One fine summer day I walked down the quaint main street of a lovely New England town to the local copy store. Inside, the owner came over to chat while he helped me with the balky copy machine. When I mentioned I was leading a workshop with teachers learning how to use computers in school, he immediately said, "That's funny! Why don't you just have students teach the teachers? The kids know everything about technology already!"
We both laughed, sorted out the copying mess and suddenly it struck me. How wonderful that people actually believe that children are skilled at something. Here in Everytown, USA, a random guy in a random moment confirmed a commonly held societal belief that children are competent human beings, in fact, MORE competent than adults. Better yet, competent at something important.
You've seen the commercials where the exasperated parents hand the new, incomprehensible cell phone to their eight year old to figure out. We hear ordinary people joke about getting their grandchild to set the blinking 12:00 on their microwave. Mention some high-tech problem and more likely than not, someone will say, "You need to find a kid!" From Madison Avenue to Main Street, it's always good for a chuckle when you tap into commonly held beliefs.
Of course this isn't sophisticated or deeply thought-out. There are underlying contradictions, simplifications and outright myths. There are lots of adults who love and use technology well. There are lots of young people who don't know much, or who even reject the current fascination with all things technological.
But what an opportunity this is. What a gift that society actually thinks that children are competent at something, anything, especially something that is so vital for the future. When does this ever happen?
This perception is a unique opportunity for young people to lead the way to make the world a better place with technology. The good news is -- it's already happening.
In schools around the world, students are learning how to provide extra tech support for schools struggling to meet 21st century expectations with decreasing budgets. Some kids teach younger students how to make movies, build websites, or create their own blogs. Some young people even teach teachers about the technology. This happens more than you would imagine -- I work with these schools every day. There are incredible benefits for everyone when adults create opportunities for students to use their technology know-how and passion to make the world a better place.
Here's just one example. This student-created video shows how students at one Arizona high school come to the rescue when their teachers need help with technology.
These young people are learning that others value their technology and problem-solving skills. This isn't busywork -- the teachers really need the help. Even better, as students show responsibility and maturity, they are rewarded by the respect of peers, teachers, and the entire community.
Every school and community group should be thinking how their young members could be partners in making technology useful for everyone. Of course some kids are using technology only to download music and socialize, but are we asking any more than that? It's up to adults to invite young people to step into more responsible roles, and as they do, show them what it means to be citizens of the global, connected future we know is coming. When adults and young people work together, kids gain new perspectives and wisdom from adults, and adults get the benefit of youthful enthusiasm and their unique point of view. It's a classic win-win.
So thank you, Madison Avenue, for portraying children as competent individuals. Now, what can we do with this gift?