A technology-free school in Silicon Valley

In the heart of Silicon Valley (and very near where I live), a Waldorf school has banned computers, PowerPoint and any technology more advanced than colored chalk, reports the New York Times. Who sends their kids there? Three quarters of parents work in high-tech companies, such as Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Los Altos.

On a recent Tuesday, Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates refreshed their knitting skills, crisscrossing wooden needles around balls of yarn, making fabric swatches. It’s an activity the school says helps develop problem-solving, patterning, math skills and coordination. The long-term goal: make socks.

Down the hall, a teacher drilled third-graders on multiplication by asking them to pretend to turn their bodies into lightning bolts. She asked them a math problem — four times five — and, in unison, they shouted “20” and zapped their fingers at the number on the blackboard. A roomful of human calculators.

. . . Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.

“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”

Today’s high-tech kids are bored by low-tech environments, some argue. Schools that don’t use computers are “cheating our children,” Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, told the Times.

Waldorf’s high-tech parents say their children will have plenty of time to learn computer skills.

“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”

Most Waldorf parents limit their children’s screen time at home.

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  1. Sean Mays says:

    “It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said…

    It IS super easy and getting more so;it also changes so fast it’s not funny. I’m reminded of an interview with one of the big Media Lab (MIT) guys in The Flickering Mind when asked how long it would take a tech neophyte to get up to speed for student life at MIT … his response … about a summer. We’re spending WAY too much on tech in schools and getting too little for it. Well, not just tech. I like this hands on and real tools stuff.

  2. These schools are pretty controversial. Too much New Age Balderdash and too much neo-racism, I wouldn’t send my kid to one:


    I realize these are critics at this site, but google around and you’ll get lots and lots of hits from a great variety of sources.

    • I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the Waldorf philosophy, but the larger point remains: Children are ill-served academically by introducing technology too early. There is no reason to introduce it earlier than, say, high school, especially when one considers that what students really needs to know with regards to “computer literacy” can readily be picked up as they go along in the course of a regular semester (and I doubt it’d take that long, even).

      After all, they’re not learning to program the things – just point and drool.

  3. dangermom says:

    I’ll agree that Waldorf as a philosophy is kinda suspect, but their emphasis on tactile work and full-body movement is great IMO. Besides, the point is that techy people don’t want their kids in techy schools, because they know that computers are not the magical solution and the best way for kids to learn. They also know from painful experience that too much computer work leads to repetitive stress injuries, especially in children who are still growing, especially if they don’t have proper equipment.

    My husband is a tech geek–we started off in Silicon Valley though we’re no longer there. We swore that our kids wouldn’t use computers until they were older. We didn’t buy any Leapfrog or kiddie software. My 11yo is just now learning to type. We only have video games on our PC and not too many of those, and we have always limited TV. We have no worries about their future ability to figure out how to run a computer.

  4. Rich lefty Bay Area types slumming it as hippies send their kids to Waldorf. They don’t care at all about their kids competing with 1b people for a job 20 years from now. Those of us who do find alternatives to these alternatives, and still don’t want “technology” classes for our kids.

  5. Ponderosa says:

    I hold no brief for Waldorf schools, but I do think a good liberal arts education should give kids the tools to think outside the box of orthodox thinking that enslaves minds. One bit of this orthodox thinking is that America will perish unless we engage in an no-holds-barred effort to generate scads of unimaginably complex new technology. Why should having a middle class nation depend on the next iPhone? Is it inevitable that we engage in Darwinian economic competition with one billion desperate people, or is this just the conventional wisdom like the conventional wisdom that said that housing prices would rise forever? Has forty years of laissez-faire economics made us better off? If all we do is cram kids with gadgets K-12 they will end up even greater mental slaves than the current crop of uncritical Americans.

  6. Why is this news? Waldorf schools have been asking parents in the application process to make a commitment to drastically restrict students access to 20th century media since — well, since the founding of the movement. Back in 1990 when I was shopping for a preschool for my daughter that expectation was made very, very clear — at the Waldorf school in Los Altos.

    In any case, Waldorf or full-on technology immersion is a false dichotomy.

    And when considering Waldorf Schools, don’t ignore their anti-vaccine stance (or actually, support for routine infectious diseases of childhood, which are now prevented by vaccines). Experiencing these infectious diseases are believed to be necessary for the child’s spiritual growth.

  7. I sent my child to Waldorf in Toronto. It was fabulous for her. I am not entrenched in their philosophy but did what I felt was best for a shy kid. My husband makes TV documentaries, I have been using computers since my first Mac SE in 1984. We didn’t think she needed a lot of technology at school so the non-media stance was absolutely fine by us.
    My daughter now attends a local Toronto high school and she is excelling, although finds the public school curriculum lax when it comes to literacy and literature, which was a big feature of her Waldorf education.
    The critic site that someone else made reference to is highly suspect, it might be worth analyzing from where the origin of that site is derived.
    Waldorf does not make an ‘anti-vaccine stance’ nor are they neo-racists. They are well grounded people who bring the best out in the students through very patient, age appropriate activities. There are many people in all sorts of fields who are Waldorf grads. They may just be bringing a little more humanism to their respective fields.