Class trip with media fasting

By Hans-Wolfgang Roth, December 2019

For the past fourteen years, Hans-Wolfgang Roth from the Stade Free Waldorf School has undertaken an at least three-week long art trip with class 12. Over the years, there have been a lot of changes, both in the itinerary for the trip and in the behaviour and every-day habits of the pupils. One of the greatest changes concerns the use of media, particularly the communication media. They disrupt the “vision search with creative means”, so they are done without.

The art trip of our school has increasingly developed into an individual vision search with creative means. As a result the pupils have developed a high degree of sensitivity towards “external interference” over the years.

The reason to take the step to media abstinence was the experience that the link home or entertainment habits considerably disrupted this process and made the intensive inner examination of ourselves more difficult. So we started with the experiment five years ago to make media abstinence the prerequisite for this project. The parents gave their full support. This created the basis which in the following years became an exceptional experience as a result of which – this was my impression – our school meets its responsibility.

Our eighteen-year-olds have grown up with smartphones. These devices have become an indispensable part of their every-day life, they lie at the heart, as it were, of their social and also inner development. Group connections, togetherness, peer groups with the exchange of selfies, and self-image are enabled by this form of communication independently of getting together physically and serve their self-discovery in this phase of puberty. They of course want to retain something that has become habitual and part of their view of life and the thought of doing without these things causes irritation – but also curiosity as to what happens when these possibilities are no longer available on the trip. This, incidentally, is also where the concept of art can make a start which is located where habits are fractured to open ourselves up to new experiences and develop creative solutions.

The consistently positive experiences with media abstinence are passed on from one class to the next at special Greece evenings to which the parents and pupils of following classes are invited, and at which media abstinence is mentioned as a highlight because the pupils have experienced the effect themselves and can report about it.

With regard to the abstinence requirement, I consider it important that enough should be made to happen for the pupils, and that there are sufficient sensory experiences arising from activities during the trip which are connected with the sacred site or an issue we have discussed, that something is set inwardly in motion. Take Mycenae, where with the visit to the tholos tomb we discussed questions related to death which we brought to experience through a small action in which every pupil was individually carried into the tomb and left alone there for a while. Another helpful element of the visit is each pupil’s planned art project – encompassing traditional artistic methods through land art, performances and installations to social processes – all supported with individual discussions. But the basic prerequisite is to have “time for oneself”.

Three plenary events a day are intended to take account of the social and individual creative sphere. The morning discussion in particular is designed to bring out an atmosphere that gets to the heart of the matter. Thus one pupil said: “Without new questions and answers we remain where we are. We remain but we do not develop further. But we don’t remain but regress.” We could also say that this regular and scheduled discussion creates a different kind of daily routine which is based on the individual experiences of each individual person, thus creating the environment for a community in development which keeps watch over itself and its concerns.

Letting go and coming to oneself

The pupils keep speaking about the following experience resulting from media abstinence: “It was the first time in my life that I really had time for myself and as a result could experience something new with myself. Out of habit I would have reached for my media device; but the lack of it meant I was able to connect with myself for the first time.” – “I had time to do things with my class and paid attention to fellow pupils for whom I had not taken the time previously. I experienced a new feeling of community in the class because through the newly available time it wanted to do something together, exchange ideas and also put them into practice.” – “What luck that I had an occasion to live without a connection home; because the familiar news, voices and music would have connected me directly with the old world again and taken me back to the old role.”

It has to be said in this respect that letting go of the media world and the familiar everyday world and then the return to them is consciously organised during this trip. Over fifty-five hours on the train, bus and boat support the letting go and return process. Arrived at the destination, all entertainment and communication media are collected and symbolically put away in a cardboard box which is taped up with sticky tape and they are not returned until the end in a joint process which is just as exciting. Because how do we encounter the old world once again which receives us with thousands of messages? Does the opening of the box on the last evening mean the immediate end of a communal experience and an individual process of self-discovery? Should the media be returned perhaps in the course of the journey back in order to have a last joint evening of leave-taking?

What remains?

Lastly, the question remains if such media abstinence has any lasting effect – apart from the special experience about oneself which is still spoken about years later. What effect on the subsequent use of media did the experience of three weeks of abstinence have? I asked this question of all the grades which went through this experience. As was to be expected, the following trend was evident: in today’s world of work and everyday life it is no longer possible to do without media, particularly as regards communication, but in the holidays the memory returns of this special time “without”. Here some of those in work, study or training are moved to leave their all-round device largely switched off.

“Anyone who has at one time managed for three weeks without a mobile phone and media exposure knows to appreciate this a great deal, at least that’s what I feel. If we had all had a mobile or other device with us at the time we would never have grown so close as a class and would never have understood the other person in the way we did. We learnt a great deal from our fellow pupils with whom we could communicated on a whole new level.”

“A facade crumbled which enabled us to become closer than ever before. We had longer conversations, played card games and sang, since no other music was available. I think that there was a kind of opening up at an unconscious level and we were able to encounter one another together as a result in the here and now. It became fascinating when the mobiles were handed back to us at the end. I felt that something changed abruptly. The isolation immediately returned; the feeling that ever person is caught in their own little world when they look at their display. Abruptly we were connected with home again and abruptly the intensive group feeling from before dissipated ... I’m sure that the value of this experience has etched itself into my memory. I am an absolute supporter of having times of media abstinence and do so myself every so often when I’m on holiday.”

“I was able to concentrate better on the art and my project since my thoughts were not distracted by my device. … I would like to repeat the media abstinence; I’ll probably manage it best on my planned trips because my day will be less organised than every day at work.”

“In these three weeks we coalesced incredibly strongly as a class community. Each one of us was so immersed in their world, focused on themselves and their individual art project, that we lost track of what was going on in the world at the time and it wasn’t important for us in that moment either. It was only at the end that I personally noticed how quickly the time had passed and that a lot of things had happened in the world; for me it felt as if time stood still in these three weeks. … Having had this experience, it is easier for me today to take a step back from my mobile and the social media on occasion in the knowledge of the good it does me to step back from everything. … In these times without any media I keep noticing how dependent each person, including myself, actually is on their mobile and the social media, how they influence our everyday lives, are time consuming and shape us personally, something which each time frightens me. Doing without my mobile and the media gives me a feeling of independence, self-determination and freedom; that allows me time for myself and gives me a sense of the really important things in life.”

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