Where education is concerned, people claim straightaway to know how to educate

I would merely like to say that when one speaks on educational questions at the present day one finds oneself in a peculiar situation. For if one sees much that needs reforming in education, it is as much as to say that one is not satisfied with one’s own education. One implies that one’s own education has been exceedingly bad. And yet, as a product of this very bad education, of this education in which one finds so much to criticise — for other-wise why be a reformer? — one sets up to know the right way to educate! This is the first thing that involves a contradiction. The second thing is one which gives one a slight feeling of shame in face of the audience when speaking on education, — for one realises that one is speaking of what education ought to be and how it must be different from present day practice. So that it amounts to saying: you are all badly educated. And yet one is appealing to those who are badly educated to bring about a better education. One assumes that both the speaker and the audience know very well what good education should be in spite of the fact that they have been exceedingly badly educated.

Now this is a contradiction, but it is one which life itself presents us, and it can really only be solved by the view of education which is here being described. For one can perfectly well know what is the matter with education and in what respects it should be improved, just as one can know that a picture is well painted without possessing the faintest capacity for painting a picture oneself. You can consider yourself capable of appreciating the merits of a picture by Raphael without thinking yourself capable of painting a Raphael picture. In fact it would be a good thing today if people would think like this. But they are not content with merely knowing, where education is concerned, they claim straightaway to know how to educate; as though someone who is no painter and could not possibly become a painter, should set up to show how a badly painted picture should be painted well.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 305 – Spiritual Ground of Education: Lecture IV: Body Viewed from the Spirit – Oxford, 19th August 1922

Translated by Daphne Harwood

Previously posted on July 15, 2015