Slacking as an essential skill
The most scheduled part of my week is a 2 hour class with 5th graders, where my wonderful librarian cohort and I try to guide them into this crazy world of INFORMATION*.
It’s a wonderful daily reminder that the ill-concieved “digital native/immigrant” dualism continues to show itself as shallow and worn. The hardest challenge with every class is getting them to READ THE SCREEN when words appear, instead of raising their hand and calling for an adult. They are easily as click-shy as my baby boomer parents, I’m sure in part because they’ve internalized some of the angst that their boomer teachers showed over the years.
Adolescence will help some of the students unravel some of those restrictions, but it’s not a universal condition. These are still kids who are raised skittish of the internet, raised with deep manufactured fears of “creepers,” taught to cherish their provincial mindset as they head into the widest social space in human history.
My goal, that will never appear on any standards list, is to help all these students develop the ability to “waste time” online in a way that depends their passions and connects them to likeminded peers around the world.
I cannot overstate the importance of farting around online — of making friends who deeply and truly share common interests with you no matter who or where they are or what they intend to do with themselves — while in college. The education helps, sure. But it’s those people and the opportunities that come with them that will really carve out the path in your life.
I know that every social service can create and fosters relationships and creativity of this sort. This is not an old-man-rant about by MUSHes are better than FB. But my concern, and a driving force for my work with adolescents, is that without some countervailing force, some model of the seemingly oxymoronic “productive farting around,” that the massive growth of social-tech users won’t see a corresponding increase in those who truly make the most of it’s crazy, unexpected gifts.
(Yeah, we’re now semi-officially calling our class INFORMATION. It gives us leeway to talk about Morse and Shannon, greenscreens and fanfiction, research databases and search strategies, all without a bifurcated name that makes kids stress over which is “computer” and which is “library.” It’s pretentious, but we’re teaching 5th graders and they don’t know the meaning of the word.)