Computers now program our children. Seymour Papert brought this to our attention back in 1980 with a book called Mindstorms. He showed that, even at that early stage, educators used computers only as info-jukeboxes.
More so today, PCs play back pre-loaded data into the hungry minds of the young. We watch them click their way through menus and call it “interactive learning.” Papert proposed we instead teach children to program computers.
He thought simple computer programming would develop the habits of thought that lead to mathematics. In “teaching” a computer to perform, a child analyzes his own thinking process. He then communicates its steps to a machine using a simple language. The child is no longer merely the consumer of the data in the machine. He becomes the teacher of the machine.
In so doing, he learns both the limits of the device and the patterns of his own thought. Shouldn’t we call this ability to communicate with and through a computer true computer literacy? It’s more like speaking a new language than shopping for soap.
If the thought of programming children with computers shocks us, what about programming children with television? For hours a day, millions of children simply absorb the pre-chewed information and thought patterns the tube shoots straight into their brains. They absorb what mass culture has to offer, but they learn little about their own thought processes or the limits of television.
A child shooting with a camcorder, however, takes the first steps toward video literacy. He sheds his consumerism, briefly, to become a producer of visual information. He begins to communicate his wishes to a machine in order to communicate ideas through it.
Without instruction, however, video literacy does not mature. The first productions of children usually resemble, in rough forms, the programs they have seen on TV. This is natural, since kids are great imitators. To progress into true video literacy, however, they must study their own thought processes and learn how to communicate them to and through video machines.
Papert also put forward the idea that familiarity turns objects and processes into metaphors. He liked to play with gears when he was young. When he grew older, gears became for him a metaphor for the ways numbers work with one another in equations. Papert goes on to speculate about the kinds of metaphors children will derive from computer programming.
We can speculate about the metaphors of making video. Will video-literate people find new solutions to problems by thinking in video? Will they take “shots” of a problem’s basic elements? Will they then compose “shot solutions” and string them together into elegant “segments” of thought? Will they learn to “edit” the parts of their thinking that don’t seem to “play”?
Speaking of video literacy, why not write more video letters? Here’s the simple form: before you go on a trip to visit someone, point a camera at the people at home who have things to say to the people where you are going. When you get there, play back the tapes and record the responses to the people back home. Welcome to the video Pony Express.
Step two: send us some video letters. Maybe we’ll try to show your tape in our Letters column. That might prove hard on paper, but it would be easy with our TV show. Send your thoughts about videomaking or responses to things you read in these pages. Don’t get fancy–you’ll only procrastinate. Pull out that camcorder right now and write us.
Stephen Muratore is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief..