Education and the Moral Life

Today we have anthropology and we have psychology.

Anthropology’s main concern is the abstract observation of the

physical aspect of the human being, while that of psychology

is the abstract observation of the human soul and spirit as

entities separate from the physical body. What is missing is the

anthroposophical perspective, which observes the human

being—body, soul, and spirit—as a unity; a point of view that

shows everywhere how and where spirit is flowing into matter,

sending its forces into material counterparts.

- Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy Part 2


Education and the Moral Life

Rudolf Steiner

STUTTGART — MARCH 26, 1923

Everyone involved to any degree at all in social life will certainly feel that the moral aspect is one of the most important aspects in the entire field of education. At the same time, one realizes that it is precisely this aspect that is the most subtle and difficult one to handle, for it relates to the most intimate area of education.

I have already emphasized that educational practice needs to be built on real knowledge of, and insight into, the human being. The comprehension, perception and observation that I tried to characterize last night will give the knowledge necessary to train the child’s cognitional capacities. Practically speaking, knowledge of the human being, supported by the science of the spirit, will enable one to reach, more or less easily, the child’s powers of cognition. One will be able to find one’s way to the child. If, on the other hand, one wishes to appeal to a child’s artistic receptivity as described yesterday, which is equally important, it is necessary to find a way to each child individually, to have a sense for the way various children express themselves from an artistic comprehension of the world. When it comes to moral education, all of one’s skill for sensitive observation and all of one’s intimate psychological interest must be kept in mind, so that all the teacher’s knowledge of the human being and of nature can be put at the service of what each child brings forth individually. To reach children in a moral way, the only choice is to approach each child on an individual basis. However, with regard to moral education, yet another difficulty has to be overcome—that is, an individual’s sense of morality can only be appealed to through full inner freedom and with full inner cooperation.

This requires that educators approach moral teaching so that, when later in life the students have passed the age of formal education, they can feel free as individuals in every respect. What teachers must never do is to pass on to developing students the relics of their own brand of morality or anything derived from personal sympathies or antipathies in the moral realm. We must not be tempted to give our own ethical codes to young people as they make their way into life, since these will leave them unfree when it becomes necessary that they find their own moral impulses. We must respect and acknowledge the young person’s complete inner freedom, particularly in the realm of moral education. Such respect and tolerance truly demand a great deal of selflessness from educators, and a renunciation of any self-interest. Nor is there, as is the case in all other subject matters, the opportunity of treating morality as a subject in its own right; as such, it would be very unfruitful. The moral element must be allowed to pervade all of one’s teaching.