The Education of the Child - and Early Lectures on Education - Rudolf Steiner - ebook

One of the keys to Rudolf Steiner’s ability to penetrate and accomplish so much in so many different fields lies in the fact that, in addition to possessing profound philosophical, spiritual, and mystical abilities, he was both scientifically trained and an eminently practical person. All his life, Rudolf Steiner was a “doer,” able to take care of himself and those around him. He could size up any task or situation that seemed to call for a response and then act so as to bring it to a successful conclusion in the world. Thus, though endowed with tremendous innate capacities, Steiner was also in many ways a self-made man. Indeed, it was this combination of practicality and hard work together with a rich natural spiritual endowment that enabled him to achieve his mission.“The Education of the Child in the Light of Spiritual Science,” the first, longest, best-known, and most loved piece in this book, lays out the implications of this view in a masterly way. Originally given as a public lecture in the Architektenhaus in Berlin on January 10, 1907—the founding lecture of anthroposophical pedagogy—it appeared in written form in the journal Lucifer-Gnosis in April of that year. The other lectures, while allowing readers to come to know Rudolf Steiner better, amplify and extend the ideas contained in “The Education of the Child.” These lectures reveal Steiner’s selfless love for human beings, his idealism, and his practicality, and at the same time provide sustenance, inspiration, and many useful insights for teachers and parents alike.

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The Education of the Child

and Early Lectures on Education

First digital edition 2016 by Anna Ruggieri



The Education of the Child in the Light of Spiritual Science


Teaching from a Foundation of Spiritual Insight

Berlin, May 14, 1906

Education in the Light of Spiritual Science

Cologne, December 1, 1906

Education and Spiritual Science

Berlin, January 24, 1907

Interests, Talents, and Educating Children

Nuremberg, November 14, 1910

Interests, Talent, and Education

Berlin, January 12, 1911

Part I - The Education of the Child in the Light of Spiritual Science

Humankind has inherited much from past generations that contemporary life calls into question; thus, the numerous “current crises” and “demands of our time.” How many such matters occupy the world’s attention—social questions, women’s issues, various educational concerns, health debates, questions of human rights, and so on? Human beings endeavor to come to terms with these problems in the most varied ways. There are countless numbers of people who appear with some remedy or program to solve—or at least partially solve—one or another of them. In the process, all sorts and shades of opinions are asserted: extremism, which casts a revolutionary air; the moderates, full of respect for what exists, but trying to evolve something new from it; and the conservatives, up in arms whenever any of the old institutions are tampered with. Aside from these main tendencies of thought and feeling there are all kinds of positions in between. Looking at these things in life with deeper vision one can only feel—indeed the impression forces itself upon one—that our contemporaries are in the position of trying to meet the demands of modern life with completely inadequate methods. Many try to reform life without really recognizing life’s foundations. But those who make proposals for the future must not be satisfied with only a superficial knowledge of life. They must investigate its depths. Life in its wholeness is like a plant. The plant contains more than what it offers to external life; it also holds a future condition within its hidden depths. One who views a newly leafing plant knows very well that eventually there will also be flowers and fruit on the leaf-bearing stem. The plant already contains in its hidden depths the flowers and fruit in embryo. Nevertheless, how can simple investigation of what the plant offers to immediate vision reveal what those new organs will look like? This can be told only by one who has come to recognize the very nature and being of the plant. Likewise, the whole of human life also contains within it the seeds of its own future; but if we are to tell anything about this future, we must first penetrate the hidden nature of the human being. Our age is little inclined to do this, but instead concerns itself with what appears on the surface, and believes it is walking on unsure ground when asked to penetrate what escapes outer observation. It is definitely a simpler matter in the case of the plant; we know that others of its kind have repeatedly borne fruit. Human life is present only once. The flowers it will bear in the future have never been there before, yet they are present within a human being in the embryo, even as the flowers are present in a plant that is still only in leaf. And there is a possibility of saying something of humankind’s future, if once we penetrate beneath the surface of human nature to its real essence and being. The various ideas of reform current in the present age can become fruitful and practical only when fertilized by this deep penetration into human life. Spiritual science, by its inherent character and tendency, has the task of providing a practical concept of the world—one that comprehends the nature and essence of human life. Whether what often passes as such is justified is not the point; what concerns us here is the true essence of spiritual science, and what it can be by virtue of its true essence. For spiritual science is not intended as a theory that is remote from life, one that merely caters to human curiosity or thirst for knowledge. Nor is it intended as an instrument for a few people who for selfish reasons would like to attain a higher level of development for themselves. No, it can join and work at the most important tasks of modern people and further their development for the welfare of humankind.1 It is true that in taking on this mission, spiritual science must be prepared to face all kinds of skepticism and opposition. Radicals, moderates, and conservatives in every sphere of life are bound to meet it with skepticism, because in its beginnings it will scarcely be in a position to please any party. Its promises are far beyond the sphere of party movements—being founded, in effect, purely and solely on a true knowledge and perception of life. If people have knowledge of life, it is only out of life itself that they can take up their tasks. They will not draw up programs arbitrarily, for they will know that the only fundamental laws of life that can prevail in the future are those that prevail already in the present. The spiritual investigator will therefore of necessity respect what exists. No matter how great the need they may find for improvement, they will not fail to see the embryo of the future within what already exists. At the same time they know that in everything “becoming” there must be growth and evolution. Thus they will perceive the seeds of transformation and of growth in the present. They will invent no programs, but read them from what is already there. What they read becomes in a certain sense the program itself, for it bears within it the essence of development. For this very reason a spiritual-scientific insight into the being of humankind must provide the most fruitful and the most practical means for the solution of the urgent questions of modern life. In the following pages we shall endeavor to prove this in relation to one particular question: the question of education. We shall not set up demands nor programs, but simply describe child-nature. From the nature of the growing and evolving human being, the proper viewpoint for Education will, as it were, result spontaneously. …… If we want to perceive the nature of the evolving human being, we must begin by considering hidden human nature as such. What sense observation learns to know in human beings, and what the materialistic concept of life would consider as the only element in human beings, is for spiritual investigation only one part, one member of human nature: that is, the physical body. This human physical body is subject to the same laws of physical existence and is built up of the same substances and forces as the world as a whole, which is commonly referred to as lifeless. Spiritual science, therefore, designates that humankind has a physical body in common with all of the mineral kingdom. And it designates as the physical body only what, in human beings, are those substances that mix, combine, form, and dissolve through the same laws that also work in the substances within the mineral world. Now beyond the physical body, spiritual science recognizes a second essential principle in the human being. It is the lifebody, or etheric body. The physicist need not take offense at the term etheric body. The word ether in this connection does not mean the same as the hypothetical ether of physics.2 It must simply be taken as a designation for what will be described here and now. Recently it was considered highly unscientific to speak of such an etheric body, although this was not the situation at the end of the eighteenth and during the first half of the nineteenth century. In that earlier time people would say to themselves, “The substances and forces at work in a mineral cannot, by themselves, form the mineral into a living creature. There must also be a peculiar “force” inherent in the living creature. They called this the vital force and thought of it somewhat as follows: the vital force works in the plant, the animal, and the human body, and produces the phenomena of life, just as magnetic force is present in the magnet that produces the phenomena of attraction. In the succeeding period of materialism, this idea was dispensed with. People began to say that living creatures are built up in the same way as lifeless creation; that the same forces are at work in both the living organism and in the mineral; that the same forces merely work in a more complicated way and build a more complex structure. Today, however, it is only the most rigid materialists who hold on to this denial of a life-force, or vital force. There are a number of natural scientists and thinkers who have been taught by facts of life to assume the existence of something like a vital force or life-principle. Thus modern science in its later developments is in a certain sense approaching what spiritual science says about the life-body. There is, however, a very important difference. From sense-perceptible facts modern science assumes, through intellectual considerations or inflections, a kind of vital force. This is not the method of genuine spiritual investigation that spiritual science adopts and on the results of which it bases its statements. It cannot be emphasized too often how great the difference is in this respect between spiritual science and today’s modern science. For modern science considers sense experiences to be the foundation for all knowledge. Anything that cannot be built on this foundation is taken to be unknowable. From the impressions of the senses it draws deductions and conclusions. What goes on beyond them is rejected as lying “beyond the frontiers of human knowledge.” From the standpoint of spiritual science, such a view is like that of a blind person who only acknowledges as valid what can be touched and the conclusions deduced from the world of touch—a blind person who rejects the statements of seeing people as lying beyond the possibility of human knowledge. Spiritual science shows that human beings are capable of evolution, capable of bringing new worlds within their sphere by developing new organs of perception. Color and light are all around those who are blind. If they cannot see these things it is simply because they lack the proper organs of perception. Similarly, spiritual science asserts that there are many worlds around human beings who can perceive them only if they develop the necessary organs. Just as a blind person who has undergone a successful operation looks out at a new world, so through the development of higher organs human beings can come to know new worlds—worlds totally different from what our ordinary senses allow us to perceive. Now whether one who is blind in body can be operated on or not depends on the constitution of the organs. But the higher organs whereby one can penetrate into the higher worlds are present in the embryo of every human being. Anyone can develop these organs who has the patience, endurance, and energy to apply the methods described in How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation. Spiritual science, therefore, would never say that there are definite frontiers to human knowledge. What it would rather say is that for human beings those worlds exist for which they have the organs of perception. Thus spiritual science speaks only of the methods whereby existing frontiers may be extended; and this is its position in terms of the investigation of the life-body or etheric body, and of everything specified in the following pages as still higher members of human nature. Spiritual science acknowledges that only the physical body is accessible to investigation using the bodily senses; and, from the perspective of this kind of investigation it would be possible, at most, by intellectual deductions to surmise the existence of a higher body. At the same time it tells how it is possible to open up a world where these higher members of human nature emerge for the observer, just as the color and the light of things emerge after an operation in the case of a person born blind. For those who have developed the higher organs of perception, the etheric or life-body is an object of perception and not merely an intellectual deduction. Human beings have this etheric or life-body in common with plants and animals. The life-body works in a formative way on the substances and forces of the physical body and thus brings about the phenomena of growth, reproduction, and inner movement of vital body fluids. It is therefore the builder and shaper of the physical body, its inhabitant and architect. The physical body may even be spoken of as an image or expression of the life-body. In human beings the two are nearly—though by no means totally—equal in form and size. However, in animals, and even more so in the plants, the etheric body is very different in both form and extension from the physical. The third member of the human body is called the sentient or astral body. It is the vehicle of pain and pleasure, of impulse, craving, passion, and so on—all of which are absent in a creature that consists of only the physical and etheric bodies. These things may all be included in the term sentient feeling, or sensation. The plant has no sensation. If in our time some learned people see that plants will respond by movement or some other way to external stimulus and conclude that plants have a certain power of sensation, they only show their ignorance of what sensation is. The point is not whether the creature responds to an external stimulus but whether the stimulus is reflected in an inner process such as pain or pleasure, impulse, desire, and so on. Unless we stick to this criterion, we would be justified in saying that blue litmus-paper has a sensation of certain substances, because it turns red through contact with them. Humankind, therefore, has a sentient body in common with the animal kingdom only, and this sentient body is the vehicle of sensation or of sentient life. We must not make the same mistake as certain theosophical circles and imagine that the etheric and sentient bodies consist simply of substances that are finer than those present in the physical body. That would be a materialistic concept of these higher members of human nature. The etheric body is a forceform; it consists of active forces, and not of matter. The astral or sentient body is a figure of inwardly moving, colored, and luminous pictures. The astral body deviates in both size and shape from the physical body. In human beings it presents an elongated ovoid form in which the physical and etheric bodies are embedded. It projects beyond them—a vivid, luminous figure— on every side.5 Human beings also possess a fourth member of their being, and this fourth member is shared with no other earthly creature. It is the vehicle of the human I, or ego. The little word I— as used, for example, in the English language—is a name essentially different from any other. To anyone who ponders rightly on the nature of this name, an approach to the perception of true human nature is opened up immediately. All other names can be applied equally by everyone to what they designate. Everyone can call a table “table,” and everyone can call a chair “chair,” but this is not true of the name “I.” No one can use this name to designate another. Every human being can only call themselves “I”; the name “I” can never reach my ear as a description of myself. In designating oneself as I, one has to name oneself within oneself. Human beings who can say “I” to themselves are a world unto themselves. Those religions founded on spiritual knowledge have always had a feeling for this truth; hence they have said, “With the I, the God, who in lower creatures reveals himself only externally in the phenomena of the surrounding world, begins to speak internally. The vehicle of this faculty of saying “I,” of the I-faculty, is the body of the I, the fourth member of the human being.6 This body of the I is the vehicle of the higher soul of humankind. With it human beings are the crown of all earthly creation. Now in human beings today the I is in no way simple in character. We may recognize its nature if we compare human beings at different stages of development. Look at an uneducated, so-called primitive person next to a typical European, or again compare the latter with a person of high ideals. They all have the faculty to say “I” of themselves; the body of the I is present in them all. But the so-called uneducated primitives, with their I, more easily follow passions, impulses, and cravings. The more highly formed Europeans say to themselves, I may follow certain impulses and desires, whereas others are held in check or suppressed altogether. Idealists have developed new impulses and new desires in addition to those originally present. All of this has taken place through the I working upon the other members of the human being. Indeed, this constitutes the special task of the I. Working outward from itself it has to ennoble and purify the other members of human nature. In human beings who have reached beyond the condition where the external world first placed them, the lower members have changed to a greater or lesser degree under the influence of the I. When human beings are only beginning to rise above the animal, when their I is only just kindled, they are still like an animal insofar as the lower members of their being are concerned. The etheric or life-body is simply the vehicle of the formative forces of life, the forces of growth and reproduction. The sentient body gives expression only to those impulses, desires, and passions, which are stimulated by external nature. As human beings work their way up from this stage of development through successive lives or incarnations to higher and higher evolution, the I works upon the other members and transforms them. In this way the sentient body becomes the vehicle of purified sensations of pleasure and pain, refined wants and desires. And the etheric or life-body also becomes transformed. It becomes the vehicle of habits, of human beings’ more permanent intent or tendency in life, of the temperament and memory. One whose I has not yet worked upon the lifebody has no memory of experiences in life. One just lives out what has been implanted by Nature. This is what the growth and development of civilization means for humanity. It is a continual working of the I on the lower members of human nature; this work penetrates all the way into the physical body. Under the influence of the I the whole appearance and physiognomy, the gestures and movements of the physical body, are altered. It is possible, moreover, to distinguish how the different ways of culture or civilization work on the various members of human nature. The ordinary factors of civilization work on the sentient body and permeate it with pleasures and pains, and with impulses and cravings that are different from what it had originally. Again, when a human being is absorbed in the contemplation of a great work of art the etheric body is being influenced. Through the work of art one divines something higher and more noble than is offered by the ordinary environment of the senses, and in this process one is forming and transforming the life-body. Religion is a powerful way to purify and ennoble the etheric body. Here is where the religious impulses have their tremendous purpose in human evolution. What we call conscience is no more than the result of the I’s work on the life-body through many incarnations. When people begin to perceive that they should not do one thing or another and when this perception makes a strong enough impression that the impression passes into the etheric body, conscience arises. Now this work of the I on the lower members may be something that is either proper to the whole human race, or it may be entirely individual—an achievement of the individual I working on itself alone. In the former case the whole human race collaborates, as it were, in the transformation of the human being. The latter kind of transformation depends on the activity of the individual I alone, in and of itself. The I may become so strong that it transforms, through its very own power and strength, the sentient body. What the I then makes of the sentient or astral body is called spirit-self (or by the Eastern term, manas