The global main lesson

August 2013

For some years now, the science and humanities teachers at the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School in Stuttgart have jointly given a three-week globalisation main lesson in class 12. Interviewed by Erziehungskunst, Christoph Kühl and Elisabeth von Kügelgen report about these hitherto unique lessons on an equal footing.

© Charlotte Fischer

Erziehungskunst | The question is: how can we manage to create an awareness of globalisation? Often the consumer stands in the shop and buys something but has no awareness of how the strawberries got there in the first place. 

Christoph Kühl | That was one of the reasons why we set up the globalisation main lesson. The historians discussed how the phenomenon of the global economy could be introduced into lessons and the scientists how it could be done so that pupils obtain an awareness of the earth as a single organism.

EK | Was this collaboration intended from the beginning?

Elisabeth von Kügelgen | Not necessarily. When I set out the subject in the upper school meeting from a historical perspective, the scientists chipped in and said it was too one-sided. The question of raw materials etc., the earth as an organism also had to be included. As a consequence we prepared a main lesson on the basis of a threefold structure with two subject teachers which was held for the first time in 2004/05.

EK | In what respect is the threefold structure the basis of globalisation?

CHK | The scientists at a Waldorf school always looks at the earth as a whole. When we look at the raw materials and climatic conditions, we see that the earth in an organism. That directly raises the idea of the threefold structure: where can we find the metabolic pole? Where is there a rhythmical balance, etc. Every living organism is subject to a threefold structure. Then it also becomes clear why there is a threefold structure to the major WTO (World Trade Organisation) agreements: GATT, GATS und TRIPS – i.e. the trade in products, services and intellectual property (patents). The idea of a threefold structure is present at all levels: it starts with a simple plant and ends with the earth as a whole.

EK | How is the globalisation main lesson structured?

EvK | We found the best way was to deal with the subject from a historical perspective in the first week and to provide basic information about world trade, the WTO, economic liberalism and deregulation. It becomes clear how the classic industrialised nations of the northern hemisphere dominate world trade; approximately 500 major corporations are involved in 70% of world trade and ensure that the capital accumulates with them while the rest of the world works to provide the raw materials. Our wealth, our high standard of living results from the work and poverty of others in the world. The social question is not therefore just about social welfare at home but it is a global issue.

CHK | We might, for example, start with the question: where do our jeans come from, or we look at the connection between work and income, at communal water supplies – and progress to the global context from there.

EvK | I always have a board of newspaper clippings which I refer to at the start or end of the lesson. Many pupils do not start reading a newspaper until this main lesson. They are then very surprised that basically there is something on this topic every day.

CHK | The focus of the second week is determined by the sciences. We mostly discuss water or the climate. Other key subjects are agriculture, the soil, issues of genetic engineering. There is a wealth of topics so that our main task really consists of setting some limits.

EvK | Then, in the third week, it gets really interesting. There we determine after each main lesson who will teach on the following day. What do we still want to cover, what do we want to pick up on, what deepen? The focus is on dialogue. The pupils love it when we sit among them while the other is teaching and interject, ask questions. They pupils really appreciate it when we discuss the problems and tasks with them as equals. And for once we are not talking about the past but the future.

CHK | It is quite normal that if I am at the front teaching Ms von Kügelgen will interject and make a contribution, and vice versa. It might also happen that we swap places and the person who is sitting with the pupils will take over the lesson. Also in the third week, we try to find positive examples of globalisation. Because there is a danger that we focus only on the problems and do not succeed in seeing the positive aspects of globalisation.

EK | What would positive examples of globalisation be?

CHK | The positive examples are always connected with individual people. Be it someone like Abouleish in Sekem or Patrick Hohmann, who farms organic cotton in India and Tanzania, it is individual people who bring about change. And when the pupils see that woman in micro-projects are given the money because they handle it responsibly, we gain an insight into the structures which otherwise remain closed to us. That makes a great impression on the pupils. Also that new social and cultural communities always arise through such initiatives.

EK | Can the pupils transfer that to their own behaviour? Do they see that they can change something as individuals if they want to?

EvK | Increasing numbers of pupils are interested in various projects and do a year of social service or go to Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières). I also know that this main lesson helped some pupils decide what they wanted to study. One is studying post-colonial structures in London, for example, another has just spent some months in India in connection with his course in Vienna.

CHK | Parents report that their children draw their attention to a lot of things. They then begin to notice that globalisation starts as soon as the shopping. Because consumers perform a crucial function – even if the experts argue about whether such an awareness among consumers is sufficient to change the world. But it is an important side of globalisation. And that is the feedback we get at the parents’ evenings. Even to the extent that children complain about excessive water consumption, turn the tap off which their mother has on and say: you can’t do that anymore. We cannot of course say precisely whether that is sustainable or not. But we have to start somewhere. It is a step forward when the pupils see that sustainability and an awareness of resources is something that belongs to the future and not the past.

EvK | The pupils learn to understand that all these things are connected with them. They might already have heard quite a lot about it, but now they often say: now we really understand what it is about, how these things are connected. It is a main lesson in which the pupils get some real insights. Otherwise many things just remain at an emotional level. They can say: I have really understood how all these complex events relate to what I do. And they also become aware that everything is not just terrible and impenetrable.

EK | The globalisation main lesson is restricted to three weeks in class 12. Are there no other opportunities to introduce pupils to social responsibility?

EvK | Two years ago, when in class 10 we were looking at ancient civilisations and the transition from a nomadic to a settled culture and the introduction of farming, I started to point out that today we are at the point where that cycle, which has applied for millennia, is coming to an end. And then we looked at what is happening today with genetic engineering. And that was received exceptionally well.

CHK | I think we have to find a way, when we come to the present day in economics in class 8 and class 9, for example, to prepare the images which we can then refer back to in class 12. That is a task which still lies ahead of us. The question of money, for example, which has become one of the great challenges of our time. But that requires preparation and a basic knowledge which we first have to acquire as teachers. It remains an open question as to whether or not we can realise this whole subject area in upper school. It has occurred to me that the basic theme for the whole of class 12 could be globalisation, because every main lesson is related in some way.

EvK | It is no doubt worthwhile and necessary to look at each main lesson in detail and see how we can develop an even strong awareness how the main lessons build on one another and prepare things which complement one another. Because many subjects have already been addressed which can be picked up again in class 12.

EK | How do I create the basis for a life-long feeling for justice, responsibility, balance?

CHK | This is where we get into questions of morality. This is difficult. We have to watch that we don’t start preaching. I have to know that as a teacher I am just as much involved in these moral questions. I give the main lesson, get into my car and drive away. And I’m not wearing completely ecological clothing. In this way we can see that everything is connected. The pupils have an instinctive feeling for what the teacher is doing up at the front there. And a moral issue can really only be effective if the pupils can see that the teacher is morally aware – and no one is perfect in that respect. But we can, for example, explain why we buy organic food. I’m less concerned with  my own health than with looking after the landscape and preserving the fertility of the soil.

EvK | The main lesson made me change a whole lot of things. I changed the way I shop, my bank, my electricity provider. I changed almost everything. I noticed that I could not look my pupils in the eye if I failed to do that. Another angle is to develop a feeling for the greater context, to notice that health means balance and that every person has their own particular balance. That also applies in the social sphere, in agriculture, trade, to the earth as an organism. What needs to happen so that there is a healthy equilibrium here? Balance.

In this connection I ask the pupils: why did God make the earth so unjust? Some have nothing, others everything, some have desert, others lush vegetation, and still others have oil. Everything is organised in such an unequal manner so that people learn to share and to perceive each other and the earth. Because if people do not do that, they destroy the basis of their existence. An impaired equilibrium means illness. And that, alongside the threefold structure, is one of the main goals of the main lesson. This connection has to be set out so it can be experienced. Then I don’t need to moralise. The goal of this main lesson is not to acquire material as in other main lessons. The important thing here is that the pupils look at the world with a different consciousness at the end of the main lesson.

EK | What ideals inspire pupils today to change the world?

EvK | In recent years there has undoubtedly been a certain shutting out of the problems of the world, of individual responsibility for the world. There is a sense of entitlement, egoism – which is quite taken for granted. The social conscience which previously had only to be nudged to start bubbling up and wanting to change things is decreasing. Not maliciously, it is simply the abundant prosperity in which our children are growing up. But then there are always individuals to whom that does not apply at all. I had pupils who went to teach in Africa for a year, did incredible things. Impressive. But those are individual people. That is why the globalisation main lesson is so important for us.

Ariane Eichenberg and Mathias Maurer asked the questions