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 2.3.
"The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy" by Rudolf Steiner (Section 8)
A force of the soul on which particular value must be set during this period of man's development, is memory. The development of the memory is bound up with the molding of the etheric body. Since the latter takes place in such a way that the etheric body becomes liberated between the change of teeth and puberty, so too this is the time for a conscious attention from without to the growth and cultivation of the memory. If what is due to the human being at this time has been neglected, his memory will ever after have less value than it might otherwise have had. It is not possible later to make up for what has been left undone.
In this connection many mistakes may be made by an intellectual materialistic way of thought. An art of education based on such a way of thought easily arrives at a condemnation of what is mastered merely by memory. It will often set itself untiringly and emphatically against the mere training of the memory, and will employ the subtlest methods to ensure that the boy or girl commits nothing to memory that he does not intellectually understand. Yes, and after all, how much has really been gained by such intellectual understanding? A materialistic way of thought is so easily led to believe that any further penetration into things, beyond the intellectual concepts that are as it were extracted from them, simply does not exist; and only with great difficulty will it fight its way through to the perception that the other forces of the soul are at least as necessary as the intellect, if we are to gain a comprehension of things. It is no mere figure of speech to say that man can understand with his feeling, his sentiment, his inner disposition, as well as with his intellect. Intellectual concepts are only one of the means we have to understand the things of this world, and it is only to the materialistic thinker that they appear as the sole means. Of course there are many who do not consider themselves materialists, who yet regard an intellectual conception of things as the only kind of understanding. Such people profess perhaps an idealistic or even a spiritual outlook. But in their soul they relate themselves to it in a materialistic way. For the intellect is in effect the instrument of the soul for understanding what is material.
We have already alluded to Jean Paul's excellent book on education; and a passage from it, bearing on this subject of the deeper foundations of the understanding, may well be quoted here. Jean Paul's book contains, indeed, many a golden word on education, and deserves far more attention than it receives. It is of greater value for the teacher than many of the educational works that are held in highest regard to-day. The passage runs as follows: —
‘Have no fear of going beyond the childish understanding, even in whole sentences. Your expression and the tone of your voice, aided by the child's intuitive eagerness to understand, will light up half the meaning, and with it in course of time the other half. It is with children as with the Chinese and people of refinement; the tone is half the language. Remember, the child learns to understand his own language before ever he learns to speak it, just as we do with Greek or any other foreign language. Trust to time and the connections of things to unravel the meaning. A child of five understands the words “yet,” “even,” “of course,” “just”; but now try to give an explanation of them — not to the child, but to his father! In the one word “of course” there lurks a little philosopher! If the eight-year-old child, with his developed speech, is understood by the child of three, why do you want to narrow down your language to the little one's childish prattle? Always speak to the child some years ahead — do not the men of genius speak to us centuries ahead in books? Talk to the one-year-old as if he were two, to the two-year-old as if he were six, for the difference in development diminishes in inverse ratio with the age. We are far too prone to credit the teachers with everything the children learn. We should remember that the child we have to educate bears half his world within him all there and ready taught, namely the spiritual half, including, for example, the moral and metaphysical ideas. For this very reason language, equipped as it is with material images alone, cannot give the spiritual archetypes; all it can do is to illumine them. The very brightness and decision of children should give us brightness and decision when we speak to them. We can learn from their speech as well as teach them through our own. Their word-building is bold, yet remarkably accurate! For instance, I have heard the following expressions used by three- or four-year-old children: — “the barreler” (for the maker of barrels) — “the sky-mouse” (for the bat) — “I am the seeing-through man” (standing behind the telescope) — “I'd like to be a ginger-bread-eater” — “he joked me down from the chair” — “See how one o'clock it is!” ...’
Our quotation refers, it is true, to a different subject from that with which we are immediately concerned; but what Jean Paul says about speech has its value in the present connection also. Here too there is an understanding which precedes the intellectual comprehension. The little child receives the structure of language into the living organism of his soul, and does not require the laws of language-formation in intellectual concepts for the process. Similarly the older boy and girl must learn for the cultivation of the memory much that they are not to master with their intellectual understanding until later years. Those things are afterwards best grasped in concepts, which have first been learned simply from memory in this period of life, even as the rules of language are best learned in a language one is already able to speak. So much talk against ‘unintelligent learning by heart’ is simply materialistic prejudice. The child need only, for instance, learn the essential rules of multiplication in a few given examples — and for these no apparatus is necessary; the fingers are much better for the purpose than any apparatus, — then he is ready to set to and memorize the whole multiplication table. Proceeding in this way, we shall be acting with due regard to the nature of the growing child. We shall, however, be offending against his nature, if at the time when the development of the memory is the important thing we are making too great a call upon the intellect.
The intellect is a soul-force that is only born with puberty, and we ought not to bring any influence to bear on it from outside before this period. Up to the time of puberty the child should be laying up in his memory the treasures of thought on which mankind has pondered; afterwards is the time to penetrate with intellectual understanding what has already been well impressed upon the memory in earlier years. It is necessary for man, not only to remember what he already understands, but to come to understand what he already knows — that is to say, what he has acquired by memory in the way the child acquires language. This truth has a wide application. First there must be the assimilation of historical events through the memory, then the grasping of them in intellectual concepts; first the faithful committing to memory of the facts of geography, then the intellectual grasp of the connections between them. In a certain respect, the grasping of things in concepts should proceed from the stored-up treasures of the memory. The more the child knows in memory before he begins to grasp in intellectual concepts, the better.
There is no need to enlarge upon the fact that what has been said applies only for that period of childhood with which we are dealing, and not later. If at some later age in life one has occasion to take up a subject for any reason, then of course the opposite may easily be the right and most helpful way of learning it, though even here much will depend on the mentality of the person. In the time of life, however, with which we are now concerned, we must not dry up the child's mind and spirit by cramming it with intellectual conceptions.
Another result of a materialistic way of thought is to be seen in the lessons that rest too exclusively on sense-perception. At this period of childhood, all perception must be spiritualized. We ought not to be satisfied, for instance, with presenting a plant, a seed, a flower to the child merely as it can be perceived with the senses. Everything should become a parable of the spiritual. In a grain of corn there is far more than meets the eye. There is a whole new plant invisible within it. That such a thing as a seed has more within it than can be perceived with the senses, this the child must grasp in a living way with his feeling and imagination. He must, in feeling, divine the secrets of existence. The objection cannot be made that the pure perception of the senses is obscured by this means; on the contrary, by going no further than what the senses see, we are stopping short of the whole truth. For the full reality consists of the spirit as well as the substance; and there is no less need for faithful and careful observation when one is bringing all the faculties of the soul into play, than when only the physical senses are employed. Could men but see, as the spiritual investigator sees, what desolation is wrought in soul and body by an instruction that rests on external sense-perception alone, they would never insist upon it so strongly as they do. Of what good is it in the highest sense, that children should have shown to them all possible varieties of minerals, plants and animals, and all kinds of physical experiments, if something further is not bound up with the teaching of these things; namely, to make use of the parables which the sense-world gives, in order to awaken a feeling for the secrets of the spirit?
Certainly a materialistic way of thought will have little use for what has here been said; and this the spiritual investigator understands only too well. But he also knows that the materialistic way of thought will never give rise to a really practical art of education. Practical as it appears to itself, materialistic thought is unpractical when the need is to enter into life in a living way. In face of actual reality, materialistic thought is fantastic, — though indeed to the materialistic thinker the anthroposophical teachings, adhering as they do to the facts of life, cannot but appear fantastic. There will no doubt be many an obstacle yet to overcome before the principles of Anthroposophy, which are indeed born out of life itself, can make their way into the art of education. It cannot be otherwise. The truths of this spiritual science cannot but seem strange as yet, and unaccustomed to many people. None the less, if they are true indeed, they will become part of our life and civilization.
The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy - Part 1
The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy - Part 2
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