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Letter to my colleagues

Visits: 78

Dear Colleague,

perhaps we already know each other, perhaps not[1].

I am an elementary school teacher, I have devoted more than forty years to the anthroposophical cause and the pedagogy derived from it, and I have been training in pedagogy for almost thirty years. It is my fervent wish to make available to every colleague what I have been able to develop over so many years of research and experience, so I am turning to you to tell you something of the results of my work and, should you need it, to offer you (free of charge) my help and cooperation. So here are some thoughts that I have developed over the last 30 years:

Why should Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy rightly be called ‘intuitive’?

In his seminal paper The Philosophy of Freedom, Steiner describes moral intuition as the highest moral step to which Man can rise:

“On closer reflection it is immediately shown how at this step of morality impulse and motive coincide, how, that is, neither a predetermined characterological disposition nor an outward moral principle accepted as the norm influences our action. In such a case, the action is not performed schematically according to any rule, nor is it such that man performs it automatically through an external impulse, but is absolutely determined through its ideal content.

Such action presupposes the faculty of moral intuition. Whoever lacks the faculty of experiencing for the individual case the particular moral maxim will never be able to arrive at the true individual will either.”

(Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter IX, paras. 24 and 25. Translation by Fabio Alessandri)

Whoever takes these words seriously feels the need to gradually cease to be a mere executor of prescriptions from outside, in order to become himself and “arrive at the true individual will”. Only by listening to this need can one place the idea of moral intuition as the basis of one’s pedagogical actions and hope to become a faithful interpreter of Rudolf Steiner’s thought. Anyone who starts from such a premise understands how it conforms to Steiner’s thought to speak of ‘intuitive pedagogy’.

What should an education that promotes the capacity for intuition look like?

“Consider the What, but even more so the How!” (J.W. Goethe)

Once the idea of moral intuition has been conceived, the question arises of how to promote it in oneself and in others. Training courses should first of all clarify the meaning of an intuitive pedagogy and, together with the reasoned study of The Philosophy of Freedom, propose exercises aimed at laying the foundations of intuition. This is necessary – today more than ever – in order to escape the risk of pursuing the pedagogy of ‘This is how it is done’, which prescribes to teachers what they must do and which, while claiming to be inspired by Steiner, radically contradicts his teaching.

A fundamental indication given by Steiner with regard to the path of self-education, which can be considered very important in a path aimed at developing the capacity for intuition, is the following: ‘Learn to distinguish the essential from the non-essential’. This indication can be found in the book How do you gain knowledge of the higher worlds? in the chapter Inner Calmness and is aimed at developing the ability to “let one’s own joys, sorrows, experiences, actions flow before one’s soul” by placing oneself before them as if facing a stranger. Those who gradually manage to look at themselves from the outside with the same detachment with which they look at others gain the ability to enter into a truer relationship with the world, thus learning to distinguish the essential from the non-essential. Clearly, gaining the ability to distinguish the essential from the non-essential is of fundamental importance for a teacher, but in addition to looking at one’s own past experiences, it is also possible to foster this ability by turning one’s attention to the world. We can place ourselves in front of any object of observation and develop exact and logically linked thoughts, as suggested by the first of the six complementary exercises Steiner discusses in How does one attain knowledge of the higher worlds? and which is referred to as ‘control of thoughts’.

Let us take the form above as an example and try to describe it precisely in all its parts. To do this, we will have to find the appropriate concepts for the form we perceive. We will thus learn the difference between perceiving and thinking and by practising in this way we will gradually develop the ability to distinguish the essential from the non-essential when observing the world, rather than when observing ourselves.

The finding of the concept related to a perception constitutes a cognitive intuition (see The Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter V, Section 25) from which what we commonly call ‘knowledge’ is born. This can be pursued by taking into account the entire sensory spectrum, i.e. by exercising observation in the various perceptual domains, in addition to the visual one. To this end, it will be useful to take into account Steiner’s indications regarding the twelve senses (life, movement, touch, balance, warmth, taste, smell, sight, hearing, language, thought, other’s self) and imaginatively find out how to exercise our capacity for thinking observation in the different perceptual spheres. Whatever phenomena in the world we observe, whatever sense we use, we can ask ourselves what simple elements we can discern in what we observe. Just as in music we have to deal with sounds and their characteristics (timbre, pitch, intensity, duration), so for every field of perception we can ask ourselves what simple elements we are dealing with and what characteristics they have.

Let us take the sense of balance as an example. I can ask myself how to explore it independently, to discover which simple elements I am dealing with. By experimenting, observing and thinking for myself, I can discover various things on my own, which a more experienced person than me could point out to me, saving me the trouble of discovering them on my own. It is not a matter of disregarding the experience of others, believing that one can discover everything by oneself, but of realising that by developing one’s own thinking observation and autonomy of judgement, one better appreciates the contributions of others and develops a spirit of initiative and exact imagination, which are indispensable gifts for a good teacher. Of course, it takes much more time to proceed in this way than it does to perform an exercise given by an instructor, but the strengths that are developed in this way are those that will later enable one to identify the essential elements of any question and predispose one to intuition.

In short: practising observing the world by thinking, looking for the concepts that correspond to the phenomena observed, develops in us the capacity to have cognitive intuitions and prepares us to have moral intuitions, those that should ideally guide the pedagogical actions of a teacher who wants to be seriously inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s thought.

In the hope of having succeeded in stimulating your reflection, I send you my warmest regards

Fabio Alessandri

[1] You can find my biographical notes at this link:

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