DANBURY — For Elizabeth Knudsen, writing about technology’s role in education for a scholarship contest was simple.
“I wrote about growing up, learning everything without technology,” the 18-year-old Danbury High school senior said.
Her essay, along with an interview and academic resume, earned her a four-year scholarship worth $150,000 to Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.
She was among three students who won full scholarships at the school.
“It was an amazing opportunity,” Knudsen said.
Knudsen’s education was unlike many of her public-school classmates.
From kindergarten through eighth grade, she attended Housatonic Valley Waldorf School in Newtown, which had no technology for children until middle school.
“The Waldorf curriculum rejects technology as a tool for young children. They believe that a child must be able to interact with the world around them before they are exposed to an artificial account of all that exists,” Knudsen wrote in her essay. “I did not possess the seemingly infinite information that was available to my peers in public schools, but the information I did learn became embedded in my core.” She said she learned botany by digging into soil and English by performing Shakespeare.
“Because of this, rather than forming one relationship between myself and a computer screen, I have created hundreds of connections, connections I am able to access every day, regardless of whether I am in an area with Wi-Fi.”
Knudsen applied to Roanoke and was among 500 applicants invited to visit the campus for the scholarship contest, which included the essay about technology, its role and how it affects the relationship between student and teacher.
Chad Morris, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the honors program at Roanoke, had not seen Knudsen’s scholarship essay, but praised her honors application and invited her to his program.
The honors program was designed with students like “Lizzie” in mind, he said, someone who understands the value of community interactions and experiences, and of reaching for a life fully lived.
“We’re so pleased to be welcoming a student with such a sophisticated understanding of the value of community experience, personal interactions and lifelong learning,” Morris said. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Lizzie, both at Roanoke and beyond.”
The children at Waldorf don’t use computers, but they do start to conduct research on the Internet before they leave the school, and use calculators in eighth grade.
“It’s the philosophy of the Waldorf School, to focus on a child’s creativity and curiosity,” said Therese Lederer, the school’s enrollment director. “We want them to have the confidence that their ability to solve problems comes from them and the computer is just a tool.”
Adults use computers at the school, and it’s not that computers are bad, she said, it’s about the timing of their use.
“We want it to be hands-on learning. It’s not that we don’t want them to use the computers, it’s just a matter of when,” she said. “All the brain research shows that children’s synapses are open and we don’t want to shut them down. We want the most active learning experience as possible as opposed to sitting in front of a computer.”
Knudsen’s main teacher at Waldorf from fourth through eighth grade was Melissa Merkling, one of the founders of Connecticut’s only Waldorf School nearly 25 years ago.
“Lizzie is delightful, very intelligent, artistic, with a great sense of morals and justice,” Merkling said. “It was interesting that she had the essay on technology in schools given that we do as much work without them as long as possible. We want them to stay off the screen for as long as possible.”
Knudsen said she thinks today’s children don’t know how to interact with the world around them.
“They only know how to interact with the screen. We need to know how to interact with humans and the world,” Knudsen said. “I say, everything in moderation. Computers are useful, but they shouldn’t rule the way they do now.”
Not every student will be lucky enough to attend a Waldorf school, Knudsen wrote.
“If society allows technology to become the core of education, the world is losing something that will not be able to be regained,” Knudsen wrote. “Each student must learn to grow in a way that is best for them as a person, but connection to the world will always contain more value than technology because we live in a world of nature, not pixels.”