October 29, 2011 NEW YORK TIMES
Sunday Dialogue: Using Technology to Teach
In schools and in homes, teachers and parents wrestle with the role of technology in children’s lives. Our readers weigh in.
To the Editor:
Re “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” (front page, Oct. 23), about employees of high-technology companies who send their children to a Waldorf school that is pointedly low-tech:
From 1993 to 1997 I was the chief domestic policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore, and oversaw the Clinton administration’s program to connect classrooms to the Internet. At the same time both of my children attended a Waldorf school. My children had no access to computers, and extremely limited access to TV or movies.
How did I reconcile this? I asked Waldorf teachers when they felt computer learning was appropriate. Answer: around sixth grade, the same grade that the Clinton program aimed to connect.
And here’s why. Waldorf education holds that children learn best “in through the heart, out through the mind.” Let children experience the world through their hands, hearts and bodies, not just their minds.
When overzealous parents brag that their preschoolers can use a computer or iPhone, they are elevating intellectual/technological achievement over child’s play. The irony, of course, is that success in life depends much more on children developing imagination through play than on learning a soon-to-be-obsolete technology, which is why schools are wasting money and failing our children when they spend millions on technology and cancel play time. By sixth grade children are moving out of play and into more intellectual pursuits; hence computers are more appropriate.
I wish that the parents who surround their children with technology and adult-created graphic images as early as 2 years old would realize that they are robbing their children of their greatest treasure and skill — being a child.
Bethesda, Md., Oct. 23, 2011
The writer is now an executive at Pfizer.
There is no inherent reason computers and related technologies cannot be used to encourage and promote creativity and play among young learners, just as much as balls and blocks and mud and gardening tools. If schools instead are using computers simply as drill taskmasters, blame the educators, not the technology.
I do believe that one can get an adequate elementary education without computers, but why, in a fit of doctrinal elitism, would a school absolutely prohibit this technology?
It’s become a topsy-turvy world when private schools for the well heeled have no computers, while schools for the rest of us are using them — the “digital divide” in reverse.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Oct. 26, 2011
The writer is the editor of Educational Technology Magazine.
Should I feel bad that I let my son watch age-appropriate educational programs on TV and learn things like a second language, or enhance his reading ability? Shame on me for letting my child play chess and math games on my iPad?
Is it really outrageous that I let my son sit on my lap in front of my computer so I could help him type his first love letter while in preschool, before he could write with a pencil? Is using Skype to chat with faraway family really a no-no?
The fact is there is no one parenting solution or one type of child. When used appropriately with guidance, there’s nothing wrong with technology for kids.
New York, Oct. 26, 2011
For the past 30 years, Americans have been sold the lie that computers in the classroom will revolutionize education, despite the continued deterioration of educational achievement. All of the iPads, laptops and Web cameras cannot alter the fact that learning requires hard work and discipline.
It is foolish for schools to waste scarce resources buying expensive technological products that will be obsolete upon purchase, when a textbook can be used for up to 10 years.
The “Grading the Digital School” series in The Times indicates that this high-tech philosophy can produce students who can make fancy PowerPoint presentations and upload videos to YouTube but who are functionally illiterate and devoid of critical thinking skills.
Atlanta, Oct. 26, 2011
I fail to see how technology robs children of their chance to be children — any more than pencil and paper do.
My third-grade classroom has a 4-by-5-foot interactive whiteboard connected to my computer. It’s like a highly enhanced blackboard. I can instantly project the children’s writing and any other document for the entire class to see and to edit. Children can move and rearrange geometric shapes to demonstrate how to find area or perimeter. I have immediate access to maps and other information as the need arises. I can teach how to evaluate and compare information from multiple Web sites.
Technology does not prevent the children in my class from physically acting out fractions, drawing, playing math games, making collages and having educational treasure hunts around the neighborhood. The children still get immersed in reading their books — books, too, were once “new technology.”
Technology comprises a diverse set of tools. When selected carefully and joined with various activities, a comprehensive and rewarding education becomes possible.
Brooklyn, Oct. 26, 2011
For 20 years as a Waldorf teacher, I helped grade school children develop their imagination and creativity through an artistic approach to the usual subjects. The living word was our magic wand, and the living world our playground. The rich Waldorf curriculum stimulated their sensing, knowing and creating. The intrusion of electronic devices was minimal, to avoid neurological and attentional disruption.
In Waldorf high school, I now teach some of the same students. They use technology in masterful, creative ways. PowerPoints show the American Revolution and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The class Web site becomes a digital library. Research is online; Web sites are critically evaluated. Technology is in service of higher order thinking, not vice versa. This is as it should be. Technology in education is fundamentally a developmental question — when, what and how. The Waldorf schools have figured it out.
DAVID G. WEBER
San Francisco, Oct. 27, 2011
As the parent of two grade school children who are still fairly computer illiterate, I welcome this debate. I’d really like to know what benefits there truly are to children in using technology at an early age, because I’m not convinced.
As the manager of the I.T. department for a public library, I have struggled to reconcile my own reliance on technology with my reluctance to teach my children much about the computer at home. I’ve heard other parents brag about their kids and their iPhones and iPads, and sometimes wonder if I am putting my own kids at a disadvantage by keeping them at arm’s length from our family Mac.
But I have listened to my instincts, which have been telling me that with the ubiquity of technology in daily life, there is no urgency to get them started just yet. It’s heartening to know that there are a lot of parents out there like me who also feel that the time will come soon enough when our kids are immersed in the world of technology and gadgets — but believe that for now, childhood can be quite complete and fulfilling without them.
Berkeley, Calif., Oct. 26, 2011
I have two teenagers, a 9th-grader and a 12th-grader, and if I could turn back time I would seek for my children just the kind of computer-free education practiced at Waldorf — but I would take it farther and extend it all the way through high school. Unfortunately I can’t go back, so I’m stuck with the reality of watching two intelligent, creative children hooked on computers the way my generation was hooked on drugs.
My husband and I would love to disconnect our wireless router every night and for part of the weekend, but we can’t: Schools have integrated Internet use with homework to the extent that taking away the Internet is akin to taking away paper and pencil. As parents, we’re trapped. So we leave the Internet on, painfully aware that of all the open tabs across our kids’ screens, one relates to homework while the others are Facebook, YouTube, iTunes and whatever else has driven them to utter distraction.
Some argue that kids need to learn about technology to prepare them for the work force. When I was growing up we weren’t handed a desk, a telephone and an I.B.M. Selectric ... at age 3. We played and dreamed, we finished school, got a job, figured out how to use the tools of our trades and did just fine.
Brooklyn, Oct. 26, 2011
Why must “being a child” and learning “in through the heart, out through the mind” be divorced from the use of technology?
I find the notion that parents and schools must takes sides on this debate through a strict binary — either all technology all the time, or no technology whatsoever — to be frustrating and counterproductive to the needs of young people. Educational technologies certainly offer incredible potential for a child-suitable mixture of learning, engagement and play, but they are not solutions to the ills facing schools in and of themselves.
Instructive technologies, no matter how innovative, are shaped by the cultures and communities that adopt them for use. Student needs are varied, and school contexts matter.
Given the tools, support and the appropriate learning contexts, young people can truly benefit from technology.
Irvine, Calif., Oct. 26, 2011
The writer, a Ph.D. student in sociology, is a researcher for a study examining how young people learn with technology and new media.
As a public school teacher with a passion for engaging students in hands-on learning, I couldn’t agree more with the approach to technology-free schooling described in “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” and endorsed by Mr. Simon.
Right now, my third graders are learning about the role of plants in our diet by growing food in a courtyard garden, composting our lunch, conducting scientific observations, interviewing farmers and analyzing the food choices at local supermarkets and farmers markets. How dull it would be to be tethered to a computer screen instead!
Sadly, I’ve been in schools where costly technology sits unused while at-risk students go without basic resources. Now, with national efforts to shift standardized testing to computer-based assessments, districts will be forced to invest heavily in technology at the expense of the money they so desperately need to provide rich, hands-on experiences for their students.
Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 26, 2011
Mr. Simon is right. Screen time takes both adults and children away from face-to-face relationships, which children, especially young children, depend on for learning, connecting and growth. Abundant research finds that young children especially need to be introduced to modern technology very slowly and gradually for optimum growth.
Unfortunately our culture pushes both parents and children to accelerate that exposure far too soon, with infants hitting iPads to make sights and sounds, and vulnerable children being exposed to intense violence and marketing on computer screens long before they are equipped mentally to cope with them.
Dimitri Christakis found in a 2007 study that “educational” videos like Baby Einstein even interfere with learning. Older children may get knowledge from the screen, but often at the cost of social and emotional competence.
Bethesda, Md., Oct. 26, 2011
The writer is on the executive committee of Concerned Educators Allied for a Safe Environment.
My (comparatively unplugged) 9-year-old was recently reading a Louis Sachar book in which a teacher announces that she will use the classroom computer to explain how gravity works. Then she throws the computer out the window.
My sentiments exactly.
Yonkers, Oct. 26, 2011
The Writer Responds
All of the responders seem to be actively engaged with children, which is a critical aspect of healthy child development. Where the responses differ is their starting point for analysis. Mr. Lipsitz and Ms. Lambert start with the question, Why can’t I use technology in positive ways for young children? Mr. Weber starts with the question, How can I develop the creativity and imagination of a young child? This is a critical difference.
Proponents of technology in the elementary classroom like Ms. Bernstein assume that technology can “fit in.” Several readers point out that the seductive nature of computer images and games and the pervasive use of technology outside the classroom make subtle use of technology in the classroom nearly impossible.
As one of my favorite Waldorf teachers has written, “Waldorf is a choice that earnest parents have made, parents who have confidence in technology, who see it as part of their children’s future, but who feel that the natural creative and imaginative capacities of children can best be developed through an immediate connection with nature, art, storytelling, movement, music and drama.” Case in point: My own Waldorf-educated son is graduating with a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania this year.
The question parents like Ms. Lambert should ask themselves when interacting with their children is: Am I pulling my child into my adult world or I am playing with my child in his or her world? Instead of helping a young child write a letter on a computer, why not help him draw or paint an expression of love?
There will be plenty of technology later in children’s lives. Why not let them begin life experiencing the magic of the world and their own imagination rather than holding a mouse and watching electronic magic unfold before them?
San Diego, Oct. 27, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/opinion/sunday/sunday-dialogue-using-technology-to-teach.html?pagewanted=1&sq=sunday dialogue waldorf&st=Search&scp=1