An Introduction to the 4th Gr. Man & Animal Block

Here is a rough version of the introduction to our latest publication. The book will be available in early January. [Edit: now available!]

Having thought about the usual title for this main lesson, we decided to modernize it and call it The Human Being and the Animal World in recognition of the fact that although Mensch in German is generally understood to be inclusive of both genders, Man in English is less straightforward. The words the Human Being also form a more graceful and expressive title, illustrating something of the “being” of humanness.

At any rate, this main lesson is one of the “classic Waldorf” main lessons, found in all Waldorf fourth grades around the world. In a nutshell, it is obviously about the relationship between the human being and the animal world. Sounds clear enough – but when one scratches a bit below the surface, one finds that the Man & Animal block in Waldorf Schools is probably the most esoteric of all the main lessons in all twelve grades!

The key idea is that the human being is not a composite of the animal world, not a pinnacle on a hierarchical evolutionary ladder. Instead, the animals are seen as parts of the human being, with the human being as their starting point, or the central principle. In Egyptian mythology we can find a picture of this in Osiris being cut up and distributed all over the Earth –

Isis

then must gather the pieces together again to make him whole.

In terms of evolution, we know that as species progress up the evolutionary ladder, that they become more specialized – yet here is the human being, the least specialized of all! This is an important point to get across to the fourth grader (leaving out everything about modern ideas on evolutionary science which comes much later in their school career): that the animals are specialized, one-sided even, whereas the human being is not. However, the human being has something that the animals do not possess – the spark of the Divine.

An additional element to take into account is the threefold nature of the human being and how one can see the different animals who have a clear relationship to this. The threefold human being is revealed in the realms of thinking, feeling and willing. Thinking lives mainly in our head via our nervous system; the mouse is a good picture of this. Feeling lives mainly in the rhythms of our circulatory andbreathing systems; the lion can represent this realm. Our willing or action impulse centers most obviously in the doing-power of our limbs but anthroposophical research tells us that there is an intimate link between the digestive and limb systems: the cow is a beautiful embodiment of the metabolic-limb system.

Some Waldorf teachers prefer to use the mouse to illustrate the senses and then use other “head-shaped” or “head-dominant” creatures such as octopus or jellyfish as an illustration of the head-principle in the human being. With these creatures, one also sees a polarity between hard and soft. The human head is hard, but within lies the soft and delicate brain.

However, the senses, important as they are, are not thoughts and do not correlate with thinking per se. Sense impressions are a way to know the material world – we need thinking, however, to comprehend what lives in ideas and ideals. Thus I suggest that one consider using birds to illustrate thinking itself. Birds are creatures of the air – they fly, flutter, soar, flit – as can thoughts.

One can gain further insight into these animal-human connections when one considers the image of the sphinx and of the Four Creatures of the Gospels. The sphinx, wisest of all creatures, had the forebody of a lion, the hind quarters of a bull, the wings of an eagle and the head of a human being. The symbols of the Gospels are th bull (Luke), the lion (Mark), the eagle (John) and the human being or angel (Matthew). Lastly, one can think on the Greek saying that “man is the measure of all things.”

These ideas run through the two main lesson blocks you will find in this volume. Depending on your relationship to anthroposophy and how deeply this all speaks to you, you can determine how exactly to bring this content to your child. We have divided the main lessons into Block I, which is focused on the threefold nature of the human being and the direct correspondences with the animals; and Block II, which is more like a conventional zoology block. However, one doesn’t want to lose the connection between the animals and the human being in this latter block . The relationship between human beings and animals continues to be a theme as one explores the various groupings of animals. Parents are further encouraged to keep the connection between animals and their environments to the fore as well, seeing animals as intimately tied up both with the other creatures in their locale as well as with the plants and terrain.

I then give a number of suggestions for further parent preparation, including a number of quotes. Here is one:

The animals are one-sided, but in their one-sidedness reach a higher perfection than the human being. This must be studied in every detail. Man is many sided. He must learn. The animal need not learn. They know already because they have this perfect organization. The human being has imperfect organs and must train them and later on her can rule over them, said Goethe. Man is universal and imprints onto his life-organism what he makes out of himself. In this Man is different from the animal world. When we look at the various animals, we must always ask: which part of the human organism has this animal developed? Studying this, we find the key for an understanding of the particular animal species. Man and animals explain each other. 

                                            Eugen Kolisko, biodynamic scientist and researcher

Further, I also strongly encourage parents to prepare by reading a number of articles on the Nature Institute website. When I taught 10th grade zoology, I had my students read these articles, helping them to be open to an undogmatic and non mechanistic view of science and of life. Our conv
ersations were enormously rewarding as Craig Holdrege’s work is so clear and so gently obvious in what it sets out to accomplish. Although, of course, these article go into way more detail that you would present to a fourth grader, they will help you understand the Goethean and phenomenological approach to the animal world that “should” run through your main lessons. Here you can see how to present an animal as a whole, not as a series of parts, a living being which is an expression both of its own relationship to the natural world, and as part of a larger ecological picture. The articles are:

What Forms an Animal?

How Does a Mole View the World

The Giraffe in its World

Posted on December 1, 2008 in Waldorf Curriculum

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