As we’ve traveled around the country, we’ve noticed several commonalities among the most innovative, creative schools we’ve visited. Perhaps the most surprising of these is a near absence of screens.
That’s right. In this technology obsessed, hyper-connected world, some schools believe kids learn best when they connect to each other, their teachers, the natural world, and materials they can touch and feel. It’s a rich world out there, with an abundance of knowledge at our fingertips – and that’s without touchscreens and Google.
That’s not to say technology has no place, or that kids shouldn’t be using computers or tablets at all. It’s more a belief that technology is a tool, and like most tools, it has specific uses and applications.
An internet-connected device does not supplant the need to take in information in other ways. And yet that’s how many schools treat technology. How many schools have you seen that boast about one-to-one iPad or Chromebook availability? How many schools have you visited where each kid is locked onto a screen, often wearing headphones and working thorough an online exercise in total isolation?
There may be a time or a place for that style of learning. Some kids benefit from intensive Khan Academy math tutorials, for example. But as the near-universal failure of online-only schools demonstrates, technology cannot replace human-to-human interaction.
At the Denver Waldorf School, for example, technology isn’t used as a teaching tool. In fact, kids learn cursive writing in third grade. They aren’t allowed to type papers until they’re in eighth grade, and then only after they’ve passed a typing test. All kids surrender their phones at the start of the day and get them back as they head home.
“Since a primary goal of Waldorf education is to ground students in their bodies, in three-dimensional space and in human interaction, the schools aim to offer students unmediated experiences,” writes Vicki Larson of the Shining Mountain Waldorf School in Boulder, Colo.
“Indeed, Waldorf graduates tell their alma maters that they graduate and enter the world ready to meet and master the technology that surrounds them, and grateful for the time they had to explore the physical, non-mediated world before encountering the digital one.”