Social Equality for the Geeks of Tomorrow

Recently, for the second time, my son got to test new game projects at Cartoon Network. Last time my husband took him, so this was my first experience at the very secure home of Turner Broadcasting. - Hey, you never know what disgruntled lunatic might have it in for Chowder or the Power Puff Girls. Seriously. - Sorry, no pics, but I can tell you that the interior of the tall corporate looking building is rather outside the box on the inside. There are toons and humorous text everywhere. One elevator door says in big bold letters, "You don't think you're going home, do you?"

It quickly became apparent among the waiting parents that we were all homeschooling families. One of my son's fellow unschooling friends was there, and I could have guessed the rest were too by the adult level of articulated tech talk spoken by voices years away from deepening and the polite, almost matter of fact, non cliquey way the kids related to each other, some of them having just met for the first time.

I'm not easily star struck (read never) and I wouldn't even be blogging about the experience except that I was taken aback by something truly wonderful. The developers of each game to be tested and the person who organized the testing and by whom everything digital at CN must pass, all treated these 6-14 year olds not as children but as truly valued people.  

They were gracious and very grateful to the parents for bringing the kids and repeatedly thanked the kids, but more than that they never talked down to the kids or told them how to behave or made them walk to each testing room in a straight line or anything remotely stupid and schoolish. They treated the kids with genuine courtesy and (sit down) as social equals, whose feedback and insights were invaluable.  About people who treat kids that way, I can get star struck.

To be valued for who and how we are goes beyond a mere biological need to survive with one's tribe. It is what each of us ought to do for each other, a mutual recognition of the American Declaration of Independent's self-evident truth, "the pursuit of Happiness."

In retrospect, I realized these developers, software architects, and project managers, whose babies were being tried out prior to release, probably were once very much like the kids doing the testing and probably not so long ago. (Most of the CN techies we met were young enough for me to have been their mom.) I'm not sure it would ever have occurred to them to try to control the kids' behavior, tell them to wait against the wall quietly with their hands at their sides, or felt the need to make everything about the experience sound "educational" so the adults could feel ok about it, as is so often the way many museum and field trip guides feel compelled to behave, and which always makes the kids lose interest fast.*

To be valued for who and how we are goes beyond a mere biological need to survive with one's tribe. It is what each of us ought to do for each other, a mutual recognition of the American Declaration of Independent's self-evident truth, "the pursuit of Happiness." People so often seem to believe that gaining acceptance through conformity is enough to satisfy that need, but the act of conformity is really a denial of those "unaliable Rights." (I looked it up, btw. "Unalienable, rather than inalienably is in the final draft.")

Hopefully my son will continue down this path where being valued for being himself is the norm. My husband and I only found that experience outside work environments when we found each other 6 years ago. For him there have been stupid assumptions and endless bad lawyer jokes. For me, well, I think the only time my grandparents were proud enough to accurately understand and explain to their friends or to other family members what I do was during the time in my life they could say, "She's in college."  I'm betting they never admitted I majored in art.

I love the creativity of cartoons. I can still remember getting up early on Saturday morning and literally counting the minutes until The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show came on. Wile E. Coyote has long been and will always remain one of my heroes because no matter how many times he falls off a cliff, he goes back to the drawing board with a new set of Acme plans.

The awareness of yesterday's CN experience was not so completely the norm in life for my son to take it for granted. On the way home he seemed to surprise himself by declaring that he might want to work there one day. When he was 5 he dreamed of being a cashier at Whole Foods because he was in love with their cash registers. At 8 he wanted to be a Lego set designer, extracting promises from his step-dad and me to visit him in Denmark. At 14 he's promised, with a smirk, to make us proud by living at home, playing games all day, and never having a job. (Actually, I've asked many fellow unschoolers if they know of any unschooling families who's kids grew up and did that, and no one knew of anyone or even knew anyone who knew of anyone in that situation, and believe me, we are a keenly aware tribe.)

My first thought of my son's newest goal was being thrilled that CN is close to home. It wasn't until hours later that I realized most people would have thought, "Yeah, you and how many other millions of kids?"  What I said to him in response was, "That could be cool! Great that you've made connections with people there."

*Contrary to how field trips often go, we once had an ex-schoolteacher museum guide start out in controlling and pedantic mode, but to her credit, as soon as she caught on that our kids could think critically and well articulate their questions, she adapted her presentation style, and everyone, including her, had so much fun that she extended the tour an extra hour and hung out with us when we had free time afterwards to explore the museum.

1 comment:

Mare said...

Love, love, love this blog post!