One of the exciting things about teaching at the Waldorf high school here in town is the opportunity to work with mixed age classes and to observe the differences between the students not only as individuals, but as young people at various stages of their development.
I teach a variety of classes, the most lively of which is a couple of weekly "Life Skills" sessions where groups of us sit around in the student lounge, "chill" and discuss issues like "what does marijuana really do to you?"; "how can we find balance in a consumerist society?"; "how do I know when I'm ready for sex"? and many other intricate and important matters.
Each week I am struck by the difference between the two groups I work with. One group consists mainly of juniors and seniors (some 18 or close to 19 years of age) and the second group is mainly freshmen with a sprinkling of sophomores and one lone senior (the irregularities of the scheduling of language classes determines which group a student is in). Time and time again, the older students want to discuss the philosophical implications of the topics we're examining, the moral how's and why's, the larger issues. And time and time again the younger ones simply want to know the FACTS. How much pot can you smoke before you might get hooked? What does alcohol do to your body? What is HIV and how does a person get it? And even adding the word"might" in the example above regarding marijuana is frustrating for them! They want formulas, they want black and white rules.
From an anthroposophical point of view, these are the years when the young person is searching to articulate the question "who am I and what is my life's task?" It is the time when the young person moves from (hopefully) the sphere of sympathy and antipathy ("I love it" "I hate it") into a maturation which allows for the complexities and nuances of life. This is scary. How comforting it can seem to view life as a series of hard and fast certainties - it is far more unsettling and demands greater emotional and intellectual maturity to navigate the reality of life with all its changes and variables.
Working out of Waldorf, out of anthroposophy, can help a parent or teacher guide and support a teen as s/he struggles through this phase of life. As the essence of Waldorf education rests on this picture of the changing consciousness of the developing child, we can find materials and methods which speak to these changes in the life of our children.
Many of you will be familiar with at least the basics of these ideas. Below is a schema I have developed upon reflection on my own work with children from babyhood to near adulthood. This encapsulates my interpretation of the maturation of the thought processes of the growing child:
Under 7's - the child accepts what is including that which is imaginative
7 to about 12 - the child accepts what is because loved people (parent/teacher/hero) say it is so
Early adolescence - the teen accepts what is through her own search for truth (sympathy/antipathy)
Late adolescence - the teen accepts what is through his own search for truth (contradictions and nuances)
By the phrase "what is" I don't necessarily mean the status quo. Teens, especially, are idealistic and look toward the future. By this phrase, I mean "thoughts", "situations", "models", "possibilities:. I mean to express a phrase which reflects how children in these phases of life tend to think about themselves and their surroundings and how their thought processes mature as they grow.