The chief technology officer of eBay and employees of Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard all send their children to the same school. If this statement conjured up images of high-tech classroom equipment, corporate sponsored computer rooms, and digitally driven assignments, you may be surprised to learn just how familiar many of these schools are. As a recent New York Times article revealed, many Silicon Valley parents are choosing traditional schooling for their children.
The Waldorf School of the Peninsula, seated in the heart of Silicon Valley, is one of around 160 Waldorf schools that share an educational philosophy that rejects the idea of technology as a necessary component of education and focuses instead on traditional teaching. In place of high-tech tools, the school uses traditional chalkboards, pens and pencils, and even knitting needles and yarn. But why are parents who make a living from tech innovation rejecting it when it comes to schooling their own children?
“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” Alan Eagle, whose daughter is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school, told the Times. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.” Eagle sees no contradiction between his profession and his parenting choices. “If I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies,” he says, “I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17.”
But is the Waldorf method actually a better model, or is the trend described above a reaction to recent focus on educational technology? The answer is hard to determine. The school itself is private and as such, administers no standardized tests in elementary grades.
“When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America points to research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the United States between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions like Oberlin, Berkeley and Vassar.”
This evidence is hardly comparable to the rest of our nation’s schools. It’s easy to believe that children of Silicon Valley employed parents attending a private school would have these college attendance rates. The numbers say more about the socio-economic education gap than they do about the efficacy of traditional chalk boards.
As the Times states, “The Waldorf experience does not come cheap: annual tuition at the Silicon Valley schools is $17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school.” The tuition brings with it smaller class sizes, highly-qualified teachers, and highly (at least monetarily) invested parents. These children must also have a wealth of tech tools available to them at home. For less fortunate children, the only computer they have access to might be the one in their classroom. There seem to be many more issues at play here than whether or not the classrooms are wired.
What do you think? Can traditional classrooms provide an educational advantage over instructional technology? What do traditional education philosophies like Waldorf’s say about the role of technology in the classroom?