Saturday, November 6, 2010

It takes a special kind of kid . . .

My mind wanders . . perhaps a bit too much . . whenever I read anything related to education/teaching/pedagogy. This is because, invariably, a particular situation, kid, context, parent, or assignment will come into my head that is at least tangentially related to the topic being eloquently ruminated about, and I feel driven to use the specific recollection to contextualize the idealized abstract.

So this week, while reading about the boundless educative potential of immersive, open-ended virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto, I had two faces in my head: Alex, my inscrutable sixth grade student, and my dear husband of six years.

Let's get the husband out of the way. This husband of mine is the most sensitive, compassionate man I know. (He happens to be a nurse for goodness sake.) He can't say "no" to anyone and avoids confrontation at all costs (unless sanctioned for some athletic sport.) This same man, loves games like Grand Theft Auto. One minute he'll be tossing his giggling two year old in the air, and the next minute, he'll be dropping "f-bombs" (through his video game self) as he's escaping from police sirens, stealing cars, and shooting people. We've been together for ten years, but still, everytime I see him so engaged in pursuit, I just stop and stare in disbelief: "Who is this man? Do I really know him? What is FUN about this?" This is one distinctive type of gamer.

Then there is Alex. For Alex, video games are not a fun escape every once in awhile. World of Warcraft WAS life. (The rest was just an annoying distraction from what really mattered.) Alex was a kid that got to me, because try as I might, try as I could, I never could get him hooked into what we were doing in class. (I came closest when I encouraged him to share his computer game funds of knowledge in some form, but never really succeeded.) Alex was silent, sullen, antisocial, "nerdy". He was so thin and white, I'm pretty sure he rarely ate and definitely rarely saw the sun. He spoke to just ONE other sixth grader, another super-tiny-for-his-age-kid who was also somewhat of an outcast, although much less silent. But everyday, at the end of school, Alex would come to room, face brightning, so that he could tell me the latest in his World of Warcraft game. I never figured out what the heck he was talking about, but from those conversations I realized he had definite passions and definite skill sets; unfortunately formal school stuff just wasn't one of them.

So what to make of my husband and Alex and virtual worlds mattering? This blog is getting too long, so I'll leave it up to you. I'm just saying that it seems to me, there are two people in these world: people who love video games, and people who don't. And I'm pretty sure there are some deep reasons for this. What I'm less sure about is how to create virtual worlds that are both immersive and educative, autonomous and directly beneficial . . .

But who I am talk? I hate video games . . .

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