I read your notice to the Yahoo group asking for feedback on the question, as
I understand it, of the use of computers in relation to Waldorf Education.
This is both a simple and a complex question. I am a trained Waldorf teacher who
has been working in the corporate world for the past decade. I had never
touched a computer until 1997. Now, I use it constantly and in the office, I am
the person others look to for answers.
As with everything else in life, applying Rudolf Steiner's view of Threefold
Man and, by extension, Threefold Social Order, one can gain valuable
perspective on the technological aspects of our current civilization. Since you are
specifically asking about the relationship between art and technology, the
Threefold point of view is very appropriate.
Let's start with the simple view. The computer is nothing but a glorified
pencil. It does nothing but facilitate human intentions. One could pose as many
"ethical" arguments against the Guttenberg printing press as against the
development of computers. The printing press enabled the common human being to gain
(over time) access to ideas that had once been the possession of the
privileged classes. Being able to read the Bible enabled a person to consider the ideas
of religion without an intermediary. Being able to read political and
scientific treatises awakened the individual's sense of self and his place in world
history. Access to books became dangerous in real, physical terms as these
ideas spread and contributed to social unrest and revolution. Ray Bradbury's
Farenheit 451 is about a future society which recognizes how dangerous books are
and bans them entirely. But Pandora's box is open and nothing in heaven or on
earth can put the demons back in.
On the other hand, of course, is the improvement of human life in all of its
aspects through increasing literacy and education. Human health and welfare,
human rights and justice and individual growth and development are all
dependent on literacy. Obviously, books are central to our own exposure to Rudolf
Steiner's work. The printed word spreads ideas around the world and makes no
ethical differentiation. It is how these ideas are received and applied by human
beings that creates the benefits or disasters to society.
The computer as a tool can do absolutely nothing in and of itself. It is
exactly the same as an automobile. It sits in the driveway and does nothing until
a human being (hopefully one old enough to use it responsibly) gets into the
driver's seat and turns it on. Where it goes and how it gets there is totally
determined by the driver. Thus it is with the computer. "I" turn it on. "I"
open a program. "I" read, write or create whatever that program is capable of.
Another human being has put in all of the information that the program contains,
has been its author. I can choose how and if I will act or react to this
information. I can expeditiously publish whatever information I wish and
disseminate it to the world, whether it is good or bad, true or false, beautiful or
ugly. Although a computer program may be capable of performing many complex
functions because a person or persons who understood those functions programmed
them into it, its potential will go unused unless I first know within myself what
I want to accomplish. For example, "Excel" has a long list of mathematical
functions which one can select. I have never used more than two or three of
them, because I do not have the mathematical understanding within me. It would
most likely require the presence of another human being in my life who did
understand mathematics thoroughly to teach me what I would need to know to use Excel
to its fuller potential.
I have a program called "Corel Draw" on my computer. I can use some of its
functions but there are many I don't understand. This art program was created by
and for artists of much experience and expertise. Again, I would probably
need to take a computer graphics class with a human teacher before I could use it
The computer is a machine. It is therefore connected with the spiritual
forces which work supersensibly within all machines, mechanics and technology.
These forces are of the earth and of a spiritual entity which Rudolf Steiner
refers to as Ahriman. Is this entity evil? I say definitively, "Yes." A radical
statement, perhaps. What makes it evil? According to Rudolf Steiner, the "evil"
polarities of Lucifer and Ahriman arise from misuse and wrong intentionality.
Both Lucifer and Ahriman have functions in the universe and in the
supersensible world that are not "evil" because they are appropriate and in harmony with
human spiritual development. It is when there is an intention to retard or
misdirect that development that negative effects arise. Should a "spiritual"
person attempt to avoid technology altogether because he or she recognizes that
there is a force behind it which has negative intentions? Many Islamic, Christian
and Judaic fundamentalist sects do precisely this. They forbid their members
to access many forms of technology because of its "evil" nature and its power
to spiritually corrupt the individual. The question therefore becomes, "Is
evil technology so powerful against the development of the human spirit that the
human being cannot conquer or master it?" Fundamentalist sects say "yes" but
Rudolf Steiner says "no." Perhaps in an earlier epoch of humanity, the secrets
and potential of technology needed to be kept hidden. Perhaps the individual
human being was not responsible enough or morally equipped to use it. But
Steiner asserts that humanity is at an age where we collectively should be ready to
apply responsibility and morality to the freedoms that technology can provide.
Simply put, we do not give the keys of the family car to a five year old or
even a twelve year old. A human being of that age is not capable of controlling
the powerful potential of an automobile. A sad example is of a young girl a
few years ago who was allowed to learn to fly an airplane by herself. While her
family and society were delighted when she accomplished this feat and the
media focused on her prodigious abilities, unfortunately, she did crash and die.
Adult human beings also crash and die but we know that they have developed
greater capacities and that the likelihood is much less.
Western society is for the most part the emotional and moral equivalent of a
21 year old. We allow teenagers to learn to drive and to drive, first with
supervision and then by themselves. Insurance companies know how much greater
risk teenagers and young adults pose on the road. Nevertheless, there is enough
maturity present to make the level of risk acceptable. We now possess as a
society technologies which have much more devastating potential, some of which we
do use and some we do not. We must hope that those individuals and
institutions that have control of these technologies have the ethical perspective of the
fully born "I" of the 21 year old individual. (Remembering myself at 21, this
does make me quite nervous.)
Computers cannot create art, science or philosophy. A computer is simply a
powerful tool for communicating what is being created by human beings. What we
call science has been built into this machine in its use of materials and
energy and the knowledge of circuits and their functions. Art has also been used to
create computers, envisioning their capabilities; creating new forms and
visual images; designing experiential programs that give the viewer new
perspectives and insights. Philosophy and religion (as defined by re-legare or
re-connect) also certainly has had its role. The idea of making information and the
tools of creation available to all people and the idea of freedom of
communication and expression have both been present in the creation of the personal
computer. Through its application called the internet, the computer is definitely a
tool which connects people all around the world. All possible ideas can be
accessed. This would imply a recognition that the individual human being is of an
age (spiritually speaking) to take on the moral responsibility of freedom in
the realm of knowledge.
Going back to the analogy of the young girl who learned to fly, it is vitally
important that Waldorf Educators understand the role of technology in the
life of the developing child. Almost all children are exposed to modern
technology from birth. They ride home from the hospital in a car (unless their family
is Amish). Even if the baby is homebirthed, the parents often play music on a
CD or tape player. Most young children have been exposed to television since
the 1950s and now, start to "play" on a computer at the age of three or earlier.
Volumes have been written about the negative effects on the young child of
watching television, despite its initial promotion as a positive educational
tool. It is natural that the use of a computer with a young child should be
touted as having the same positive effects. However, our experience as a society
over the past half century with television should be enough to alert us to the
same dangers in the use of computers as an educational tool. It has been well
documented and substantiated (see especially "The Plug In Drug" by Marie Winn)
that the intake of visual and auditory stimulation without direct interaction
does not benefit the young child, indeed can retard its verbal development.
Even though computer games are "interactive", clicking a mouse and moving a
pointer is in no way the developmental equivalent of human conversation and
interaction. As a short amusement, both television watching and playing computer
games have a place. But doing either on a daily basis can be harmful.
The Waldorf classroom in the Kindergarten and Elementary years does not
contain either a television or a computer. Neither do we give our children driving
lessons. Waldorf Education delivers information about the world, whether
classified as science or art, directly from human being to human being utilizing
full interaction, conversation and exchange. The Waldorf approach to reading and
mathematics is to build up the process of the necessary functions in the way
that mankind collectively developed them. Writing is taken from pictures to
pictographs to abstract symbols and mathematical functions are developed
concretely and actively. Using colored crayons in first and second grade in place of
charcoal, lead pencil or ink allows the modern child as full an emotional
relationship to each lesson as possible, and as much personal expression. In Third
Grade, the students use colored pencils. Then in Fourth Grade, an actual
handwriting main lesson is given in which the students, now with a more historical
perspective are taught to use charcoal and pen and ink. After this, the
students may combine their writing tools in whatever way suits their intentions.
By Eighth Grade, when the curriculum reaches the industrial era, typewriting is
introduced, which would lead naturally to some exposure to computers.
It is taken for granted that the developing child is at the same time, being
exposed to all of these things, lead pencils, ink pens, typewriters and
computers in his or her home. Children in a Waldorf school may learn to read outside
of the classroom. But what makes Waldorf Education an Art, rather than a
methodology is the emphasis on the experiential, on the process of learning,
rather than the end result or goal. The children learn to multiply using stones or
pine cones long before they are given a calculator. A calculator is of
absolutely no use to someone who does not understand multiplication and know how to
do it already. The calculator merely facilitates the multiplication that the
person sets out to do.
Rudolf Steiner said that Waldorf Education should not make the children
"strangers to their culture" and that Waldorf teachers should read the newspaper
every morning before coming to school so that they would know about whatever the
children may be exposed to in their society. This does not contradict the
fact that we develop our children's abilities in as human a way as possible. It
is not an either/ or situation; it is a question of adding the appropriate
human element in education which respects the child's natural development
physically, emotionally and mentally and allows them to build real foundations for the
use of technology later in their life.
Taking this perspective into account, using computers in high school is just
as appropriate as taking driving lessons. Hopefully, Waldorf high school
students will become completely proficient in "operating" a computer and
additionally, will have developed their intellectual capacities, emotional
responsibility and active morality in such a way that what they give to and receive from
the world via the computer will be grounded in the Beautiful, the True and the
Christine : )