What do the chief technology officer of eBay and important employees of various other Silicon Valley companies such as Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Yahoo have in common? The first answer would probably be that they are all technology-gurus. The second answer is that they all send their children to a school that uses pens, knitting needles, and mud as learning supplies but bans computers from school grounds.
Wait a second, doesn’t that seem counter-intuitive for these children to not be using computers in their classrooms? They live in Silicon Valley, their parents make a living by working with computers, and the world is becoming more and more reliant on computers. However, at Waldorf School of the Peninsula, the ideology is that computers don’t mix well with schools.
There are 160 Waldorf schools in the USA that follow the philosophy that children should learn through physical activity and hands-on tasks. They also believe that computers are bad for children who are learning because the machines limit creative thinking, human interaction, movement, and attention spans.
“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, a parent of two children who attend Waldorf schools. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”
Eagle is not just some old fuddy-duddy who hates technology. In fact, he graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in computer science, now works at Google, and uses an iPad and smartphone in his daily life. However, like many parents, he obviously feels that this technology is just not necessary for younger children. Technology can be useful when children are older, he says, but it has to be introduced at the appropriate time and place.
“It I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies, I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17,” he said.
So what does a school without technology look like? The school has a “retro” look, complete with blackboards and colored chalk, encyclopedias, and wooden pencils. This sounds exactly like my elementary school, where I learned the fundamental lessons that helped me go on to graduate college and land a job. This makes me think that maybe technology in the elementary classroom really isn’t necessary after all.
The students at Waldorf School of the Peninsula are still learning the same things as their peers who attend schools with technology in the classroom; they are just learning it in a different manner. For example, instead of playing a computer game that uses flashcards to show fractions, students in Cathy Waheed’s math class at Waldorf cut up apples, quesadillas, and cake into various fractions.
“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” Waheed said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”
She surely would have had my attention! Many younger students learn best when they get to experience the thing they are learning tactically. I remember this was true for me when I was younger and for many of my friends as well.
Sadly, there is no real way to measure which schools are actually teaching the students better. The Waldorf schools do not administer standardized tests to elementary students, which makes it very difficult to see if the students are learning better: the students with technology in the classroom or without technology in the classroom. However, a recent study by the Association of Waldorf Schools showed that 94 percent of students who graduated from their schools between 1994 and 2004 attended college.
Are there any real benefits to not teaching kids about technology until they are older and instead focusing on hands-on skills? Personally, I think it is better to do it this way because technology is pretty simple to understand.
“At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible,” said Eagle. “There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”
In addition to this, teaching children without technology will teach them valuable lessons that you can’t learn on a computer.
“You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same,” said Finn Heilig, a student at Waldorf. “Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.”
Via The New York Times
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