waldolf education

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


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.

Reverence Not Testing The Waldorf Way

Inner experiences is the only key to the beauties of the outer world.
— Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds

Reverence is the path to knowing a child’s needs.

Every morning, I choose a book to read. Sometimes it is a few lines and others a chapter. The last several mornings I have been reading How to Know Higher Worlds by Rudolf Steiner. A meditative path charted by Rudolf Steiner, translated by SteinerBooks.

I find that being a lifelong student, we can discover new ways to our inner life, our inner knowing that can only be seen when our biography is ready for it. I am a student of the natural world which at its root is reverence.

The beginning of any connection in nature begins with reverence for a natural space. It is this practice of reverence that pulls back the doubt and allows you to seek a connection to the universe. A connection that will lead to surrendering beyond the noise of the outer world, and into an abundant inner life, a path that leads to your original knowing.

In education, we have people trying to improve education by measurement, testing, and analysis. The flaw with this method is that it does not involve reverence. The process of observing a classroom, a child, a family, a teacher, and ourselves must be an exercise in reverence to be pure observation. We must be able to observe without judgment and assess without fault if we want to improve the education years for children, their parents, and our communities.

Reverence with our own thoughts is the way to begin.

This consists in our learning to surrender ourselves less and less to the impressions of the outer world and develop instead an active inner life
— Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds

What does that mean for education and the work of our schools, parents, and teachers? When we revere something or someone we want to take care of it, nurture it, and help it grow. The beauty of the principle that underlies a Waldorf education is based in reverence or admiration for human development.

The preparation for teaching in a revered sense requires devotion to a practice that deepens the experience for both the teacher and their class. It is a practice rooted in the understanding of human development and how we teach and guide effects the development of the children in our classrooms.

A recent study by the nonprofit advocacy and consulting group TNTP concluded “ “Students spend most of their time in school without access to four key resources: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers who hold high expectations,” the report says.

As teachers of children, we have the unique opportunity to observe children. We are able to surrender ourselves to the experiences in front of us by being open to what we can learn from them about what they need versus what they need to learn from us. We can observe without judgment, and watch in awe as the answers unfold in front of us.

Teachers need resources to create lessons based on developmental stages, and those resources need to penetrate deep into the curiosity and wonder of the children in their classes. This does not stop in early childhood, it is the foundation of all teaching and learning. Profound, engaging teaching and learning ignite a love of learning.

Teachers in today's classrooms need resources that spark interest in them and their students. The standardized curriculum that supports testing will never create that type of excitement and yearning.

Do you need resources to learn to teach in this experiential way? If you are new to the idea of teaching in an evolving curriculum that mirrors your student's needs, the following books will help you understand the real beauty and strength of this type of education.

Teacher Development Resources

Towards Creative Teaching, Notes to an Evolving Curriculum for Steiner Waldorf Class Teachers

Writing to Reading the Steiner Waldorf Way, Foundations of Creative Literacy

Teaching Resources

Science Through Stories

History Through Stories

A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme

Autumn: A Collection of Poems, Songs, and Stories for Young Children

Creative Form Drawing with Children Aged 6-10 Years

Special Education Resources

The Extra Lesson

Autism: Meet Me Who I Am

Need more resources? Visit our online bookstore at SteinerBooks.org or contact Kathy@steinerbooks.org.