Why I don’t agree with Waldorf School in Silicon Valley regarding technology

2 01 2012

I came across this article recently entitled ‘A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute‘ the premise of which is that according to the Waldorf philosophy ‘computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans‘. The article highlights the fact that many parents who work at tech companies like Google, Apple and Yahoo send their kids to this school, including people like Mr Eagles, a man who works in ‘executive communications’ at Google and has a degree in computer science. He says “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous”. Mr Eagles, I beg to differ. Unfortunately, Mr Eagles was allowed to continue by bragging about how easy technology is to use: “It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.” Projects are highlighted such as darning socks and cutting up food to teach fractions. Revolutionary.

My first reaction to reading this article was a calm panic. I’m I getting it all wrong? However, after taking time to rationalise, I began to understand. It’s total nonsense. And here’s why.

Firstly, some logical oversights in the article. The fact that 75% of the kids have parents working at tech companies is probably related to the fact that, as the title says, the school is in Silicon Valley. I would be more fearful of my profession being a total dunce if the school was populated by the children of Educational Technology specialists with Masters degrees and PHds in child psychology and eduction – who having spent years training themselves in this area suddenly, in a moment of terror, realised it was all just so wrong, and they had to send their kids back to the Victorian days of slate and chalk. This is not the case. These parents may work at a tech company, but they aren’t education professionals.

You’ve got to be an app short of an iphone to not understand what technology brings. It’s not specifically about improving students grades. It’s about enrichment, access to information, and new ways of expression like video, audio, digital storytelling and publishing. Arguing that computers can not provide critical thinking skills is just, well, bizarre. Scratch anyone? And that would be, errm, scratching the surface. An example for Mr Eagles comes from my three year old daughter.

She loves puzzles but she gets bored with them quickly. Her latest 60 piece Winnie the pooh puzzle she has lost interest in. You know how it is with kids. So I downloaded this app onto the iPad for her. It has about 30 picture puzzles pre installed and you can also select any photo from your library to turn into a puzzle. You can select the pieces from 12, 24, 48 and 96, so she started on 12 and has already moved on to 24 pieces with my help. This is an endless supply of differentiated puzzles for $1.99. And Louisa will never get bored of putting puzzles together of mummy, daddy and herself on the beach. In two days, she had already figured out using (say it quietly) critical thinking how to best use the app. Indeed, I was delighted to see her moving pieces she couldn’t fit yet back into the ‘box’ to create more space on the screen for other pieces. Comparing this to the physical puzzle, with missing pieces, chewed pieces, the bordem factor etc. The physical taught the concept, the basic skills – the technology supplemented magnificently.

If you are going to argue that a child’s education is better off without having the ability to use a computer or mobile device, you better give me a sound logical argument and I’m afraid this article doesn’t have one. No chance to use a videocamera and learn how to edit video? No chance to have the satisfaction of seeing someone comment on your blog post from half way around the world? No chance to watch a video of a cat getting stuck in a washing machine on You Tube at break time?! Seriously, where’s the love? I guess learning how to knit socks is more important to Waldorf than creating digitally savvy students who are prepared for a world where we are, like it or not, surrounded by technology. Mr Eagles argument that technology is easy to use and can be learned anytime – my friend – you have spent little time in a technology classroom.


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