Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Six Declines of Modern Youth

Born in Berlin of Jewish parents, Kurt Hahn studied in Oxford, Berlin, Heidelberg, Freiburg and Göttingen. During World War I, Hahn worked in the German Department for Foreign Affairs, analysing English newspapers and advising the Foreign Office. He had been private secretary to Prince Max von Baden, the last Imperial Chancellor of Germany. From 1920 to 1933 Hahn was headmaster of Schule Schloss Salem, a private boarding school in Germany, founded in cooperation with Prince Max. In 1933 Hahn was forced out of Germany and moved to Scotland, where he founded Gordonstoun and served as its headmaster until 1953. Hahn inspired or initiated the foundation of Outward Bound Schools, the Atlantic College in Wales as well as other United World Colleges, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and many other schools based on the same principles as Salem and Gordonstoun.

Hahn's educational philosophy was based on respect for adolescents, whom he believed to possess an innate decency and moral sense, but who were corrupted by society as they aged. He believed that education could prevent this corruption, if students were given opportunities for personal leadership and to see the results of their own actions. This is one reason for the focus on outdoor adventure in his philosophy. Kurt Hahn proposed that young people are exposed to six declines:

1. Decline of Fitness due to modern methods of locomotion;

2. Decline of Initiative and Enterprise due to the widespread disease of spectatoritis;

3. Decline of Memory and Imagination due to the confused restlessness of modern life;

4. Decline of Skill and Care due to the weakened tradition of craftsmanship;

5. Decline of Self-discipline due to the ever-present availability of stimulants and tranquilizers;

And worst of all:

6. Decline of Compassion due to the unseemly haste with which modern life is conducted or as William Temple refred to it as 'spiritual death'.

To counter these social diseases, Hahn conceived a preventive cure called Erlebnistherapie (experience therapy) which offered listless and lawless adolescence the opportunity to discover healthy passions, like the zest for exploration and the love for art and music, that would absorb the child completely. Hahn's experiential education program consisted of four elements:(1) physical fitness - exercising the body and keeping free from cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs; (2) expedition - exploring the world by sea and land under difficult conditions, alone or in groups; (3) project work - planning and executing an enterprise in research, art, or construction; and, most important, and (4) social service - helping the injured, sick, old, and handicapped in hospitals, homes, and rescue services.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful subject, Mark! When Hahn left Germany after standing against Nazism publicly and being jailed, who was the pupil from a very good German family, to leave Salem and follow his Jewish headmaster to Gordonstoun?
One Philip Mountbatten, I recall.
Considering that Schule Schloss Salem belonged to the father of his brother-in-law, Prince Maximilian of Baden, and that some relatives joined the SS at the time, I often think of how this man who flourished to become Head Boy at Gordonstoun, and best cadet at Darmouth, has so fashionably remained silent when wronged and many times, maligned by the ignorant press.

eurion said...

When you consider when this was written, it is still appropriate, (probably even more so), now as it was then. Testament I think to his insight.
As far as I am aware he had no formal educational training or qualifications, but took what he considered the best out of various schooling methods and put them into his melting pot.

At Salem he had 7 laws.

1. Give the children opportunities for self-discovery.
2. Make the children meet with triumph and defeat.
3. Give the children the opportunity of self-effacement in the common cause.
4. Provide periods of silence
5. Train the imagination.
6. Make games important but not predominant.
7. Free the sons of the wealthy and powerful from the enervating sense of privilege.

Interestingly he based his school concept on military staff training colleges, but instead of training for warfare he trained for thought and understanding.

I was fortunate to have had a UWC education many years ago, and can't help feel that things would be a little different these days. Current health and safety bureaucracy and education trends in the UK, must be stifling his foresight. I am sure that young peoples overall "health" is compromised by it, being more and more isolated from being given the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions or indeed in some respects think for themselves.

Of course our educational path is now safe in the hands, and directed by those people who have, all the qualifications!.

derrick said...

great post Mark!