A global team

Guido Ostermai

The air we pollute is the air we all breathe. Waste that we dump in the Atlantic washes ashore on the East African coast. Viruses that first appear in China spread around the world in the blink of an eye: the interconnectedness of global events, the interdependence of people around the world, has seldom been as evident as it has been in recent months. It has also become clear that these phenomena can neither be controlled nor contained by national, that is more or less arbitrarily drawn, borders. The current situation in particular, with attempts to control the spread of the coronavirus, has proven just how much politics, and perhaps indeed all of us, are still stuck in outdated 20th century thought patterns.

In order to overcome these patterns and to create an awareness of the new developments facing the world in the twenty-first century, an awareness of the world as a living being, about 15 years ago a new main lesson in globalisation was established for class 12 at the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School.

This main lesson attempts to look at the world from two different angles: from a historical and economic perspective as well as from a scientific one. Accordingly, the main lesson is taught in teams: one teacher of history and one teacher of science jointly organise the three weeks. Both are always present, even if only one of them is currently teaching. A daily discussion about the progress of the lesson and the agenda for the next day is indispensable. What questions have been raised by the pupils? How can these be addressed within the following lessons? What new ideas have the teachers come up with and how can these be incorporated?

What does a main lesson on globalisation look like?

The first week comprises an overview of the historical development of the world economy: how did the current system of world trade arise? What are the functions of the WTO, IMF and World Bank in this system? How do they affect the economic development of individual countries and world regions? What economic and social consequences did the neoliberalism of the 1980s, with its guiding principle of privatisation, lead to? What does state deregulation mean in the economic sector? A closer look at the functioning of the WTO, its interests and intentions, then leads to a look at the sub-organisations GATT, GATS and TRIPS in the later stages of the lessons. To put it in simple terms, these organisations regulate global trade in goods, services and intellectual property. It quickly becomes obvious that we are dealing with a tripartite system that relates to human beings themselves, because all human beings meet in mutual physical, mental and spiritual exchange, that is, in social interaction in the most comprehensive sense.

The second week of the main lesson is focused on scientific knowledge. The concept of the earth as a living organism is gradually gaining acceptance in broader scientific circles. Good examples of how natural processes are interdependent – on a worldwide scale – are the hydrological cycle and the climate. Other topics could include agriculture, soils and genetic engineering. Among more recent examples are land grabbing, i.e. the acquisition of land by international agricultural corporations, private investors and state actors by means of lease or purchase agreements, or the pollution of the oceans and drinking water through microplastics.

Every living organism is tripartite – a fundamental law of nature. In this way, we again encounter the idea of threefolding in the field of the natural sciences. Where is the metabolic pole located in the planet’s climate processes? Where is the nervous pole? And where is the rhythmic balance located? It is important to develop a feeling for the larger connections, to recognise that health means balance. This is also true for social issues, for agriculture, for trade, for the earth as an organism.

In the third and final week of the main lesson, the individual threads are then brought together and looked at from a broader, more general perspective. This last week particularly cannot be planned in detail in advance; it requires the teachers to be prepared to react at short notice to what they receive from the pupils. If the first two weeks have laid the foundations for a deeper understanding of the world, the last week should now look for possible solutions and alternatives. For example, delving into the interrelationships of commodity production and international (stock) markets, it quickly becomes obvious how the classic industrial nations of the northern hemisphere dominate world trade; that about 500 large corporations carry out 70% of global trade and ensure that the capital accumulates among them while the rest of the world works and provides raw materials.

It becomes clear that we owe our wealth and prosperity to the labour and poverty of people in other parts of the world. The social question has become a global question! Every imbalance must be brought back into balance – this too is a (scientific) law. Consequently, at the end of the main lesson, new ways to a better, fairer world should be sought, but also various positive examples of globalisation should be presented. It would be tragic if the pupils left the main lesson with a sense that the world is cruel and that nothing can be done about it. 

It all depends on the individual!

Exploring alternative models of globalisation, it becomes apparent that they are always linked to specific individuals. Ibrahim Abouleish in Sekem, Patrick Hohmann, pioneer of organic cotton, or Muhammad Yunus, founder of microcredit: it is the individual who makes a difference! When the pupils learn that the money in microcredit projects is given to women as they handle it in a more responsible manner, they gain insight into structures that would otherwise remain closed to them. Such initiatives also often create new social and cultural communities. This makes a great impression on the pupils. An important point that repeatedly emerges in the main lesson is that of individual consumer behaviour. The pupils realise that everything we have discussed in the last two weeks is related to themselves!

They might have heard a lot of these things before, but now they really understand what is involved, and how things are connected. The realisation dawns that globalisation starts at the point of consumption, because the consumer has a very important function. Even if experts argue about whether consumer awareness is enough to effect change in the world, it remains an essential aspect of globalisation. It has to start somewhere. It is a first step – and the first step is of course always the most important! The teacher’s daily role is to stand in front of the pupils with sincerity and moral integrity. With an alert eye and a clarity of mind (and often through direct questions), the teacher is scrutinised as to whether they live what they say.

This is where the main lesson on globalisation performs a special function, as it unmistakably expresses what is needed in the world and what kind of person we ourselves are. Teachers need to be open and honest because all issues raised in the main lesson are at their core moral issues. However, these issues can only be dealt with productively if they are dealt with truthfully. This can sometimes be difficult. Care must be taken not to simply sermonise. Even as an adult and teacher, we find ourselves caught up in these moral questions: is it really necessary to come to school by car? Could I perhaps shop at an organic supermarket more often? Do I need to travel by plane when I go on holiday? ­ How were the clothes I wear actually produced? In this way, we realise that we are just as interwoven in everything. A moral issue can only really take root when the pupils realise that the teacher has an awareness of the moral quality of the issue.

The meaning of a main lesson in globalisation

We can also look at it this way: the world is arranged unequally so that people can share and learn to appreciate each other and the earth. Because if people do not do this, they will destroy the very foundation of their lives. A balance that has been upset is illness. Recognising this is one of the main goals of the main lesson. It is not just a matter of learning the material; what is important is that the pupils should come out of the main lesson with a different awareness of the world! The implementation of a main lesson on globalisation in upper school is a good way to help young people open their eyes to the concrete problems and challenges facing the world.

Nevertheless, it remains a responsibility to integrate contemporary issues into even more subjects – especially into those where it may not be immediately obvious at first glance. It is worthwhile, and also necessary, to go through each main lesson in detail and see if we can develop an even greater awareness of the ways in which they build on each other, prepare each other and complement each other. If this is done on a regular basis, we can discover that the curriculum is by no means outdated. But it must be considered with “a lively interest in all that ... is currently transpiring” (Rudolf Steiner). 

About the author: Dr. Guido Ostermai is a teacher of German, history, art appreciation and nondenominational religion at the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School in Stuttgart, as well as being active in teacher training.