In planning the geography lessons for classes 7 and 8 two main aspects may be distinguished, which can be encapsulated in the concepts of “self” and “world”.
On the one hand, the students increasingly direct their attention towards the world at large – towards other countries, technological developments and inventions, historical backgrounds and much more. They want to understand the world, and have a need to discover the causes of what they perceive in it.
This gives the geography teacher the opportunity to take full advantage of the holistic nature of the subject and compose it from the combined contents of a range of other subjects: The process of building up a geographical picture of a particular part of the world can involve looking at its geological, climatic, technological, social, economic, historical, cultural and other aspects, and showing how they all mutually affect each other within this overall context.
On the other hand, the students’ gaze is also turned inwards on their own sense of self: here they are confronted by the beginnings of their development into adulthood. Developing individuality is associated with strong feelings and the tendency to make judgments, all of which reveals the ongoing search for personal identity.
Consequently, a central topic for geography in classes 7 and 8 is the study of other cultures. The approach, as established and described by Rudolf Steiner (Steiner 1990: GA 294, Lecture XI) is to view them as different ways of life.
This entails describing how people live in other regions and continents, how they interact in every-day life, how they bring up children, what sort of values they have and much more.
It is through such attention to the internal details of different cultures, their origins and systems of values, that the students come to see that there are different ways of organising life. At a time when they are on the trail of their own identity, such models can help to give them direction.
So that the students are not left with merely mental impressions of these different cultures, Steiner recommended that they approach them through the medium of art or some aspect of practical life in the ethnic style of the culture concerned. Stereotypes should, of course, be rigorously avoided, and the emphasis placed upon enjoyment of the detail and diversity of different ways of life. Here also the point should be made that any human being is capable of embodying different streams of culture at the same time, i.e. of having a cross-cultural identity. The narrative part of other main lessons can be used to extend and deepen understanding through ethnographic descriptions and accounts of the biographies of field researchers.
Looking at the various continents may also involve taking into account the processes of metamorphosis, polarity and intensification at work in their shaping. This is a mode of thinking that places demands upon the power of imagination, and in this way this faculty in the students can be further developed. It will also mean that rather than absorbing fixed ideas, they will be developing living concepts capable of growth.
Aspects of physical geography are also part of the picture here. Such things as varying climatic conditions, where certain mineral deposits are to be found, and the world’s great mountain ranges, which run east-west in Eurasia, and north-south in the Americas, can be taken into consideration. A possibility is also to go into the trade and transport routes and show that through our global economic system we are all, as human beings, connected with each other. Thus the students can come to experience themselves as members of a world society and to develop feelings of solidarity with their fellow humans.
Suggested lesson content
- Different ways of life in the various vegetation and climatic zones (e.g. pastoral nomads, arable farmers, oasis-dwellers, miners)
- Description of the abilities and skills the people have
- The continuing influence of various religions and traditions
- The undermining of traditions through confrontation with western ideas; examples of workable ways forward
- The vast landscapes and the dominant religions associated with them (e.g Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam)
- The concentration of human activity in East Asia
- South-East Asia and the watery element
- The relationship between humanity and nature
- The changing role of Asia in the modern world
- China and India as rising economic powers
North and South America
- Introduction to typical landscapes of N. and S. America, e.g. by means of a (fictional) journey
- The macro-structure of the double continent with its animal and plant worlds
- The immigration of the Native Americans and the way they learned how to live in a wide variety of environments
- The Spanish-Portuguese and English-French appropriations of land and their consequences (the gold-rush, development of technology, destruction of nature)
- The meeting of different peoples in America; different mentalities of different social and ethnic groups; potential for positive change and what needs to be done to achieve it
- Economic perspectives
- Introduction to typical landscapes of Australia
- Description of Aboriginal culture. What can we learn from other cultures.
- Confrontation with the Western system of values
- The importance of the individual in sustaining and shaping culture
Notes on the choosing of material for classes/grades 7 and 8
The teacher should choose the material for grade 7 together with that for grade 8.
Here it is well worth reminding ourselves that other subjects often set the scene for topics in geography (cf. Steiner GA 301, 07.05.1920 (German edition 1991, p. 184 ff.)). For instance, in grade 7 there is a history main lesson that deals with the age of Exploration – this could provide a bridge to the geography of Africa and Asia.
In grade 8 history the focus is upon the industrial revolution in connection with the value-system of the West, which is characterised by individualism, freedom, and the primacy of economic activity. This provides a sound basis upon which to conduct a main lesson on the economic and cultural geography of America.
It has been customary within this framework to deal with Asia and Africa as the “Old World” in grade 7 and the Americas and Australia as the “New World” in grade 8. These themes could all, of course, be arranged differently – according to local circumstances and requirements. For instance, if the home continent dealt with in class 6 is not Europe, then Europe needs to figure among the grand survey of the continents.