Parents employed by Google and Apple are sending their kids to computer-free Waldorf schools. Are they on the right track?
You'd think executives at Silicon Valley's top tech firms would be keen to enroll their children in schools chock-full of the latest education technology: one-to-one laptops, iPad programs, digital textbooks, and teachers engaging students using Twitter. But according to The New York Times, some Silicon Valley parents—including the chief technology officer of eBay and execs from Google and Apple—are doing a 180 and sending their kids to the area's decidedly low-tech Waldorf school.
Waldorf's computer-free campuses—teachers use old-school chalkboards and students learn cursive writing with pen and paper—are a sharp contrast from most schools, where access to technology is seen as key to getting kids college- and career-ready. Advocates of Waldorf education say they're not opposed to technology, but there's a time and a place for everything. There are no iPads in kindergarten classrooms at Waldorf schools—instead you'll find plenty of play-based learning and storytelling.
"The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or to do arithmetic, that's ridiculous," Alan Eagle, an executive communications employee at Google, told the Times. His fifth-grade daughter attends a Waldorf school and "doesn't know how to use Google," and his middle school-age son is just learning to use the search engine. Instead, his daughter's class is honing their knitting skills in the hopes of eventually producing socks.
While that may sound out of place at a time when moms brag about their 3-year-olds' abilities to operate iPads, there's an appeal to Waldorf schools' philosophy that students should "experience" literature, math, and science—along with visual and performing arts—in a developmentally appropriate way. The tech-free teaching methods are designed to foster a lifelong love of learning and teach students how to concentrate deeply and master human interaction, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Indeed, through knitting socks, Waldorf students pick up math and patterning skills, and they come out of it with something beyond a standardized test score to show for their effort.
But is it hypocritical for people who make their money from technology that's sold to the masses—and is increasingly peddled to schools as the solution to education's problems—to shun it for their own children? After all, they have the luxury of being able to teach their kids technology skills: If mom and dad have Google or Apple pedigrees, chances are the kids are going to pick up tech skills eventually. And, given that 94 percent of Waldorf high school graduates go on to college, being ready for higher education obviously isn't a problem.
I have a few friends whose kids attend Waldorf schools, and my sons don't seem deficient in comparison. Sure, my friend's Waldorf-educated kids know how to draw beautifully, make candles, and knit socks, but my fifth-grader made a commercial for his campus business using iMovie and designed a video game on his school-issued laptop. Maybe the real question should be: Why isn't there a school where kids can do both?
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