Courage “unliked”

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, November 2015

On 30 June 2015 Germany’s 14-year-olds watched an average of 201 minutes of television that day, almost three-and-a-half hours. The annual average in 2014 for 15-year-olds is even higher at 291 minutes, that is almost five hours. And yes, adolescents spend even more time in front of other types of screen. But this is not about television. It is about courage.

To see why this is so, take a look at today’s TV schedule: Alongside violence and comedy there are “scripted reality” series, emotional kitsch, talk shows with “authentic” people and destinies interspersed with images of the most beautiful beaches of the rich and beautiful, jungle camps and some deadly serious reportages which courageously uncover what others want to keep hidden. 

Readers might remember the booklet The Papalagi which held the mirror of the observations of the fictional chief Tuiavii from the South Pacific up to the civilised world of the twentieth century. At the time it was about shoes, traffic lights and money. What would the chief see today? People who constantly “like” one another and even more constantly want to be “liked”? People who no longer believe in truth but in the most “likes” in order to “like” them in return? People who are fed surrogate feelings by a gigantic entertainment industry and confuse “action” with their own volition? Who are constantly disgusted, declare their solidarity or express their “feelings” in some other way online only then to move on to the next event a moment later? Who have turned pubescence into a lifestyle?

Do we want that for our children? Or do we want them to grow into adults? Growing up requires courage – courage to think for ourselves, make mistakes and learn from them. Growing up means becoming enthusiastic about ideas and then implementing them. Growing up means facing up to the fear of failure, defending our standpoint even if it is not always popular – and letting go of it when it is no longer relevant. Growing up means taking responsibility for our own feelings, thoughts and actions.

All of these things are core parts of a system of education which wants human beings to obtain maturity. Only people can grow up into adults who as children have thoroughly learnt to develop organs of perception for the world and all their fellow creatures. To this end children first have to grasp, understand and experience the world with their whole body and feel themselves to be the actors as they learn.

These experiences become differentiated when children practice to understand with their heart, to have feelings not just about themselves but about other people and other things. We call that emotional intelligence and it requires images, community and trust. On such a sounding board a type of thinking can grow which has the courage to find its own way to the truth, in short: to become individual.

To this end children require people who have the courage to be adult. They need schools which give them the time and space to explore their will, feelings and thinking so that they can rely on them later on. Freedom can only arise in freedom.

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984–2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – The Hague Circle.


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