Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
Address at the assembly at the beginning of the third school year
21 December 1919, Stuttgart
Dear children! Today I will speak first to those of you who are here with us today for the first time and who will be getting together with your nice teachers over in the Waldorf School in the next few days.
My dear children! Until now, your time has been spent at home in your parents” house, and your good parents have taken care of you, taken care of you lovingly. You need only to do a little bit of thinking — you can already think enough to do that — to know how your parents began each morning by taking care of you. They made sure that your bodily needs were met, that you got the breakfast and lunch that you need so badly in order to live, and they also made sure that you could enjoy life, that you had a chance to enjoy flowers and plants and all the beautiful things there are in the world. Dear children, you can also already think about how glad your hearts were when your dear parents said something nice to you. Perhaps it did not always occur to you to be heartily thankful for what they do for you, but now that you are starting school, which is something very important for you, I would like to tell you this today: The more grateful you are for all the love your parents give you — and they are always trying to do more — and the more gratitude you show in receiving this love, the better children you are.
During all this time, your parents were realizing that their children would grow up to be big people, just like they are themselves. Once upon a time they had to realize that there was something they needed to learn in order to be able to provide for their children. They had to learn to work. And you see, if you want to work, you also have to think. They had to learn to think! And then your parents thought about where they would send their children to become good, capable people who would be able to handle their work and get on in life. Then the thought occurred to them to send you here to us in the Waldorf School, because they thought that you could learn something here about becoming good, capable people. I want you to think about how your parents sent you here so that you will be able to work someday. You cannot work without thinking. So that you will know that, I want you to promise to work in the Waldorf School.
In the Waldorf School we have made sure that you will be able to learn something, and we have also made sure that you will be able to find things you really like. From time to time you received something from your parents, a gift or a kind word, and then you said or thought or felt, “That’s really nice!” And you see, if you really understand what is going on when you go to the Waldorf School in the next few days, you may also be able to say, “That’s really nice! Going to the Waldorf School is a nice gift our parents have given us.”
You will often feel that this is a nice gift. You see, we have to take care of the Waldorf School, and the teachers are people who care a lot. They made sure that the children will be able to say, “That’s really nice!” It will be easy for you to say it's nice in the Waldorf School because we have made sure that the men and women who are going to be your teachers are really nice. You will meet good teachers who really like you. And actually, you will learn the most if you really love your teachers. This is what you have to watch out for, that you really, really love your teachers. If you do, then you will also learn well.
This is why I am telling you especially to notice the nice things your teachers will tell you. If you really love them, then you will do what they want, and then you will really learn a lot. I think you will often be able to say to yourselves, “How nice that our parents sent us to the Waldorf School!” And when you come into our school and sit in class, you will also always be able to feel that your teachers love you a whole lot.
You know that you are often tired in the evening. Often you were tired, and then you had to go to sleep, and in the morning you woke up again. While you are sleeping, you do not see anything or hear anything, but you are getting strong before morning comes. That is when other spiritual beings are awake. This is something you cannot understand yet. (That is why you have to go to school — to learn to understand things that you do not understand now.) Other spiritual beings are awake, and people must be able to give themselves up to these spiritual beings. They must learn to love and respect what they do not see. That is what the Waldorf School wants to give you, so that you will be good, thinking, hard-working children, and devout children, too. In the Waldorf School you are meant to become devout children, children who know that people also have something inside them that we cannot see. And as I said, even though you may not have understood very much of this now, that is why you are coming to the Waldorf School, where you will learn to understand it. This is something you must understand, or you will not get anywhere in life.
Now I am going to turn to your parents who have sent you here, and I am especially going to thank them for the confidence they show in the Waldorf School by sending us what is nearest and dearest to them. I would like to assure these parents that we who are trying to represent and implement the spirit of the Waldorf School are aware of the infinitely great responsibility we take on when you parents bring what is dearest to you here to become good and capable in life. Now that you have made the important and significant decision to send your children to the Waldorf School, we hope that your confidence in the school will be able to grow as you see Waldorf faculty striving to accomplish what you expect of us in educating your children in spirit, body, and soul. What has developed in the Waldorf School over the past two years gives us good reason to hope that what we do will merit your confidence. What we do, what our Waldorf faculty does, is what will confirm the confidence you now show in the school by entrusting to us what is dearest to you. Although what I have said may not be fully comprehensible to our dear children, they will find that they are able to pick it up again later.
Now that I have said this to our youngest children who are just beginning their school careers, I would like to turn to the older children who have already spent part of their time in school with us, and say a few words to them. And the first thing I would like to say to them is something I have come to love doing each time I come here, because it always gets a clear and unmistakable answer. Now that I have asked the youngest children to make sure that they start to love their teachers, I would like to ask you older children, who have been here before, whether you love your teachers. [The children answer, “Yes!”] You love your teachers because that is the way things should be. The way your teachers behave toward you will make you love them.
To the older children, I would like to say this: In your new grades, you will meet the same teachers that you had last year. You will continue with what you learned in the earlier grades. However, you should still think about what it means to move up a grade. Think about how moving up can remind us that in life we are always getting older and older. Especially today, when you are entering a new grade, you should look back a bit on the time when you were younger. You should think about all the things you now know because of what was taught to you in school, and now that you are moving up a grade you should think about needing to look into the future. The future, my dear children, is what we often try to hold in front of us in life. It is what you should hold in front of yourselves.
When you go out in the street, you see the older people around you. You see them leaving home to go to work and then coming home from work; you see them going out to do all kinds of things that need to be taken care of in life. When you go out in the street, you also see younger people who have just gotten out of school and who now have to apply what they learned in school for the first time. You see people who are older than you are and who have already learned something from life itself, who have experienced joy and sorrow in life. And if these older people speak to you, then they will tell you that they learned a lot about life through having learned real things in school. They will tell you that school prepared them to be working people and to be really human. If people take life seriously, you will almost always find that when they think back on their school days, they think, “What would I be now if I had not been nurtured by loving teachers during my school days, if I had not learned all the things that you can learn when you are young, the things that help you on in life and are a real support for you in life?” You find people walking around with gray hair, people on whom life has already left its mark, people who have matured. Most of them, when they reach the twilight of their life, think back on their own childhood whenever they see children. Now they think back to when they were sitting at their desks in school, and only now do they understand what they were able to take with them from that time. Only now do they really feel what it meant for their whole life.
Let me tell you today that if you love your teachers, if you work hard while you are sitting at your desks in school, then having been able to be in school in this way will be the greatest possible joy for you when you have grown old. The Waldorf School wants to make sure that you have something that will last you a lifetime when you think back on the school, when you apply what came to you in the Waldorf School to your life. The Waldorf School does not want to simply uplift you; it wants to let the difficulties of work, which do have to be there, alternate with joy and with what can bring you pleasure in life.
The Waldorf School wants to give this to all of you. You will see that you can take great pleasure in having done hard work, in having learned something difficult. You must not believe it when people say that school should turn everything into a pleasure. As a teacher, you cannot always arrange things so that the students learn everything as if they were playing a game. You will not find that we always turn learning into a game. There will also be times when it is hard for you, but when you see that your teachers are concerned that there also be a place for the hard things, you will be able to take pleasure in overcoming the difficulties. Then you will also be able to be glad that you are in the Waldorf School and that you can learn what you need to learn for life in this way. And those of you who have been here longer will have noticed that we are really trying with all our might to help you become people with a feeling for true human devotion, people who can look up to a spiritual, supersensible world. You will learn to understand the words “spirit” and “supersensible world” better and better as you move up from one grade to the next.
Today, then, try to think about growing older. Moving up through the grades in school shows you that people grow older. It reminds you that you need to be in school to make sure, both for your own sake and out of love for your teachers, that you pay attention and work good and hard so that you learn what you need to know for life.
Every hour of the day and night, your teachers are concerned about how to best introduce you to what you need for life. With strong will and with all the thoughts they can possibly have, they are looking for what you need. Of course this will be difficult for you, but they will make it as easy as possible. If they tried to teach it to you in the form of a game, you would not become good, capable people in life. Some things in life are difficult, but you will overcome them if you learn to overcome difficulties when you are still children.
You will go into the new school year in the right way. You will learn many new things, and some of what comes to you will bring you new joys. Some of it will show you the greatness and glory and breadth of the things in the world into which we human beings come. You will learn that what shines down from the moon and stars, what expresses itself and reveals itself in this world that speaks to us when the plants grow green and come up out of the earth in spring, what reveals itself in deep valleys and in the shapes of mountains and in minerals — that all this challenges us to lend a hand and bring forth the best that we can. It challenges us to learn to understand something about the world so that we can work in it. What is presented to you in your new grade will help you learn to better understand the greatness and glory of this world, of the divine deeds of lofty beings. You will learn that it is inherent in the nature of human beings to take their place in this divine world as workers who are able to do something because of what they have learned. The moment will come when you look out at the world and at the hard-working people who do so much, and if you yourself are not capable and have not learned anything worthwhile, you will be forced to ask yourself, “Now that I have grown old, what am I, since I made myself useless as a child?” This moment will come. As you grow old, think about how you can avoid this moment. You certainly can avoid it. The less you reject what your teachers ask of you out of love, the bigger and stronger you will be as you take your place in life. Think about this. Think about it each morning when you go to school. Think about that moment, and by being attentive in school you will become good, capable people who have no reason to reproach themselves in life.
My dear children, today in this serious moment there is something else I need to remind you. By now you will have seen how, once people have gotten gray hair and grown tired and old, they are carried out and their bodies are buried; the end of their life has come. That is only an outer ending. When this moment comes, a person’s immortal soul rises up to the spirit of whom we all know. Just as you are now in a body, one day you will be spirit. Although people must prepare themselves for serious work in the world, they also must prepare themselves to enter the world in which they will live as spirit, just as we now live in bodies in this physical, sense-perceptible world. The body gets sick if it is damaged by the outer world or harmed by the weather, or the damage can come from inside. It is a hard destiny for some people when their bodies do not grow right, but it is a much worse destiny if people do not let their souls grow right. While you are in school, getting ready to do good and capable work, you are being guided so that you can also grow in your souls, in the spirit of humanity, so that you will become good and capable people not only in the eyes of other human beings and in the eyes of the world, but also in the eyes of God and the spiritual world. You will already have experienced this spirit in the Waldorf School. Remain in this spirit and become more and more conscious of it, the older you get.
As you advance from the beginning of the year to the end, your work and your worries increase. So think of a moment like this as something especially important, something that reminds you of how we human beings are standing in the midst of the divine world; of how you need to become strong and capable in body, soul and spirit; of how you think of your spirit, your soul and your body in your diligent striving for growth and health. This thought will help you. You will reach the point where it gives you strength each morning, so that you can prepare your deeds and your goals in the right way. Then you will be able to think about it with satisfaction in the evening. If you can say to yourselves, “I did my duty in school,” you will be able to pass over into God’s spiritual world when you sleep. Through what you experience in the Waldorf School, you must increasingly learn the meaning of the word “duty,” and how duty plays into love for your work. This is something you must learn in the Waldorf School, and through all of this you will become good and capable people.
I am saying this to those who are already in the upper grades, who are entering a more mature age, who are already closer to the life in which they will have to work independently. You more mature children must think about how what I have just said applies to you. You who are now moving up into the higher grades are allowed to do so because of a special destiny that gives you the opportunity to know more than some others can. You have seen others who are already called upon to go to work out there in the world at a young age. They were your classmates; continue to love them. Think of them and consider them your friends. Thinking about them in the right way will make life move forward. Learn not only your subjects, not only what grows and thrives in you directly, but learn to love others too. Get to know each other and learn to really love your classmates. Learn that people are there for each other, that the Spirit Creator of the world endeavors most of all to work through the love that human beings bring toward each other. It is the worst thing for a school when the students do not love each other. Try to discover something lovable in each of your fellow students; there is something lovable in every human being. Learn to carry into each of your classes the warmth that expresses itself in love. If you learn to do that, what you have acquired in this way will give you much to carry out into life.
Now I would also like to address a few words to the parents whose children have been in the Waldorf School before. You will have done some thinking about our way of working in this school. Perhaps you have already been able to see that how we work here requires a sensitivity to the great needs of civilization at the present time. The people who brought the idea of the Waldorf School into the world are burdened by the knowledge that things have come so far that we had to experience the great suffering of the beginning of the twentieth century, the great killing and the distress it brought with it. Those who observe all this with an unprejudiced view, ladies and gentlemen, know that attitudes and ways of thinking, things that live in human thoughts and human hearts, are the origin of these outer events. They know that we must work on the soul and spirit of humanity so that it can be guided out of the forces of world decline into forces of ascent. The idea of the Waldorf School was born out of the great thoughts of our times, and this responsibility stands over us as we work. We in the Waldorf School would like to imbue ourselves through and through with the idea of what it means to lay seeds in the hearts of children, seeds that must begin to grow in the next few decades for the salvation of the world.
At this point I always like to invoke the feeling of responsibility that lies in nurturing humanity’s near future. Ladies and gentlemen, it is easy to speak of great ideals in an abstract sense. It is easy to proclaim that humanity must strive for the true, the beautiful and the good. But salvation and happiness in human evolution do not come from speaking great words about utopias and distant ideals for the future, or from nice words about things that are still undefined and unclear and hovering in the misty distance. They do not come from what we say to make ourselves feel good inside. Working for salvation and happiness and a livable society lies in grasping the details of the tasks life presents us with. If we can think about ideals and ideas in the right way, then ideas become something holy for all of us. If we talk about ideals as if they were undefined, nebulous things, we are speaking in hollow and empty words, but if we do not do that, if in all our dealing with ideals we are aware that we are involved in real concrete work on them, then we contribute much more to the progress and evolution of humanity than we do through beautiful-sounding talk.
The men and women who are Waldorf teachers really want to kindle their feeling of responsibility, really want to dwell in a right understanding of the world, in this attentive listening to what the world demands. May there grow from this spirit the forces that are needed to always do the right thing at any given moment. These forces only arise when we are able to look at the whole. We live our lives with no backbone, no spiritual backbone, if we are not in a position to think and work on behalf of real ideals in this way, if we speak in indeterminate words and foggy ideals. Therefore, I would like to say a few concrete words about the forces that are present in the hearts and souls of our teachers, the forces they will use to justify the confidence you parents place in them, the forces they will use to prove that it is no blind confidence that leads you to send your children to the Waldorf School and that our efforts to nurture the next generation for the sake of the salvation and happiness of humanity are based on understanding.
In thinking like this and in acting on this thought, we are fulfilling not only some pet idea or feeling, but a mission of our times. In acting in this way, we understand what we must do so that humanity can progress from this age of great misery to different age. We understand what can come of wanting to have our young people led with understanding. We know that sensitivity in guiding these young people will carry over into a near and difficult future.
It is in this spirit that I would like to turn to my dear friends the teachers. We have worked together, made an effort together, to bring this spirit into the Waldorf School. After careful selfexamination, we can say today that in some respects we have succeeded in what we set out to do. We succeeded in developing this in a certain way so that our intentions of two years ago have become our practice of today. This will become ever more the case. As the faculty, carried by this spirit, finds its way to its tasks, the outer practice of Waldorf teaching, our outer way of acting, will be imbued more and more by this spirit. Through the fact that our faculty makes a daily effort to learn the art of bringing what is present in the Waldorf School spirit into outer life, this spirit will become ever more a reality, more fit for outer existence; it will grow and perhaps pull others along through its growing.
The important thing is for this Waldorf School spirit to be an example for people to follow. We can do but little in comparison to what humanity needs. However, it can work as a model if you make an effort to do more and more of what has met with understanding on the part of the parents. Then it will be possible to bring the Waldorf School spirit out of the Waldorf School and into the entire life of our civilization.
This is why I am thanking all of you in this moment when you, dear teachers, must set new tasks for yourselves. I thank you because I have been present to see how you have worked on yourselves and thus taken part in the progress of the good spirit here in the Waldorf School.
In this feeling of gratitude we will continue to work together, and we will attempt to understand each other more and more, so that the body of teachers becomes a unity. A school is only something whole when it is an organism out of which a unitary spirit-soul arises. This is what we promise the parents today, these are the intentions we undertake for the future, in the hope that they will become deeds in the same way that some of our earlier intentions have become deeds.
Now that I have turned to you with these words, I would like to sum it up in a few words that may perhaps be said here, in the context of the spirit of the Waldorf School. It would of course be presumptuous to speak these words if they were intended to characterize what has happened through the Waldorf School. However, they are of significance if we speak them, not as a command or as a point we want to hammer in, but as something we say to ourselves so that the forces can become even greater, as we tried to make it happen in the two previous years. Knowing that each individual field of activity expresses in miniature what is intended to happen in the world, we say to ourselves as children, parents, and teachers trying to unite and work together so that the Waldorf School may prosper, not presumptuously, but to our own hearts — “Onward, in the true spirit of the Waldorf School ideal!”
This is the call I wanted to utter to the spirits and souls of all of you, and especially from my heart to yours, today when we are leading our students into a new school year.