On the Contrary

I read an interesting article in the New York Times this morning concerning a school in the midst of Silicon Valley that is the antithesis of the current trend of revving up technology in the classroom. You can read the entire article here. (I encourage you to read it through.)

The school is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula and is one 160 or so private schools that use the Waldorf teaching principles. The reason this article stands out is as the the writer, Matt Richtel, points out  several children of technology booming companies’ employees attend this particular school including those employed by Google, Apple, eBay, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard.

Here is a small exerpt:

 … Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

Three-quarters of the students here have parents with a strong high-tech connection. Mr. Eagle, like other parents, sees no contradiction. Technology, he says, has its time and place: “If I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies, I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17.”

This seems to be proof positive that there is a swell of support developing that sees technology as more of a problem for young students and should be left out of the classroom in the early years. The article argues that there is no research that proves or shows there being any significant academic gains made by students who have access and use technology more often than other students. Richtel does show the other side too though. The article mentions that most of the students who attend this school go on to Ivy League universities, but he reminds his readers that this is a private school that many of the elite and wealthy have access to and simply states “Absent clear evidence, the debate comes down to subjectivity, parental choice and a difference of opinion over a single world: engagement.”

I’m a huge proponent of the word engagement, but I feel, much like politics, there is a good place in the middle for technology and going ‘grass roots’ in the classroom. I’ve never been one to see the solution being one extreme or the other, but there are benefits to using technology just as there are benefits to teaching a student fractions via eating cakes. (Read the article to know what I mean.) The point is that if you use technology as it should be used, as a tool and not a replacement for learning/teaching, then you can help students master skills they will need in their future academic and occupational careers, while helping them to know that no single piece of software or hardware can replace the human mind.

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