects, say plants or animals, in such a way that, if pursued further, the child could become a botanist or zoologist. If, on the contrary, we could plan our lessons, when presenting facts about plants or animals, so that it is made difficult for children to become botanists or zoologists, we would then be closer to the mark than if we were to follow the Spencerian axiom. For nobody should become a botanist or zoologist because of what he learns in elementary school. A man should become a botanist or zoologist solely because of his special gifts, and these reveal themselves quite simply in the choice that must result when life unfolds within a true art of education. Because of his talent! Which means, if his gifts predispose him to be a botanist, he can become one; if he has the natural ability to become a zoologist, he can become one. This must come about through the individual™s ability, i.e. through his predetermined karma, the laws of destiny. This must follow from our insight: in this child a botanist is hidden, in that one a zoologist. It must never be the result of an elementary school curriculum designed to prepare him for this scientific speciality. But just reflect on what has happened of late. It has come about, sad to say, that it is the scientists who have designed our education. People accustomed to thinking scientifically have the largest voice in education. That is to say, it has been deemed that the teacher as such has something in common with the scientist. This has gone so far that a scientific training is taken to be a teacher training, whereas the two must be different, through and through. If the teacher becomes a scientist, if he gives himself up in the narrow sense to thinking scientifically—this he may do as a private person but not as a teacher—then he deserves what frequently happens, that the teacher cuts a ridiculous figure in his class, among his students, among his colleagues, and he is poked fun at. Goethe's 'Baccalaureus' is not such a rarity at the higher levels as is ordinarily supposed.

And truthfully, if we were to ask ourselves whether we should be more on the side of the teacher when the students poke fun at him, or more on the side of the students, then, in the present state of affairs in education, we would sooner take the students' part. For the direction things have taken can be observed best in our universities. What are our universities in fact—institutions for teaching mature young men and women, or research institutes? They try to be both, and precisely for this reason they have become the caricatures they are today. People usually go so far as to point to this as a particular advantage of our universities, that they are at one and the same time teaching and research institutions. But this is the very thing that introduces into the higher centres of learning all the harm that is done to education when it has been planned by scientists. And then the mischief is passed on down the line to the secondary schools and ultimately to the elementary schools as well. This is what we cannot sufficiently bear in mind: an art of education must proceed from life and cannot issue from abstract scientific thinking.

Now this is the peculiar state of affairs: to begin with, out of the Western culture comes a pedagogy with a scientific, even a natural-scientific basis, and on the other hand we have a forgotten pedagogy based on life, a pedagogy drawn directly from life, when we recall what lived in Herder, Fichte, Jean Paul, Schiller and similar minds.

It is, however, the world-historical mission of the Central European peoples to cultivate this particular pedagogy, to have so to speak, an esoteric task of developing this pedagogy. There is much that will become possible for mankind to do as a community, and this must be so, if there is to be improvement in social matters in the future. But what is emerging as an art of education from the whole of the spiritual culture that is specifically Central European this the peoples of the West will not be able to comprehend. On the contrary it will infuriate them. We can first speak to than of this when they decide to take their stand on the esoteric foundations of spiritual science. With regard to all those things which have been looked upon with such pride over the last 40 years in Germany, on which the claim to major advances in Germany has been based, Germany is lost. All that points to the dominance hegemony of the Western peoples. There is nothing to be done about it, and we can only hope that we arouse sufficient understanding for the Threefold Social Order, so that on the basis of this understanding, the peoples of the West will take it up.

With regard to what has to be given for the art of education, we have something to give the world from Central Europe which nobody else can give—neither an Oriental, nor a man from the West. Yet we must have the discretion to keep this in those circles capable of understanding it. We must know how to guard it, with a certain confidence, knowing that it is this guarding which gives effectiveness to our affairs. We have to know what things to be silent about in the presence of certain people, if we want to be effective. Above all we must be clear that we cannot hope to influence the mode of thought, proceeding from the West, which is indeed indispensable for some branches of modern civilization. We must know that we have nothing whatsoever to hope for from that quarter for what we have to foster as an art of education.

Herbert Spencer has written something of unusual interest about education. He compiles a list of axioms, or 'principles' as he calls them, concerning intellectual education. Among these principles is one on which he lays great emphasis: in teaching, one should never proceed from the abstract, but always from the concrete—one should always elaborate a subject from an individual case. So he writes his book on education, and there we find, before he enters into anything concrete, the worst thickets of abstractions, really nothing but abstract chaff, and the man fails to notice that he is carrying out the opposite of the principles which he has argued are indispensable. We have here the example of an eminent and leading philosopher of the present time, in complete contradiction with what he has just advocated.

Now you saw last year that our pedagogy is not to be built upon abstract educational principles, upon this or that which might be affirmed, such as that we shouldn't introduce things to the child which are foreign to his nature but rather develop his individuality, etc. You know that our art of education should have its foundation in genuine empathy with the child's nature, that it should be built up in the widest sense on a knowledge of the evolving human being. And we have compiled sufficient material in our first course, and then later in the teachers' conferences, concerning the nature of the growing child. If we as teachers were able to engage ourselves with this unfolding being of the child, then out of this perception itself would spring awareness of how we should proceed. In this regard we must as teachers become artists. Just as it is quite impossible for the artist to take a book on aesthetics in hand, and then to paint or carve according to the principles laid down there, so should it be quite impossible for the teacher to use one of those instructors' manuals in order to teach. What the teacher needs is true insight into what the human being is in reality, what he becomes as he develops through the stages of his childhood. Here it is above all necessary that this be clear: We are teaching to begin with, let us say, the six or seven year old children in a first class. Now our teaching will be bad every time, will never have fulfilled its purpose, if after working for a year with this first class we do not say to ourselves—who is it now that has really learned the most? It is I, the teacher! If on the contrary we are able to say to ourselves something like this—At the start of the school year I was equipped with noble educational principles, I have followed the best authorities on teaching, I have done my best to carry out these principles.—If we really had done this, we would most certainly have taught badly. But we would most certainly have taught the best of all if we had entered the classroom each morning in great trepidation, without very much assurance in our own capacity, and then at the end of the year could say, it is really I myself who have learned the most. For our ability to say this depends on how we have acted, on what we have done, on always having the feeling: 1 am growing by helping the children grow. I am experimenting, in the purest sense of the word. I can't really do very much, but a certain capacity grows in me by working with the children. From time to time we will have the feeling, with, one or another kind of child there is not much to be done, but we will have taken pains with them. Through the special gifts of other children we will have learned certain things. In short we leave the campaign quite a different person from when we entered it; we have learned to do what we were incapable of doing when we began teaching a year before. We say to ourselves at the end of the year—yes, now I can really do what I ought to have been doing. This is a very real feeling in which a secret lies hidden. If we had really been capable, at the beginning of the year, of everything we were able to do at the year's end, then our teaching would have been bad. We have given good lessons because we have had to work at them as we went along. I must put this in the form of a paradox. Your teaching has been good if you did not know to start with what you have learned by the end of the year; your teaching would have been harmful, had you known at the beginning what you have learned at the end. A remarkable paradox!

For many people it is important to know this, but it is most important of all for teachers to know it. For this is a special instance of a general truth and insight: knowledge as such, no matter what its content, knowledge that we can grasp in the form of abstract principles, that we can bring to mind as ideas—such knowledge can have no practical value. Only what leads to this knowledge, what is on its way to this knowledge, is of practical value. For the kind of knowledge we gain after a year's teaching, achieves its value only after a man has died. This knowledge only rises after the man dies, into the kind of reality where it can then shape him further, can develop his individuality further. Thus it is not ready-made knowledge that has value in life, but the work that leads to this finished knowledge. And in the art of teaching this work has especial value. In reality it is no different here than in the arts. I cannot consider anyone a right-minded artist who doesn't say to himself on finishing a work: only now are you able to do this. I don't consider a man properly disposed as an artist, if he is satisfied with any work he has done. He can have a certain egotistical respect for what he has made, but he can't really be satisfied with it. In fact, a work of art when finished loses a large share of its interest for the man who made it. This loss of interest comes from the intrinsic nature of knowledge that is being gained when we make something. On the contrary what is living, what is life-spending in it, lies precisely in that it has not yet become knowledge.

Ultimately, it is the same with the whole of the human organism. Our head is as finished as anything could be, for it is formed out of the forces of our previous earth-life and is 'over-ripe'. (Men's heads are all over-ripe, even the unripe ones.) But the rest of our organism is only at the stage of furnishing a seed for the head of our next incarnation. It is full of life and growth, but it is incomplete. Indeed, it will not be until our death that the rest of our organism shows its true form, which is the form taken by the forces active in it. The constitution of the rest of our organism shows there is life flowing in it; ossification is at a minimum in these parts of the body, while in the head it reaches a maximum.

This proper sort of inward modesty, this sense that we ourselves are still in becoming—this is what must sustain the teacher, for more will come from this feeling than from any abstract principles. If we stand in our classroom, conscious of the fact that it is a good tiling we do everything imperfectly—for in that way there is life in it—then we will teach well. If on the other hand we are always patting ourselves on the back over the perfection of our teaching, then it is quite certain we shall teach badly.

But now consider that the following has come to pass. You have been responsible for the teaching of a first class, a second and third class, etc., so that you have actually been through everything that is to be experienced—excitements, disappointments, successes too, if you will. Consider that you have gone once through all the classes of an elementary school and at the end of each year have spoken to yourself in the spirit I have just described, and now you take your way back down again, say from the eighth to the first class. Yes, now it might be supposed that you should say to yourself- now I am beginning with what I have learned, now I shall be able to do it right, now I shall be an excellent teacher! But it won't be that way. Experience will bring you something quite different. You will say to yourself at the end of the second, the third and each of the following years just about the same (and out of an attitude proper to it): I have now learned by working with seven, eight and nine-year-old children what I could learn only in this way. At the end of each school year I know what I should have done. And then when you have come the second time to the fourth or fifth school year, again you will not know what you should really do. For now you will correct what you came to believe after teaching for a year. And thus, after you are finished with the eighth school year and have corrected everything once more, and if you have the good fortune to begin again with the first class, you will find yourself in the same position. But to be sure you will teach in a different spirit. If you go through your teaching duties with inwardly true and noble and not foolish doubts, such as I have described, you will draw out of this diffidence a new and imponderable power, which will make you particularly fitted to accomplish more with the children entrusted to you. This is without doubt true. But the effect in life will actually only be a different one, not that much better, just different. I would say the quality of what you are able to make out of the children will not be much better than it was the first time; the effect will simply be a different one. You will achieve something qualitatively different, not achieve much more in quantity. You will achieve something different in quality, and that is really enough. For everything that we acquire in the way described, with the necessary noble diffidence and heartfelt humility, has the effect that we are able to make individualities out of those we teach, individualities in the widest sense. We cannot have the same class twice over and send out into the world the same copies of a cut and dried educational pattern. We can however turn human beings over to the world that are individually different. We bring about diversity in life, but this does not derive from the elaboration of abstract principles. In fact this diversity of life is founded on a deeper grasp of life, as we have just described.

So you see what matters more than anything else in a teacher is the way he regards his holy calling. That is not without significance, for the most important things in teaching and in education are the imponderables. A teacher who enters his classroom with this conviction in his heart achieves something different from another. Just as in everyday life it is not always what is physically large that counts, but sometimes it is precisely what is small, so it is not always what we do with big words that carries weight. Sometimes it is that perception, that feeling which we have built up in our hearts before we enter the classroom.

One thing in particular is of great importance, however, and that is that we must quickly cast off our narrower, personal selves like a snake's skin, when we go into the class. The teacher may (since he is 'only human', as is often said with such self-complacency) on occasion have experienced all sorts of things in the time between the end of class on one day and the beginning of the next. It may be that he has been warned by his creditors, or he may have had a quarrel with his wife, as does happen in life. These are things that put us out of sorts. Such disharmonies then provide an undertone to our state of soul. Of course happy moods can arise also. The father of one of your pupils who likes you particularly may have sent you a hare, after he has been out hunting, or a bunch of flowers, if you are a lady teacher. It is quite a natural thing to carry moods of this kind around with us. As teachers we must train ourselves to lay aside these moods and to let what we say be determined solely by the content of what we are to present. Thus we should really be in a position as we picture one thing to speak tragically (but out of the nature of the thing itself) and then to shift over to a humorous vein as we proceed with our description, surrendering ourselves completely to the subject. The important thing however is that we should now be able to perceive the whole reaction of the class to tragedy or sentimentality or humour. If we are able to do this, then we shall be aware that tragedy, sentimentality and humour are of extraordinary importance for the souls of the children. And if we can let our teaching be buoyed up by an alternation between humour, sentimentality and tragedy, if we lead over from one mood to the other and back again, if we are really able, after presenting something for which we need a certain heaviness, to pass over again into a certain lightness (not forced, but arising as we surrender ourselves to the content), then bring about in the soul's mood something akin to in and out- breathing in the bodily organism.

As we teach, our object is not simply to teach with and for the intellect, but rather to be able to really take these various moods into account. For what is tragedy, what is sentimentality, what is a heavy mood of soul? It is exactly the same as an inbreath for the organism, the same as filling the organism with air. Tragedy means that we are trying to contract our physical body further and further so that in this contraction of the physical body we become aware how the astral body comes out of it, more and more as we do so. A humorous mood signifies that we enervate the physical body, but in contrast we expand the astral body as much as we can, spreading it out over its surroundings, so that we are aware, say when we do not merely behold redness but when we grow into it, how we spread our astrality over the redness, pass over into it. Laughing simply means that we drive the astral out of our facial features; it is nothing else but an astral out- breathing. Only we must have a certain sense for dynamics, if we want to apply these things. It is not always appropriate on the heels of something heavy and sustained to go straight over into the humorous. But we can always find the ways and means in our teaching to prevent the childish soul being imprisoned by the serious, the breathing between the two soul moods.

These are some instances, by way of introduction, of the sort of nuances of soul mood that should be taken into consideration by the teacher as he teaches, and which are just as important as any other aspect of teaching.