Most of the stuff Will writes bends my brain and gets me thinking -- his writing since Christmas has really been on fire. In one of today's posts, he quotes a fair bit from one of Lawrence Lessig's articles where he was talking about about animé music videos (AMVs), created by slicing up chunks of animé movies and editing them to synchronize with (popular copyrighted) music. Kids do it for fun, to show off their mixing skills and promote the movies and music they love. Of course the record companies (and probably the distributors of the movies eventually) are trying to shut them down, even though they're not trying to profit from the re-mixing. Although I'm interested in the intellectual property issue in this context, one of the quotes jumped out at me for another reason:
"After a talk in which I presented some AMV work, a father said to me: 'I don't think you really realise just how important this is. My kid couldn't get into college till we sent them his AMVs. Now he's a freshman at a university he never dreamed he could attend.'"So you've got a kid with a passion for animé and music (and editing software) who mucks away in his basement and maybe doesn't worry about his homework too much. Meanwhile, in his drive to create AMVs, he's learning hardware, software and a new mode of expression within a network of likeminded souls (sound familiar?)...in the process he'll probably even learn some hard lessons about intellectual property, big media and legal challenges. When he applies to college, his marks aren't really good enough (kept forgetting to do that 11th Grade biology homework) to get accepted, UNTIL he also submits his finished AMVs. His informal learning/play/hobby shows them that he has the commitment, perseverance and vision to create things of value...and the stodgy old university suddenly realizes this kid is the type they want!
This is certainly part of what I got out of Paul Graham's inspiring undelivered commencement speech -- he advises students to treat school like a day job and to find interesting problems or projects and really work hard on them (maybe inside, but likely outside of school). He also recommends finding difficult problems and questions to pursue, which reminds me of some of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's conditions for flow (total engagement in an activity) -- a level of challenge sufficient to stretch your skills, a sense of personal control over the situation or activity, and an activity that is intrinsically rewarding. These sound more like hobbies than school, don't they?
As K-12 schools move further toward more standardized testing (and pay for teachers based on their students' results on those tests), it makes me think that the real smart, interesting, engaged kids -- the nerds, the curious, and the creative -- only engage in school at the minimum level required (by their parents, probably), and develop their own real learning spaces outside of that formal realm. Artistic kids have often chosen this path already, ditching chemistry to draw/paint/write, but what happens when your "average" kids start finding that their real learning, meaningful projects and connections to a network of people with shared goals is happening entirely outside of school? I guess I've just described the conditions and value proposition for gang recruitment...but surely we could design ways to help kids find meaningful questions/projects/ideas to pursue without them having to drop school altogether.