Waldorf schools have been in the U.S. since 1928 and are currently the fastest growing independent educational movement in the world. The Waldorf school philosophy believes in teaching children through experiences and creative teaching techniques, eschewing testing and more traditional grading systems because they don’t view testing as a productive teaching method. A typical Waldorf School’s mission is to teach children in a way that “honors every child’s enthusiasm for initiative, creativity and social responsibility.”
And then there is the knitting. Invariably when a Waldorf school is mentioned, you hear that all students have to learn to knit as part of the curriculum. Which allows many to write it off as some hippy-dippy schooling alternative for ultra-liberals who have neither the time nor the inclination to home-school their children.
An article in this weekend’s NY Times has convinced many to give the school another look, however. The piece, titled “A Silicon Valley School That Does Not Compute,” highlights a Waldorf school in California whose roster is primarily filled with the children of high-tech industry executives. Which is astonishing for the crucial fact that computers are not allowed in the school and parents are encouraged to limit screen time at home, as well.
Waldorf method proponents believe that computers “inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.” And while some believe that not teaching computer literacy skills will put those children at a disadvantage, the parents at this particular school who are steeped in technology don’t seem too concerned that their children won’t pick it up quickly later, making it a non-factor.
Being one of those parents who is constantly on a computer or checking in on my smart phone, I look back on my less computer-dependent childhood through some pretty rosy lenses. I was allowed on our computer as a child just enough to love it for all the amazing things it could do, but not so much that it ever could be taken for granted. I wonder if a school like that brings back paper dictionaries and encyclopedias combined with a curriculum that is designed to ignite the creative soul in its students is actually doing a huge favor to these kids and allowing them to view technology when it is introduced at a later age with a fresh view untainted by the blasé, entitled attitudes that so many teens seem to hold about their phones and laptops.
One of my favorite quotes in the article comes from a father named Alan Eagle, whose daughter attends a Waldorf elementary school, “I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school. The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”
I wonder, in particular, if backing off of technology, especially for tech-oriented parents, would be a boon to the whole family. We are more likely to sacrifice times spent with our beloved gadgets for our kids than anything else, and there really isn’t anything more important to put our time into than our children, is there?
I’m not sure that Waldorf schools have all the answers, but in a world where it is increasingly common for children under two to have televisions in their bedrooms and an ease with iPads and smart phones that used to be reserved for teens, I can’t help but feel like they are on to something.
Photo Credit: Springwools via flickr.
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