At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Los Altos, Calif., you might notice something missing from every classroom—computers! In a feature in The New York Times, the school is described as one of 160 “Waldorf” schools in the country operating under the premises that learning and creativity are fostered through physical activity and hands-on tasks, and not through a technology-centered curriculum. For example, instead of using iPads to teach students how to do fractions, teachers might use pieces of cake or cut-up apple to “make learning both irresistible and highly tactile.”
Ironically, many students at these private schools are the children of Silicon Valley employees who work for Google, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard. One parent interviewed said that the “the idea that an app on an iPad can better teach” his kids was “ridiculous,” while other parents told the Times that their kids would easily be able to pick up technological skills when they get older, since Google and other companies now make technology easy to use.
According to research performed by an affiliated group of the Association of Waldorf Schools, 94 percent of students who graduated from Waldorf high schools between 1994 and 2004 ended up attending college (and prestigious ones at that), though the Times points out that most of the students who attend these schools already come from families who highly value education. And, unlike public schools, the Waldorf schools are not required to follow standardized testing mandates.
The Times also highlights differing opinions among education experts regarding technology use in schools. Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, says, “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children.” However, author Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, opines that teaching is a “human experience,” and that “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”
Update, 11:10 a.m.: Jonathan Martin, head of St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson, Ariz., lambasts the NYT article in his blog, calling it biased:
I think it is a very disappointing bit of snarky journalism that informs readers, a little bit, about Waldorf practices, condescendingly, but has as its primary purpose a not-so covert agenda to advance the paper's ongoing attack on the use of computers in learning in its problematic series, Grading the Digital School. The Waldorf school in this piece then, and Waldorf education in general, is only a pawn for the reporter Matt Richtel's antagonistic crusade, and I want to caution Waldorf supporters from happily accepting their work being exploited this way.
Martin also stresses that even though he appreciates the Waldorf approach, the article shouldn’t have been placed on the front page, and lacked evidence as to whether the Waldorf method is actually educationally effective.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.