NY Times article - a school without "technology"


A school without technology? In Silicon Valley, no less.

article here


I have my problems with Steiners esoterism. In my world, it's suspicious if things are supposed to work like people think they do isolated from any scientific theory. But that's just me.

Otherwise, I share the opinion that a slide rule is superior to any calculator when it comes to education. A microscope, otoh, is hard to replace by anything else.


Any coherent philosophy is not without exceptions. I do fundamentally agree with the philosophy here; we cannot let technology impede the thinking/creative process.

I've been a professor and engineer in mathematics, electrical engineering and science for almost 40 years and fundamentally agree with this philosophy. Appropriate technology is essential and in many cases vital; however technology can be a distraction(and in many cases in some of our crumbling school systems in America is).


Detroit, Michigan, USA


i thoroughly applaud this 'minimalist' approach. with modern computers in the classroom kids barely have to think for themselves at all - what would have once been a research assignment spanning many diverse skills becomes a browse using google and some judicious cut-and-paste... and the kids all hand in the same piece of work as google teaches you that the 'best' answers are always on the first page!

similarly we have kids who can perform what would have been mathematical wonders (20 years back) on a graphical calculator, yet struggle to tell you what 7 x 9 equals.

i do think there is a compromise, however, a technological 'sweet spot'. a class set of kindles e-ink readers can provide every student with a rich research library, while a single-line non-programmable calculator (such as an fx-31) eliminates the use of error-prone lookup tables. i'd allow teachers whiteboards and DVD players, yet keep the well stocked printed library of fiction reading material.

it is important to use technology as appropriate to teach, as opposed to simply teaching technology.

Edited: 23 Oct 2011, 3:02 p.m.


yet struggle to tell you what 7 x 9 equals.

Here is a low-tech solution for this problem:-)


from Mars Staedtler no less


Yes, and this one includes an erasing device in case mistakes are made :-)

I remember once our Descriptive Geometry professor criticized my drawing and suggested I got a better compass. "It's a STAEDTLER!" I said while handing it to him. "No, you've engraved the brand name yourself", he replied. It doesn't suffice to have the right tool if one lacks the skills...



My compass set was liberated from a trash heap somewhere in Germany by my father, some time in the 1940s...I bought one Staedtler small spring compass but the plastic threaded inserts stripped out.


K+E nickel-plated set I got when I entered engineering school 44 years ago. Still use it a few times per year.


indeed... when i was at primary school we all had access to a printed 'times table' chart on the back of every math exercise book - 144 entries covering 1 x 1 up to 12 x 12. cutting out the obsolete/imperial 11's and 12's, the trivial 1's, and reflections across the diagonal, one is then only left with 36 multiplications to learn.

i showed such a simplified multiplication table to a 'modern' teacher recently. said teacher was absolutely amazed at this ingenious and mysterious construction i'd devised!! :-(


You cheated yourself if you didn't go up to 12 X 12 and higher. We had to go to 15 X 15 but I didn't get good above 12 x 12. We still buy by the gross here :-)


With no imperial units to worry about, we don't go beyond 9x9 here. BTW, I remember those pencils were forbidden in class. They still are not allowed during public service and college admittance examinations, though I cannot realize why applicants would need them.


I have rolled my eyes and groaned every time administrators brag about the "technology" they are bringing into the classroom. All I can think of is the waste of net present value, purchasing rapidly depreciating assets in lieu of leveraging that money to buy the most talented and motivated instructors. Of course in pubic school, the teacher's unions prevent that...unless you are the Baltimore city schools, which managed to get consensus for change....

The comment about the ease of picking up the technology is so true, and yet there is some sort of (adult-experience) fear of not spooning computer-operator crap. IT all reminds me of my 9th grade maths teacher who said, "don't waste time with typing class--you'll figure that out on your own" and he was Right!

Furthermore, the rush to "technology" is so stupid when you consider that it will and has continued to evolve so rapidly that learning how to be a button-pusher today means nothing 10 years from now...


I don't know about that. We had computers in my elementary school (Apple IIe Platinum, 5.25" floppy drive, some even had color monitors), and that was how I got introduced to computers and technology. My parents wouldn't have bought one, my dad was a factory worker with no use for such things. I didn't even know what a computer was before school, in fact I can distinctly remember asking the teacher "Why are there TVs sitting on top of the typewriters, does nobody use them?" 10 years later, I finally managed to convince my parents to buy a computer, taught myself some basic programming, read books about digital logic, decided I wanted to be a computer engineer, and ended up going from a decrepit and perpetually bankrupt public high school to Carnegie Mellon.

"Picking up technology" is easy if you mean learning about Facebook and video games and basic Microsoft Word, but getting a good understanding of technology is anything but easy.

I wouldn't say that I agree with the "middle school research papers turning into wikipedia cut-and-paste" thing, but then again schools can look for this. You simply explain that this is called plagiarism, and that it is not OK.

However, I am inclined to agree that making students actually learn how to do math is a useful skill. Not having to deal with the unit circle and approximation when I want to know some trig value is useful, but actually understanding what the trig value means is much more important, because it teaches you how to think, as opposed to how to just follow some instructions.


""Picking up technology" is easy if you mean learning about Facebook and video games and basic Microsoft Word, but getting a good understanding of technology is anything but easy."

Yes. I agree with you here. Problem is that much of the computer use in schools is nothing more than facebook / word "appliance user" stuff rather than what you did as a kid--learning fundamentals of programming and of hardware architecture.


I can do basic calculations and estimate in my head. I am old.

I have an associate who is even older. He can do basic calculations and estimate in his head... much faster than I can.

He is of the slide rule generation.

My high school class was the first in my school to be allowed to have and use calculators.

An overwhelming amount of college students cannot do even simple algebraic problems in a reasonable time, if at all. They are of the powerful graphing calculator/home computer/laptop/smartphone/electronic gaming system generation.

This might not be too rigorous or even remotely scientific, but three points do define a line.

Take away their computers and smartphones and brick-heavy superpowerful calculators that can plot! Give them lookup tables- the point IS to make errors and learn how not to do so. Give them graphing paper, PENCIL & ERASER; how else can a student develop a feel for how different mathematical expressions move? More advanced students? Give them the equivalent of the old HP-31E or 32E. And even then, if they need to plot, use the numerical output, not an electronic display. I wish I was taught with the slide rule; it seems to develop your math senses better than with a calculator.


I remember being back at my community college doing Calc I-III and the physics I & II for my engineering path back in 2002-2004. Of course I had a TI-89 and could do many of the problems for my calculus classes. About half way through Calc II I went and got a HP 49G and although I felt it was a step back in capability, I was able to do ALOT more thinking on my own. It's really hard to explain what that means but with the HP I felt more connected to the logic involved in problem-solving. I had to really understand what I was doing and understand the problem. With the TI, i felt I was just punching crap into a black box and it was spitting stuff back out at me. I gave my TI-89 to a girl in pre-calculus for a few bucks (she was smokin!!!!!!!) and have been HP ever since.

My last year at Uni the Electrical Engineering department decided to ban the powerful graphing calculators for their courses. I was a senior at that time and didn't care as much although I was ticked that many professors didn't enforce this rule. I remember a Controls Systems exam and I used my HP-33S. Some students had other scientific calculators on their desks but a few (cheaters...) pulled out their 89s and proceeded to do matrices that would take me 10 minutes to do by hand in the amount of time it took to punch in the data. The difference is that I still know how to do determinants and other calculations by hand whereas they probably will have to grab a calculator or a computer software (matlab).

I don't have a problem using technology provided that it is used as tool and not a crutch. I still own a TI-92+ (yes, the brick!!) and a HP-50g but the only calculator I carry with me daily is my HP-15C LE.

I went back recently to the same community college that I graduated from a few months ago and talked to the dean (I taught algebra there for 1 1/2 years before I started my career as a Protection & Controls Engineer) and to her dismay they were doing away with teacher-taught prep math classes and using a new software with very limited classtime with another human. She and I both agreed that this was a horrible idea. I may be a well-paid engineer (HA!) but I would be an absolute fool to think I made it this far without many excellent teachers that took the time and love to teach me and others mathematics.


I am 82. I graduated high school in 1946. I received my B.S. in Engineering in 1950.

We were taught to use logarithms in high school. No need to fool around with estimates there if one only paid attention to the proper use of the characteristic.

I was introduced to the slide rule in college. I eventually discovered that a slide rule, even my K&E Log Log Duplex Decitrig or my friend's Pickett with double scales in place of the A and B scales and triple scales in place of the K scale, was a sorry replacement for the use of my book of log tables. First, it was only good to three decimal places. Second, it made it hard to keep up with the characteristic so I had to mess around with estimates. If I really concentrated I could do the equivalent characteristic calculations on the side by, among other things, keeping track of how many times I moved the slide from left to right or right to left.

Furthermore, the slide rule offered no capability for chain calculations which combined addition and subtraction with multiplicaion and division. I don't count the efforts to place an Addiator on the back as a futile response to the early four bangers.

To put it as plainly as I know how, doing engineering with a slide rule was a big pain in the ass!

And, then there was plotting on semilog and log-log paper for curve fitting. Doing that sort of thing one time is enough. After that, it's bad for the soul.


If you think log log is bad, try running an integrator around section curves, and doing a weight estimate by hand...and computing curves of form by hand...yes, the digital computer saved us from a lot of paying of penance...

You have an interesting point about the slide rule versus the tables. My 1936 Eschbach (yes, I still use it frequently--some things never change...) has logs to 6 decimal places. If you are doing a lot of chaining, that sure is better than a slide rule.

Edited: 24 Oct 2011, 10:57 p.m.


To put it as plainly as I know how, doing engineering with a slide rule was a big pain in the ass!

And, then there was plotting on semilog and log-log paper for curve fitting.

Nevertheless, using these tools does give one a better understanding of the underlying mathematical principles, IMO.

I actually still enjoy manual plotting, and using a classic analog planimeter, when these are necessary from time to time. (Yes, sometimes I find no digital alternative).

The biggest breakthroughs the computer afforded in my line of work came when pipe network and pond routing software became available. Now doing those manually was indeed a chore!


Nevertheless, using these tools does give one a better understanding of the underlying mathematical principles, IMO.

What I am saying is that once you have done that a time or two and understand the underlying principles then it is time to move on.
I actually still enjoy manual plotting, and using a classic analog planimeter, when these are necessary from time to time. (Yes, sometimes I find no digital alternative).

We used the manual plotting as one method of solution when I took a class in curve fitting back in 1949. It certainly was easier than accumulating the sums needed for a least squares fit. But once I had access to curve fitting programs on the Honeywell Computer Network and converted them for use with my TI-59 my stack of plotting paper didn't get much use.

I see use of a planimeter as a classic case of not needing to understand the underlying principles in order to obtain all of the benefit. I have one of my own that I managed to get for about twenty-five dollars about ten years ago. Last week there was a mint condition K&E (made after WW II in West Germany) for sale for $150 at a thrift store in Florida. Too expensive for my collection.

I did a lot of work with LeRoy sets in the Navy in 1951-1952. We were still using them in the mid-1970's to make slides for overhead projectors. Who uses a LeRoy set now?


Who uses a LeRoy set now?

No one, I'd venture. I used one in 1977 to revise a City map (I was a graduate engineer but draftsman was the only job I could find at the time).

The LeRoy was replaced by the lettering machines (sort of an electronic LeRoy). We still used those up until about 1990, when CAD took over everything (except two guys who continued to hand-draft until 1995, in this company). I still know professional architects who refuse to use CAD.


Somewhere in the 1980's our tech pubs operation was still using LeRoys for lettering on slides. One of our engineers decided to make his own slides using computer generated lettering which was in its infancy. The lettering on his slides was barely legible. Many of the viewers were saying how wonderful it all was until I commented that if a tech pubs person had delivered slides with lettering as poor as that we would be calling his supervisor and demanding an explanation.


In 1985 we all used them and thought they were pretty cool, but something must have clicked in me and most if not all of my classmates. I never did go buy one. By 1995 there was no reason really to need one as software was then good enough and cheap enough to digitize anything and get at it with simpson's rule etc.


The Waldorf school is not applying no technology at all but just not the latest technology. They are using blackboards and chalk in the classrooms which once were also new technology to pupils whose ancestors wrote on parchment, carved in wood or took chisels to a stone. One can now discuss if the advent of blackboard-and-chalk-technology did any harm to the kids back then. Would they have been better off had they only stuck to chiseling?

We all have lost knowledge about many technologies that once were important to mankind but are no more, and we are taught new things that are important now. Most of us don't have to know how to grow crops, as our ancestors had to. We can very well ponder the question if we really need to know 6x9 by heart when we can find the answer easily on the smartphone we have at hand at all times. It might be far more important to be able to judge how reliable a wikipedia article is.

The things people have to learn change and so do the means by which they learn them.


All true, but the point isn't to eschew technology merely for eschewing's sake; rather, it is to focus on the fundamentals and understanding how and why--the kind of scalable intelligence that does give one the ability to judge the veracity of a wikipedia article...

10 years ago I did look closely at the possibility of enrolling my then 4 year old in a Waldorf school. By the time he reached kindergarten age we had moved and so that was no longer an option. The larger issue with Waldorf for us was that their approach was so different, that if you started with Waldorf, your child would, admittedly by the Waldorf people, be behind in grade 4, because the way they teach various disciplines is not in sync with the more prevailing ductus. This is a problem for people who move a lot. I have never lived in one place more than 4 years as an adult and I've been an adult for considerably more time than I've been a kid.

My kids have attended private school. Even there, I have seen misapplication of "technology" on occasion. What this means is that there is some "fancy" new idea about web-this or interactive-that which ultimately becomes a distraction from what is actually being taught. That is the risk with "implementation and deployment" of "the latest 'technology'" (I *hate* this use of the word technology.)

Edited: 25 Oct 2011, 9:14 a.m.


My kids all started in a Waldorf school and moved over to conventional school at different ages when we moved. I have friends whose kids went all the way up until high school and know there are kids that go through high school and onto university.

My impression was the pedagogy was excellent - kids moved up in grades when they were ready as it was assumed that every kids learned differently. They still followed the standard provincial curriculum, so moving to a conventional school was not an issue in that sense. The biggest problem my kids had was moving to a public school was the assumption that they were either like the majority of kids or had a learning disability!

Waldorf is definitely more right-brained. I wouldn't say it is "anti-technology", but technologically appropriate. There is a real focus on depth and base principles and manipulatives.

Anthroposophy, on the other hand, is just plain nuts.

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