At a time when many schools are reducing staff in order to spend increasing amounts of their budgets on technology, national news coverage has turned to the radically low-tech approach of Waldorf schools. A New York Times article, which ran on the front page of their Sunday edition on October 23, 2011, became the “most-emailed” story of the week. Conversation on the topic continued recently with a special segment about Waldorf education appearing Wednesday, November 30, 2011 on NBC Nightly News.
Both the article in the New York Times and the NBC segment 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. 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 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. “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. 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.”