The School for Spiritual Science and Its Pedagogical Section

At the recent World Teachers’ Conference, there was an event devoted to themes on the tasks of the School for Spiritual Science, its inauguration through Rudolf Steiner, and the meaning of the Sections—the Pedagogical Section in particular. This Section, along with the General Anthroposophical Section, was led personally by Rudolf Steiner. Another theme was the pedagogical course given by Steiner one hundred years ago in the Dornach carpentry shop—the first professional training course after the destruction of the building (The Child’s Changing Consciousness, April 15–22, 1923, CW 306).

The society for anthroposophy that Rudolf Steiner tried to initiate at the beginning of the twentieth century represented a new picture of the human being. Steiner was thoroughly convinced that this new picture held profound meaning for the future of civilization—indeed, for humanity as a whole. Steiner knew this understanding of the human being was also of significance for education, and so he wrote down and published the lecture he had given in various cities in 1906 on “The Education of the Child in the Light of Spiritual Science.” When, in 1911, Steiner described the idea of a “Free School for Spiritual Science” as a “necessary consequence” of the Age of Michael—a place where new spiritual insights could be taught and learned, deepened and carried over into practical endeavors—he already had in mind the different faculties belonging to a university—among them, very likely, a pedagogical faculty. Steiner’s remarks during the laying of the Foundation Stone of the First Goetheanum in September 1913 also touched on the conditions surrounding the life and development of the human being in the age of technological materialism, and he spoke of a necessary initiative, an urgent and necessary new beginning.

In the Surroundings of the First Building

Steiner was pleased that teachers from Basel, in the immediate vicinity of the building, began to take an interest in the work of the Stuttgart Waldorf School soon after it opened. At the end of November 1919, he was invited by the Basel Department of Education to give a lecture on “Spiritual Science and Education.” It was so well received that a subsequent fourteen-day course, attended by sixty teachers, took place in April 1920 at a high school in Basel (The Renewal of Education, CW 301). This proved to be another great success—one of the teachers even wanted Steiner to take on the leadership of a Swiss teachers’ seminar.

Pedagogy also played an important role in the opening of the Goetheanum as a “Free School for Spiritual Science” through lectures of various Waldorf teachers on individual fields of study and through the pedagogical presentations of Caroline von Heydebrand, which Steiner valued highly and which soon appeared in book form. In the winter of 1920/21, the first international professional training course took place at the Goetheanum, again in the field of education. Over one hundred interested teachers traveled to the new School from Great Britain, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Germany. The course, held in both German and English, was well received, and Steiner was pleased with the whole initiative.

Millicent Mackenzie, a professor of education from Wales (Cardiff University) who had helped plan the event, ensured that Steiner gave two big, widely publicized educational courses in 1922 in Stratford-upon-Avon and at Oxford University (“Spiritual Values in Education and Social Life”). The response of the participants and the media, especially to the high-profile Oxford event at Manchester College (with over two hundred audience members, including many university professors and pedagogical seminar leaders) was overwhelmingly positive and stood in stark contrast to the defamation of Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy in the German media.1 Through the pedagogical teachers’ course, a first “faculty” of the Dornach School stepped onto the international stage in exemplary fashion—researching, teaching, and practicing in a model institution, the Stuttgart Waldorf School.

After the Fire

After the destruction of the Goetheanum, the Teachers’ Course of April 1923 was held in the carpentry shop (the “large barracks next to the empty, burnt concrete base”.) It was again the first specialized course to take place on the Dornach hill, with about thirty foreign participants and fifty parents—a total of 160 people in all. It took place in the context of efforts to found a first Waldorf school in Switzerland in connection with the “Association for Free Education and Teaching.” At this time, Rudolf Steiner was campaigning with all his might to make the building of the second Goetheanum possible—which involved struggles with the local authorities and the insurance company, and with leaders and members of the Anthroposophical Society, from whom he had expected far greater commitment, greater awareness of tasks and of the wider world, and a greater sense of responsibility and of a common purpose.2

During Holy Week, at the end of March 1923, shortly before the “Teachers’ Course at the Goetheanum,” Steiner participated in a public “artistic-pedagogical conference” at the Stuttgart Waldorf School. He was very happy with the contributions in the subsequent Stuttgart teachers’ conference, although he felt the “specifically anthroposophical element” was missing. What Steiner meant by this can perhaps be understood by looking at his own lecture activity at this time. In the second week of March 1923, he began his presentations in the carpentry shop on the human being’s relationship to the third hierarchy. On Holy Saturday, three months after the burning, he spoke for the first time about the “breathing of the earth” and the spiritual cycle of the year. On April 5, 1923, he gave the public lecture, “What Did the Goetheanum Want and What Is Anthroposophy For?” at Bern City Hall, and shortly thereafter in Basel, Zurich, Winterthur, and St. Gallen. The “Teachers’ Course” in the carpentry shop—with morning lectures and contributions from the Stuttgart faculty, working groups, eurythmy exercises, painting, etc.—was also developed further by Steiner in five lectures (on the evening before the course and on four evenings during the course) on the foundations of anthroposophical spiritual science and its method of knowledge. There, he showed what had been missing in Stuttgart and what absolutely belonged to the School for Spiritual Science as a “general anthroposophical element.”

In answer to a question at the end of the “Teachers’ Course,” Steiner also expressed his conviction that Waldorf education as “pure pedagogy” could be practiced in all countries of the world, adapted to all external conditions, and introduced “tomorrow in every school throughout the world.” The possibility of a “World School Association” was set in motion. Steiner’s vision was of a cosmopolitan, active School for Spiritual Science—an open and effective institution whose activity would reach far beyond anthroposophical circles, to all members of society, regardless of worldview and religion, economic and social status, ethnicity and nationality.

The Meaning of the Human Being and of Humanness

Ita Wegman, who took part in and was inspired by the “Teachers’ Course” in April 1923, spoke afterward in her letters about the necessity of a new building. At the end of 1923, with Wegman’s active support, Steiner refounded the Anthroposophical Society and School for Spiritual Science. “The Anthroposophical Society considers the School for Spiritual Science in Dornach as a center of its activity. . . .” The School, the new Society, and the future building were to become places of hope, light, empowerment, and trust in the future, in the Pentecostal sense: in the experience of the true community of the spirit—places for education and training, for the meaning of the human being and of humanness, places for a new Society in the sense described by Gustav Landauer.3

Translation Clifford Venho
Image View from the school garden of the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart 1923/24

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  1. See: Pädagogische Sektion.
  2. See Peter Selg, Die Weltgesellschaft und ihre Hochschule (Dornach, 2023).
  3. Lecture on Gustav Landauer by Peter Selg and Constanza Kaliks.

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