Your Child, Your H4x0r

hackers.jpgIf you have a child in school today, he or she is probably somewhat the same as mine: while they spend most of the day in school, most of their interesting, creative learning may be taking place outside the normal instructional time. I'm not referring to that dreaded transfer of information about where babies come from, or the full litany of gross jokes, rude rhymes and four-letter words, but the acquisition of creative, often collaborative information creation and management skills. Their exposure to technology at home and school, with the attendant creation tools, networks, and communication channels is allowing many school-age children to jet ahead in their development of creative skills they might take years to learn otherwise in traditional classrooms.

This finding, which many parents who seek tech support from their fifth-grader already knows well, seems to be borne out by a new study on kids in digital environments being conducted by University of Southern California and University of California at Berkeley researchers with funding from the MacArthur Foundation. In an preliminary presentation of findings from extensive ethnographic work led by well-known academics such as Mimi Ito and danah boyd the researchers, indications emerged that the immediacy of creativity, accomplishment and peer respect that come with creating digitally in a social environment with other youth is more compelling to kids today than the long-term payoff that comes (hopefully) with formal education. In short, school delivers over 12 or 16 years, but kids can create within an online game, make a video and upload it, blog or write their own code at their own speed, often with more collaboration that they get in a curriculum which teaches to the test and then moves on.

The good news is that these students aren't waiting around to be given the tools to be creative. The better news is that some ingenious self-sufficiency is emerging from this dynamic. Most of the gamechanging digital innovations of recent years have come from bored, somewhat isolated, young individuals who had time on their hands, an idea, and probably a global audience and/or workshop of co-conspirators. The bad news is that most education systems are falling farther behind in harnessing this desire to create and collaborate, and have little or nothing to say about which direction it develops.