The Washington Waldorf School differs from your average public school in one rather obvious way. While it's common nowadays to be greeted by the sound of electronics as soon as one enters a school hallway, the corridors of Washington Waldorf are eerily quiet.
That is because rather than embracing technology, the school is innovating by moving further away from it. Instead of introducing classes on web design, programming and computer modeling, students here learn with their hands. When anyone mentions "digital" in this – and most other Waldorf schools across the country and the world – they mean strictly fingers.
It seems like this message of strictly-offline education is striking a chord. There are now more than 120 Waldorf schools in the United States with more than 1,000 are operating globally. In the estimation of Waldorf supporters, it is a true educational revolution in the technology-driven world.
Waldorf's approach caters to paying attention to learning, instincts and the world — tough skills to teach in the distracted era of texting, friending and tweeting. The classes are small — with only 264 students in the entire school — and teachers use hands-on learning in lieu of computing.
Washington Waldorf Faculty Chair Natalie Adams says the seminar teaching format with frequent adult interaction benefits students.
Adams describes what passes for person-to-person interaction in the world of smartphones and social media as "sad." She said that this constant human contact encouraged by the Waldorf ethos makes students comfortable with themselves and with others — and that comfort is a necessary condition to learning, she implies. Whatever benefits technology could bring to education will be more than offset by its ability to distract.
Adams isn't alone in feeling this way. Two recent reports – released by Pew Research Center and Common Sense Media – clearly show that this is a belief shared by a majority of teachers. Far from seeing incursion of digital tools as a boon, many believe that they turn students' attention away from learning — in addition to the number these kinds of gadgets do on an average student's attention span.
In the Pew survey, 87 percent of 2,000 middle and high school teachers said the Internet and digital technology have caused an "easily distracted generation with short attention spans." Common Sense Media researchers found that 71 percent of 685 K-12 teachers surveyed say the media – including TV shows, music, video games and the Internet — interferes with attention span, followed by concerns for writing skills, homework preparation and face-to-face communication skills.