[Discuss-sudbury-model] Computer Games at School

From: Peter Talbot <dumbguy_at_covad.net>
Date: Sat Mar 1 15:05:01 2003

> A question. Can you tell me what Sudbury school (or any democratic school)
> policies are about playing computer games and watching TV? On the Sudbury
> website, there are pictures of kids playing and embroidering and walking
> watching other kids and building. None of anyone sitting in front of a

At the Chicago Sudbury School we have kids playing computer games all the
time. The only limit we set on computer use time is for purposes of
fairness--kids get 3 hours of "priority use" that they can sign up for in
1-hour increments. This system of limitations only exists because we have
more kids than computers, and the issues of equal access and fairness are

We also have kids talking, doing sewing projects, playing piano or bass
guitar or cooking *all the time.* The same kids. While we do have a TV, I
have yet to see anyone watch it (excepting our sleep-overs, where movies
are a staple).

I guess the point I'd like to make here is three-fold:
1. an interest in computer games does not necessarily preclude interests in
other things.

2. An interest in computer games is not a "bad thing" that we as adults
have some need to limit/control, in my mind. Our computer corporation
installed two games last week. A program called Snood, and an Internet
chess program called BlitzIn. Few in established academia would argue that
chess is a total waste of time (my girlfriend disagrees, btw), but many
computer games are no less "deep" than Chess, Mah-Jong, Go and other
traditional games that are held to be intellectual pastimes. Yet many make
a judgement that computer games are somehow of less value. Why? Who gets to
decide whether a game is or is not mentally stimulating? Someone who's
never played the game? Seems pretty arbitrary...

3. Golf. Golf is **the stupidest excuse for a game on the planet,** in my
opinion. It even has a stupid name. Yet many people enjoy this "sport" and
it has become **the** social game of the power elite. Is it possible that
MMORPGs, or yes, even Snood will have a similar place in future social
networks? It's possible, especially as kids (future adults) become more and
more skilled with computers at younger and younger ages.

My personal prognostications aside, the future is uncertain; we don't know
what skills these kids are going to need. What does seem certain is that
with our highly specialized society, each individual will need a skill set
as unique as he or she is.

>As we get turned around, putting some of these ideas into practice, do we
>leave it all completely open? Kids get to choose what they want to do. WEll,
>we're already not letting them get by without helping in the upkeep of the
>family. Chores are part of their life.

Nor should we, in my view. As you say, chores are part of life. Service on
our Judical Committee is part of life at our school. Cleaning up after
yourself is a fact of life anywhere. When time spend in front of a TV or
computer screen interferes with getting essential things done, *then*
there's a problem. But the problem isn't a computer, a book, a set of chess
pieces or any other activity that a kid gets immersed in. The problem is
balance. The balance between the needs and wants of the community and the
needs and wants of the individual.

In our school, there was a problem with people getting their chores done at
the end of the day, so we passed a rule that the computers be shut off
earlier. Simple, to the point. It allowed people who were really into what
they were doing time to go "okay, what do I need to do before I leave."
Since the rule passed, people have been better about doing their chores and
taking care of their personal clean-up. This makes Peter a happier Staff
Member. =)

It does become a time-management problem, and one of responsibilty. People
need to be held accountable for how they spend their time when they aren't
meeting their obligations, whether these obligations are financial, civic,
family, or to school. A kid trying to wiggle out of responsibility is a kid
trying to wiggle out of responsibility. You can't let them get away with
that, or they will learn that they can, and that's pure poison. But don't
blame the computer, and don't let them blame the computer either. It's an
inanimate object. One with an off switch.

>Some, in the unschooling sub-culture LOL would say "Yeah. Let him choose
>whatever he wants, including as much TV and computer as he feels like." I
>doubt the wisdom of that. But they also say "He won't do only that, forever
>and ever. He'll find other things to do when screen time gets boring."

Risky as it sounds, I have to agree with this. Let him burn out on it. I
was chatting with an adult college friend of mine who mentioned we had just
installed Snood at CSS. Her response was "OhMyGod, I was so addicted to
that game--now I can't stand the sight of it." She's an adult, and a bright
and successful one by any standard.

I don't see where a kid who is a free to choose how to use his or her time
would handle it any differently.

(apologies if my rant seems repetitive with joe's)
Received on Sat Mar 01 2003 - 15:04:27 EST

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