Where is the future of education headed? Our kids are connected to gadgets and plugged into technology at earlier and earlier ages to the point where many find their use inevitable and even critical to a child's education. But interestingly, a strange trend has emerged amongst those tasked with creating all of this technology. They're sending their kids to schools that don't use any gadgets — no iPads, no computers, no screens of any kind. And they're keeping their kids away from gadgets at home, too. Do these parents know something about technology that the rest of us should know too?
The story first emerged a few months ago, in this New York Times piece about the latest trend among parents working in Silicon Valley — the hub of technology and home of techie giants such as Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. These parents are sending their kids to schools that follow the Waldorf style of teaching. Waldorf schools rely on simple tools: pencils, knitting needles, or even mud rather than video games, apps, and e-readers to teach modern school lessons. In fact, the Waldorf philosophy says that computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans. According to the Times article, many Silicon Valley execs agree, claiming there is a time and a place for technology and that the school years are just not the right time.
Jane Quadri, a Waldorf-trained teacher who taught my eldest in a neighborhood co-op pre-K program had this to say about technology in the classroom: "I think early childhood is the most important time for learning and establishing how we relate to the world. Exploring the real world, interacting with people and nature is how we learn about ourselves and develop character. I really don't think technology is a necessary part of this process and can be detrimental to it. I also think having a relationship with a teacher is essential to the learning process. I do believe there are creative ways to use technology — but given the sad state of public education, I doubt many schools will be able to provide innovative and forward-thinking tech programs."
So is technology a benefit or a detriment to the classroom?
I posed this question during a weekly twitter chat I host each week with members of the Green Moms Carnival.
Abbie of Farmer's Daughter (@farmdaughter), a high school science teacher specializing in environmental science, botany, biology, and physics is a big proponent of technology in the classroom, using it for everything from a class website to link to articles and assign readings to a laptop and smart board so that the students can plot local contamination sites. She also allows her students to use iPads and laptops for taking notes, but she walks around frequently to make sure that's what's actually happening. Abbie sees this generation of students as "technology natives," who have never known life without these gadgets and commented that she "would love to find a way to incorporate all those tiny computers in (almost) everyone's pockets to use for GOOD in my class!"
Abbie was not alone in embracing technology. In fact, most of the Twitter chat participants thought technology in the classroom is a good thing, as long as it's used to teach and not just to keep kids busy. Karen Hanrahan of Best of Mother Earth (@karenhanrahan) felt that technology helped keep her kids stay engaged in the classroom and even negotiated with teachers for her son to do more with computers (building websites) to keep him from getting bored. And Lisa Sharp of Retro Housewife Goes Green (@retrohousewife5) was homeschooled but relied heavily on computers because her dyslexia made it easier to type her lessons than write them.
Lisa's husband, Justin Sharp, a 5th grade teacher from Oklahoma, also chimed in "The key is that students should be learning with technology not from it. If activities are designed well students can learn with a greater depth of knowledge than a traditional setup. And the major benefits are the access to amazing resources, interaction from a distance, and student enjoyment/interest."
Still the debate rages on about the need and desire for computers and other gadgets in the classroom. Are we cheating our children by not introducing them to technology as soon as possible in this modern world? Or should we back off and keep the technology to a minimum until kids have learned how to think critically and creatively without the guidance of the latest app?
What do you think?