computers — and the ‘spirit’

Here’s yet another article on waldorf education and technology. (See earlier post.) As always, what kills these ideas is, has always been and will always be the fanaticism with which they are pursued. It’s good to go out playing instead of spending every minute in front of the screen. But there’s more to this than reasonable philosophy. And, as usual, nobody asks why waldorf eschews technology. At least, in this article, anthroposophy is mentioned, so is Steiner. That’s all good and well. But not connection is made between anthroposophy itself and the anti-technology position taken, and few critical questions are asked. (Some general observations about the nature of waldorf education are made, but the ideas behind are not explored at all.) They just rehash the pro-waldorf side’s PR.

‘But the end results are striking’, the article’s author writes, after having taken AWSNA’s word for the method’s successes. And, of course, they have found the committed waldorf mother to speak up on behalf of waldorf, and, of course, that means spreading rather odd ideas about the differences between waldorf and mainstream education:

But her belief is that in traditional classrooms, all children are expected to learn the same things, at the same time, in the same ways.

That’s exactly how I experienced the expectations of waldorf! If your children want to learn at waldorf’s pace, want to learn the same things as the other children at the same time, in the same ways — then, I guess, the limits of waldorf aren’t so consciously experienced. It may even seem like they aren’t there. Doesn’t mean they aren’t, though.

“[My children] both conveyed to me that this style of learning was threatening,” Douglas says.

And the waldorf style isn’t? Well, again, that would depend on perspective. Actually, and it should be said, Douglas isn’t just any waldorf mother — she’s ‘working to establish the Waldorf-concept school locally’ and is thus more like a spokesperson for waldorf. She has more than one stake in its ‘success’.

Waldorf’s site notes that after spending their young lives away from technology, kids in Waldorf high schools often go on to build their own computers as school projects, surpassing their traditionally schooled peers.

This ‘information’ should not be repeated as fact without critical inquiry — it may very well be based on wishful thinking.

Waldorf, especially, is chastised by some for its focus on a child’s “spirit,” and its tendency to come off as artsy or lax.

There’s more to criticize in waldorf than it being ‘artsy or lax’. I’m not sure it’s very artsy — and I don’t think it’s lax. It just requires adherence to a different regiment.

Also, it’s worth noting, spirit — in anthroposophy — is not a concept with quotation marks around it. For better or worse.


15 thoughts on “computers — and the ‘spirit’

  1. More stuff on computers…

    I found this waldorf teacher quote most intersting — intersting enough for a new blog post, but I don’t have time today.

    ‘”I don’t need grades to know how well they’re doing,” said Sokolowski. “I know their strengths, I know their weaknesses. I know what will be hard for them and where they will shine. I’m their teacher with a capital “t.””‘

    Not only is it questionable and unsound, I feel that this whole attitude is repressive in a spooky way.

    It’s also annoying that, once again, it’s the superficial differences between waldorf and mainstream that are in focus. Not the real differences. Not the underlying ideas.

  2. I would add it is seriously unprofessional. He is probably deluded.
    One of the most interesting phases in my career was when I worked on an ‘action-research project’, in which I was able to observe teachers at work in their class-rooms for about 45 minutes at a time, 2 or 3 times per week for up to 6 weeks. Teacher’s would start out with certain perceptions about the behaviour and ability of various children in the class. With me giving feedback and showing the teacher’s how to measure behaviours in a more objective way, they would often find significant differences between what they thought an individual was doing and what was really happening. I am not saying the teacher’s perceptions where always wrong, they were very often right, but they COULD be way off – and this was a salutary lesson for each teacher I worked with, regardless of their level of skill or experience.
    This experience convinced me of the need for objective tests and assessments.
    Sokolowski’s statement sounds dangerously arrogant to me.

  3. thank you for saying this. Yes, it’s deluded — and it’s unrealistic. He thinks he knows his students this well, but he can’t. Of course, teachers do often know their students well — more or less. But they know only a few aspects of their students. That’s not surprising or bad — it’s entirely unsurprising and, actually, a good thing. Anything else — anything remotely like what this teacher seems to express — is intrusive.

    He’s basically saying ‘I know their souls’ (or their spirits, or whatever — depending on your basic assumptions about man) and that’s an enormous power position to (pretend to) have. You can almost sense the rush it could give.

  4. The kids’ souls are absolutely none of the teacher’s business. Even if we believed that he could know their souls, he’s way out of line. Parents should take their children and run FAST away from a teacher claiming to have knowledge of the children’s souls, their karma, their progress “incarnating,” etc. Or a teacher who claims to be meeting the children on the astral plane every night. Again, even if you believe it’s true – actually even more so if you believe it’s true – it’s utterly unacceptable.

  5. Yes — it’s much more scary if you believe it’s true. But I have seen people, who actually seem to believe it, express that it’s such a great thing. It really proves how much the teacher is involved. To me, that’s just scary. Also, in reality, the ‘knowledge’ (about the student) derived from such an astral relationship is likely to be flawed… and then, if it’s used in the actual classroom, in the actual relationship with the student, the consequences might be dire. I suppose that’s how you might end up concluding a child is happy and content even when s/he’s depressed, upset, crying, not wanting to go to school, et c. Because those are all just visible signs, material manifestations, not the ‘inner’ child that the teacher thinks s/he ‘knows’.

  6. Yes, this sort of thing just seems to make people take leave of their senses. Critics are sometimes accused of not being able to understand Waldorf because (supposedly) we are unspiritual, don’t believe in stuff like the astral plane. To which I always think, Cmon think people, if you DO believe this stuff then what the Waldorf teacher is doing is even worse. If it’s all fantasy then there is really no concern about what the teacher thinks she is doing with your child on the “astral plane.” It’s goofy, but harmless. Right? There are other concerns, such as do you really want kooks in charge of your child’s education, and is there any actual learning going on in this classroom? … But if the teacher is REALLY consorting with your child on the astral plane, holy smokes, then you’d REALLY better figure out if what is going on on the astral plane is okay with you, beneficial to your child or potentially seriously damaging etc.

    I mean isn’t the astral plane et al. pretty serious stuff? If the teacher is not so good at teaching your child the multiplication tables, for instance, that is a problem. But not nearly so big a problem as if something bad happens on the astral plane. Or so I would think. Sometimes I think I take anthroposophy more seriously than anthroposophists do …

  7. ‘… if the teacher is REALLY consorting with your child on the astral plane, holy smokes, then you’d REALLY better figure out if what is going on on the astral plane is okay with you, beneficial to your child or potentially seriously damaging etc.’

    Exactly! I would find this an extremely pressing concern…

    Yes, I can’t think it would not be pretty serious — if it’s not, what’s the point?

    And, yes, I think we actually do take it more seriously — take the implications of the beliefs — more seriously than some anthroposophists do and, in particular, more seriously than waldorf fans do.

  8. It’s getting tedious with these anti-technology-is-fabulous articles, I know, but here’s yet another one:

    ‘Waldorf School officials are quick to point out there is no data proving computers help students learn better. Bedingfield says, “The last 15 years have seen computers coming into schools and are we still having educational problems, yes. I think it’s because we are missing that whole half of the human being the music, the arts the movement that children need.”‘

    They should ask them more about *their* methods and the foundations for them… and the evidence backing their methods up… But they don’t.

    Are *they* not having ‘educational problems’? Yes. Do they have data backing up anything? Nope.

  9. I guess AWSNA, other waldorf organizations and schools won’t be spreading this on facebook and places…:

    ‘Technology has grown by leaps and bounds, yet are computers helping students progress in their learning? Absolutely, says a 40-year retrospective on the impact of technology in classrooms.

    Published in the journal Review of Educational Research, the findings gathered by Concordia University researchers suggest that technology delivers content and supports student achievement.’

  10. This may come in handy some day:


    National Surveys:

    Policy Research and Program Evaluations:

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