Where Imagination Outshines Memorization

Tech gets a time-out

Charges of hypocrisy be damned: Some Silicon Valley tech wizards are quietly raising their kids outside the lurid digital landscape that their own industry calls childhood.

By Dan Fost, Photography by Jonathan Snyder

The earthquake rips through the streets, swallowing trees and cars and people—everything except John Cusack and his family. Cusack, of course, expertly navigates the destruction that stays just an inch or two behind them. His limousine careens past falling buildings and over huge gaps in the roadway, but the audience knows it’s way too early in director Roland Emmerich’s end-of-the-world disaster flick 2012 for anyone vital to perish.

Gary Yost, creator of the groundbreaking software 3D Studio Max, sits in a darkened Fairfax theater and laughs. Afterward, he marvels, horrified: “Some people will take their kids to that movie.” Yost says he would lock his nine-year-old daughter, Ruby, in a closet before he’d let her near it—or anything like it. He came to see the film at the invitation of some old colleagues who worked with him on 3D Studio Max, which he created in the early 1990s as a design tool for architects and engineers, but which is now owned by Autodesk (and sold as 3ds Max) and widely used to make video games and movie special effects, like the earthquake sequences in2012.

You’d think a guy like Yost would be the coolest dad at his kid’s school, what with all the whizbang, exploding action effects he helped create. But he keeps that part of his life quiet, because Ruby goes to Greenwood School in Mill Valley, a Waldorf-inspired institution that bases its curriculum on the teachings of early-20th-century philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who emphasized an experiential type of learning. You won’t find a single computer in any of the classrooms at Greenwood, which runs from preschool through eighth grade. Not only that, but Waldorf schools—and there are several ringing the San Francisco Bay—discourage “screen time” of any kind, both at school and at home, and especially before sixth grade. That means no TV, no texting (OMG!), no Facebook, no IMing or surfing the Net, and no video games like the ones made with Yost’s software.

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