Course WC2 5
The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy - Part 2
Rudolf Steiner published "The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy" in 1907.
In this publication Steiner presented the basis of the educational approach that later would become the foundation of what is today known as Waldorf Education, and has been developed from the beginnings of the first Waldorf School founded by Rudolf Steiner and Emil Molt in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919 to being today a worldwide movement that has established itself all over thee world as the most innovative and dynamic educational movement in our modern time.
In "The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy" Steiner developed first the basic ideas that later became the cornerstones of this new form of education. Steiner addresses the nurture versus nature and the clash of cultures and worldviews surrounding this theme from a spiritual point of view. Steiner presented the basic concepts of the essential nature of the human being in body, soul and spirit, and Steiner discusses the physical body, etheric body, astral body and ego. Steiner presents the background to what is truly age appropriate education with the idea that the child in growing up recapitulates the development of consciousness of humanity while going through stages or phases of incarnation. Steiner outlines the differing educational approaches necessary to teach children during early childhood, during the grade school years, during high school and during later life as an adult.
Study Material for this Lesson WC2 5 2.1.
"The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy" by Rudolf Steiner (Section 6)
Vague and general phrases — ‘the harmonious development of all the powers and talents in the child,’ and so forth — cannot provide the basis for a genuine art of education. Such an art of education can only be built up on a real knowledge of the human being. Not that these phrases are incorrect, but that at bottom they are as useless as it would be to say of a machine that all its parts must be brought harmoniously into action. To work a machine you must approach it, not with phrases and truisms, but with real and detailed knowledge. So for the art of education it is a knowledge of the members of man's being and of their several development which is important. We must know on what part of the human being we have especially to work at a certain age, and how we can work upon it in the proper way. There is of course no doubt that a truly realistic art of education, such as is here indicated, will only slowly make its way. This lies, indeed, in the whole mentality of our age, which will long continue to regard the facts of the spiritual world as the vapourings of an imagination run wild, while it takes vague and altogether unreal phrases for the result of a realistic way of thinking. Here, however, we shall unreservedly describe what will in time to come be a matter of common knowledge, though many to-day may still regard it as a figment of the mind.
With physical birth the physical human body is exposed to the physical environment of the external world. Before birth it was surrounded by the protecting envelope of the mother's body. What the forces and fluids of the enveloping mother-body have done for it hitherto, must from now onward be done for it by the forces and elements of the external physical world. Now before the change of teeth in the seventh year, the human body has a task to perform upon itself which is essentially different from the tasks of all the other periods of life. In this period the physical organs must mold themselves into definite shapes. Their whole structural nature must receive certain tendencies and directions. In the later periods also, growth takes place; but throughout the whole succeeding life, growth is based on the forms which were developed in this first life-period. If true forms were developed, true forms will grow; if misshapen forms were developed, misshapen forms will grow. We can never repair what we have neglected as educators in the first seven years. Just as Nature brings about the right environment for the physical human body before birth, so after birth the educator must provide for the right physical environment. It is the right physical environment alone, which works upon the child in such a way that the physical organs shape themselves aright.
There are two magic words which indicate how the child enters into relation with his environment. They are: Imitation, and Example. The Greek philosopher Aristotle called man the most imitative of creatures. For no age in life is this more true than for the first stage of childhood, before the change of teeth. What goes on in his physical environment, this the child imitates, and in the process of imitation his physical organs are cast into the forms which then become permanent. ‘Physical environment’ must, however, be taken in the widest imaginable sense. It includes not only what goes on around the child in the material sense, but everything that takes place in the child's environment — everything that can be perceived by his senses, that can work from the surrounding physical space upon the inner powers of the child. This includes all the moral or immoral actions, all the wise or foolish actions, that the child sees.
It is not moral talk or prudent admonitions that influence the child in this sense. Rather is it what the grown-up people do visibly before his eyes. The effect of admonition is to mold the forms, not of the physical, but of the etheric body; and the latter, as we saw, is surrounded until the seventh year by a protecting etheric envelope, even as the physical body is surrounded before physical birth by the physical envelope of the mother-body. All that has to evolve in the etheric body before the seventh year — ideas, habits, memory, and so forth — all this must develop ‘of its own accord,’ just as the eyes and ears develop within the mother-body without the influence of external light ... What we read in that excellent educational work — Jean Paul's ‘Levana’ or ‘Science of Education’ — is undoubtedly true. He says that a traveler will have learned more from his nurse in the first years of his life, than in all his journeys round the world. The child, however, does not learn by instruction or admonition, but by imitation. The physical organs shape their forms through the influence of the physical environment. Good sight will be developed in the child if his environment has the right conditions of light and color, while in the brain and blood-circulation the physical foundations will be laid for a healthy moral sense if the child sees moral actions in his environment. If before his seventh year the child sees only foolish actions in his surroundings, the brain will assume such forms as adapt it also to foolishness in later life.
As the muscles of the hand grow firm and strong in performing the work for which they are fitted, so the brain and other organs of the physical body of man are guided into the right lines of development if they receive the right impression from their environment. An example will best illustrate this point. You can make a doll for a child by folding up an old napkin, making two comers into legs, the other two corners into arms, a knot for the head, and painting eyes, nose and mouth with blots of ink. Or else you can buy the child what they call a ‘pretty’ doll, with real hair and painted cheeks. We need not dwell on the fact that the ‘pretty’ doll is of course hideous, and apt to spoil the healthy aesthetic sense for a lifetime. The main educational question is a different one. If the child has before him the folded napkin, he has to fill in from his own imagination all that is needed to make it real and human. This work of the imagination molds and builds the forms of the brain. The brain unfolds as the muscles of the hand unfold when they do the work for which they are fitted. Give the child the so-called ‘pretty’ doll, and the brain has nothing more to do. Instead of unfolding, it becomes stunted and dried up. If people could look into the brain as the spiritual investigator can, and see how it builds its forms, they would assuredly give their children only such toys as are fitted to stimulate and vivify its formative activity. Toys with dead mathematical forms alone, have a desolating and killing effect upon the formative forces of the child. On the other hand everything that kindles the imagination of living things works in the right way. Our materialistic age produces few good toys. What a healthy toy it is, for example, which represents by movable wooden figures two smiths facing each other and hammering an anvil. The like can still be bought in country districts. Excellent also are the picture-books where the figures can be set in motion by pulling threads from below, so that the child itself can transform the dead picture into a representation of living action. All this brings about a living mobility of the organs, and by such mobility the right forms of the organs are built up.
These things can of course only be touched on here, but in future Anthroposophy will be called upon to give the necessary indications in detail, and this it is in a position to do. For it is no empty abstraction, but a body of living facts which can give guiding lines for the conduct of life's realities.
A few more examples may be given. A ‘nervous,’ that is to say excitable child, should be treated differently as regards environment from one who is quiet and lethargic. Everything comes into consideration, from the color of the room and the various objects that are generally around the child, to the color of the clothes in which he is dressed. One will often do the wrong thing if one does not take guidance from spiritual knowledge. For in many cases the materialistic idea will hit on the exact reverse of what is right. An excitable child should be surrounded by and dressed in the red or reddish-yellow colors, whereas for a lethargic child one should have recourse to the blue or bluish-green shades of color. For the important thing is the complementary color, which is created within the child. In the case of red it is green, and in the case of blue orange-yellow, as may easily be seen by looking for a time at a red or blue surface and then quickly directing one's gaze to a white surface. The physical organs of the child create this contrary or complementary color, and it is this which brings about the corresponding organic structures that the child needs. If the excitable child has a red color around him, he will inwardly create the opposite, the green; and this activity of creating green has a calming effect. The organs assume a tendency to calmness.
There is one thing that must be thoroughly and fully recognized for this age of the child's life. It is that the physical body creates its own scale of measurement for what is beneficial to it. This it does by the proper development of craving and desire. Generally speaking, we may say that the healthy physical body desires what is good for it. In the growing human being, so long as it is the physical body that is important, we should pay the closest attention to what the healthy craving, desire and delight require. Pleasure and delight are the forces which most rightly quicken and call forth the physical forms of the organs.
In this matter it is all too easy to do harm by failing to bring the child into a right relationship, physically, with his environment. Especially may this happen in regard to his instincts for food. The child may be overfed with things that completely make him lose his healthy instinct for food, whereas by giving him the right nourishment the instinct can be so preserved that he always wants what is wholesome for him under the circumstances, even to a glass of water, and turns just as surely from what would do him harm. Anthroposophical Science, when called upon to build up an art of education, will be able to indicate all these things in detail, even specifying particular forms of food and nourishment. For Anthroposophy is realism, it is no grey theory; it is a thing for life itself.
Thus the joy of the child, in and with his environment, must be reckoned among the forces that build and mold the physical organs. Teachers he needs with happy look and manner, and above all with an honest unaffected love. A love which as it were streams through the physical environment of the child with warmth may literally be said to ‘hatch out’ the forms of the physical organs.
The child who lives in such an atmosphere of love and warmth and who has around him really good examples for his imitation, is living in his right element. One should therefore strictly guard against anything being done in the child's presence that he must not imitate. One should do nothing of which one would then have to say to the child, ‘You must not do that.’ The strength of the child's tendency to imitate can be recognized by observing how he will paint and scribble written signs and letters long before he understands them. Indeed, it is good for him to paint the letters by imitation first, and only later learn to understand their meaning. For imitation belongs to this period when the physical body is developing; while the meaning speaks to the etheric, and the etheric body should not be worked on till after the change of teeth, when the outer etheric envelope has fallen away. Especially should all learning of speech in these years be through imitation. It is by hearing that the child will best learn to speak. No rules or artificial instruction of any kind can be of good effect.
For early childhood it is important to realize the value of children's songs, for example, as means of education. They must make a pretty and rhythmical impression on the senses; the beauty of sound is to be valued more than the meaning. The more living the impression made on eye and ear, the better. Dancing movements in musical rhythm have a powerful influence in building up the physical organs, and this too should not be undervalued.
The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy - Part 1
Lesson 1: Introduction
Lesson 2: Physical Body and Etheric Body
Lesson 3: Astral Body and Ego
Lesson 4: Ego and Conscience
Lesson 5: The Three Births
The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy - Part 2
Lesson 1: Waldorf Education for Early Childhood and Kindergarten
Lesson 2: Waldorf Education for Elementary School
Lesson 3: Waldorf Education for High School
Lesson 4: The Soul Faculties of Willing, Feeling and Thinking
Lesson 5: The Anthroposophical Spiritual Impulse
Tasks and Assignments
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Rudolf Steiner describes in this segment the basics of Waldorf Education for Early Childhood and Kindergarten.
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