This week was parent-teacher conferences. That most wonderful time of year, when the kids get a couple of free days off and the parents rearrange their schedules so they can sit in tiny chairs designed for six-year-olds and find out exactly what they are getting out of their school district's tax dollars.
For us, parent-teacher conferences are actually fairly boring. I mean really, how often can you hear phrases like "pure unadulterated genius", "miles ahead", and "their future fame and fortune will more than cover your retirement" before it starts to get a little repetitive? Really, the highlight of conference night is walking out of the classroom and roaming the hallway, picking out the documented moments of brilliance that are our childrens' artistic masterpieces hanging on the walls amongst more feeble and pathetic attempts at creativity while other, lesser parents run screaming from their own childrens' classrooms and hurl themselves off the top of the gymnasium bleachers in a vain attempt to quell their own anguish over their child's mediocre performance.
Sometimes I can't help but get my geek on, but this year during the conference I felt compelled to ask how involved the students get in computer skills development. I figure that by the time our children reach adulthood the cyborgs will be pretty much running things around here, so I want to make sure that my kids are skilled enough to be useful members of the Great Hacker Resistance of 2030. That, and I'm hoping my older daughter might be able to help my wife occasionally by recovering a lost Word document or two when I'm not home.
I received an interesting response to my question. It turns out that the kids don't spent a whole lot of time in the computer lab these days. Why? Because it's a complete waste of time. More often than not a typical lab session starts with a bevy of computer crashes, "teacher, I can't login" complaints, and accidental mouse clicks inadvertently leading kids to open the Windows System folder and deleting Autoexec.bat. Frankly, it's gotten to a point where it just isn't worth the time and frustration.
Wow. This is quite a testament to how far with computers we have come. Microsoft and other companies have spent billions trying to make computers so friendly and intuitive that they have become too complex to teach how to use.
I remember when I was a youngster and part of the gifted program (otherwise known as the short bus full of snowball targets). We spent many hours learning and understanding computer concepts. Each day we would fire up the trusted Radio Shack TRS-80, wait for the black screen to appear, and start typing. That was it. No logins. No icons. No worrying about accidental downloads of porn. Back then, porn was where it should have been...in that secret box in my dad's workshop that he thought I didn't know about. And as long as he doesn't read my blog, he still thinks I don't know about.
What a life these kids lead. My daughters have never seen a world without the internet. Heck, they've never been without WiFi. They've never not shared the house with at least one iPod. And as a result, they're not the least bit dazzled by these technological wonders. The other day I introduced my kid to an iPhone app that automatically recognizes songs playing on the radio and identifies them for you. She was completely nonplussed, and simply asked me for the iPhone so she could play that game where you make the monkey pee in the toilet by tilting the phone back and forth.
Back in my day, the monkey I had to make pee in the toilet was an actual monkey. And he didn't like it when I tilted him.