Chapel Hill school embraces tech-free learning

Posted April 9, 2012 8:37 a.m. EDT
Updated April 9, 2012 8:38 a.m. EDT

— 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.

"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.