By Seymour Papert
This learning story was excerpted from The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap (Longstreet Press, 1996).
My Grandson Ian, aged about three at the time, walked over to a shelf where video tapes were kept.
He selected one (although he “couldn’t read” he could choose the one he wanted), loaded it into the VCR, sat down in a comfortable armchair, wielded the remote control, uttered a child’s expletive I understood a moment later as meaning he had forgotten to rewind the tape the last time he had used it, rewound, pressed PLAY and settled in to watch the tape.
The tape was about road making machinery – a topic of great interest to many children, and not only boys.
My first reaction was to be astounded at the fluency with which Ian did all of this. Then on reflection I decided there was nothing astonishing in it except my own astonishment.
What Ian actually did with the mechanics of the technology was no more complex than some of the operations performed by every three-year-old without arousing the slightest bit of astonishment.
Yet there was good reason to be astonished.
What impresses me most is not the mechanics of Ian’s handling of the VCR but the content of the experience, and how fundamentally different it was from anything people my age could do when we were three years old.
When I was three, if I wanted to learn about road machinery, I would be dependent on adults: whether they had knowledge, storytelling talent, time, inclination and patience to tell me what I needed to know.
Though I was lucky to have a scientifically educated father who was willing to spend a lot of time talking with me, my freedom of choice in learning was far short of what a collection of tapes, CD-ROMS and Web addresses can give a child today.
This, in turn, is far, far short of what children will have in a few years’ time. And, rest assured, with greater freedom of choice will come a dramatic change in the way children learn and develop.