Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Permit The Use of Computers

October 22nd, 2011

Now this is an interesting step in the other direction.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.

This is the 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 anintensifying debate about the role of computers in education.

One quote jumped out at me:

Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, disagreed, saying that “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”

“Teaching is a human experience,” he said. “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

What do we need? What will jobs of tomorrow require? Literacy? Not necessarily. Numeracy? I don’t know what that means. Critical thinking? Well, depending how you define it, technology may stimulate critical thinking quite well.

And Waldorf parents argue that real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.

“Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with their peers,” said Pierre Laurent, 50, who works at a high-tech start-up and formerly worked at Intel and Microsoft. He has three children in Waldorf schools, which so impressed the family that his wife, Monica, joined one as a teacher in 2006.

How much of our engagement now is in-person, and how much is electronic? Perhaps parents don’t like this gradual change in our society, though I’m not sure his characterization is accurate.

I think this debate is really a generational divide. In my lifetime, I’m pretty sure people will not know how to write with a pen, and will be confused when they look at a paperback book. Not necessarily sure if this is a normatively bad thing.

Update: Relatedly a story in the TImes how business executive are using emoticons in emails. Amazing how pervasive electronic–that is not human–interaction has become in all aspects of our interaction.

tudents of digital communication see the emerging acceptance of whimsical signifiers as inevitable, if not always desirable. “They’re part of the degradation of writing skills — grammar, syntax, sentence structure, even penmanship — that come with digital technology,” said Bill Lancaster, a lecturer in communications at Northeastern University in Boston. “Certainly I understand the need for clarity. But language, used properly, is clear on its own.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that writers and teachers of writing are among the last emoticon holdouts. “I am deeply offended by them,” said Maria McErlane, a British journalist, actress and radio personality on BBC Radio 2. “If anybody on Facebook sends me a message with a little smiley-frowny face or a little sunshine with glasses on them, I will de-friend them. I also de-friend for OMG and LOL. They get no second chance. I find it lazy. Are your words not enough? To use a little picture with sunglasses on it to let you know how you’re feeling is beyond ridiculous.”

I suspect she won’t have many friends in the future.