Why do Waldorf elementary schools not utilize computers as part of the classroom instruction, and does this pose an impediment for students as they go on to high school?
Computers are incredible tools that save adults enormous amounts of work and time. Computers are not, however, the most desirable or effective medium for educating children in the elementary school. Several concerns will be summarized here, but books by Joseph Chilton Pearce, Neil Postman, Jane Healey and The Future Does Not Compute by Steven Talbot explore this topic in much more depth.
The primary reason that Waldorf schools do not use computers is our insistence that young children make contact with real people and real environments in order to build a base of real experience. Language skills, for instance, depend upon a responsive human being who listens, responds, and communicates feelings as well as content.
Children who use word processing are missing the lessons of will and purpose involved in writing out a lesson with their own hand, as well as the spatial sense and aesthetic judgment which are part of the practice of handwriting. We believe children learn better from experience in the real world than from reading information on a computer. Knowing about frogs means smelling the pond, feeling the slipperiness of the frog’s skin, listening to the frog’s call, and watching the patience of the frog catching his supper. The real world is much more complex and whole than the virtual world of the computer.
Young children who use a computer to write a paper only too quickly depend on down-loading the ideas and thoughts of others and forego the time and effort involved in being original. And for the younger child, sitting in front of a computer, rather than moving and acting in the real world, robs the child of the very activity that “hardwires” his own brain and ultimately assists in the thinking process itself. The controversy over computer technology in the elementary classroom rages amongst educators across the nation, but the reality is that Waldorf students do not suffer deficits from not having computer instruction, but indeed develop important capacities of imagination, thought and will-power by not depending upon computers to do their work at this age.
Waldorf teachers do not believe computers are always inappropriate. They simply believe they are not effective educational tools for young children. In a Waldorf high school you may find students actually building their own computers, thereby developing a more thorough knowledge of computers and technology than most children who grew up with them from the beginning.
Waldorf students have a love of learning, an ongoing curiosity, and interest in life. As older students, they quickly master computer technology, and graduates have successful careers in the computer industry.
For additional reading, please refer to one of the authors mentioned above or see Fools Gold on the Alliance For Childhood’s website, www.allianceforchildhood.org and The Future Does Not Compute by Steven Talbot.
This article was reprinted with kind permission from the Detroit Waldorf School(www.detroitwaldorf.com ).