Waldorf, Silicon Valley and Technology

By Kate Staples

Last October, an article in the New York Times about the decision by some Silicon Valley employees to send their children to a Waldorf school sparked nationwide discussion about the place of technology in the classroom. Executives at Google, eBay and other large technology corporations were quoted in the article endorsing the gadget-free, hands-on approach to education, particularly in the early grades. Families committed to a Waldorf education for their children found many of the points familiar.

After reading this article and others in Chicago and San Francisco newspapers, GBRSS Interim Faculty Administrator John Greene organized a meeting at the school of parents whose work directly involves technology and media. The group got together to discuss their impressions of the function of technology in the school and in their children’s lives. The meeting was also attended by a reporter from the Berkshire Record, who wrote an article about it for the paper.

“The most impressive thing to me, as someone who has been involved at the school for a long time, was how articulate all the parents were,” said Cathy Fracasse, who works in software development and has a son in the 6th Grade, “Everyone was extremely passionate about their jobs and also about Waldorf education.”

The parents were in agreement that their decision to limit technology and media in their homes was not a rejection of the Internet. They want to allow their children the opportunity to think critically and develop relationships – with themselves, other people and the world – before their focus begins to shift towards a screen.

Christian Williams, an IT/network administrator who has a daughter in the 3rd grade and a son in early childhood, treasures the conversations he has with his kids on their hour-long commute. “These conversations, always based on an inquisitive co-pilot in their spot in the backseat, I attribute to the desire to learn and wonder which I personally believe is nurtured and inspired by a push to creatively ‘think outside the box’.” He added that he doubts this would happen if his kids had access to a TV or video screen.

In both the New York Times article and the parent meeting, the consensus among Waldorf parents was that there is plenty of time for technology later. Technology was compared to learning to read and write; children evolve into it based on their maturity and readiness. According to one of the 284 comments on the Times website, “Computers today are easy to learn to use at any age, quickly and effectively. But there are only a few short, critical years of early development in which to teach a child the basics of being human, how to love learning, and the best ways of working with others. There is no app for that, and there never will be.”

The clear reasoning for setting technology and media limits for young children goes beyond Waldorf pedagogy. Attention spans, creative thinking and socialization can all be affected by too much screen time. And there’s plenty of time for kids to learn to use a computer later, after they’ve had time to be kids. As one of the parents quoted in the Times article 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.”

Published in the Spring 2012 Mosaic Newsletter of the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School (PDF).