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Viewing Technology as a Tool: The Heart of Cyber Civics

Viewing Technology as a Tool: The Heart of Cyber Civics
Sabrina Morrissey

In the Waldorf tradition, every element of the curriculum is infused with intention and purpose, and technology education is no exception. Cyber Civics teaches students to view technology as a tool — a means to an end, and not an end in itself. The middle school years are a formative period when young individuals develop habits that will last a lifetime. By instilling a perspective of technology as a servant to human creativity and productivity, rather than as a master dictating our attention and intentions, we lay the foundation for a healthy relationship with these tools.

This, in fact, is the terrible characteristic of our time — that people are living in an environment that is foreign to them. You only have to walk into the street and take a good look at the people boarding a streetcar or bus. How many of them actually know how this streetcar is set in motion, know about the natural forces necessary for it? This has an effect on the whole human constitution — spirit, soul, and body. There is a great difference between having at least an elementary knowledge of the things we use in daily life and not having such knowledge. Traveling in a car, plane, or bus, using an electrical gadget without understanding at least the underlying principles, means blindness of soul and spirit. Just as a blind person is moving through life without experiencing the effects of light, so do people move blindly through the cultural life, because they cannot see, did not have the opportunity to learn to see and understand the objects around them. Rudolf Steiner, Education for Adolescents

The Need for Cyber Civics

As Steiner remarked, "This, in fact, is the terrible characteristic of our time — that people are living in an environment that is foreign to them." How prophetic these words seem today. In our current age, the "environment" includes a digital space that is as intricate and pervasive as the physical one. Yet, how many can claim to understand the algorithms that dictate their newsfeed, the network infrastructure that carries their instant messages, or the privacy implications of their online activities?

At the middle school level, where curiosity coincides with critical developmental stages, education in Cyber Civics becomes crucial. Just as Steiner advocated for individuals to have at least an elementary knowledge of their daily tools, today's students must grasp the fundamentals of the digital devices and platforms they use. Without this understanding, there is a "blindness of soul and spirit" – a disconnection from the very fabric of the 21st-century culture that they are part of weaving.

This understanding encompasses not only the workings of technology but its role in human life. For Steiner believed that such ignorance had an "effect on the whole human constitution — spirit, soul, and body." In the context of Cyber Civics, this means fostering a relationship with technology that is mindful, ethical, and balanced, recognizing that these devices and platforms are not just tools but extensions of our human intention and agency.

Cyber Civics transcends mere computer literacy. It’s not just about how to use technology, but about how to use it mindfully, ethically, and with an understanding of its broader implications for society. It’s taught not in isolation, but interwoven with a rich curriculum that includes the arts, humanities, and natural sciences, thereby contextualizing the digital experience within the larger human experience.

The Bridge to High School and Beyond

The Cyber Civics curriculum is not just preparation for high school — it's preparation for life. As students transition from the supportive environment of middle school to the greater freedoms (and distractions) of high school, the habits and insights they have gained regarding technology become even more significant. A student who has learned to question the role of social media in their life, to use technology as a creative tool, and to engage with digital media critically is well-equipped to navigate the challenges of high school and the wider world.

This cultivated awareness means that when they encounter the inevitable increase in tech use and social media engagement in high school, they are prepared. They have a robust framework for understanding how to integrate technology into their lives as a positive force, how to protect their mental health and personal data, and how to stay focused on their educational and personal goals amidst a sea of digital distractions.

Armed with this foundational knowledge, as Waldorf students embark on the journey from middle school to high school, they carry with them a vision that transcends the mere functionality of tech use. They are prepared to employ technology as a tool, yes, but also as a canvas for creativity, a medium for connection, and a means of navigating the complex social and ethical questions of our time.

From Elementary Knowledge to Enlightened Use

The Cyber Civics curriculum does not merely aim to inform but to enlighten; to ensure that as our children step out into the world, they do so not as blind passengers of the digital age but as its insightful navigators.

They will move with intention and understanding, perceiving the light and shadow cast by digital media, discerning the subtle effects on spirit, soul, and body. By weaving Cyber Civics into the rich tapestry of a Waldorf education, we are providing more than a set of skills. We ensure that Waldorf education remains a beacon of light;, we are nurturing a conscious, discerning approach to the digital tools of our time.

As students engage with Cyber Civics, they delve into the "how" and "why" of technology: How does a social media algorithm work? Why is digital privacy important? They are encouraged to not only operate technology but to comprehend its implications, to see beyond the screen to the human and natural forces that set it in motion. This is essential to ensuring that as they grow, they do not simply travel blindly through their digital existence but do so with open eyes, prepared for the intricacies of the digital world. Cyber Civics lessons include activities such as these:

  • Understanding the Technology: Learning how the internet works, how data is stored and transferred, and what constitutes digital privacy. Discovery of hardware and software that is utilized and their purpose.
  • Ethical Use of Technology: Discussing the moral implications of digital piracy, the permanence of our digital footprints, and the responsibility that comes with digital communication.
  • Mindful Media Use: Encouraging students to be intentional about their screen time, selecting activities that contribute to their learning and well-being, and recognizing when technology use may be detracting from their quality of life.
  • Project-Based Learning: Integrating technology in project work to research, create, and collaborate, thus reinforcing the idea that technology is a powerful aid in accomplishing meaningful work.

The journey of Cyber Civics in a Waldorf school setting is one that equips students with more than the ability to traverse the digital terrain of the present; it prepares them to be the architects of the technological terrain of the future. It is a profound expression of Steiner's ethos: to not only comprehend the contours of our world but to actively mold them, guided by a deep well of wisdom, empathy, and a profound connection to our shared humanity.

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