I love listening to Rudolf Steiner audio and reading Steiner’s lectures, especially on education. I recently finished listening to and reading, “Education As A Force For Social Change.” Today I wanted to record and share some excerpts from his lecture on The Task of Schools. I find it especially important that people some to understand the four members of the human being and the developmental stages of childhood and life if we truly want to nurture body, soul, and spirit and parent and educate in a way that will prepare children for life. This is somethnic that I feel strongly about when it comes to my children. I want to understand what their consciousness is like at each stage of development and to work on myself so that I can be a good authority and example for them.
Steiner’s lectures (especially on childhood and the developing human being) have also helped me to understand myself better and how different influences and people in my childhood have shaped who I am, for better or for worse, although I know that everything that has happened in my life and everything that is happening in my life is all working together toward a greater purpose, one that I am continually consciously attempting to accept and understand. I have recognized so many things in myself and my life through learning about and studying anthroposophy.
Excerpts from the lecture, “The Task Of Schools”, in the book, “Education As A Force For Social Change,” by Rudolf Steiner. Words in bold type are the ones that especially speak to me.
Because pedagogical thinking in particular is gripped by scientific thinking, people no longer see the becoming, developing human being. The developing human being will be the greatest pedagogical enigma in the future. I am much aware that what I have to say will seem quite obvious to many, but these day we do seldom consider the obvious.
There is an expression, and like many expressions, it is correct when used properly and otherwise completely false. This expression is: “Nature makes no leaps.” But nature makes leaps everywhere. When a green leaf becomes a colorful flower petal, nature makes a leap. When the colorful flower petal becomes the pistil, nature once again leaps. Nature makes nothing but leaps. When considered in sufficient depth, we see that it is the same in human life.
Young human beings have three clearly separate periods of life. The first includes early childhood until the change of teeth. The change in the human organism that accompanies the change of teeth is much greater than modern physiology realizes. The entire nature of the human being, as it develops from birth until the change of teeth, changes considerably in the spirit and soul realm and, to a lesser extent, in the physical body after the change of teeth. The second period of life begins with the change of teeth and continues until puberty. The third continues from puberty until the early twenties. A more exact study of the human being based on their inner characteristics will need to be a part of anthropology in the future and will form the basis of methods for a real education.
During the first period of life, there is an aspect of growth that overshadows everything else for the developing child–that is, the child as imitator. Children have a tendency to imitate whatever anyone does, including facial expressions, ways of holding things and degrees of dexterity. This goes much further than people recognize. The effects of one person on another are much deeper than people generally realize. If our actions are those of good human beings when we are with children, they assume our gestures, goodness, capacity to love, and good intentions. This is particularly true when they begin to learn language. Whatever is ensouled by the parents and others in the children’s surroundings floods into that growing human being. Children completely adjust to and become like their surroundings, because the principle of imitation is the controlling factor in human nature until the change of teeth.
This can be observed in specific instincts. Some parents, for example, came to me and said that something terrible had happened to their child. The boy had stolen something. I told them that maybe that event had a different meaning for the child, that perhaps the child was not a thief. I asked how old the child was and the parents said he was five. I then asked what had actually happened. They said that the child had opened a drawer and taken some money. The child bought some candy and gave some of it to other children. I told the parents that they should certainly not allow this to continue, but that they child only repeated what he saw almost everyday; his mother would go to the drawer, take out some money and buy something. The child was only imitating and did not do it as something bad, but as something that was natural; within the principle of imitation.
Before the change of teeth, therefore, parents should not think that preaching and making good rules will have a positive effect of the child. Those things have no significance for a child during this period of development; rules are simply noise to the young child’s ears. Furthermore, in everything they do, parents must act in a way that they child may be allowed to imitate them. That is the best guide for child rearing during this period.
When you consider the current situation a little, you discover that it is not at all extreme to say that schools receive very few well-behaved children. The basic principle of doing nothing, saying nothing, even thinking nothing that would spoil the imitating child is not yet widely recognized. What does this principle of imitation mean? When we consider the principle of imagination during the first years of the child’s life, where we understand that properly observing the principle of imitation can solidify the soul forces, we can then create something in children that enables them to be generally independent human beings later. What we sow often blossoms much later in life. Those who were never surrounded by people to whom they could devote themselves through imitation, making everything they did a part of themselves, will be unprepared for democracy and never enjoy independence. We need to consider this connection with life.
As I have said, we need to be very clear that the flower and fruit of what we sow in human life often mature much later than people realize. What we sow through the proper principle of imagination during the first seven years of life imprints deeply in the child’s soul and finally comes to fruition at the age of twenty, then for the rest of life. It is generally true that when children are not brought up to pray, they cannot bring blessings to others later in life. What children learn often transforms in later life into exactly the opposite; prayer transforms into blessing, and so on.
The time of primary importance for school comes next. The period between the change of teeth and puberty. During this time the growing human being has a different basic development principle. If you really study human beings, you will observe that this developmental principle is a feeling for authority. When you raise a child during that period without a feeling for authority, certain forces of thinking, feeling, and willing, cannot be developed. These need to be developed in the growing human being between approximately the ages of six and fifteen, when children need to progress to viewing others in such a way that they can say: What that person says is true. Children, of course, do not say that, but they should have that sense. We can never learn to look for truth in life if we have not first looked for it in someone who is an authority for us. If we do not place children in a position, where, as their teachers, we become their absolute authority, it will be impossible to develop certain capacities of human nature in them.
If you want adults that have inner maturity when confronted with democratic and social life, then they must learn as children to look up to their teachers as authorities.
When children between the ages of seven and fourteen develop so that they reach out to become the other person, so to speak, who is their authority, then they develop into the well-rounded human being they are meant to be. A well-rounded human being will develop only when we have a deep pedagogical understanding of many things children need during that time. We can say that the most important thing, particularly for that period of development, is the child’s connection with authority.
Children should be handled properly regarding memory. A child notices and remembers as much as necessary before the change of teeth. With the change of teeth, however, it becomes necessary to take the child’s memory into consideration. It is important during that time that we do not overburden the memory–that we don’t try to impress something that falls out on its own. Again, as a result of poor modern psychology, people would not believe how bad it is for a human being when the memory is so mistreated during the first period of life that they immediately forget what they are forced to remember. This is why we should, whenever possible, use repetition and similar means. Repetition should be the basis of education between the age of seven and fourteen or fifteen. Whenever possible, we should summarize in short sentences things previously presented in detail so that they can be remembered, so that children really retain certain things in a way similar to how Christ remembered the Lord’s Prayer. They should repeat something again and again and thus make it apart of the soul life.
We should always remember that, during the period of the child’s life, we should always consider the child’s developing soul forces. During this time, we make many mistakes by giving more attention to the school subjects demanded by life and by the state than we do to the developing human being. Common, everyday things, such as reading and writing, lack the inner basis of, say, geometry and arithmetic. The fact that we have the language we have is not fundamentally connected with anything external or generic. The existence of the written letters doesn’t have much to do with relationships in the world, whereas the existence of a triangle is based on the facts of its three sides, and that the sum of its angles is 180 degrees. All conventions, such as reading and writing are primarily useful for developing the intellect and, in particular, reasoning. For now, it would be too much to fully explain that statement in a way acceptable to a genuine psychologist, but those who consider life fully will certainly see the truth of that statement.
By comparison, everything that corresponds to general relationships in the world or appeals to human memory–such as history or geography–is more connected, oddly enough with the feeling forces. It forms feeling. Everything we teach children about art forms the will. We should teach individual subjects with an eye on the human being and always remember that we form thinking with one thing, feeling with another, and willing with yet another thing. The important thing is the developing human being, not any particular collection of knowledge.
When we use these principles, children learn something seldom learned these days. They learn many things today, such as geography, arithmetic, drawing, and so on, but I don’t want to speak about them. Children should learn as I described, but there is not enough taught about how to learn. Life itself is the greatest teacher. We leave school properly only if we leave with the capacity to learn from life for the rest of our years. But this is impossible if, in school, we are merely filled with facts. It becomes only possible only when we use school to develop in the human soul the forces of thinking, feeling, and willing. That’s how we learn to learn from life.
If we want democracy and a socialized society, then we should not be so arrogant that we think we are able to determine or know everything. We must move beyond delusions of grandeur, beyond the belief that, once we reach twenty-one we will be reasonably, self-sufficient adults, suited for election to parliament to speak of people of experience. Rather, we must be educated in inner human modesty, so we can recognize that we are not, even for a moment, complete as human beings. Instead, we continue to develop from birth until death. We must recognize that every day of life has a special value, that it is not without purpose that we must learn to live through our thirties right after we have just gone through our twenties. We need to learn that each new day and each new year offers continual revelation.
What I have just said must become a real fact of life through our efforts in schools. During the scientific age, these things could not be considered properly. Certain principles crept into schools. For example, something that, considered from a certain perspective, is appropriate, may be seen from a different viewpoint as questionable–for example, providing visual examples of everything. I always get a small chill up my spine when I enter a classroom and see a calculator, which allows children to “see” how numbers are added. This can be done with arithmetic, but only to a small degree. Exaggerating the idea of providing visual examples, we could say that it would be justified as a teaching method only if we could visually illustrate everything in the world. But, do you actually believe that everything in the world can be illustrated? There are many things in the world that we can not see, such as feeling, volition, sympathy, aversion, and so on. There’s no way to illustrate such things; teachers must present them to the student through a kind of “fluid medium,” if we may use that expression, through the principle of authority. From the perspective of cultural history, that is very important.
Today, it’s apparent that we really educate children too intellectually, especially in the West. We teach children what they need for life based on reason. The program based most on reason is Marxism, which is completely intellectual.
In human nature and in the human soul, various soul forces balance one another. If one force overdevelops, the others are left behind. If the intellectual forces are overdeveloped, emotions remain at a lower level. You would be strong, but without feeling. You would be dry. We see, therefore, that, in our time of the intellect, the most chaotic emotions and the most terrible instincts arise as “historical demands.” This is coming to us here in Europe from the East and beginning to overpower central Europe–in other words, basic instinctive demands that form intellectualism’s counterpart. I hope people begin to consider these interconnections.
Lecture given in Stuttgart, June 19, 1919