My wife Wendy grew up in Georgia, went to Georgia Tech, and spent a lot of her summers as a kid with her “Granny” down in the southwestern part of the state. The last couple of days, we headed down that way to visit with one of Granny’s best friends, Miss Francis, who is 88 years old, still works a farm, dips snuff, and drives a pickup truck with a shotgun in the back. She’s without question one of the most amazing people I know.
To say that life for the kids where Miss Francis lives is a bit different from my own kids’ is obviously an understatement. Most of the homes in her town are either for sale or falling down. It’s a town that even Wal-Mart has decided to bypass. Unemployment is high, there is a great deal of poverty, and, not surprisingly, the school systems are not the best. As I watched my barefooted kids play with the barefooted neighborhood children, I thought about how different their futures would likely be. The opportunities there are scarce.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of things from Miss Francis’ world that I would wish for my kids. We spent a full day at a country pond catching bass and sunnies, watching the clouds build as the afternoon wore on, listening to the deep, rolling thunder rumble in the distance. It was the slowest day I’ve had in years, and it felt good. Everyone in the town knew Miss Francis, and even though it wasn’t technically true, everyone seemed genuinely pleased to be meeting her grandkids and great-grand babies. And the fried egg sandwiches for breakfast, the eggs cooked up in bacon fat, well…let’s say they beat Dunkin Donuts any day. There is much that appeals about a simpler, less complicated existence.
But after coming off of five days of heady conversation about blogs and the Web and technology changing the world at NECC, I kept looking at those kids playing in the streets and wondering how much a connection might change their lives. Would it bring them more opportunities? Would it allow them to find new passions that in some way might help them build better lives? Or is it just me imposing my worldview on a place that I really have little understanding of at all? Obviously, it’s making me think.
On the way out of town, we took Miss Francis to the local Eckerd’s Drug Store where we showed her how to plug the chip from the digital camera she got at Christmas into the print-making computer they had. She said that now that she knew how to do that, she couldn’t wait to take more pictures.
And I started thinking some more.
John Maklary says
For ten years, I lived in a town in Oregon with one stop light and was so small that if you called a wrong number, you still might know the person on the other end of the line. When someone asked for our phone number, we’d only give them the last 4 digits.
Our school was rural and impoverished. The kids there were generally not college bound, mainly because of parent antipathy or money or mostly both. Back in the 70’s/80’s when the logging industry was booming, a high school graduate could go to work making almost $20 per hour in the woods. Given their impoverished attitudes, the choice was easy to make. (Please take a look at Judy Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty. This book opened my eyes about the context and characteristics of poverty.)
But, since both lumber mills shut down in the late 80’s, graduates’ gravy train jobs ceased to exist and that led to a snowball of poverty that Payne illustrates in her book.
I think that connections can be helpful to those kids but there are other hurdles to get over first, namely authority and education ambivalence. The willingness to learn and to open oneself up has to come first, at least in my opinion. That has, and will continue to be, the big challenge for educators.
Claudia Ceraso says
The post reminds me of my life in my home town, so different from my present in the city of Buenos Aires.
Education is about living better and finding a passion to give yourself to. I admit I learnt that way before googlifying my life.
Let’s offer our students an Internet of possibilities without forgetting that it is always up to them to choose how much and in what direction they are willing to change their world.
(got here via twitter, I’m fceblog)
Technology has improved so many things. However, I kind of miss the days you describe where there was almost nothing to do. My sister and I made our own paper dolls and mud pies. We didn’t even have a television set. When we get together, we never talk about television shows that we eventually got to see. Our conversations always go back to the crazy things we did on those long, lazy days that never seemed to end.
Kristin Hokanson says
Isn’t it fun for kids to have those types of experiences. We have a cabin in the Poconos where we got rid of the party line phone about 5 years ago and our basic cable tv has only 6 channels…My kids love to fish, swim in the lake, catch frogs and watch the deer cross the lawn on a foggy morning. We have relatives who live on a ranch in South Dakota…raise grain fed cattle and buffalo…interesting that his wife is a Spanish teacher (online mind you). Many of these rural areas are dependent on technology to offer things to their kids such as advanced foreign language courses. Technology is EVERYWHERE and these places…Miss Francis’, the lake, the ranch all places I love to visit, but wouldn’t want to live 🙂
Thanks Will for taking me back a bit today 🙂
Jerrie Cheek says
Thanks for encouraging me to remember my “roots” here in Georgia. I never had a grandmother that “dipped”, but a lot of what you said brought back a lot of memories when I was a kid….fishing – oh, how I loved to fish (my grandmother lived on Lake Chatuge in North Georgia) but haven’t fished in years!
I will be 70 in July, and I tell my daughter, Traci, that I was born 30 years too early ( because of the technology explosion). She informs me that if that was the case, I wouldn’t have had her, so it is all worth it!!!
Great seeing you at NECC…..wish we had more time to talk. Keep on doing what you are doing!!! I love it!!!
Tim Thompson says
Hey! My father’s family still farms in SW Georgia! Seminole County not far north of the lake. Many of my cousins who grew up there stayed there, especially the ones who were actively involved in the farming operation. But they do use technology that helps them–usually turnkey stuff from vendors. Weather systems, GPS, irrigation automation, etc. They are connected where they feel they need to be. They were some of the first to have satellite TV in the 70s (so they could get the Grand Ol’ Opry on the Nashville Network. But much beyond that I’m sure they feel they don’t need–it’s a pretty insular lifestyle. But the more connections-to-the-world the classrooms in those communities have, the more those kids will be exposed to the larger world outside.
A. Woody DeLauder says
The funny thing about this reality. I am 28 years old and lived in the middle class suburbs growing up. This sounds like how I grew up. 12 years ago sitting in my high school computer technology class, the whole focus was writing a program in MS DOS. We weren’t connected. We wrote a report, we went to the library and used outdated encyclopedia’s and books. The best way to get in touch with someone was their pager, which was banned in our school. Computers had one use, word processing.
When I read this post, I thought of a few things. The one question that continually makes me think though… how will the web and technology change the world in 10 more years. I can’t wait to be a part of the information revolution in the future!
This post brought back a different memory for me. When I was in college, I led adventure trips to many places, including the Copper Canyon in Mexico. During one trip, we ventured far up in the mountain wilderness to visit a remote Tarahumaran indian village. I remember what mixed feelings it brought to me as I sat and watched the barefooted, barely clothed children huddle next to their mothers and drink from a dirty barrel of water, and stare back at us with our $200 hiking boots and nalgene bottles. One minute I felt bad, and wanted to give them everything in my backpack. The next minute I was realizing that they had all that they needed…it was a very unsettling feeling that has stuck with me and guided my actions in every similar situation since…..I have the same feelings as I watch the OLPC begin. But to know that there are tools and information out there that could change lives for the better, and not share that is almost as big a sin as not making my students aware of how lucky they are to have everything that they do. I am still thinking too Will, and thanks for the post.
Just a wonderful post. I too wonder about how different it would be if my children would have the same opportunities to be disconnected as I had growing up. That is not to say I was completely out of the loop — both my parents were college professors and we had plenty of access to media, but things happened at a different pace.
When I was a kid my Mom, Dad, little sister, and I spent our summers living at our cottage on Fishing Creek in PA. The summers were long and hot — built for swimming in the creek during the day and reading classics on the screened in porch at night. We didn’t have TV and cell phones, Internet, and all the other things we cling to didn’t exist. I am struggling with how do I provide opportunities to disconnect while still providing my 5 year old with opportunities to learn and explore. Where in the world can I take them so they understand the world is full of wonder right outside the door.
Like I said, great post!
Tom Krieglstein says
Nicely Said Will. Thanks! It reminds me how much I need to unplug from time to time and get back to the life I used to live on a farm with nothing but a B&W T.V. and our days were filled with the adventure of exploring the land and the neighborhood.
Terry Elliott says
I raised my kids on a farm, homeschooled with them, and they aren’t unconnected or disconnected. They know where they live and who they are. If anything as an urbanite I think you should be worrying (and I believe this post is an inchoate way of doing that) about the culture, intelligence, and connections kids have lost to the natural world and how significant that is. Nature is the first connection and the foremost. Compare one cubic foot of forest floor to anything we have created virtually and I guarantee one of them pales in that comparison.