The Waldorf schools in California pride themselves on teaching students via “creative, hands-on tasks” with the now rare quality of zero technology integration. They suggest technology will “inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction, and attention spans” (Richtel, 2011). However, a look at how Waldorf schools combine low or no-tech atmospheres with modern teaching strategies, it can be determined that their success is due to other variables than just the exclusion of technology.
Waldorf schools are highly funded through tuition rates, allowing them to equip high quality teachers with engaging and successful teaching strategies. In Matt Richtel’s New York Times article highlighting these schools, parents of Waldorf students are said to believe great learning comes from a high level of engagement sparked by quality teachers (2011). Every student, teacher, and administrator echoes this generalization across the country. It is the lack of technology that separates Waldorf’s version from the national trend. Yet, considering some of Waldorf’s lessons outlined in Richtel’s article, there are plenty of similarities to other popular pedagogy trends that are more likely the causes of Waldorf’s high results. In one classroom students are said to be learning fractions in math using baking skills, a real world application the content. In another, students are learning math, coordination, and problem solving by a hands-on knitting lesson (2011). These are great teaching methods because they engage students in real world application of the skills by integrating textiles and baking, great examples of a teaching strategy picking up momentum the past decade, Project Based Learning (PBL).
Pulled from the Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE) homepage, a leader in PBL, Project Based Learning is defined as: “students [going] through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge [with] rigorous projects [helping] students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking” (BIE, 2012). Note that technology is not mentioned in PBL’s definition. This format is precisely how Waldorf is described as succeeding. Technology is not a necessity for success, Waldorf and many successful, underfunded schools across the nation are testament to that. Nonetheless, technology integration with PBL provides a greater opportunity for real-world engagement than Waldorf is capable of simulating without modern tools.
With the goal of preparing students for the real world they will navigate as adults in mind, integrating technology will only strengthen the skills students are building. Edutopia, a leader in education technology integration, argues “learning through projects while equipped with technology tools allows students to be intellectually challenged while providing them with a realistic snapshot of what the modern office looks like” (Edutopia Staff, 2008). When Waldorf teachers prepare Project Based Learning without technology, they limit the engaging outcomes possible for students to what can be physically recreated in a classroom (i.e. a baked pie cut into fractions or a ball of yarn turned into textiles). If Waldorf integrated technology that allowed these projects to blossom outside the classroom walls, perhaps by connecting with national culinary schools cross-country or selling student made textiles online, students’ understanding of the project’s context would grow, and every teacher in the nation knows a solid lesson displays a real world engagement that dodges the student question, “How will I ever use this?”
Waldorf supporters back high quality teaching without technology and have found success through their methods. However, every supporter of education advocates for high quality teaching. Why not pair high quality teaching and the tools with which students will need to be literate to succeed in the 21st century economy?
Buck Institute for Technology (2012). Retrieved from http://www.bie.org
Edutopia Staff (2008). Why integrate technology into the curriculum?: the reasons are many. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-introduction
Richtel, Matt (2011). A silicon valley school that doesn’t compute. The new york times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?pagewanted=all