Inside a concrete block at the top of a hill in San Francisco, 27 nine-year-olds are handed needles and ordered to sew. Across the hall, eight-year olds churn butter by hand, while downstairs four year-old are busy carrying out their duties: sweeping up, washing dishes and dehydrating fruit.
The school in question, The San Francisco Waldorf School, has a strict “no screens” policy and even has blackboards and chalk in the classrooms.
One parent says:
“I just wanted our kids to have a technology-free start, so that they would be playing and running around and picking up leaves and getting dirty, rather than sitting inside watching a screen. It didn’t feel like giving our children access to so much technology so soon was a good choice”.
Parenting tips from Silicon Valley:
- Ban screens until your kids are into their teens, say 13 or 14. No smartphone. No iPad.
- If this is too extreme, establish a screen time “budget”; a limited time that children can go online.
- Get a router with parental controls so that web access can be cut off after a set hour.
- Prepare for the end times. Silicon Valley is busy creating AI that could one day take over so some schools send pupils on self-reliance trips where they are dropped in the wilderness and left to build their own shelters and find their way home with no money or technology.
The tech free education is the main draw at schools like The Waldorf. The irony is that it’s a school community built on being tech free supported by parents who are at the forefront of technology!
This summer, France banned smartphones in school for children up to 15 years old in an effort to combat screen addiction.
Louis Hyman, an economic historian at Cornell University, says the concept of a steady job is dying. The new reality is one of insecure, episodic work – the Gig Economy. More than half average American households see their income fluctuate by at least 30% month to month due to different income streams from different jobs. If future generations, our children, are to thrive in this brave new world, how they are educated must be completely re-thought Hyman argues.
“We have trained pupils to obey in our classrooms for 100 years, to sit in an orderly grid and to listen to their teacher, and then listen to their boss. That’s not going to work in this new economy”
“Students want to know what they have to learn so they can get a job, so they can be safe. And I’m like, ‘look, you’ve got to learn how to learn’. They hate that!”
Learning how to learn in a tech free school could be a challenge but it does illustrate the complexities of a Twenty First Century education; is there truly a right or wrong way? I wonder if it’s really possible to prepare our children for the world of work which doesn’t even exist yet.
However, what we can do is help our children learn how to learn, even to love their learning. If they love to learn in whatever their environment we’re not doing too badly as educators.