The Ethical, Cultural and Social Context of Technology
Pupils in Steiner Waldorf schools experience technology as a subject in its own right. From finger- knitting and other crafts in the early years through to electronics and computer logic construction in the upper school, students are evolving their technological skills, creatively and in the real world. Knitting is interesting and significant in that it is the earliest form of programmed technology – a knit/pearl sequence is binary code instruction.
Steiner Waldorf education aims to help pupils to become ethical and confident users of a range of technologies, recognising the historical, societal and biographical aspects of this, e.g. mechanical programming of weaving etc during the Industrial revolution.
General aspects and aims:
We aim to enable children and young people to be fully engaged in and to take ownership of the technology that surrounds them and of which they make use. In order to achieve this, the Steiner Waldorf education seeks to help pupils understand technology in its innermost nature and become able to direct that technology, taking full account of human agency in this process. What follows is thus a inter-disciplinary account of the curriculum pertaining to technology and ICT and teaching is likely to take place through an integration during the course of a year’s programme many different subject themes.
Foundations: kindergarten to Class 6
In order to negotiate the ethical, cultural and social issues involved in the use of technology, children need to be helped to develop towards a healthy self image and feeling for the needs of others through real relationships. This is a task for the curriculum as a whole. The following aspects in particular support this:
• Activities that enable children to engage in a rich story life through imaginative lessons and whole body learning
• Activities that support the development of emotional well being and resilience
• Activities that allow children to explore and value, through story and play, their relationship to time and place
• Activities that encourage children to think and act cooperatively, empathetically and sustainably
Understanding and using technology:
· Children explore how technology extends their ability to do things, e.g. making knitting needles extends what is possible with finger knitting, scissors cut paper more accurately than folding and tearing
· Children explore the relationship between tools and material, e.g. trying to cut felt with paper scissors
· Children learn to choose appropriate technology for a task, making tools they need to achieve a task, e.g. the difference between a mallet and a hammer, wooden peg, nail and screw etc
· Children reflect on how well a technology they have selected and used achieved its purpose
· Children learn to use specialist equipment for specific purposes and compare results with informal or ad hoc devices, e.g. “kitchen-sink” science, hose-pipe rainbows compared to a prism etc
· Children learn to work safely with sharp tools and manage real-life risks with appropriate strategies
· Outdoor and indoor play involving co-operation, balance, climbing, hoops, balls etc
· Using garden tools, including trowels, spades, wheelbarrows
· Card weaving, felting, finger-knitting, sewing, peg loom and use of a variety of media etc.
· Making simple equipment, e.g. knitting needles, peg looms, reed or quill pens etc
· Story of items used in school, e.g. crayons, pencils, musical instruments,
· Variety of creative work and forms of expression. The technology of communication from writing, reading, images, diagrams, graphs and tables
· Clear observation, records and exposition – analysis of results: did I find out what I wanted to know, what evidence do I have for my conclusion?
· Designing presentations, experiments and demonstrations
Class 7, 8 (and 9 with overlap)
By this age the sense of “personal space” has become strong enough for pupils to begin to recognise and learn to respect the space of others, including their “creative space”. Drama, eurythmy and presentations to others also help to develop a feeling for an audience and ability to see a situation from more than one view-point. Young people at this age also begin to explore more consciously the themes and values suggested previously and, in addition:
· Learn to understand the basis which continues through to modernism, i.e. Renaissance/Reformation individualism and the (so-called western) Enlightenment, the development, especially in the UK, of materialism (Francis Bacon, Puritanism and the Civil War, agrarian & industrial revolution) and banking systems form Italian city states to German finance houses etc) alongside mechanisation and the growth of industrial centres; World War 1 as the first truly industrial war (this theme to developed more fully in the upper school)
· The development of personal creativity (from the studio system to single individual artists, baroque composers copying and borrowing from one another to the “unique individual voice” of musicians from the Classical Period onwards)
· Representation through commissioning of portraits
· Legal questions including “intellectual property rights” and plagiarism/piracy. The unique experience of a concert or other performance; the differences between this and its recording (e.g. what is being paid for when someone pays for downloading, or streaming music and the idea of “getting music free”)
· Creating plans: intention and implementation – what is a template? “Mind mapping”
· Tools and machines related to the human being and as extended capacities (e.g. limb joints and levers, why a garden fork usually has four prongs etc); gun powder; Jethro Tull and the seed drill; mechanical weaving and spinning; steam pumps etc
· Malthus, Adam Smith and the concept of natural selection (the story of Baron Gaspard de Prony and the division of labour; Herman Hollerith and the punched-card; Henry Ford etc)
· Activity and friendship circles – co-operation, compromise, community – the nature of “social networking”; appropriate protection and cyber-bullying
· Creating posters, “cartoons” designed to persuade (e.g. those of the Civil War period); editing (including the use and limitations of spelling and grammar checks , “type-setting”, publishing etc)
· Utilising online, or computer-based reference sources (e.g. how authoritative is Wikipedia?), translation and similar applications
· Presentation of data; spreadsheets and all types of chart
· Computing: from fingers and stones to numbers; the abacus; Napier’s “bones” (make and use); Blaise Pascal’s 1642 calculator (cogs and levers); Lord Byron, Lady Lovelace and William Babbage (the analytical engine/difference engine); the slide rule etc
· Circuits and the on/off switch; solid geometry, nets, scale and algebra; binary logic (e.g “computer science unplugged: www.csunplugged.org)
· Introduction to QWERTY (and its history) and touch-typing
N.B. All the above overlap to some extent into the following:
Upper School classes, including Class 9, 10, 11 and 12
General aspects and aims:
As should be clear from the foregoing, technology is not a process that can be separated from the human beings who bring it about; nor is it merely about producing artefacts. There are several dimensions and these should to be taken into account through the curriculum and they are both an extension and intensification of what has been covered previously:
• The natural dimension involving scientific, engineering and ecological perspectives;
• The human dimension involving anthropological, physiological, psychological and aesthetic perspectives;
• The social dimension involving economics, sociology, politics, cultural history, legal and ethical aspects.
Division of labour has become a sine qua non for modern developed societies and technology has thus become the concern of specialists and engineers. However increasing environmental problems have led to a greater awareness of the human and social implications and to the realisation that a multi-dimensional, integrated concept of technology is needed. The isolation of the different specialisms makes it essential to attempt a reintegration of technology as a whole. The evolution of technology comes about through the human being’s innate capacity for development.
Technology lessons build on the whole lower school involvement with materials, crafts, social, historical and economic studies. Key subjects include learning about farming and house building in Class 3, the geography curriculum from Class 4 on which explores human economic relationships to the local environment and its natural resources and the links between regions around the world. History lessons show the significance of technological discoveries for social, economic and cultural developments in a wide range of fields (navigation, energy production and use, weapons, means of communication, farming, raw materials, trade etc.). The craft and handwork lessons throughout the school also form a practical and experiential basis for understanding technology.
The Class 9 physics main-lesson is oriented towards primary technology and will have provided among other things a history of technology by means of a few examples (e.g. combustion engines, telephone, turbines, etc.). Technology as such has some quite specific pedagogical tasks to fulfil, namely to school accurate observation, practical thought processes and social awareness. The chemistry curriculum too provides an understanding of substances, materials and their production and application to technology, especially petrochemical and fossil fuels.
Work experience provides opportunities to see industrial and agricultural processes at work. A topic for study in technology lessons might be to investigate a nearby factory including discovering the firm’s commercial profile and depicting the production process including preliminary phases (purchase of parts and material) and subsequent tasks (advertising, marketing, selling etc.). In their social and industrial work-experience projects the pupils will especially gain direct experiences of the social aspects of work and its results. Lessons can also take the form of excursions to power stations, re-cycling plants, water reservoirs, mines etc. Such visits are best preceded by and followed up with detailed discussion. The use of modern media such as film and video is especially suitable in the high-tech realm. Many industries provide excellent information on their technology.
Class 9 and 10
Points of view and general themes:
These lessons are intended to provide life experience rather than exact knowledge. “Now it is important at this stage that the pupils should begin to have an understanding for practical life that is going on all around them…we must introduce into our curriculum subjects that will lead the students to come to grip with practical life, subjects that will bring them into contact with the external world. We should accordingly do some mechanics, not the mere theoretical mechanics we teach in the physics lessons, but the first elements of technical mechanics that lead to the construction of machines.” 1
An overview of what the pupils have learnt in handwork and craft lessons (woodwork etc.) combined with theoretical concepts from physics and mathematics will help students develop in a holistic way. Technologies throughout human history should also be discussed.
Where information technology is concerned there are four prime aspects, which we have touched on previously and which now need to be secured throughout the upper school:
· Basic computer literacy: word processing, typing and the use of software to produce, edit, store and retrieve text; using databases, spreadsheets, graphics, desktop publishing etc. Also the use of the computer as an instrument in support of other tasks (including, what is the “worldwide web” and what is the internet/what happens when an email is sent?)
· An understanding of the basic principles of information systems in relation to the history of information storage (e.g. going back to the origins of writing and looking at its cultural significance); understanding how hardware and software relate; how software programs are designed and how file systems work; safe working practices and legal aspects such as copyright; firewalls, internet security (bugs, spam and hacking)
· The social, cultural and personal influence of computers, including both the time-saving, liberating aspects as well as the possible negative, obsessional and anti-social aspects. Economic questions such costing and how “hi-tech” companies are financed (perhaps including, why a mobile phone that might cost £100 or more might be given away “free”)
· What’s inside the box? – the “race to the smallest”, fundamentals of programme writing (e.g. using Raspberry-pi or other devices)
• Spinning wool, flax and cotton
• Weaving using various types of loom
• The textile industry
• Production of man-made textiles
• Soap production
• Water wheels and water pumps
• Turbines: high, medium and low-pressure turbines
• The screw and its many applications
• Henry Morse and the telegraph
• Icons and markers
• Online learning programme, such as INGOTS
• Evaluation criteria for information sources
Class 11 and 12
Points of view and general themes:
Technology now deals with two very important realms: power/energy on the one hand (e.g. the electricity industry) and substance/material on the other (e.g. paper manufacture). Technology in earlier classes started with traditional technologies; in Class 11 and 12 everyday technology needs to be explored and principles of how they work explored. So far as possible, this should include cutting edge technologies of all kinds, some of which will be introduced by the students themselves.
• End of course project could include a major multi-media element utilising skills and capabilities learned so far
• Power stations and the energy industry (water, wind, calorific and nuclear)
• From steam to internal combustion the jet engine and rockets
• Automobile mechanics and basic maintenance
• A study of the qualities of flowing water
• Paper manufacture
• Bookbinding and use of cardboard (see handwork in Class 11)
• Algorithms, artificial intelligence and John Searle’s “Chinese Room”
• George Boole and Boolean logic
• Alan Turing and the enigma machine
• John von Neuman and “Neuman architecture”
• Tim Berners-Lee and the worldwide web
• Reproductive media, particularly digital printing; image and reality (“Photoshop”, image manipulation and its influence on body image)
• Using graphics and animations, “mixing” sounds and combining visual, sound and other media effects for a specific purpose
• Deconstructing the computer, component manufacture and implications (e.g. value and supply of raw materials); recycling parts
• Radio signals and television
• Fossil fuels, what is “sustainable” energy?
• Chemical technology and artificial fibres including natural fibres and artificial fibres made from natural materials: (celluloid, resins etc.)
• Semi-synthetic products (classical resins)
• Fully synthetic materials (polymers, plastics), e.g. from natural rubber to synthetic rubber
• Environmental and recycling problems: quality controls (soil, water, air)
• Illustration of cascades and fractals, path curves and chaos theory
• Microsoft, Apple and applications such as Facebook
• Mobile devices, microwaves
Working document for The Tasks & Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, Floris Books