Most of us were not raised to think kids can learn on their own. But even if you were raised to think kids can teach themselves, you will be shocked to hear about the kids in Ethiopia. MIT chose a remote, illiterate community to send some first-graders a box of iPads. Unopened. One person in the community was taught how to recharge the iPads. That’s all anyone knew about the iPads. Within a month, the kids could read English and within three months, the kids had hacked the iPad to make the camera work even though someone at MIT had disabled the cameras.

It’s a great story, isn’t it? Because it really bolsters the idea that kids do not need a teacher standing over them telling them what to do. Also, it bolsters the idea that no limits on screen time is positively inspirational.

And the story about Ethiopia bolsters the idea that it’s insane that I make the tech support calls for my kids. So we got a new computer yesterday. And today we don’t know how to work it, of course. We have all Macs at home, and we bought a PC so the kids could play Terraria, and other games that only run on PCs. I told the kids I would not set up the computer. I gave them my credit card and told them to figure out how to get the games onto the computer. When they lost connection with the mouse, I told them to call tech support.

It was hard not to help them. I could do things faster. But I told myself what is the point of me learning to run a PC? I’ll just do more and more for them if I learn how to use it.

I could hear the guy on the tech support call getting frustrated that my son couldn’t hear him. And I recalled the years that I ran a tech support department where there was one person in charge of taking calls from kids because they were such a pain.

I had to keep reminding myself that the kids in Ethiopia could manage their own computers, so I have to stop helping my kids.

By the end of the day, my kids knew how to use the PC. They bought all the games they were hoping to buy and loaded them onto the computer. They called tech support twice. But it felt like magic, all day, as they became more and more comfortable with managing their own computer life.

The site Peta Pixel  has a great post on the photography of  Cade Martin. The photos seem magical. And beautiful.

They remind me of homeschooling. I thought homeschooling would be me yelling at the kids to stop fighting and yelling at the kids to get out of the room so I can work. And then, later in the day, homeschooling would be me downing a bottle of wine. It has been a lot of that.

But also, it’s been a lot of moments that feel like magic: where I find myself trusting my kids even though it seemed like it would never happen.

11 replies
  1. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    Wow, those photos are AMAZING! And I loved this post. It made me smile so much – the thought of your kids on the phone to tech support, you giving them your credit card – but mostly, that you seem to be enjoying it all :)

    (Oh and Terraria is great!)

  2. Mark K
    Mark K says:

    Our loss of a belief in magic is an impoverishment of the soul. All too commonplace, sadly.

    There’s lots of things I enjoyed about this post, but most of all it is beautiful to remember with you what it is like to stumble upon the everyday magic of life – and be able to see it for what it is!

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    When it comes to the discussion of computers and the myriad of operating systems and programming languages available to perform operations on them, a depiction of the Tower of Babel is appropriate.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      What a great link. Thanks. It’s so difficult to explain to other parents, in a convincing way, why I believe kids learn fine without curriculum. But when I see experts talk about empirical evidence, I feel encouraged to keep trying to have those conversations.

      Penelope

  4. Nina
    Nina says:

    On a very side note, if they like Terraria, they should probably be watching the development of a game by the same people, Starbound. http://playstarbound.com/

    I’m curious as to them playing Terraria, when people complain that it’s just a knockoff of Minecraft and that’s what they were playing before I recall? (I played Terraria first, funnily enough.)

  5. Kate
    Kate says:

    I read your blogs and agree with most of what you write, but I really struggle with your notion of unlimited computer time. How would you apply this to teenage boys? Mine use the computer to watch utube videos of movie trailers, porn (soft, due to filters), and Facebook. That’s pretty much it, and you would be amazed by how many hours in a day they will commit to these pursuits. I wish they would use their brains to DO something on the computer rather than passively consume, but they aren’t really interested in games or projects of any sort. (At the onset of their puberty their father and I tried our best to monitor and direct their computer usage in the hopes of developing good habits, but it was an exhausting, losing battle. At 15 and 17 they now seem too old for us to manage their computer time.)

    I now have a couple toddlers and I’m thinking I’m going to do things differently this time around. Any suggestions?

  6. Elizabeth Kane
    Elizabeth Kane says:

    That’s the hard part: the urge to help them. To step in and save them. To me the hard part of teaching someone to do something is knowing when to step back and when to step in. It’s uncomfortable, even upsetting, because no one likes to see a child struggle. Honestly, I think we’re all a little afraid that if we don’t make the journey smooth for them they might give up.

  7. Tim
    Tim says:

    Love this story cause my parents did the same thing with our computer when I was a child. I spent about an hour on the phone with tech support to get the CD-ROM drive to work, and then when I hang up I come to find out that my step-dad could have fixed it but wanted me to have the experience of dealing with tech support!

    It was a bittersweet lesson.

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