December 07, 2003
If you are a geek – be a happy and successful geek by switching to e-ducation

If you are interested, as I am, in the whole subject of what I'm starting to call e-ducation, then do go and read this New York Times article, quickly, before it disappears.

The deal for a typical e-school of this sort is that you pay something like $250 a month, and they educate you at your home computer rather than in a regular school. But, you are a member of a virtual school, with many of the trappings of a real school. What you escape is the social grief. The traditional class-room educational system is what remains. In a sense, it's the opposite of de-schooling. The most schooly bit of a regular school is set up in your home, but without all the debased-Clueless stuff that generally goes with a regular school.

These two, buried on page 4, seem to me to be the key paragraphs:

When talking to virtual-school kids, this is a common thread: the sense that they have escaped something dangerous by getting out of high school. ''I saw the way the social system was set up, and I wanted to get away from that,'' says Kristen Dearing, a student at Basehor-Linwood charter school in Kansas.

MacKenzie Winslow, 14, who attends the Laurel Springs school in Ojai, Calif., from her home in Colorado, says: ''I didn't want a bad experience. I had a lot of friends who'd gone to high school, and they said the kids were pretty nasty. I didn't want to deal with that.''

One of the strongest memes in our culture is that children, unlike adults, shouldn't try to escape from situations they don't like. Instead they should stick around and "deal with" them. (Adults, on the other hand, are allowed to escape whatever they can afford to escape. The argument for such talk is that it prepares children for dealing with later horrors. And the argument against this is that again and again, one of the absolute best ways of dealing with horrors is simply to get away from them, the way adults do if they can. Escape is dealing with. And the sooner children learn this basic lesson, then they can get used to re-arranging their own lives for the better, if they choose, whenever they need to. True, some things can't be escaped. But thinking that nothing can be escaped when a lot can is no preparation whatsoever for dealing with the truly inescapable.

That was the really interesting thing about this NYT piece. It suggested to me strongly that now a different and opposite meme is beginning to spread in a quite big way. It strongly confirmed what I've been sensing for a long time, which is that parents are more and more moving towards a freedom-for-children model of child growth, and that giving more freedom and more choices to parents, will lead directly to more freedom for children. Parents and children already talk a lot about the educational options a child has. Children are already feeding a lot into these discussions. So, another choice, like this virtual schooling arrangement that is springing up in America, leads directly to more freedom for children.

Pause. As in: slight change of subject. What follows might have made more sense as a separate posting, merely linked to this one.

It occurs to me that opening up school choices like this makes more sense if you believe that children are genetically different from each other, rather than blank slates (in Steven Pinker's phrase). And increasingly, distinct people with an inner nature is what our culture is coming to believe children to be. If your genes make you a geek, then any amount of socialising with Cher, the Alicia Silverstone character in Clueless, or her down-market black finger-nailed equivalent, isn't going to stop you being a geek. It's just going to make you into a geek who fails to be a social star, but who also fails to be a successful and happy geek. By going against your inner nature you are unhappy, and you fail to make the best of that inner nature. So if you are a geek, be a successful and happy geek, not a failed Cher.

Sign up for a virtual school. Race ahead with your schoolwork. Graduate at fifteen. Get to a college full of other geeks and be happy, as soon as you can, and then get a great geek job. And when you have ten million bucks from your swank job in computers, well, that should take care of a lot of your socialisation problems and peer group pressures. At that point, Cher will realise that maybe you have social potential after all.

Actually, I've made Cher sound like a social monster. She isn't. She also believes in geeks being good geeks rather than bad Chers, but that's a different argument. The Cher I'm maybe really talking about here is a street-copy of the original Cher, as in mad bitch in fishnet stockings dancing up a storm on a battleship, but without the money the real Cher got paid to do that. Fine if you can pull it off, as she presumably does later on in the evening, but geeks don't want to be joining a social system run by people with those kinds of aspirations, not least because people with those aspirations often hate geeks and want to make them miserable and ashamed of their geekness.

Big complicated post. Sorry, if your inner nature is such that you prefer the short ones.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:10 PM
Category: Parents and childrenPeer pressureThe internet