Not too long ago, I read The Teenage Liberation Handbook. I borrowed it from a neighbor whose 2 kids went to school and then pulled out of high school. Both felt that the experience of being responsible for their own education, even for 1-2 years, was empowering. I was burned out by the end of high school. I had had the crap bored out of me, and I’d lost track of all my interests except for art by then.
This made me very open to unschooling, and I thought my kids would probably choose to go to high school. After reading Teenage Liberation Handbook, I wasn’t so sure I’d like my children to go to high school. Why be sequestered at such a vital time in their lives?
This came to mind the other day when I listened to one of my geeky web development podcasts. Google currently has a contest going called GHOP. At first I was excited, thinking that perhaps Google had found a way to make free pancakes for the whole world, but it turns out to it’s a program for kids 13-pre-university to get involved with open source software projects. If a kid completes one task, they get a t-shirt; complete 3 tasks, earn $100 (up to $500). Tasks range from watching and recording reactions to installing some software to double-checking code.
The podcasters talked about giving tasks to kids and thinking ‘this will take them 4-5’ days. They were shocked when the kid would get back to them with the task completed in 4-5 hours. I’m sure quite a few kids joining the contest are interested in programming, computers or just attracted by Google’s name. But I immediately thought how great it was for a kid to have the opportunity to Do Something rather than spend years and years Preparing to Do Something. It’s much better than a job working in retail or food service (though I did feel excited the first couple of times I started a new job, but that honeymoon was short). I’m not surprised at all with how they tackled their tasks.
Given a chance, a kid will be motivated pretty easily. I’m sure the money didn’t hurt, but not everyone can afford an unpaid internship. I would have jumped at such an opportunity (especially the chance to put my Apple IIe to good use ;-)) I wish all kids had the opportunity to Do Something that they had a genuine interest in. It’s easy with computers to get engaged in something, be it programming or web development or internet marketing. I’d like to see more opportunities for kids to Do Something fulfilling, well before they get to university-age.