Class Eight – Identity & Transition
In Class Eight (13-14 year olds) the pupils are prepared for their future as students in the Upper School.
The fourteenth year is a milestone year in the inner life of a young person. There is an increasing realisation – and assertion – of the individual sense of self, of the uniqueness of one’s own identity.
After the breadth of exploration of the world, covered in Class 7, the Class 8 year is one of turning towards inwardness, even, at times, self-absorption.
However, in this year, there is still a strong connection to, and care for, the outside world, and the curriculum exploits this in lessons such as environmental studies, the impact of the industrial revolution on humanity, and in responding to the biographies of others who cared.
At this age, the concreteness of refining skills, meeting boundaries, and being able to articulate emotions are all important ways in which the young person can be supported to feel safe and interested in his or her own place in the world.
The Class 8 main lessons cover a broad range of subjects including the history of the industrial revolution and European colonization, world geography, the chemistry of foods, the physics of electromagnetism, human physiology, geometry and statistics in mathematics and novel study and creative writing in English.
With adolescence, the inner soul forces of the young human being become extremely active, and with this there is a corresponding (and often disconcerting) bodily change.
It is a bewildering world when the adolescent is often at the mercy of strong, uncontrolled feelings and emotions, which swing, like a pendulum, from one extreme to the other. This manifests differently in boys and girls; yet both mask their vulnerability in different ways. Boys may be uncouth and gawky, yet inwardly shy; girls may express their emotions more easily in volatile, temperamental behaviour. Both need careful and sensitive handling and since that emotional world is both extremely sensitive and volatile, one needs to channel this energy into a healthy relationship with the outer world.
One approaches the adolescent of this age as much through the intellect as through the senses, presenting one’s material in as tactile a way as possible, yet always seeking to refine the senses through artistic activity, and challenging the student to think accurately, and observe meticulously. The student of this age needs many physical challenges to counteract the emotional roller-coaster.
There is little scope for the finer nuances of feeling; everything is black or white, wonderful or abysmal, joyful or full of sorrow. It is truly a year of polarities and opposites, and all the Main Lessons in this year play on that this, whether it is “Tragedy and Comedy” in English, “The French Revolution” in history, “stability and instability” in geology.
All of the main lessons and English, music, eurythmy and physical education practice lessons continue to be taken by all Class 11 and 12 students.
Although the emotions are still powerful in the student of this age, there is a marked development towards greater control and balance. Students are much more social at this age, and far better able to work in groups.
There is a marked difference in their perception of the world and their ability to comprehend and understand basic underlying laws and structures, both in themselves and in the world in general.
They may still be argumentative (each, potentially, an Odysseus!), but their greater reasoning power can more readily take hold and master the emotions. The love of a certain dramatic sensationalism of the previous year begins to recede; they wish to understand the phenomena they meet, both on an inner and outer level. The richness of the inner life is more easily able to express itself, allowing for greater subtlety in their response to language and to the world in general.
They are more able to form deep and lasting relationships and friendships at this age, since the relationship of the self to others and to the outer world is more harmonious.
There is now a striving towards the balance between polarities, whether in chemistry (Acids, Bases, and Salts; with salt as the mediator between acids and bases), the English lessons (Homer’s “Odyssey” and “The Art of Language” where words are seen as a balanced dynamic between the creative and the functional) or in history (the study of Ancient Cultures leading to the birth of the intellectual, reasoning power).
At this age, students are now able to harness and use the analytical, reasoning ability to full advantage.
The intellect is no longer at the mercy of the inner feelings; students are able to employ a far greater objectivity with regard to themselves and the world. They are able to comprehend the laws of the outer world in minute detail – it is not for nothing that one of the key lessons of this year is Atomic Physics.
In language studies, the analytical and manipulative power now matches the creative power, and they are able to argue the finer points of any point of view with scholastic delight! It is precisely at this point that students may experience inner loneliness and questions as regards their worth as human beings within the general scheme of things; it is at this point that they have questions concerning their own destinies.
For this reason, the “Parzival” lesson in Philosophical studies is of great importance, for here students can explore those life questions which cannot simply be answered by the intellect.
Class 12- Synthesis
This year is the culmination of an education which seeks to produce individuals who will work with a sound understanding of both themselves and the world.
It is in this last year that one hears all the “tones” of the preceding years sounding in harmony, where the young adults of this age are themselves as members of a greater world where the moral and the scientific, the inner and the outer, form a single whole.
The lessons in this year form the grand synthesis of the whole education, with material which gives a broad overview and understanding of the whole curriculum in such things as “The History of Architecture”, and “The History of Philosophy”. The content of the subjects directs itself to the current world view in relation to that field of endeavour.
The students stand firmly in the contemporary age, taking the best of the past into a future which is yet to unfold. It is here that one sees the fruits of a Waldorf education in young adults who stand courageously and with integrity as free individuals, secure within values which give meaning to life.