As schools are spending more to have technology more accessible to classrooms, the time students spend on computers is increasing. In the past, I’d never really had access to computers. The one I had in my classroom (when I had one) was so slow and dysfunctional it was basically useless. This year, one of the homeroom classrooms where I taught rotary French was also where the mobile computer lab was stored. My biggest management issue with that class revolved around the never ending battle of getting the kids off of the computers who would try to sneak the labtops in their desks at any given opportunity. I’ve never seen a group of students who were so eager to use Wordreference.com. This constant access to computers actually became a real addiction problem for a couple of students who were literally, always in front of a computer screen (and one can assume that it was the same at home). Forget computers, phones are the new device of choice! Despite being banned for use at school, teachers spent more time arguing and confiscating phones than ever before.
It was with great interest that I read the NY Times article “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” that was forwarded to me by a fellow teacher. Although it was written in 2011, I found it really interesting in light of the situation I just described. In a nutshell, the author writes about a school in Silicon Valley where 3/4 of the students have parents who work in the upper echelons of the giant tech companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. As a Waldorf school, the emphasis is placed on physical activity and learning through creative hands-on approach. The use of computers is banned at school and are even discouraged at home because it is thought that they discourage “creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.”
It goes on to elaborate on the debate about the role of computers in education with proponents saying that not equipping students with technology to better compete in the modern world would be irresponsible. The article aslo mentions advocates stating that children who grew up with electronic devices at their fingertips simply won’t be engaged without them. The Waldorf parents argue that teaching is a human experience and that “real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.”
The article frequently references one parent in particular, Alan Eagle, educated with a computer science degree and the director of communications at Google. His daughter is in Grade 5 and doesn’t know how to use google but according to him, technology has its time and place. He states, “If I worked at Miramax amade good, artsy R rated movies, I wouldn’t want my kid to see them until they were 17.” Further, the technology is “brain dead easy as possible'” and that he sees no reason why kids cant figure it out when they get older. Interestingly enough, California is home to 40 Waldorf schools (a disproportionate share) and the neighbouring Waldorf schools to the one featured in the article are also heavily populated by students whose are in the high tech industry. It makes you wonder that if these people, the creators of the technology of today, are that opposed to their own children having access to it in their own lives, perhaps we need to consider how much children are exposed to in our own classes…