Education for Adolescents
It's one of our basic assumptions today that the teen years are a time of "raging hormones and rebellion". We think of sexuality and power struggles as primary, even defining characteristics of these years. Entire teen-focused industries are built on this view, and promote and intensify it.
In Education of Adolescents, Rudolf Steiner challenges these assumptions directly. While this may at first be surprising, it opens a way to practical actions of all kinds. These observations are a definite source of hope !
This and many other lectures and books are to be found at : The Rudolf Steiner Archive
Education for Adolescents
A Lecture by Rudolf Steiner
When children come to the age of puberty, it is necessary to awaken within them an extraordinarily great interest in the world outside of themselves. Through the whole way in which they are educated, they must be led to look out into the world around them and into all its laws, its course, causes and effects, into men's intentions and goals — not only into human beings, but into everything, even into a piece of music, for instance. All this must be brought to them in such a way that it can resound on and on within them — so that questions about nature, about the cosmos and the entire world, about the human soul, questions of history — so that riddles arise in their youthful souls.
When the astral body** becomes free at puberty, forces are freed which can now be used for formulating these riddles. But when these riddles of the world and its manifestations do not arise in young souls, then these same forces are changed into something else.
When such forces become free, and it has not been possible to awaken the most intensive interest in such world-riddles, then these energies transform themselves into what they become in most young people today. They change in two directions into urges of an instinctive kind: first into delight in power, and second into eroticism.
Unfortunately pedagogy does not now consider this delight in power and the eroticism of young people to be the secondary results of changes in things that, until the age of 20 or 21, really ought to go in an altogether different direction, but considers them to be natural elements in the human organism at puberty. If young people are rightly educated, there should be no need whatsoever to speak about love of power and eroticism to them at this age. If such things have to be spoken about during these years, this is in itself something that smacks of illness. Our entire pedagogical art and science is becoming ill because again and again the highest value is attributed to these questions. A high value is put upon them for no other reason than that people are powerless today — have grown more and more powerless in the age of a materialistic world-conception — to inspire true interest in the world, the world in the widest sense ...
When we do not have enough interest in the world around us, then we are thrown back into ourselves. Taken all in all, we have to say that if we look at the chief damages created by modern civilization, they
arise primarily because people are far too concerned with themselves and do not usually spend the larger part of their leisure time in concern for the world but busy themselves with how they feel and what gives them pain. And the least favorable time of life to be self-occupied in this way is during the ages between 14, 15 and 21 years old.
The capacity for forming judgments is blossoming at this time and should be directed toward world-interrelationships in every field. The world must become so all-engrossing to young people that they simply do not turn their attention away from it long enough to be constantly occupied with themselves. For, as everyone knows, as far as subjective feelings are concerned, pain only becomes greater the more we think about it. It is not the objective damage but the pain of it that increases as we think more about it. In certain respects, the very best remedy for the overcoming of pain is to bring yourself, if you can, not to think about it. Now there develops in young people just between 15, 16 and 20, 21, something not altogether unlike pain. This adaptation to the conditions brought about through the freeing of the astral body from the physical is really a continual experience of gentle pain. And this kind of experience immediately makes us tend towards self-preoccupation, unless we are sufficiently directed away from it and toward the world outside ourselves.
If a teacher makes a mistake while teaching a 10 or 12 year old, then, as far as the mutual relationship between pupil and teacher is concerned, this does not really make such a very great difference. By this I do not mean that you should make as many mistakes as possible with children of this age . . . . .
The feeling for the teacher's authority will flag perhaps for a while, but such things will be forgotten comparatively quickly, in any case much sooner than certain injustices are forgotten at this age. On the other hand, when you stand in front of students between 14, 15 and 20, 21, you simply must not expose your latent inadequacies and so make a fool of yourself.
If a student is unable to formulate a question which he experiences inwardly, the teacher must be capable of doing this himself, so that he can bring about such a formulation in class, and he must be able to satisfy the feeling that then arises in the students when the question comes to expression. For if he does not do this, then when all that is mirrored there in the souls of these young people goes over into the world of sleep,
into the sleeping condition, a body of detrimental, poisonous substances is produced by the unformulated questions. These poisons are developed only during the night, just when poisons ought really to be broken down and transformed instead of created. Poisons are produced that burden the brains of the young people when they go to class, and gradually everything in them stagnates, becomes “stopped up.” This must and can be avoided. But it can only be avoided if the feeling is not aroused in the students: “Now again the teacher has failed to give us the right answer. He really hasn't answered us at all. We can't get a satisfying answer out of him.” Those are the latent inadequacies, the self-exposures that occur when the children
have the feeling : “The teacher just isn't up to giving us the answers we need.” And for this inability, the personal capacities and incapacities of the teacher are not the only determining factors, but rather the pedagogical method.
If we spend too much time pouring a mass of information over young people at this age, or if we teach in such a way that they never come to lift their doubts and questions into consciousness, then the teacher — even though he is the more objective party — exposes, even if indirectly, his latent in-adequacies .
You see the teacher must, in full consciousness, be permeated through and through with all this when he deals with the transition from the ninth to the tenth grades, for it is just with the entire transformation of the courses one gives that the pedagogy must concern itself. If we have children of six or seven, then the course is already set through the fact that they are entering school, and we do not need to understand any other relationship to life. But when we lead young people over from the ninth to the tenth grade, then we must put ourselves into quite another life-condition. When this happens, the children must say to themselves: “Great thunder and lightning ! What's happened to the teacher ! Up to now we've thought of him as a pretty bright light who has plenty to say, but now he's beginning to talk like more than a man. Why, the whole world speaks out of him !”
And when they feel the most intensive interest in particular world questions and are put into the fortunate position of being able to impart this to other young people, then the world speaks out of them also. Out of a mood of this kind, verve (Schwung) must arise. Verve is what teachers must bring to young people at this age, verve which above all is directed towards imagination ; for although the students are developing the capacity to make judgments, judgment is actually borne out of the powers of imagination. And if you deal with the intellect intellectually, if you are not able to deal with the intellect with a certain imagination, then you have “mis-played,” you have missed the boat with them.
Young people demand imaginative powers ; you must approach them with verve, and with verve of a kind that convinces them. Scepticism is something that you may not bring to them at this age, that is in the first half of this life-period. The most damaging judgment for the time between 14, 15 and 18 is one that implies
in a pessimistically knowledgeable way : “That is something that cannot be known.” This crushes the soul
of a child or a young person. It is more possible after 18 to pass over to what is more or less in doubt. But between 14 and 18 it is soul-crushing, soul-debilitating, to introduce them to a certain scepticism. What subject you deal with is much less important than that you do not bring this debilitating pessimism to
It is important for oneself as a teacher to exercise a certain amount of self-observation and not give in to any illusions ; for it is fatal if, just at this age, young people feel cleverer than the teacher during class, especially in secondary matters. It should be — and it can be achieved, even if not right in the first lesson — that they are so gripped by what they hear that their attention will really be diverted from all the teacher's little mannerisms. Here, too, the teacher's latent inadequacies are the most fatal.
Now if you think, my dear friends, that neglect of these matters unloads its consequences into the channels of instinctive love of power and eroticism, then you will see from the beginning how tremendously significant it is to take the education of these young people in hand in a bold and generous way. You can much more easily make mistakes with older students, let us say with those at medical school. For what you do at this earlier age works into their later life in an extraordinarily devastating way. It works destructively, for instance, upon the relationships between people. The right kind of interest in other human beings is not possible if the right sort of world-interest is not aroused in the 15 or 16 year old. If they learn only the Kant-Laplace theory of the creation of the solar system and what one learns through astronomy and astrophysics today, if they cram into their skulls only this idea of the cosmos, then in social relationships they will be just such men and women as those of our modern civilization who, out of anti-social impulses, shout about every kind of social reform but within their souls actually bring anti-social powers to expression. I have often said that the reason people make such an outcry about social matters is because men are antisocial beings.
It cannot be said often enough that in the years between 14 and 18 we must build in the most careful way upon the fundamentally basic moral relationship between pupil and teacher. And here morality is to be understood in its broadest sense : that, for instance, a teacher calls up in his soul the very deepest sense
of responsibility for his task. This moral attitude must show itself in that we do not give all too much acknowledgement to this deflection toward subjectivity and one's own personality. In such matters, imponderables really pass over from teacher to pupil. Mournful teachers, un-alterably morose teachers,
who are immensely fond of their lower selves, produce in children of just this age a faithful mirror picture,
or if they do not, kindle a terrible revolution. More important than any approved method is that we do not expose our latent inadequacies and that we approach the children with an attitude that is inwardly moral through and through .
This sickly eroticism which has grown up — also in people's minds — to such a terrible extent appears for the most part only in city dwellers, city dwellers who have become teachers and doctors. And only as urban life triumphs altogether in our civilization will these things come to such a terrible — I do not want to say “blossoming” but to such a frightful degeneracy. Naturally we must look not at appearances but at reality. It is certainly quite unnecessary to begin to organize educational homes in the country immediately. If teachers and pupils carry these same detrimental feelings out into the country and are really permeated by urban conceptions, you can call a school a country educational home as long as you like, you will still have a blossoming of city life to deal with .
What we have spoken about here today is of the utmost pedagogical importance and, in considering the high school years, should be taken into the most earnest consideration
* * A term used to designate all that is sentient in man and in animals.
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This is item GA 302a from the collected works of Rudolf Steiner. Given in Stuttgart, Germany on June 21, 1922 ; published in The Journal for Anthroposophy, Spring 1979. It is the fifth of nine lectures in the volume Education and Instruction in the collected works. The volume containing the German texts is entitled Erziehung und Unterricht Aus Menschenerkenntnis.
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