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Education by Internet
August 14, 2008 - 4:54pm


My family and I are back from our trip, and I’m ready to get back to work. While we were in West Virginia, if we wanted to check e-mail we had to drive up to Snowshoe Ski Resort and use the wireless at the Starbucks. There had been a mountain bike tournament on the slopes, and there were still lots of kids around. I pay more attention to young people now, being the parent of very young boys and a college teacher, than I did a few years ago. And when the kids are of a certain age, I tend to see them as representative of some cohort I’ll see in my classroom in a few years, taking note of what they know how to do and how they think.

As I stood waiting for a latte one morning, I noticed that a young guy and two girls, all maybe 12 or 13 years old, were looking at us. They sat three abreast, a laptop in front of them, but they were staring at me as I stood waiting, even more than people usually do when they’re staring at my oddly-shaped skull. I smiled and said hello, and they were polite in return.

But it continued. I finally got my coffee and sat down. Mrs. Churm and I both had our own laptops and were trying to get some mail answered, but their gazes were unnerving. First I wondered if they knew me as the famous blogger Oronte Churm but realized they probably didn't read Inside Higher Ed. Then I began to be suspicious that they were broadcasting pictures of me or my children. After a long while, when I looked over and they were still looking, I cursed softly and said loudly, “What are you staring at?” They looked back with innocent wide eyes and said hello again, and not even in that ingratiating way that wealthy kids do to stick it to their adjunct elders.

Then they stared some more. By now Mrs. Churm, who’s been a victim of identity theft, was wondering if they were hacking into our university mail as we sat reading it. (Neither of us had any idea if this sort of thing is possible, and the thought that we might be paranoid old people only made me madder.)

Finally I used the excuse of picking up Wolfie and carrying him off to see something so I could circle around the wall behind them and see what they were working on. As I emerged next to them and looked down, I saw they had something open called “Porn Star Tournament,” and the video was…well, of an amorous nature. The three looked up stricken, aghast, and I burst out laughing. I took my seat a few feet away and said loudly, “Yeah, see, I kept wondering what you were staring at, and now I see you were just worried about getting caught.” They chuckled nervously, and it made my righteousness spike in reaction to having been worried. “Why don’t you guys go ride your bikes up and down the mountain a few times?” I said.

The boy cleared his throat professorially—ahem—and mumbled that in fact he had a skateboard, and he thought maybe they would just leave now. They slowly packed their bags, put on their coats and filed out with nods to us. Their composure was admirable and much beyond anything I might have managed at their age. But then, at their age I was learning to play mumbledy-peg, which isn’t a metaphor for anything. Sneak-peeks at soft-core mags are nothing like instructional videos in every possible deviancy, and I wonder how children educated by new media since, say, 2000 will think and act in college. Will their early knowledge be liberating or crippling?

Having taken charge of a situation I felt out of my control, I was in a good mood again until my wife pointed out that we also had to deal with two boys and the Internet. The thought put me off my latte again, so I snarled at a couple of retirees and went off to hike up and down the mountain until I had worked out all my energy.


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