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SideLines: Learning at the knee of a know-it-all kid

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:23 a.m. CDT

Want to feel stupid? Not the household, garden-variety kind of stupid, but the real, no holds barred, no doubt about it, you almost need a license kind of stupid?

Do this: sit next to a kid in front of a computer.

I made that mistake the other day. I was running errands and stopped at the local library to look up something on the Internet. I was typing in my code to gain access to the Internet, using the two-finger hunt-and-peck method – slow and deliberate.

Apparently, I must have been too slow, because a voice gently told me, “You have to type in all the numbers.”

The voice belonged to a 12-year-old boy sitting next to me, watching me with earnest dark eyes. The boy, who was maybe closer to 10, spoke to me like you would to a really old person who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

To him, I probably am and looked like I didn’t.

“That’s OK, I’m just slow,” I told him. I think the joke went over his head because he kept watching me with this very serious, almost painfully concerned look on his face. It’s the kind of look you give someone you feel sorry for because you know they can’t help themselves.

“Now, you have to push that,” he said, pointing to the submit button.

“Thank you,” I said politely. I wanted to assure him I’ve done this before, but, being the adult and, hopefully, the more mature, I didn’t say anything.

As I began typing, I could see him fidgeting out of the corner of my eye. No longer interested in what he had been doing, I could tell he was just dying to help me with what I was doing.

With a fatherly little smile, I assured him I could handle it from there, which I could, and I did, although I’m sure he didn’t totally believe me. I tried to politely ignore him while waiting for him to reach over and type for me. Actually, I think he might have been tempted. Thankfully, he didn’t know what I was looking for, so he didn’t.

I knew he meant well, sort of like a Boy Scout helping an elderly lady across the street, but I really did know what I was doing. Maybe not as well as him, but enough that I wasn’t going to blow up the library by pushing the wrong button. (I don’t think you can blow up a library by pushing the wrong button on a computer, can you?)

I often tell people I am probably the least tech-savvy person they will ever meet, and I mean it. I grew up in the dinosaur age, with pencils and erasers. Ink pens were only for the really smart kids who didn’t have to worry about erasing any mistakes.

When I got into high school, we used manual typewriters. The electric ones were reserved, again, for the really smart kids. I don’t know why. One of the benefits of using an electric typewriter is it’s easier to correct mistakes, which dumb kids like me make more often than the honor roll students.

I have no idea who that little boy was sitting next to me at the library or how well he does in school, but I do know this: Kids today are so much smarter and more advanced than I was at their age, it’s amazing, almost scary, to think of how much they know.

Whenever I talk to my cousin’s three teenagers, I have no clue what they’re talking about as they casually rattle off terminology. I nod like I understand, but I’m sure they can see through me. All three are very smart, but not at the top of their classes, which makes me wonder just how smart kids have to be today just to keep up, let alone succeed.

According to Great Schools, a recent study showed that American students ranked 16th in science and 23rd in math among industrialized countries around the world. As smart as our young people are, don’t you wonder what the heck the other countries know?

All I really know is that the older I get, the more I realize this isn’t my world anymore, not that it ever was. It truly belongs to the young. I also know something else: that little boy in the library was probably 8, if that. But I’m pretty sure his older brother sitting on the other side of him was at least 10, not that it matters.

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