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Technology: Hinderance or Help to Creative Learning?

Waldorf Schools are getting a lot of national media attention these days as the leaders in a growing trend in education for a sensible approach to limiting technology exposure to younger children. A recent Sunday New York Times front-page article profiling a Waldorf school in the heart of Silicon Valley promoting this perspective has sparked a nation-wide debate over the role of technology and its value in educational institutions. (Note: links require you register–for free–with the New York Times for e-reading their articles.)

Since their founding over 90 years ago, Waldorf Schools have always subscribed to a “limited and developmentally-ready” approach to using technological tools–and now digital media–in the school environment. This means in more recent years a “restricted media” policy for the pre-K, kindergarten and early grades and an absence of computers, laptops, smart media devices, pop-culture media imagery, videos and other digital media in classrooms (until computers are introduced in age-appropriate High School classes).

Studies of technology in the classroom have not produced compelling evidence of it being an enhancement to learning, and many schools relying on media and technology aids have show a stagnation of test scores and other performance metrics. The Waldorf approach to restricting media and technology is based on many research supported studies that show that physical movement, social interactions and activities of independent self-authorship with manual, artisanal, and traditional forms of communication, creative expression and interaction provide the most invigorating and engaging learning environments and have distinct benefits on child development and learning.

Finally, Greg Simon, a Waldorf parent, succinctly expressed this view in a letter to the New York Times saying:

As one of my favorite Waldorf teachers has written, “Waldorf is a choice that earnest parents have made, parents who have confidence in technology, who see it as part of their children’s future, but who feel that the natural creative and imaginative capacities of children can best be developed through an immediate connection with nature, art, storytelling, movement, music and drama.” Case in point: My own Waldorf-educated son is graduating with a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania this year…There will be plenty of technology later in children’s lives. Why not let them begin life experiencing the magic of the world and their own imagination rather than holding a mouse and watching electronic magic unfold before them?

– Letter to the Editor, NYT, Oct 27, 2011

See this latest coverage of this debate from NBC Nightly News. You can either click on the image to the right or follow this link to view the MSNBC news broadcast.

The networks are clamoring to cover the Waldorf School in this ongoing news story.

(Monday Dec 5th)…and now this just added: CBS News has also profiled Waldorf Schools and their “news-making” approach to technology. See the CBS2 News broadcast at this link or click on the video image below.

In it Waldorf English teacher, Deborah Newlen–reflecting on the Waldorf human interaction-centered perspective–says, “A computer is a good tool, its a fun toy, it can even be a tutor, but its NOT a teacher.” Interestingly, the news anchors at the start of the piece are calling this a movement that has “gone retro,” not realizing that this has been a consistent core value of the Waldorf education for nearly the last 100 years. This model has withstood the test of time because it works.

And here is another NBC News profile that has interviews with Waldorf students and teachers talking about their views on the value of technology and its place outside of the classroom.

It matters not if the debate of the value of computers and hi-tech in education is unresolved as long as the desired learning outcomes are clear, and as these students demonstrate, they are confident in their education. The interview ends with a student making a compelling point that “Waldorf is the future for education. Because Waldorf really focuses on skills that we’re going to need for the 21st century, skills like analytical thinking, creative thinking, and having imagination…” – Jack Pelose, Waldorf student


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