By Henning Kullak-Ublick. Translated from German by Karin Smith.
TV rots the senses in the head!
It kills the imagination dead!
It clogs and clutters up the mind!
It makes a child so dull and blind.
He can no longer understand a fantasy,
His brain becomes as soft as cheese!
His powers of thinking rust and freeze!
– From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, 1964
In days gone past, children grew up in a world that engaged all their senses: smell, sight, touch … in real experiences, with real things, as part of everyday life. Today, so many children grow up in a world where experience is dominated by electronic devices that …
- deprive the user of the full range of sensory experiences of the real world.
- provide information instantly and at all times.
- make us lose our sense of time.
- create an illusion of movement while our own physical movement is kept to a minimum (in pictures, games, films etc.).
- replace our conscious awareness with a flood of images and information from the outside.
- replace any research based on stringent thinking and sensory experience with the programmed associations of web links.
- cover up boredom.
- provide ready-made notions and conclusions in the shape of an unceasing information overload which obliterates any personally acquired valuations or concepts.
- replace slow and in-depth reciprocal thinking with morsels of news. Thus, an associative effect is achieved rather than any true insight or real perceptual experience.
- shorten language to contractions and symbols.
Of course, there are also many meaningful applications of digital media. In this article we are concerned with the question of how people can use media without falling victim to addiction or any other unwanted side-effects.
Which skills are relevant for children and how can they be taught and learned?
- Actively paying attention to sensory perception can boost the ability to have finely-tuned sensory experiences.
- Practicing observation skills can result in the ability to focus better.
- Creative teaching can transform the children’s emerging imagination into a resourceful instrument of consciousness which does not only reproduce thoughts but augments (and thinks ahead). Imagination is the best protection from lifeless worlds of fantasy.
- Much depends on the child experiencing her physical body in time and space, on a proper incarnation into the physical body.
- Children have to discover their own hands as they really are: the quintessential human instruments of freedom which allow us to do “everything” we want to do.
- School libraries provide the sensuous experience of reading. They encourage genuine research so that real questions instead of web links lead to results.
- Shared activities teach the children that working together is more than the sum of individual actions.
- Experiencing various “analog” materials and carriers of media produces the ability to differentiate between the qualities of diverse media and their carriers (paper or beeswax, wax crayons or watercolour paints, musical instruments, clay, wood, etc.).
- The three steps from active listening and action, to description and creation and finally to insight and memory are the basis for independent, active learning.
- Children have to experience time and rhythms by taking part in dynamic classroom teaching, by learning to wait, by experiencing processes in nature (grade one: care for animals and herbs, grade three: agriculture, grade five: butterflies, horticulture, bees, etc.). They should experience that work always lead to a final conclusion (a highlight), that it was worth to make an effort; that their endeavour was worth it.
Children in the early years of formal schooling should work with materials which activate all the senses, from smell to colour to touch.
Working with materials which activate all the senses is deeply ingrained in the methods and traditions of Waldorf education. This adds an extra socio-therapeutic significance to the activities in which children participate.
In view of the above we might say:
- Experiencing processes in time stands opposed to the disappearance of time in electronic media.
- Mindfulness practice, experiencing meaningful connections through personal observation and an idiosyncratic set of concepts by way of learning in “three steps” is the basis on which associative information found on the Internet by chance can be evaluated in context.
- Movement and tactile skills are the opposite of a motionless, frozen body in front of a computer screen.
- To look at and understand classmates’ work and to share activities (music, drama, eurythmy, crafts etc.) fosters a sense of community. It lets the children experience real connections with others and is opposed to electronic forms of communication.
- Creatively dealing with language in many forms stands out from a mere exchange of information or opinions and conveys the experience of true encounters.
At around the age of 12, children discover how they can reflect on the world, they discover cause and effect. This is also the moment when a conscious use of electronic gadgets should and can start.
Today, schools are probably the only place where children can daily have a few uninterrupted hours of experience based on immediate, sensory and affective encounters with people and their surroundings.
School can be a place where children can freely meet the analog world, that is the non-virtual world, and where they can also expand their social horizon by being with other children and adults.
To abstain from electronic media before the age of twelve is therefore no impoverishment. On the contrary, it is an asset. The children experience real worldliness. The aim is not less but more activity; the aim is not to restrict the children’s experience but rather to enable them to establish a broad and rich connection to the world.
About the author: Henning Kullak-Ublick was a class teacher from 1984 to 2010 at the Waldorf School in Flensburg, Germany. He is a board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum of Steiner Waldorf Schools.
The article was originally published in ‘Struwwelpeter 2.0’ by the German Association of Waldorf Schools (Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen) in cooperation with “Aktion mündige Schule” (AmS). AmS is committed to freedom in education and initiated the first people’s initiative “Freedom in Schooling” in 1995 (www.freie-schule.de). In subsequent years, it supported similar initiatives in Berlin and Brandenburg, Germany. Freedom has an external and an internal aspect. The first creates the conditions, the latter creates the substance. Both of them have one thing in common: they do not just happen by magic, they have to be created anew, again and again. A conscientious approach to modern media is one of the contemporary questions of freedom. Re-printed with kind permission by the German Association of Waldorf Schools.