At a time when many schools are reducing staff in order to spend increasing amounts of their budgets on technology, the New York Times recently published an article that described the radically low-tech approach of a Waldorf school. The article, which ran on the front page of their Sunday edition on October 23, 2011, became one of the “most-emailed” stories of the week.
The article in The New York Times described a Waldorf school in California and its unexpected popularity among top employees of large high-tech companies such as Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. After its publication, Americans across the country wondered, what is Waldorf education, and where are the Waldorf schools?
In fact, New England is home to some of the oldest Waldorf schools in the country, which have educated hundreds of students in this region for more than six decades.
“I want my children to develop a love of learning and a confidence that they can solve problems in an increasingly complex world, and that’s what we’re experiencing at Pine Hill Waldorf School” stated Brendan LeBlanc, executive at a “Big 4” accounting firm in Boston and parent of two students who attend Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton, NH.
In competitive industries—such as that of technology—a key to success involves the ability to solve problems creatively. Rudolf Steiner, who founded the Waldorf school movement in 1919, believed that education should develop creative thinking ability in students. Waldorf schools focus on developing capacities that allow students to improve the ways in which they learn. Involving movement and art in learning, for instance, allows new information to connect to more areas of the brain. On any given day in a Waldorf school, students may sing their multiplication table, paint their botany assignment and dance their French lesson.
“The current evidence simply does not support the theory that a high-media diet leads to more thoughtful or well-behaved students,” said Jacqueline Davis, Ed.M., of Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton. “There is growing evidence that screen time is negatively correlated with attention span and literacy, yet each year school districts place more laptops in more classrooms. So if more screen time isn’t helping, could less screen time help?”
Davis, who earned a master’s degree in human development and psychology from Harvard Graduate School of Education, teaches innovative movement classes at Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton, NH. Pine Hill Waldorf School recently pioneered the “movable classroom” in the United States, which brings movement into academics and includes the removal of traditional desks in early grades in favor of a movable arrangement of benches and cushions.
Across the road from Pine Hill Waldorf School is High Mowing School, a boarding and day school for high school students. Here, both modern technology and the arts have a role in academics. At High Mowing School, computers are used as a learning tool in grades 9-12, but the school curriculum emphasizes learning through human interaction and experience in the natural world. Course content such as Tai Chi, naturalist education, digital arts and thermodynamics offers students an opportunity to discover new interests and connections across the curriculum.
“Schools really are about awakening capacities in our young people,” said Robert Sim, Ph.D., Academic Dean at High Mowing School. “You’re simply not going to get the same thing from a computer that you get through authentic human interaction with teachers who bring life experience, insight and expertise to their students.”