Schools across the country are wiring up, plugging students as young as three into the latest digital technology. But not so fast say educators at Waldorf schools. The Waldorf model avoids technology in the classroom before high school. But some students are still getting a steady diet of screen time at home. One classroom at Denver’s Waldorf School decided to put themselves on a media fast outside of school.
Here is a transcript of CPR’s education reporter Jenny Brundin reports.
Reporter Jenny Brundin: Every morning Todd Matuszewicz watches his 4th grade class file into Room 4. He pays close attention to the ebbs and flows of their energy, their moods.
Todd Matuszewicz: Monday mornings were always the hardest.
Reporter: The kids would bounce into the classroom.
Matuszewicz: ..and they would be really wired. There was kind of a heightened state of anxiety in the classroom. And then here was lots of talk about what they had seen.
Reporter : …TV shows, commercials.
Matuszewicz: And then the week would mellow out, like Thursday and Friday, I’d go 'Oh there we are!' and then Monday it would get ramped up again.
Reporter : One Monday morning, the boys were particularly amped up imitating moves from a Fox TV commercial advertising a bare knuckles fight. It was…
Matuszewicz: The straw that broke the camel’s back.
Reporter: He’s not anti-boxing. It’s just that the graphic and at times bloody style of fighting was not appropriate for 4th graders. The school had just had a visit from a scholar who challenged them to unplug from all media for a period of time. See what happens. Does it sharpen the senses? Bring families closer? So Matuszewicz consulted with parents and then broached the idea of a 2-week fast with students. Aiden Rhysling’s first reaction?
Aiden Rhysling: Oh no!
Reporter: He and his buddies knew their teacher was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
Matuszewicz: So the Steelers had gotten eliminated from the playoffs and they said, 'You’re doing this to punish us because the Steelers are out of the playoffs!" – that was the first thing that came out of their mouths. (laugh)
Reporter: Football, as it turns out, was a major issue during the fast. The big Broncos game, you know, the one everyone wants to forget, was coming up.
Charley Morris: I was like 'Oh my gosh, we’re not going to be able to watch this game!'
Reporter: Charley Morris’ family broke down, called Mr. Matuszewicz, and confessed they had to watch the game. But other than the big game, families gave up televisions, iPads, videogames, cell phones, music and even radio in the car for 2 weeks. It was a challenge says Sierra MacMillan.
MacMillan: But then it’s kind of fun because you have to find something else to do
Reporter: And that is a central question in Waldorf philosophy, says enrollment director Leigh Rhysling:
Leigh Rhysling: What aren’t the children doing when they’re in front of a screen?
Reporter: According to Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner, children think by creating mental pictures. If those pictures are supplied ready-made – there’s less opportunity to build the “imaginative muscle.” It’s based on this simple belief: technology is a tool. Introduced too early, it becomes a crutch, an addictive one at that. You would only introduce a hammer to a child when he has mastered the skill to hit something accurately. In the century-old Waldorf model, children focus on developing the neural networks needed for higher learning – and that means movement – skipping, running, jumping, balancing – making their own content instead of absorbing content created by others, on a screen. It is creative hands-on projects and play --and no computers in the classrooms until high school. 4th grade teacher Todd Matuszewicz:
Matuszewicz: We’re not anti-technology, we’re not anti-computers. We actually celebrate the tool. But it’s important that you have skills that enable you to use that tool. Master the tool, not let the tool master you.
Reporter: The media fast at home, while challenging, led to lots of reflection. One family noticed they slept better. They definitely spent more time together. Teacher Todd Matuszewicz held daily “what are you doing instead of media” chats with his students.
Student speaking in class: We’ve been playing a lot of board games in the mountains and I’ve been reading a lot. I just started a book and I just finished it.
Reporter: Fourth grader Sabine Keppeler had an insight about how addictive TV is.
Sabine Keppeler: Well it’s made me realize is, I wish the media was never invented. I don’t mean all the lights and stuff. I mean TVs – they’re like magic. They keep you staring at them for like 10 minutes and then when it’s time to leave, you’re like, no I want to see this just until the end of this episode and then you watch another and another.
(sound of classroom)
Reporter: It’s on Wednesday of the second week of the fast when Matuszewicz finally notices a difference in class.
Matuszewicz: Today as they were having snack, the conversation stayed really calm, there was not a lot of volatility, and so I would say today is the first day when I can say, I can see a new calmness to them as a whole.
Reporter: Matuszewicz asks the students how they’ll end the fast. It appears, the kids are ready. Aiden Rhysling says he’ll “chuck his school bag against the wall,...”
Rhysling: sit down on the couch put in the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and watch it!
Reporter: The class is open to another fast in the spring.
Matuszewicz: They’ll be no play-off games to miss so we’ll be OK there….maybe a little bit longer?…maybe 3 weeks? Class: No!
Reporter: A few weeks later, though, as a class, the Denver Waldorf School’s fourth graders agree to try to stay away from screens from Sunday afternoons until Fridays after school. Call it a screen diet.
[Photos: Bruce Kelley/ The Denver Waldorf School]