Main theme: questions of common humanity – world-wide solidarity and dignity
In keeping with the striking change the students often go through from the age of 17 to 18, social studies in class 11 begins to go more deeply into things than hitherto. The lessons are now more devoted to dialectical thinking and discussion, which incorporates individual distinctions, variable and alternative ways of thinking, subjecting them all to systematic comparison. Now more than before attention is given to the deeper psychological levels of social relationships. The question Parzival asks the Grail King, thus releasing him from his suffering: “Uncle, what ails thee?” (Parzival, XVI. 795, 29), which is the archetypal expression of human empathy in relation to the destiny and needs of another, can be taken as one of the leading questions of this school year. It is only now that the many-faceted “thou” question can take its place at the heart of social studies in an authentic way; its presence, whether explicit or not, can be felt, reflected and worked upon in a whole variety of contexts. A sense of the dignity of human beings and its expression in every form of inter-personal relationship can be built upon it, both in our immediate surroundings and in the media-made pathways of the “global village”. The themes for this year are therefore taken largely from the world within, that is, more strongly ethical and philosophical, although they do also include theoretical explorations. They are weighted in the direction of empathic understanding, of supporting individuation through independent enquiry and of establishing relationships with other individuals and with the community.
If the guiding light for this age-group is to develop a facility for dialectical discussion and for conducting conversations in an open, empathic manner, then the method eminently suited to this is that of working in pairs or in small groups, as well as in plenum. Looking at things from different perspectives, role-play exercises, and moderation of role-plays or discussions by the students themselves are all good ways of encouraging this. Developing tact and holding the right balance between discernment and empathy, may prove to be the most lasting features of this year’s path of learning.
Suggested lesson content
Human dignity and the balancing of conflicting rights: The ninth grade curriculum focused on human rights from a particular perspective. This time the central point of interest – arising from the question of individual identity – is the nature of social interaction: whether the way people relate to one another is an expression or a denial of human dignity, the typical ways in which human behaviour creates conflict situations, the shared experience of being different from everyone else – all these are central pre-occupations within the context of the individuation process. The fundamental issues of respect and dignity can be discussed in connection with the students’ every-day experience, and touch upon current topics of public discourse, e.g.:
- abortion or euthanasia
- the suffering or perpetration of brutality
- loss of self-control
- statelessness, i.e. withdrawal of a legal framework or of the responsibility of legal institutions
- cultural uprooting in connection with migration
Various categories of people in need are introduced: those suffering from an illness or some form of addiction, the handicapped, the very young, the aged, the poor – with the overall intention of looking at how the principle of respect for human dignity is applied in society by the state.
This can be followed by a critical appraisal of the central articles on human rights in the constitution of the country concerned or in the charter of the United Nations. This is a training exercise in the balancing of conflicting rights (e.g. freedom of opinion vs. the inviolability of human dignity) and in awareness of the discrepancy between ideal and reality (e.g. how do we define the sphere of private communication in the era of “social networks” and the National Security Agency.
As well as the wide range of possibilities this theme offers for cross-disciplinary cooperation, it can also provide a context for the preparation and review of the social practical which is normally done in class 11. Beyond this, however, there is a possibility deserving of particular attention, namely, that of working together with foreign language teachers on a theme which pervades all this material: the relationship between the familiar and the foreign. This could take the form of a small exhibition, featuring material on the following:
- migration and integration
- humanitarian issues in conflict zones
- marginal groups in society
Political theory: The question of the philosophical thinking behind the different ways human beings have organized society can be mapped out through an introduction to political theory as shaped by thinkers from the Middle Ages up to the present. Here the focus is on the particular relationship between people and state, or the worldview in play at a particular time. Studying relevant texts and comparing and discussing the various philosophical positions demands and develops systematic and clear argumentation and dialectical judgment.
Social change: The concept of solidarity takes on life and practical significance when it is illustrated in terms of concrete examples of actual local events and aspects of social change, e.g.:
- drastically changing job descriptions
- changing conditions of work and income (sub-contracted work, pseudo-independence, gap between the “premium class” and the “precariat”)
- dramatic demographic changes with far-reaching social consequences
- changing role-images
Economy: In a global economy, there is a growing social awareness of where and how things are produced. Ecological awareness is also growing. Every-day goods (e.g. textiles, mobile phones) are now normally assessed as to whether they have been produced and traded in socially and ecologically responsible ways. In keeping with this growth in awareness many consumers are realizing that everything has its price and that someone always has to pay it, and this calls up the general question of how to act in solidarity with a community, as formulated, for instance, by Steiner in the so-called “Social Motto”. Here the topics are:
- problematic consequences of the growing gap between producer and consumer
- legitimisation of the conditions of production-practices by consumer habits
- consumer power and attempts to apply it by making trading pathways transparent and by clear labelling
Civil society and liberation movements: We can get a concrete idea of the development of a world-wide civil society by reflecting upon the work of NGO’s and relief organisations. The things they learn in these lessons are often directly connected to plans the students may have for getting involved in such overseas work when they leave school. In the ensuing discussions it may be useful to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of such civic, purely voluntary work, on the one hand, and large, well-funded international organisations on the other (initiative vs. institution). In covering this subject, we can include:
- the direct connection between education and prosperity, between poverty and lack of education, between lack of prospects and a readiness for violence
- injustice and oppression as the breeding ground for violent conflict
- reflection on the facets of the concept “terrorism” (its changing definitions, motives, and manifestations in the course of time)
- the mass psychology of fear and violence and the mass media
Additional, cross-disciplinary projects, outings etc.: Social practical, planning of a charity project abroad as a class 12 trip, or possibly as a social practical for the class as a whole, a visit to the European institutions in Strasbourg, or, in the US, participation in the model UN, where students get together and act out delegation work of the many United Nations.