What do the creative minds behind some of the largest internet and computing companies know that they rest of the world doesn’t? How about the fact that technology in the classroom might not be such a good thing?
In a story printed in the New York Times yesterday it appears that many employees from companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard prefer to send their kids to private schools – The Waldorf school to be exact – where technology is forbidden in the classroom and not recommended in the home. While schools across the country rush to get technology into the hands of kids, into the classrooms, where kids as young as ten years old are learning how to produce PowerPoint presentations, the children of creative minds behind the technology have become model citizens of a different kind of back-to-basics movement.
This not only makes perfect sense to me, it smacks of common sense.
What exactly do we want the focus of childhood education to be, the content or the method of delivery? Do we want slow, methodical thinking, or work that is produced quickly to standards that assume comprehension comes from uniform presentation?
When spelling errors are auto-corrected, and where homonyms go unchecked, how are young minds supposed to develop an understanding of language without the journey that is the dictionary? In ancient times when a spelling error in a draft of a report meant a trip to the dictionary, not only was the spelling of the word reinforced but so what it’s meaning and usage. Better still, in staring at an open book of words the destination toward one words often led to the discovery of new ones. It was just as easy to get lost exploring words as it is to become distracted by an incoming notice of a facebook status update; which of the two is more beneficial to a student? These days even an ereader, with its ability to give you the definition of any highlighted word, doesn’t offer the same sense of exploration that a dead-tree dictionary does.
Have you tried living without a computer for a week, or even a couple of days? Last week my hard drive gave out and I was forced to be without my electronic tether. Though I still had some access via my smart phone for basic email and internet connectivity I found it was more of a hassle than it was worth. Without the distractions of email notifications and chat pop-ups or even the instant access to look up whatever struck my fancy of the moment I found myself slowing down and speeding up at the same time. Suddenly there was time to read – and reflect on my reading in a thoughtful, leisurely manner – without the feeling that I was “missing” something else. I was able to tackle a project in the home that benefitted from my not constantly “needing” to check in with email or get lost in flitting blog reading. Because I owned the time I was able to plan it better, and the result was finishing up my home office in a single day, a task that had eluded me for well over a year. Imagine how much better-focused kids might be if they had to budget their physical time without the distractions of digital time sucking it away from them.
Back in the pre-computer days of early child development there were studies warning against adults giving children coloring books. The science suggested that a sort of learned developmental dyslexia occurred when young minds were taught to keep within the lines, preventing their hands and arms from learning how to form shapes freely. Kids who had learned to contain their hand-eye coordination within a smaller, tighter space did not possess the confidence of motor skills to form basic letters, where kids who had been allowed to throw their arms wildly across black fields of paper (and walls, and floors) developed a confidence of movement that rendered shape-making easy. Those who understood the teaching methods of the Montessori schools were not surprised by this. Computers, tablet screens, keyboards, all of this focus narrows the scope of a child’s developmental attention to a space two feet in front of them, with limited hand movements and the confined space that prevents spacial exploration. Add this to the fact that physical education classes are often not required, that recess and free time to play is limited, and you have a society of children being raised for a life of cubicles.
I don’t believe The Waldorf way or the Montessori method are the only models, but what they share in common is an understanding that educating young minds has to do with unhurried, undistracted thought and an exploration of the physical world. What the creative elite in SIlicon Valley understand is that creative thinking can be taught, and learned, and technology is more of a hinderance to education than a panacea.
Perhaps when the crypto anarchists are finished occupying wall street they can turn their attention to public education.