What If Schools Didn’t Use Any Technology?

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

I’m obviously a fan of technology in education. This entire blog and community of 200,000+ teachers and education administrators talks about it every single day. That’s why I was surprised and extremely interested to learn about the Waldorf School of the Peninusla in Los Altos, CA, aka Silicon Valley.

The Waldorf School of the Peninsula doesn’t use technology in the classroom. It’s not that it’s run by technophobes or that they can’t afford some education technology… it’s simply their teaching philosophy.

“[The Waldorf School of the Peninsula] is 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.” -New York Times

Who Goes To Waldorf?

waldorf of the peninsula

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

So how effective is the curriculum at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula? The Waldorf method is more than a century old and the school attracts the children of some of the heads of the biggest technology companies in the world. Many parents likely send their children to the small school for its hands-on approach.

“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.” -New York Times

Once the students hit the 8th grade, the school does allow the limited use of what the New York Times describes as “gadgets” which I infer to mean smartphones. However, calling education technology “gadgets” has a negative connotation and really understates their importance.

How Do Waldorf Students Compare To Peers?

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

It’s tough to figure out if the Waldorf Method works better than schools that have embraced education technology. While the students of course learn and advance, they don’t actually offer standardized tests that would help compare their students to others.

“When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America points to research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the United States between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions like Oberlin, Berkeley and Vassar.

Of course, that figure may not be surprising, given that these are students from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it. And it is difficult to separate the effects of the low-tech instructional methods from other factors. For example, parents of students at the Los Altos school say it attracts great teachers who go through extensive training in the Waldorf approach, creating a strong sense of mission that can be lacking in other schools.” -New York Times

Cheating Our Children

So how do other schools feel about the Waldorf Method? According to Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, schools like this are “cheating our children.”

Do you think a school like this is cheating students? Is the Waldorf School living in the past or a school of the future? Weigh in down in the comments, by mentioning @Edudemic on Twitter, chatting on our Facebook page, or by sending me some snail mail if you’re not a fan of technology. Wait, how are you reading this article then? :)

11 Comments

  1. terryheick

    December 15, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Love it.

    • edudemic

      December 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm

      likewise :) Some schools don’t use technology simply because they can’t afford it, too. Important to remember the cost that comes with edtech. On a related note, did you see my post about a company that rents education technology to schools? Future magazine article…? @terryheick

      • terryheick

        December 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm

        @edudemic Imagine taking an old Studebaker, and figuring out the best way to use overhead cam technology to make it faster. It’s still an old Studebaker that has an artificially high-tech head. New learning models will provide ground that is so much more fertile–and able to take advantage of the tech.

        I will check the “Rent” content. I skimmed right by it. Crazy busy morning.

  2. DLP_DSM

    December 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Interesting post – But I bet 90% or more of these kids are plugged in minutes after the final bell rings.

    • edudemic

      December 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm

      I agree! Especially given the location, etc. @DLP_DSM

  3. DLP_DSM

    December 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Tech is user driven. It doesn’t matter if schools use it, students (and particularly future students) inevitably will.

  4. PookyH

    December 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Is this similar to the Montessori approach?

    I’m so intrigued to hear more. Can someone (ahem, you??) get access to one of these schools and interview the pupils and/or staff?

    Are there no standardised tests in the states? I’m puzzled as to how there’s no way to compare these pupils’ outcomes with others…

    Great post. Thank you!

  5. terryheick

    December 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I’d hate to mischaracterize either through overgeneralization, but I can say that both Montessori and Waldorf models are similar in that both are non-traditional, eschewing high-stakes testing pressure for a more personal approach to learning.

    In terms of norm-referencing, for many learners/families/schools, that’s simply not a priority (the ‘why’ opens up a whole new can of worms).

    An interview is a great idea!

  6. Amy

    August 28, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    For schools, federal money is tied to test scores, Waldorf is a private school. In California standardized testing is voluntary.

  7. mdt1955

    August 28, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    “Technology” has become a relative term. Using a graphite pencil to write on paper is a use of higher technology than scraping one rock on another. Does the Waldorf system allow the use of DVDs for showing video presentations, or even 16mm film projectors? Both of those items are certainly higher technology than static illustrations in a text book. I believe that whatever level of technology is used, there is a right way and a wrong way. Obviously, throwing money at a school district to purchase a bunch of high-tech equipment is a waste if you don’t know an effective way to leverage that equipment as tools of quality instruction. However, the notion that higher order technology should be shunned because it stifles creativity and human interaction is misguided. I also think that anyone who believes iPads are only being used as some sort of magic device to try and better teach reading or math is naive. Any tool that conveys the fundamentals of reading and math (or any other subject), whether those tools are paper textbooks, worksheets, or eBooks and computers that quiz students on what they know, should be at a teacher’s disposal to use as they see fit. In fact, let’s put aside for a moment what are effective tools with which to teach. Who could argue that they’d rather have their elementary school students lugging around 20 or 30 pound backpacks instead of a tablet device weighing less than 2 pound that contains all of the student’s text books? We should not discard high-order technology tools simply because of some baseless notion that these tools “inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction, and attention spans.” I say, show me the statistics that support this notion.

  8. Jo

    September 6, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Anyone who has read science fiction of tales of dystopia must be wary of the latest technology because of the ease with which the message can be controlled.
    Schools tend to jump on bandwagons (Does “Whole language” ring a bell?) and are very susceptable to sales people who quote studies with questionable research methods.
    A colleague of mine teaches in a school which is going “paperless”. They want the elementary students to take ALL tests on the computer.
    My colleague asked, “What about essay tests?”
    He was told, “Well, you decide on a set answer and the computer scans for words that address that answer. Then it’s marked right or wrong.”
    Really? Is this the purpose of an education? To find out what is right or wrong and answer accordingly? Is this how our country produced innovation? Is this how vaccines were discovered? The space program was launched? Steve Jobs created the personal computer? We need to decide the philosphical question of what education is and what it is not before we create a generation of automatons who can’t think and ar so afraid of wrong answers that they fail to explore. THAT is why Silicone Valley executives are sending their children to a low tech school. They understand the chilling effect that immediate “right” “wrong” responses can have on the human mind. The previous post wants statistics on creativity – I rest my case.