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February 12, 2003
Gnat's lessons

Gnat Lileks is learning. (Don't know how to link straight to today's Bleat permanently, so to speak, but it's The Bleat for today, Wed Feb 12 2003.)

Gnat has now tired of her computer games; she wants new ones. She’s exhausted the Mickey Mouse letters and shapes and numbers game, although she still enjoys the segment in which you use a water hose to knock cans off barrels. Baby’s First First Person Shooter. My wife bought a triptych of Mr. Potato Head games, and she’s done with those. So just in time I got a box from Amazon with two new games – a Curious George adventure that teaches coordination and deduction (fling your feces at the yellow hat!) and a Winnie-the-Pooh game that will delight her mightily tomorrow morning.

It’s just astonishing how easily they take to these things – I never showed her how to shut the programs down, but she figured that out; she figured out how to return to the home screens, how to tell the program she doesn’t want to save before quitting, how to double-click to launch a program. She’s figured out dragging and dropping. Put her in front of my laptop when it’s running iMovie, and she clicks on the button that starts the show. This summer I plan to give her an old 8mm camcorder - why can’t three-year-olds make movies? Wouldn’t you like to see a movie of your day you’d made when you were three?

TV? Eh. She doesn’t have time for TV anymore. When she’s done with the computer she sits on the sofa and reads a book. (By read, I mean she looks at the pages and describes the action based on her recollection of the story.) Then she asks me to write ABCs on her little blackboard easel; we arrange her stuffed friends on a chair and she plays Teacher, showing them what the letters stand for.

Ah, learning it by teaching it!

I watched a small child play with my computer the other day. Teachers fret – and teachers' unions pretend to fret – about what they children are "learning" from all this stuff. These computers are all very well, but are they getting any better at algebra??? Huge research programs conclude that stuffing computers into classrooms achieves nothing, ergo children playing computer games in their bedrooms is bad.

Wrong. Go and stand in the corner. Write out a hundred times: What Children Learn From Computers Is Computers. And since practically every job in the modern world involves, if you are badly paid, punching stuff into and getting stuff out of computers, and if you are better paid, making computers do even more than they do already, learning about computers is really something. And half the battle with computers is knowing what they can do. Once you know they can do something (because you've seen one do it in some idiot giants-and-elves game) you are in a position to find out how to make your computer do something similar. You can ask the question in the certain knowledge that there is an answer. You can demand that your company geeks do it, or failing that find out how to do it by asking the international geekosphere. Knowing what's possible. There's only one secret about The Bomb and it's public knowledge: It Works. Etc. Etc.

I come from the generation when if you push the wrong button, you are liable to get boiling water all over the living room and paint down the front of your trousers. Really important contemporaries of mine could blow up the world, if they put a finger in a seriously wrong place. I spent my youth hobby hours making sure I didn't glue the wing irrevocably to the place where the tail should go. But kids these days! They just click away and watch what happens! What can go wrong? The worst that can happen is something only very slightly bad, and you can undo it with your next click.

They'll learn. Once Our Gnat has put her first comment on Samizdata and then clicked another couple of times just to make sure it got there and consequently put it there three times, she'll learn that there are some things in life that can't be undone.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:37 PM
Category: Home education
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