Chapel Hill school embraces tech-free learning

Posted April 9, 2012

— While many modern-day classrooms are filled with iPads, smart boards and laptops, a Chapel Hill school focuses on what's really important: learning.

Elementary and middle school students don't encounter computers or other electronic gadgets on Emerson Waldorf School's 54-acre wooded campus. High schoolers use computers sparingly.

"A computer is a tool of the intellect, and so we wait until the children developmentally reach that stage where they have concrete, abstract thinking before we introduce an intellectual tool," said Jason Child, interim administrator at Waldorf Emerson.

Instead of technology, the 158 Warldorf schools in the U.S. emphasize intellect, creativity and practical application.

Child said the idea is for learning to come naturally and not be forced. "We really look at carefully developing the child's ability to feel things and to respond to the world in a feeling way and to know things intuitively," he said.

Waldorf students stay with the same teacher from kindergarten through eighth grade. Teachers don't give out tests or grades.

Students don't use printed textbooks. Instead, they make their own lesson books for each subject, drawing and writing what they've learned. Emerson Waldorf School Chapel Hill school focuses on learning, not tech

"When you do things, you really make it your own, and you can really understand the material," seventh grader Lizzie Holloway said.

Arts and multisensory learning exercises that develop the mind and body are a big part of the school day. In the early grades, the focus is not on the intellect.

"We see the intellect as an important part of the human being, but equally important is the ability to actually get out and do things and complete something and be a go-getter," Child said.

The unconventional teaching style and lack of technology haven't hampered students' success in the world outside Emerson Waldorf, which has about 250 students and is the only school of its kind in North Carolina, said Child.

Seniors have earned National Merit Scholarships, and graduates have gone onto prestigious colleges such as Duke, Johns Hopkins and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical universities.

Teaching children how to learn, and to love learning, better prepares them for life than training them in the latest technology, Child said.

"It's a mistake to educate our children for the world today, because the world today is not what they will meet," he said.


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  • bholloway2 Apr 12, 2012

    As a parent and employee at Emerson Waldorf School, I would like to say that, yes, art is a key part of the curriculum at Waldorf, because we think it’s important for fostering creative thinking and expression, which feed into our rigorous academics. Our recent graduates have gone on to Johns Hopkins, Embry-Riddle, Cornell, and Duke to study Medicine, Aeronautical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Math, some on merit scholarships, even though we do no standardized testing prior to the PSAT. When I first visited EWS 12 years ago, I was a skeptic, but I was completely blown away by what I saw on that first day. While initially drawn in by the sheer beauty and warmth that EWS would offer my daughter as a preschooler at age 3 ($5800 tuition), I stayed because of the structure, the academics, the fact that the same teacher stays with a child for grades 1-8, and because the curriculum makes sense to me. It takes a visit to understand how and why Waldorf works. Visit us!

  • marylouisecallaghan Apr 12, 2012

    i went to this school from 1st through 8th grades. the waldorf style of teaching is merely different. there is no one disguising what they teach. it is clear and wonderful. i now go to a public high school and i am taking regular and honers classes at normal 9th grade level. and to everyone who thinks the whole no media thing is bad, its not. for 1st through 4th or 5th grade students don't use electronics at home or at school and develop a wonderful imagination. and when you get to 6th,7th,and 8th grades you use computers at home for fun things like email and Facebook. overall the time i spent at waldorf were so amazing, i met the most wonderful people, whether they are students or teachers. my friends still mean the world to me and are like my brothers and sisters, because i have known most of them longer than my actual sister. this type of schooling is just different, and if you have never experienced it don't diss, please. i can't express how much my experience here has meant to me

  • pirategirl12 Apr 9, 2012

    Most of the students I see in schools are sorely lacking critical thinking skills. HUGE downfall for their and our future!

  • sasjammin Apr 9, 2012

    My son went to this school for his first eight grades. He then went to public high school for four years where he graduated near the top of his class. He's a college graduate now and doing fine. The lack of technology in his early years didn't hurt him at all. He builds his own computers now.

  • jcthai Apr 9, 2012

    Re: Powerpoint slides (or any other slides). Allegedly when Lew Gerstner took over IBM, he prohibited any sort of foils or slides in any meetings he attended.

  • jcthai Apr 9, 2012

    The most valuable (MOST!) skill I learned in high school was typing. I went on to get a degree in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and typing was invaluable.

  • NC Reader Apr 9, 2012

    I have a close friend who's a software engineer. He never used a computer until college, and he is now a top employee for a major software company. He has told me time and time again that students need to learn to think first, before they ever go on the Internet or have e-mail, and computer literacy can come later. I learned to use a computer as an adult, and I'm very proficient. The one caveat is that we both think keyboarding skills should be taught by middle school so that students can type papers. I certainly wouldn't go back to the typewriter days when most students didn't learn to type and ended up paying others to type their term papers for them!

    That school sounds absolutely wonderful. I'm a supporter of public schools, but if I had the extra money I'd sure be tempted to send my children there.

  • judyfaybarbour Apr 9, 2012

    Believe me public, the teachers of North Carolina would rather instruct students critical and analytical skills but the evaluation system along with accountability scores drive the education wheel. Get rid of NCLB and standardized tests so we can do what we went to college for in the first place, teaching.

  • Nancy Apr 9, 2012

    "Giving a voucher to a parent of a disruptive, unmotivated and uninterested child just means that child will be disruptive, unmotivated and uninterested in a private school." - balog

    Except you fail to realize the bulk of students vacating the schools where vouchers ARE provided, are the serious parents with concern for their child and the one shot they get at education. You know, the ones who hold their kids responsible?

  • Nancy Apr 9, 2012

    "We have kids graduating from HS that can't write, can't do simple math in their heads...." - nancy

    "and even THOSE kids will need to use a computer and technology to get your drive-through order correct :-)" - downtownboy

    That's the problem, since they never learned how to do simple math in their heads, they can't compute giving change if the 'system' is down. Watch that happen and you lose hope ;)

    I've seen it happen. Or worse, have them pre-enter the amount you give and then you add a quarter to cover the 12 cent change amount on the bill to avoid getting 88 cents in change back and their eyes glaze over. That's a sad sight to see!