Waldorf education

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Dr. phil. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the first editor of Goethe's scientific writings, founder of the anthroposophical movement, developer of the art of education as applied in Waldorf schools, and head of the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart from 1919 to 1925

Waldorf education is a teaching and educational method developed by Rudolf Steiner, which aims to promote the free development of the unique individuality of the growing child to the best of its ability.

„A riddle of nature which he has to solve, every growing human being should be to the man who wants to be an educator.“ (Lit.:GA 52, p. 216)

Waldorf educational institutions

Waldorf education is applied and developed today primarily in the following institutions:

Waldorf education differs from many other educational methods in that it does not seek to lead the child primarily towards ready-made educational goals, but seeks to awaken the forces that - quite individually - lie dormant within the child itself.

„Waldorf education is not a pedagogical system at all, but an art to awaken what is there in the human being. Basically, Waldorf education does not want to educate, but to awaken. For today it is a question of waking up. First the teachers must be awakened, then the teachers must again awaken the children and young people.“ (Lit.:GA 217, p. 36)

Clear knowledge of the human being as the basis of education

Waldorf Resources: For educational professionals: Impulses, articles, calendar of events, forums and links on Waldorf education. Brought to you by the International Forum of Steiner Waldorf Schools in cooperation with the Pedagogical Department at the Goetheanum.
The "Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen e.V." publishes the journal Erziehungskunst, which discusses current issues in Waldorf education.

Real art of education requires a very clear, fact-oriented knowledge of the human being and its development. Rudolf Steiner even consciously uses the comparison with the machine. Not because the human being is a machine, that is certainly not the case, but just as one must know exactly how its parts must work together in order for it to run well, so one must also recognise in the human being, with a clear, downright sober mind, quite concretely how his or her essential members (physical body, etheric body, astral body and I) best work together in order to ensure good development.

„Not general phrases, such as 'harmonious training of all powers and dispositions' and the like, can be the basis of a genuine art of education, but only on a real knowledge of the human being can such an art be built." It is not to be asserted that the phrases alluded to are incorrect, but only that nothing can be done with them, just as if one were to assert to a machine, for instance, that all its parts must be made to work harmoniously. Only those who approach it not with general phrases, but with real knowledge of the machine in detail, can handle it. Thus, for the art of education, too, it is a question of knowledge of the members of the human being and their development in detail.... One must know which part of the human being one has to influence at a certain age, and how this influence is to be done properly. There is no doubt that a truly realistic art of education, as indicated here, can only develop slowly. This is due to the way of looking at things in our time, which will continue for a long time to regard the facts of the spiritual world as the outflow of a fantastic imagination, while general, completely unreal sayings will appear to it to be the result of a realistic way of thinking. Here is to be drawn without reserve what at present will be taken by many as a fantasy painting, but what will one day be taken for granted.“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 322f)

Promoting individuality

Even if the knowledge of the human being in general forms the necessary basis of pedagogy, every human being is unique and must therefore be supported in a completely individual way in order to develop his or her special abilities.

„Dogmas, principles and doctrines do not matter; what matters is life and the realisation of the forces which flow from selflessness and thereby from the ability to perceive the spirit.“ (Lit.:GA 52, p. 216)

The pedagogy appropriate to the growing child is to be read off again and again from the growing child itself - with the teacher's or educator's own personality being set aside as far as possible.

„An erasure of one's own personality in a certain sense is now also necessary in a single task that has infinite importance for the most everyday human life, in human education. In every growing human being, from the birth of the child, through the years of development, it is the spirit in the innermost core of the human being that is to develop; the spirit that at first rests hidden within the body, rests hidden within the soul emotions of the developing human being. If we confront this spirit, with our interests - I don't even want to say wishes and desires -, if we make the developing human being dependent on our interests, then we let our spirit flow into the human being and we basically develop what is in us in the developing human being. But I do not even want to speak of letting our wishes and desires be active in the education of a growing human being, but only of the fact that all too often, indeed that it is almost the rule, that the educator lets his intellect speak, that the educator asks his reason above all things what has to be done for this or that educational measure. In doing so, he does not take into account that he has before him a developing spirit which can only form itself according to its nature if it can develop freely and unhindered on all sides according to this nature, and if the educator gives it the opportunity for this development. We have an alien human spirit before us. We must allow an alien human spirit to have an effect on us if we are educators. As we have seen that in hypnosis, in the abnormal state, the spirit acts directly upon the human being, so in another form, when we have the child before us, the developing spirit of the child acts directly upon us and must act upon us. But this spirit will only be able to be trained by us if we are able to extinguish ourselves, just as we do in other higher pursuits, if we are able to be, without interference of our self, a servant of the human spirit entrusted to us for education, if this human spirit is given by us the opportunity to develop freely.“ (Lit.:GA 52, p. 213f)

The fundamental importance of art for Waldorf education

By its very nature, science can only grasp that which is universally valid. Art, on the other hand, arises from individual creative activity. The artistic attitude and ability are therefore particularly suited to grasping the individual nature of the child. Pedagogy in Rudolf Steiner's sense should therefore not be based one-sidedly on any kind of educational science, but should become a real art of education. Artistic creation and feeling therefore form the methodological basis of teaching in every subject, especially in those subjects which seem to have little or nothing to do with art, such as mathematics, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, etc.

„If you want to educate people with abstract scientific content, they will not experience anything of your soul. He will only experience something of his soul if you confront him artistically, because in the artistic each person must be individual, in the artistic each person is different. The scientific ideal is precisely that everyone is like everyone else. It would be a beautiful story - as they say nowadays - if everyone taught a different science. That can't be, because science is reduced to that which is the same for all people. In art, however, each person is an individuality. Through the artistic, therefore, an individual relationship of the child to the stimulating and active human being can come about, and that is necessary. It is true that in this way one does not, as in the first years of childhood, have a total physical feeling of the other human being, but one does have a total feeling of the soul of the one who stands opposite one as a guide.

Education must have soul, but as a scientist one cannot have soul. One can only have soul through what one is artistically. One can have soul if one shapes science artistically by the way one presents it, but not by the content of science as it is conceived today. Science is not an individual matter. Therefore, it does not establish a relationship between the leader and the led at the age of compulsory schooling. All teaching must be permeated by art, by human individuality, and it is the individuality of the teacher and educator that is more important than any elaborate programme. It is this that must work in the school.“ (Lit.:GA 217, p. 160)

„We cannot become educators by studying. We cannot train others to be educators, for the very reason that each of us is one. There is an educator in every human being; but this educator is asleep, he must be awakened, and the artistic is the means of awakening. When this is developed, it brings the educator as a human being closer to those he wants to lead. The person to be educated must come close to the educator as a human being, he must have something of him as a human being. It would be dreadful if someone wanted to believe that he could be an educator because he knows a lot or can "do" a lot in the sense of knowledge, which is even possible to say today.“ (S. 162)

„What I have learned has no significance at all for what I am to the child as an educator until the change of teeth. After the change of teeth, it already begins to have a certain significance. But it loses all meaning when I teach it the way I carry it inside me. It has to be translated artistically, everything has to be brought into the picture, as we shall see. I must again awaken imposing forces between myself and the child. And for the second epoch of life, for the epoch of life from the change of teeth to sexual maturity, it is much more important than the abundance of material I have learnt, much more important than what I carry in me, in my head, whether I can translate into vivid imagery, into living design, what I develop around the child and let ripple into the child. And only for those who have already passed through sexual maturity, and for these then up to the beginning of the twenties, does what one has learned oneself take on significance. For the small child up to the change of teeth, the most important thing in education is the person. For the child from the change of teeth to sexual maturity, the most important thing in education is the human being who is becoming a living artist. And it is not until the child is fourteen or fifteen years old that he or she demands for educational instruction and teaching what one has learned oneself, and this lasts until after the twentieth or twenty-first year, when the child is quite grown up - he or she is already a young lady and a young man - and when the twenty-year-old then stands opposite the other human being as an equal, even if he or she is older.“ (Lit.:GA 308, p. 22)

Especially in the period from the 7th to the 14th year of life, the artistic organisation of lessons is of essential importance for the child's development. Everything must be brought to the child in a pictorial-artistic way.

„Between the change of teeth and sexual maturity, the child is an artist, albeit in a childlike way, just as in the first epoch of life up to the change of teeth it is in a natural way a homo religiosus, a religious being. Since the child now demands to receive everything in a pictorial-artistic way, the teacher, the educator, has to face him as one who brings everything he brings to the child as an artistically formative one. This is what must be demanded of the educator and teacher of our present-day culture, what must flow into the art of education. Artistic things must take place between the change of teeth and sexual maturity between the teacher and the growing human being. In this respect, we as teachers have many things to overcome. For our civilisation and culture, which at first surround us externally, have become so that they are calculated only for the intellect, that they are not yet calculated for the artistic.“ (Lit.:GA 308, p. 37)

The three golden rules of the art of education and teaching

„Religious gratitude towards the world which reveals itself in the child, united with the awareness that the child is a divine riddle which one should solve with one's art of education. A method of education practised in love, by which the child instinctively educates itself in us, so that we do not endanger the child's freedom, which should be respected even where it is the unconscious element of the organic power of growth.

Receive the child in reverence
Educate in love
Release in freedom

“ (Lit.:GA 269, p. 179)

Pedagogy on a humanistic basis

Motto for Pedagogy

Infuse yourself with imagination,
have the courage of truth,
sharpen your sense of spiritual responsibility.

Rudolf Steiner (Lit.:GA 269, p. 174)

Waldorf education is based on a view of the human being that does justice to the whole human being, which consists of body, soul and spirit, and does not fall into the one-sidedness of materialism.

„Today, when one speaks of materialism, one has the opinion that materialism is a false world view, that it is to be rejected because it is not correct. The matter is not as simple as that. Man is a soul-spiritual being, he is a bodily-physical being. But the bodily-physical is a faithful reflection of the soul-spiritual, inasmuch as we live between birth and death. And when people are so philistine in materialistic thoughts, as they became in the course of the 19th century and into the present, then the bodily-physical becomes more and more an imprint of this soul-spiritual, which itself lives in the materialistic impulses. Then it is not something wrong to say that the brain thinks, then it becomes right. By being stuck in materialism, not only are people produced who think badly of the physical, the soul and the spiritual, but people are produced who think materially and feel materially. That is to say, materialism causes man to become an automatic thinking machine, to become a being who thinks, feels and wills as a physical being. And it is not merely the task of Anthroposophy to replace a false world-view with a correct one - that is a theoretical demand - the essence of Anthroposophy today consists in striving not only for another idea, but for an act: to tear the spiritual-soul out of the physical-physical again, to lift man up into the sphere of the spiritual-soul, so that he may not be an automaton of thought, feeling and sensation. Humanity today is in danger - and some of this will be indicated in tomorrow's lecture - of losing the soul-spiritual. For that which is bodily-physically an imprint of the spiritual-soul stands today, because many people think so, because the spiritual-soul is asleep, in danger of passing over into the Ahrimanic world, and the spiritual-soul will evaporate in the universe. We are living in a time when people face the danger of losing the soul through the materialistic impulse. This is a serious matter. This fact is faced. This fact should actually become the secret today, the secret that is becoming more and more apparent, out of which we want to work fruitfully at all. You see, out of a realisation of this necessity of a turning of humanity towards a spiritual activity - not merely a change of a theory - out of this realisation such things as the didactics and pedagogy of the Waldorf School have arisen. And it is out of such a spirit that work should be done here.“ (Lit.:GA 300a, p. 163f)

In his essay "The Pedagogical Basis of the Waldorf School" Rudolf Steiner writes:

„It would be disastrous if the basic pedagogical views on which the Waldorf School is to be built were to be dominated by a spirit alien to life. Such a spirit emerges all too easily today where one develops a feeling for the part played in the disintegration of civilisation by the absorption in a materialistic attitude to life and mindset during the last decades. One would like, prompted by this feeling, to bring an idealistic attitude into the administration of public life. And whoever turns his attention to the development of education and teaching will want to see this attitude realised above all others. In such a way of thinking, much good will is manifested. It goes without saying that this should be recognised. It will, if it is exercised in the right way, be able to render valuable services when it is a question of gathering human forces for a social enterprise for which new conditions must be created. - Nevertheless, in just such a case it is necessary to point out how the best will must fail if it goes about the realisation of intentions without fully taking into account the conditions based on factual insight. This is one of the requirements that come into consideration today when founding such an institution as the Waldorf School is to be. Idealism must be at work in its pedagogical and methodological spirit; but an idealism which has the power to awaken in the growing human being the forces and abilities which he needs in the further course of his life in order to be able to work for the present human community and to have a supportive life for himself.

Pedagogy and school methodology can only fulfil such a demand with real knowledge of the growing human being. Reasonable people today demand an education and instruction which does not work towards one-sided knowledge but towards ability, not towards the mere cultivation of intellectual faculties but towards the training of the will. The correctness of this thought cannot be doubted. But one cannot educate the will and the healthy mind that underlies it if one does not develop the insights that awaken active impulses in mind and will. A mistake that is often made in this direction at the present time is not that too much insight is brought into the growing man, but that insights are cultivated that lack the impetus for life. He who believes that he can form the will without cultivating the insight that animates it is giving himself up to an illusion. - It is the task of contemporary pedagogy to see clearly on this point. This clear vision can only come from a vivid knowledge of the whole human being.

The Waldorf School, as it is provisionally conceived, will be a primary school which educates and teaches its pupils in such a way that the teaching aims and curriculum are based on the insight into the nature of the whole human being which is alive in every teacher, as far as this is already possible under present conditions. It is self-evident that the children in the individual school levels must be brought to the point where they are able to meet the requirements of today's standards. Within this framework, however, the teaching aims and curricula should be designed in such a way as they result from the knowledge of man and life.

The child is entrusted to the primary schools in a phase of life in which the state of the soul is undergoing a significant transformation. In the period from birth to the sixth or seventh year of life, the human being is predisposed to devote himself completely to the human environment closest to him for everything that needs to be educated in him, and to shape his own developing powers out of imitative instinct. From this point on, the soul becomes open to a conscious acceptance of what the educator and teacher affect the child on the basis of a self-evident authority. The child accepts this authority out of the dark feeling that something lives in the educator and teacher that should also live in him. It is impossible to be an educator or teacher without fully understanding how to relate to the child in such a way that this transformation of the instinct to imitate into the ability to appropriate, based on a self-evident relationship of authority, is taken into account in the most comprehensive sense. The conception of life of modern mankind, based on mere natural insight, does not approach such facts of human development with full consciousness. Only those who have a sense for the most subtle expressions of human life can give them the necessary attention. Such a sense must prevail in the art of education and teaching. It must shape the curriculum; it must live in the spirit that unites educator and pupils. What the educator does can only depend to a small extent on what is stimulated in him by general norms of an abstract pedagogy; rather, it must be born anew in every moment of his activity out of a living knowledge of the growing human being. Of course, one can object that such life-filled education and teaching fails in school classes with a large number of pupils. Within certain limits this objection is certainly justified; but he who makes it beyond these limits only proves that he is speaking from the point of view of an abstract normative pedagogy: for a living art of education and teaching based on a true knowledge of man is permeated with a force which stimulates sympathy in the individual pupil, so that there is no need to keep him in the matter by direct, "individual" treatment. What is done in education and teaching can be shaped in such a way that the pupil, in acquiring it, grasps it individually for himself. For this it is only necessary that what the teacher does should live sufficiently strongly. Whoever has the sense for real knowledge of the human being, the developing human being becomes to such a high degree a riddle of life to be solved by him, that he awakens in the attempted solution the co-living of the pupil. And such co-living is more fruitful than individual working, which all too easily cripples the pupil in terms of genuine self-activation. Again, within certain limits, it may be asserted that larger school classes with teachers who are full of life inspired by true knowledge of man will achieve better success than small classes with teachers who, proceeding from a standard pedagogy, are not able to develop such life.

Less pronounced, but just as important for the art of education and teaching as the transformation of the soul in the sixth or seventh year of life, is the penetrating knowledge of the human being around the time of the completion of the ninth year. There the I-feeling takes on a form which gives the child such a relationship to nature and also to other surroundings that one can speak to it more of the relations of things and processes to one another, whereas before it developed almost exclusively an interest in the relations of things and processes to man. Such facts of human development should be observed very carefully by the educator and teacher. For if one introduces into the child's world of imagination and feeling what coincides at one stage of life with the direction of the forces of development, one strengthens the whole developing human being in such a way that this strengthening remains a source of strength throughout life. If one works against the direction of development in one stage of life, one weakens the human being.

In the recognition of the special requirements of the stages of life lies the basis for an appropriate curriculum. But it is also the basis for the way in which the subject matter is dealt with in the successive stages of life. By the ninth year of life, the child must have reached a certain level in everything that has flowed into human life through cultural development. The first years of school will therefore have to be used for teaching writing and reading, and rightly so; but this teaching will have to be arranged in such a way that the essence of development finds its right in this period of life. If things are taught in such a way that the child's intellect and only an abstract acquisition of skills are called upon, the nature of will and mind will atrophy. If, on the other hand, the child learns in such a way that its whole being participates in its activity, then it develops all-round. In childlike drawing, even in primitive painting, the whole human being develops an interest in what he does. Therefore, writing should develop out of drawing. From forms in which the child's artistic sense comes to the fore, one should develop the letter forms. From an occupation which, as artistic, draws the whole human being to itself, one should develop writing, which leads to the sensible-intellectual. And only out of writing does one develop reading, which draws the attention strongly into the realm of the intellectual.

If one understands how strongly the intellectual is to be extracted from the childlike-artistic education, one will be inclined to give art the appropriate position in the first elementary school lessons. The musical and also the visual arts will be correctly placed in the field of instruction and the cultivation of physical exercises will be appropriately combined with the artistic. Gymnastics and games of movement will be made the expression of feelings stimulated by music or recitation. Eurythmic, meaningful movement will take the place of that which is based solely on the anatomy and physiology of the body. And one will find what a strong will-forming and comfort-forming power lies in the artistic shaping of the lessons. But only those teachers will be able to educate and teach in the way indicated here who, through a penetrating knowledge of the human being, see through the connection that exists between their method and the forces of development that reveal themselves in a certain stage of life. He is not a real teacher and educator who has acquired pedagogy as the science of treating children, but he in whom the pedagogue has awakened through knowledge of the human being.

It is important for the formation of the mind that the child develops its relationship to the world before it reaches the age of nine in the way that the human being is inclined to form it in an imaginative way. If the educator himself is not a fantasist, he does not make the child a fantasist either, by letting the world of plants and animals, of the air and the stars live in the child's mind in fairy-tale-like and similar representations. If, from a materialistic point of view, one wants to extend the certainly within certain limits justified visual instruction to everything possible, then one does not take into account that forces must also be developed in the human being which cannot be conveyed by visual perception alone. Thus the purely memory-like acquisition of certain things is connected with the powers of development from the sixth or seventh to the fourteenth year of life. And the teaching of arithmetic should be based on this characteristic of human nature. It can be used to cultivate the power of memory. If one does not take this into account, one will perhaps uneducationally prefer the descriptive element to the memory-forming one, especially in arithmetic lessons. One can fall into the same mistake if one anxiously strives at every opportunity to go beyond a correct measure, so that the child must understand everything that is conveyed to him. This endeavour is certainly based on good will. But it does not take into account what it means for the human being when, at a later age, he reawakens in his soul what he had acquired purely by memory in an earlier age, and now finds that, through the maturity he has attained, he now comes to an understanding of his own. It will be necessary, however, that the indifference of the pupil, which is feared when learning by memory, be prevented by the lively manner of the teacher. If the teacher is fully engaged in his teaching activity, then he can teach the child what he will later enjoy fully understanding. And in this refreshing after-experience there is always a strengthening of the purpose of life. If the teacher can work for such strengthening, then he gives the child an immeasurably great good of life to take with him on his path of existence. And in this way he will also avoid his "visual instruction" falling into banality through an excessive focus on the child's "understanding". This may take into account the child's self-activation; but its fruits are inedible after infancy; the awakening power which the living fire of the teacher kindles in the child for things which in a certain respect still lie above his "understanding" remains effective throughout life.

If one begins with descriptions of nature from the animal and plant world after the ninth year of life and holds them in such a way that the human form and the life phenomena of the human being become comprehensible from the forms and life processes of the non-human world, then one can awaken those forces in the pupil which in this period of life strive for their release from the depths of the human being. It corresponds to the character which the I-feeling assumes in this period of life to regard the animal and plant kingdoms in such a way that what in them is distributed among many types of beings in terms of qualities and activities is revealed in the human being as the summit of the living world as in a harmonious unity.

Around the twelfth year of life another turning point in human development occurs. The human being becomes ripe to develop those faculties by which he is brought in a way favourable to him to comprehend that which must be understood entirely without relation to man: the mineral kingdom, the physical world of facts, the phenomena of the weather, and so on.

How other exercises, which are a kind of working instruction, are to develop out of the cultivation of such exercises, which are formed entirely out of the nature of the human instinct for activity without regard to the aims of practical life, follows from the recognition of the nature of the stages of life. What has been indicated here for individual parts of the teaching material can be extended to everything that is to be given to the pupil up to his fifteenth year.

There is no reason to fear that the pupil will leave the primary schools in a state of mind and body alien to the outer life, if we look in the way described at that which results from the inner development of the human being as principles of instruction and education. For human life is itself formed out of this inner development, and the human being will enter this life in the best way when, through the development of his dispositions, he finds himself united with what, out of the human dispositions of the same kind, men before him have incorporated into the development of culture. However, in order to harmonise both the development of the pupil and the outer development of culture, it is necessary to have teachers who do not close themselves off with their interests in a specialised educational and teaching practice, but who place themselves with full participation in the vastness of life. Such teachers will find the possibility of awakening in young people a sense for the spiritual content of life, but no less an understanding for the practical shaping of life. With such an attitude to teaching, the fourteen- or fifteen-year-old will not be without understanding for the essentials of agriculture, industry and traffic which serve the life of humanity as a whole. The insights and skills he has acquired will enable him to feel oriented in the life that welcomes him.“ (Lit.:GA 298, p. 9ff)

Education and the members of the human being

An essential pedagogical law discovered by Rudolf Steiner is that the educator acts with his next higher member on the lower member of the child. Thus, for example, the etheric body of the educator acts on the physical body of the child, the astral body on the etheric body, etc.

„Here we encounter a pedagogical law which appears in all pedagogy. It is as follows. Any one member of the being of man is influenced by the next higher member. Only through this does it effectively come to development. For the development of the physical body, a living thing in the etheric body can be effective. For the development of an etheric body, only what is living in an astral body can be effective. For the development of an astral body, only what is living in an I can be effective. And only what is living in a spirit-self can be effective on an I. I could go on even further beyond the spirit-self, but there we would already enter into the teaching of the esoteric.

What does that mean? If you become aware that in a child the etheric body is in some way atrophied, you must form your own astral body in such a way that it can have a corrective effect on the child's etheric body. With reference to the educational scheme it can be written here:

Child: physical body Educator: etheric body
etheric body astral body
astral body I
I spirit self

The educator's own etheric body must be able to work on the child's physical body - and this must happen through his seminary training. The astral body must be able to influence the etheric body of the child. The educator's own I must be able to have an effect on the child's astral body. And now you will even be inwardly frightened, for here stands the spirit-self of the educator, which you will believe is not developed. This must have an effect on the child's I. But the law is like that. And I will show you to what extent, not only in the ideal educator, but often in the very worst educator, the spiritual self of the educator, which is not even conscious to him, has an effect on the child's I. The educator is, in fact, in the ideal, but often in the very worst educator, the spiritual self of the educator, which is not conscious to him. Education is indeed wrapped in many mysteries.” (Lit.:GA 317, p. 33f)

The pedagogical instinct of the teacher

The method of Waldorf education does not consist of a set of fixed rules to be applied in the classroom, but must be reinvented again and again, as it were, with each pupil, with each class that one has before one as a teacher. Therefore, it cannot be taught in the usual way. Everything that Rudolf Steiner has said in this regard about the methodology of Waldorf education should only serve to awaken the healthy instinct of the teacher, so that he is able to intuitively put himself in the place of his pupils, so that he can read from them how best to promote their development.

„The teacher, the educator must not first learn something theoretically and then say to himself: What I have learned theoretically, I now apply to the child in this or that way. - In this way he distances himself from the child, he does not come closer to the child. The teacher has to get what he knows about the human being into a kind of higher instinct, so that he is in a certain way instinctively confronted with every stirring of the individual child's life. This is precisely what distinguishes anthroposophical knowledge of man from that which is common today. The understanding of the human being that is common today leads at most to educational routine, but not to a real educational attitude and to real educational practice. For a real educational practice must be based on such a knowledge of man as becomes instinctive towards the child at every moment, so that one knows from the whole abundance of what one encounters in the child what one has to do in the individual case. If I may use a comparison, I would like to say: It is not true that we have all kinds of theories about eating and drinking, but in life we do not generally act according to what can be theoretically devised about when one should eat, when one should drink. We drink when we are thirsty - this is a result of the whole constitution of the organism - and we eat when we are hungry. There are of course good reasons why this is part of a certain rhythm of life, but man eats and drinks when he is hungry and thirsty; that is the result of life itself. Now an understanding of man, which is the basis of a real educational practice, must produce something in man when he is confronted with a child, such as the relationship of hunger to food. It must be as natural as that I acquire a certain relationship to food through hunger. So it must become quite natural through a real human knowledge, penetrating not only into flesh and blood but also into soul and spirit, that when the child appears before me I get something like hunger: This you have to do now, that you have to do now! Only when in this way knowledge of man has such an inner fullness that it can become instinctive, can it lead to the practice of education.“ (Lit.:GA 306, p. 32f)

However, it would be a misunderstanding to refer to old, largely unconscious educational instincts. Today everything must first be raised to clear consciousness, and then gradually mature into a new, consciously acquired instinct.

„This is realised through anthroposophical knowledge. Through it one can know that the intellectualistic orientation in science owes its existence to a necessary phase in the development of humanity. Humanity of modern times has emerged from the period of instinctual life. The intellect has acquired its outstanding importance. Humanity needed it in order to progress in the right way on its path of development. It leads it to that degree of consciousness which it must attain in a certain age, just as the individual man must attain certain abilities in one age. But under the influence of the intellect the instincts are paralysed. One cannot want to return to the instinctive life without working against the development of humanity. We must recognise the importance of full consciousness, which has been achieved through intellectualism. And in this full consciousness we must give back to man that which no instinctual life can give him today.

For this we need a knowledge of the spiritual and the soul which is just as grounded in reality as the sense-science founded in intellectualism. This is what Anthroposophy strives for.“ (Lit.:GA 304, p. 218f)

Only in this way can a true art of education emerge, which nevertheless does not lack the necessary clarity of consciousness that characterises educational science. Pedagogy cannot be pressed into abstract rules.

„A pedagogy and didactics that puts its rules into abstract laws is really something for the practical educator and teacher that gradually brings him into a life situation, as if he were constantly stepping on his own toes and wanting to walk; it deprives him of all impartiality. If one should always think: How should we actually educate? What rules do pedagogy and didactics prescribe? - then one loses one's impartiality, then one loses the justification of the instinctive. This is not the effect of pedagogy and didactics built on an anthroposophical basis; they are much more intimately involved in the whole of human life, and the elementary educational instincts are not undermined, but rather they are stimulated, enlivened, warmed up, strengthened. One does not lose one's impartiality, but one deepens it, one enlivens it. This is what anthroposophical pedagogy and didactics strive for in the teacher, in the educator.“ (Lit.:GA 303, p. 95f)

Waldorf education is not a standard education

„Those who adhere to a standard pedagogy, who formulate programmes that give certain educational principles, well, they know how to teach. But he who is to teach out of immediate life can, I would say, only get the impulses to observe what really results from year to year, from week to week, from month to month in the developing human being. Even if it were a large class, one must constantly be in living contact, one must have an understanding of what it means not to practise a learned pedagogy from memory, but to invent anew at every moment the individual method which one has to apply to this living human being.

That which is to have an effect in life must not be based on memory, not on habit. What we remember and practise in our human activity, what we practise out of habit, becomes under all circumstances something like a straw template. That which emerges from spiritual life can never become a straw template!

There have been times, and I am sure there still are, when I have presented the same theme week after week. I do not believe that I can be said to have given a single lecture twice, that I have ever spoken on the same subject twice in succession in exactly the same way, because when it comes to speaking out of the spirit, it is a question of immediate production, because it is not at all possible to entrust that which is produced out of the spirit to memory in the ordinary sense, because it must develop continually in immediate life. To him who works out of the spirit, the mere memorising of any spiritual knowledge is about the same as if one were to say: I will not eat today, for I ate the day before yesterday. Why should I eat again today? My body will build itself up on the basis of what I ate the day before yesterday. - Yes, our physical organism is in a perpetual state of renewal. The spirit must also take this into account. The spirit must also be inside this living life. The real spirit must always be a creative being. Thus a pedagogy borne by the spirit must also be a continually creating art.“ (Lit.:GA 297, p. 152f)

Education in freedom and for freedom

„What is the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, which was created out of a spiritual world and life view, actually built upon? As a social institution it wants to place itself in the present social life in such a way as the forces of the present require. Therefore, it is by no means built to be a worldview school in any respect. It would be quite a misunderstanding of the principle of the Waldorf School if one were to believe that the children were to be taught any worldview there. A view of the world and of life that is held as a spiritual one is actually there for the teachers. And that which is not theory but full life in this view of the world and life can also live itself out in the pedagogical skill, in the didactic tact, in all that the teacher carries out, in the whole work of teaching and educating.

What is often said about Waldorf education in individual sentences is not important. In the face of these individual sentences, individuals can quite easily say: Yes, this is what such and such teaching and educational methods also want. Basically, when one looks at abstract principles, one can say: What can be said in abstract sentences about the teaching and educational methods of the Waldorf School can also be found elsewhere. What is important here is the immediate life that flows out of a life-producing view of the world and not out of a view of life that merely produces concepts.

What is gained by this? Well, it is difficult to give sharply defined concepts when one wants to describe life. Therefore, I will express myself in the following way: It is quite certain that among the teachers of the Waldorf School there are those who are not always extraordinarily ingenious - one can say this without offending anyone. But even if the most diverse levels of physical, mental and spiritual abilities are present in the teacher, it must be said that among these schoolchildren whom the teacher has before him there may be those who will one day develop abilities in life which go far beyond the abilities of the teacher himself. We must therefore make possible a pedagogy by which we can not only treat the children at every age in such a way that they will one day develop the abilities that we ourselves have, but that they may develop unhindered abilities which we ourselves do not have, but which are predisposed in them. So even if you are not a genius yourself, you do not have to put any obstacles in the way of the child's development to genius. One can declaim for a long time that one should develop the individuality of a child, not graft something into it, but bring everything out of the child - one can say this, and if one looks only at the conceptual, it sounds wonderful, and one believes that it is something fruitful in life. But what is often said in this way means nothing other than that one develops in the child what one thinks can be its individuality, and that will not be an individuality that goes beyond the individuality of the teacher.

In the Waldorf school everything is based on education in freedom. That which is the innermost spiritual-soul in the human being is basically not touched at all by the Waldorf school method. It is not touched in the same way as, for instance, when a plant is planted in the ground and allowed to develop freely through light and air, all sorts of little sticks are attached to it and it is tied into the template. The spiritual and mental individuality of the child is a most sacred thing, of which he who recognises the true nature of man knows that it follows all by itself the impulses which the environment, the whole world, exerts upon it. Therefore, the teacher has to remove whatever can hinder the development of this individuality, which is protected with a holy awe. The obstacles that can emanate from the physical, the mental and also the spiritual can be seen through in a genuine study of the human being, if this study of the human being is developed towards the pedagogical and psychological side. And it is precisely when one develops such a study of man that one learns to observe with a fine sense where there is any obstacle to the free development of individuality. There is no need to interfere rudely. One avoids an alien shaping of this individuality. By seeing that there is an obstacle which must be removed, one removes it. Then the individuality knows how to develop itself by its own power in a way that can go far beyond what the teacher has in him.

But that means having real respect for human freedom! This human freedom requires that the human being finds within himself the impulses which guide and drive him in life.“ (Lit.:GA 83, p. 185ff)


  • Stefan Leber: Die Menschenkunde der Waldorfpädagogik: Anthropologische Grundlagen der Erziehung des Kindes und Jugendlichen, Verlag Freies Geistesleben 1993, ISBN 978-3772502613
  • Wilfried Gabriel: Personale Pädagogik in der Informationsgesellschaft. Berufliche Bildung, Selbstbildung und Selbstorganisation in der Pädagogik Rudolf Steiners, Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften 1995, ISBN 978-3631479124
  • Michaela Strauss, Wolfgang Schad (Hrsg.): Von der Zeichensprache des kleinen Kindes: Spuren der Menschwerdung - mit menschenkundlichen Anmerkungen von Wolfgang Schad, 6. Auflage, Verlag Freies Geistesleben 2007, ISBN 978-3772521348
  • Ernst-Michael Kranich: Anthropologische Grundlagen der Waldorfpädagogik, Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 978-3772517815
  • Jost Schieren (Hrsg.): Handbuch Waldorfpädagogik und Erziehungswissenschaft, Beltz-Juventa, Weinheim - Basel 2016, ISBN 978-3-7799-3129-4
  • Johannes Kiersch: Die Waldorfpädagogik: Eine Einführung in die Pädagogik Rudolf Steiners, Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3772526848; eBook ASIN B018UD710A
  • Johannes Kiersch: „Mit ganz andern Mitteln gemalt“ - Überlegungen zur hermeneutischen Erschließung der esoterischen Lehrerkurse Steiners, in: Research on Steiner Education Vol.1 No.2 2010 pdf
  • Ernst-Christian Demisch (Hersg.), Christa Greshake-Ebding (Hrsg.), Johannes Kiersch (Hrsg.): Steiner neu lesen: Perspektiven für den Umgang mit Grundlagentexten der Waldorfpädagogik (Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge der Alanus Hochschule für Kunst und Gesellschaft, Band 12), Peter Lang GmbH 2014, ISBN 978-3631649695, eBook ASIN B076FCC8PN
  • Horst Philipp Bauer (Hrsg.), Peter Schneider (Hrsg.): Waldorfpädagogik: Perspektiven eines wissenschaftlichen Dialoges (Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge der Alanus Hochschule für Kunst und Gesellschaft, Band 1), Peter Lang GmbH 2005, ISBN 978-3631546338
  • Uwe Mingo: Leitfaden und Praxishandbuch zu Rudolf Steiners Pädagogik, Achamoth Vlg., Schönach/Bodensee 1998, ISBN 3-923302-08-8
  • Frans Carlgren: Erziehung zur Freiheit. Die Pädagogik Rudolf Steiners, 11. Auflage, Verlag Freies Geistesleben 2016, ISBN 978-3772516191
  • Henning Kullak-Ublick: Jedes Kind ein Könner: Fragen und Antworten zur Waldorfpädagogik, Verlag Freies Geistesleben 2017, ISBN 978-3772528736, eBook ASIN B073SDDWT9
  • Gerhard Wehr: Der pädagogische Impuls Rudolf Steiners. Theorie und Praxis der Waldorfpädagogik, Fischer-TB, Frankfurt a.M. 1983, ISBN 3-596-25521-X
  • Heinz Brodbeck (Hrsg.), Robert Thomas (Hrsg.): Steinerschulen heute: Ideen und Praxis der Waldorfpädagogik, Zbinden Verlag 2019, ISBN 978-3859894549
  • Tobias Richter (Hrsg.): Pädagogischer Auftrag und Unterrichtsziele - vom Lehrplan der Waldorfschule, 4. Auflage, Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3772526695, eBook ASIN B01N1I5NCE
  • Rüdiger Blankertz: 'Das Erfolgsmodell' Waldorfschule und 'das Problem' Rudolf Steiner, Edition Nadelöhr 2019, ISBN 978-3952508015
  • Valentin Wember: Was will Waldorf wirklich? Die unbekannte Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners. Ein Vortrag für Eltern und Lehrer. Stratosverlag 2019, ISBN 9783943731286
Rudolf Steiner
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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
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steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.
Kritische Literatur
  • Klaus Prange: Erziehung zur Anthroposophie: Darstellung und Kritik der Waldorfpädagogik, 3. Auflage, Klinkhardt 2000, ISBN 978-3781510890
  • Sybille-Christin Jacob, Detlef Drewes: Aus der Waldorfschule geplaudert: Warum die Steiner-Pädagogik keine Alternative ist, 2. Auflage, Alibri Verlag 2004, ISBN 978-3932710841
  • Heiner Ullrich: Waldorfpädagogik: Eine kritische Einführung, Beltz Verlag 2015, ISBN 978-3407257215; eBook ASIN: B010U1P15C
  • Hellmich, Achim und Teigeler, Peter (Hrsg.): Montessoripädagogik, Freinetpädagogik, Waldorfpädagogik - Konzeption und aktuelle Praxis. Beltz Verlag, 1999. ISBN 3407252188