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  • Education Without Computers

    This is Appendix C of The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, by Stephen L. Talbott. Copyright 1995 O'Reilly & Associates. All rights reserved. You may freely redistribute this chapter in its entirety for noncommercial purposes. For information about the author's online newsletter, NETFUTURE: Technology and Human Responsibility, see http://www.netfuture.org/.

    The abyss separating child from adult is strange and baffling. Who among us can look at a classroom of children and tell which one will grow into his full powers, and which one will -- say, at age twenty or thirty or fifty -- begin to shrink from life and growth, allowing his capacities to shrivel? We hear often about the "unpromising" childhood of an Einstein or a Churchill, but not so often about the many exceptional promises of youth that never quite come to flower. Both are enigmas the educator must decipher. How can he pretend to teach, if he averts his eyes from the ruling mysteries of childhood?

    If education is a matter of cultivating capacities rather than shoveling into the child a quantity of testable knowledge, then our difficulty in recognizing how those capacities -- future potentials -- are developing suggests that we don't know a whole lot about what we're doing. Perhaps this humbling awareness is the first requirement for a good teacher.

    Three characteristics of Waldorf education have particularly drawn me to it: (1) precisely the sense of humility just described, combined with a grave acceptance of responsibility; (2) a conviction that the teacher can learn to recognize and cultivate the individual child's unfolding capacities; and (3) a deeply felt resistance to the use of computers in the primary school curriculum.

    What is Waldorf education?

    Founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner in Stuttgart, Germany, Waldorf schools (sometimes called Steiner schools) now constitute the largest and fastest growing nonsectarian educational movement in the world. While the movement is strongest in Europe, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America embraces approximately one hundred member schools. Over the past fifteen years, new schools have been forming in the United States and Canada at the rate of about nine per year. In addition, there are 130 Waldorf kindergartens, fourteen high schools and five teacher training institutes. /1/

    Worldwide, some 120,000 students at over six hundred schools in thirty-two countries are today receiving a Waldorf education. During the past few years, Russia and the former Iron Curtain countries have placed particularly strong demands upon the movement. Almost all of those countries now have teacher training programs.

    Waldorf education, arising from profound convictions about the nature of the child and the world, requires an uncommonly strong commitment from its practitioners. (If nothing else, teacher salaries running well below public school rates tend to ensure a high level of commitment.) Although teachers operate within a broad, "given" educational context, they