YARN - From the (shorter) Oxford English Dictionary:

Spun fibre of cotton, silk, wool, or flax.... fibre prepared for use in weaving, knitting...a fisherman's net...any of the strands of which a rope is composed...a (usually long or rambling) story or tale, especially an implausible, fanciful, or incredible one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Low-tech High-tech - Waldorf and computers - 1

One afternoon I came into the school yard to collect my daughter and above the din I heard one of the older boys bellowing; I turned to see him racing across the yard, chasing someone and calling out "he's got my laptop!"

It was the mention of a computer that made this one comment stand out above all of the excited chatter and play. I though "How very un-Waldorf". A few seconds later I saw him running back across the yard with his "laptop" under his arm - and I realized it was two pieces of wood! I could only think - "How very Waldorf!"

A few months later my daughter set up a workspace in our backyard. She has made other places of work, stores for selling stones she has cracked, or play food made from sand and things found in the garden, she has made art galleries and theatres. This time it was an office, complete with a computer - another wooden computer!

Computers are not part of the classroom at our school.  The classrooms contain blackboards, wooden desks and the children learn to draw and print and then to write - cursive writing.

Is this a quaint anachronism? Are we a bunch of Luddites?
Won't our children lag behind?  What will happen if they don't learn to use a mouse before they enter the grade school? Are the wooden computers an expression of need or a sign of profound deprivation?

I see technology changing so rapidly that it makes no sense to learn anything other than for immediate application. The interface with all things technical is becoming more seamless and intuitive all the time, it is not something that needs to be practiced. People don't need extra lessons in video games, or wasting time on the internet, that is the easy stuff. We should not kid ourselves that anything we could teach children now about computers will be applicable in 5 years.  We need to help them to maintain their sense of wonder and imagination, to foster their creativity and to acquire the cognitive skills and sense of historical context and give them access to the great stories of humanity so that they are prepared for a future that we cannot even imagine. It's about thinking, the technology is just a tool.

It turns out that some of the folks who are actually creating these technologies, the earliest of early adopters of technology, the geekiest of the geeky, the disciples of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, the dwellers of Silicon Valley agree! And they send their kids to Waldorf Schools!

The New York Times, in a series called Grading the Digital School, looks at the results of the push for technology in the classroom. The third article in the series, A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute, focuses on Waldorf education.

Maybe they have wooden laptops there too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The First Day of School

Last year I wrote about Ritual and Reverence and included the first day of school as both a ritual and an act of reverence:
As my daughter entered grade 1 this year I was moved to be standing in the circle of the school community with other parents, children and teachers all of whom had gathered to welcome the children to the grade school in word and song.  Each child was given a flower by a student in the graduating class with whom they had been paired, a gift that will be returned at the end of the year when those same students prepare to leave for high school.  On that first day my daughter and her classmates crossed the threshold into their formal education by passing under an arch of boughs held by their teachers from Kindergarten and in turn they each leaped joyfully into their education.

I was moved by this simple ceremony again this year.  Joining us were new children and new families. Missing from the circle were families that had moved away.  As I looked around the circle I saw all of standing there together and I thought of all that had happened within this community of people in the last year, the multiple ways in which we come to know each other by sharing the experience of being a school community.  Some had suffered losses that touched us all.  We had also acknowledged and celebrated the successes and joys, big and small. These events happened in the context of the school community and connected us further - as friends. 

The school year began with parents and children joining with teachers and staff to mark the beginning of the year, to welcome new students and teachers, to hear what the work of each class will be over the year and to celebrate the teachers who will create the magic that is learning. We also gathered to shine a special light on the children entering into the grade school.  Under an arch of sunflowers, the students and teachers passed from the communal space of the yard, into their classroom homes. New students were welcomed with a potted plant to care for. My daughter returning to a new grade but to  her classroom with her teacher - the same as last year. She was carrying the plant she had been given to care for at the beginning of last year; returning to her desk where her coloured pencils and crayons waiting for her, her knitting project was also waiting in the classroom.  

Ready for the new but eased and comforted by the familiar, there had been very little anxiety or nervousness associated with the beginning of the school year, my daughter knew what to expect. We parents, left in the yard, paused for a few moments to let the emotion runs its course, and to share with each other how surprisingly moving it all is every year.