|"Elements" and "atoms" are two basic ways of describing
the nature of matter through human history. The concept of "elements" developed
out of and reflects primarily the "touch"-will experience of man, while
the concept of "atoms" primarily reflects the "sight"-thought experience
The "elements" of nature in the traditional
sense "are" what since long ago in history (at least 2,300 years ago, since
Greek Antiquity) were called "earth", "water", "air" and "fire".
These four terms were used to describe the basic
components of the world as it was experienced, for a very long time, as
something that "lived" between the basic touch experiences of degrees of
warmth and humidity. While the touch qualities were described as "secondary"
qualities, the elements were described as "primary" qualities of nature.
For a further discussion of the four elements,
see an article on the concept of "Science"
from a Philosophy of Science perspective.
A more "atoms"-oriented understanding and
perspective on substances has developed only over the last 200 years, leading
to the development and use of the term "chemical elements"
to describe the basic elemental substances from the perspective of the
number of protons in the core or nucleus of their atoms.
"Elements" and "atoms" constitute the two basic
perspectives of substances, the first more reflecting the dynamic aspects
of matter, the second more reflecting possible static aspects of matter.
Waldorf schools through the grades try to mediate
an understanding of the development of humanity. In the lower grades the
teacher builds an understanding of the "elements of nature", the basic
dynamic aspects of matter, corresponding to an historically earlier perspective
on human beings and nature. The Greeks are a major emphasis of Grade 5,
and the Four Elements of the Greek philosophers would be taught at this
In the upper grades, in chemistry, the idea of
elements is developed gradually from Grades 7 through 12 into an ever more
differentiated understanding of the nature of substances. This development
is done first from a chemical perspective, out of basic chemical processes,
and leads finally to an understanding of the character of the different
groups of chemical elements as they are reflected in the Periodic Table
of chemical elements in Grade 11.
To understand matter in a deeper sense and the
different ways it has been approached in history, philosophy and
science, you need both perspectives. Waldorf education tries to build an
understanding for both in a systematic way.
2004-2006: Robert Mays and Sune Nordwall