A Teenager Inspires Hackers For The Better

A 13-year-old boy may not be the fellow you’d expect to inspire you to reconsider your approach towards education, parenting, and even life. Prepare to be surprised.

Logan LaPlante admits that he doesn’t understand how his room gets messy, and often can’t remember if he has showered on any given day. These matters of grooming and hygienics aside, Logan seems to have most everything else figured out. Indeed, Logan is so far ahead of the game that he was invited, earlier this year, to speak on education policy at a TEDx conference.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It was initially created to bring together heavyweights and bigwigs from the worlds of Technology, Entertainment [and] Design. Now it is famous for being a platform for famous people to give “talks” on a huge variety of subjects that are made available, for free, to the world. Past speakers include Ken Jennings, the guy who holds the record for most consecutive wins on Jeopardy, and Bono, lead singer of this band called U2.

Logan can now count himself among these men. At the tender age of 13, he spoke for over ten minutes on a large stage with a power point presentation and a microphone. He looked as at ease as one imagines he looks at the dinner table. He opened his mouth, and out came reflections on “traditional” education, delivered with the vocabulary, self-deprecation, and pacing of an experienced adult public speaker.

His message was this: the most important thing we can learn is how to be happy and healthy. Those are not aptitudes that are taught or tested in conventional classrooms. We should therefore reconsider the limitations of standard schooling, and try to bring more creativity, exercise, nature, and spirituality – to name just a few examples – into our educations.

For Logan’s parents, that meant withdrawing him from his mainstream school four years ago. Since then, Logan has been participating in community workshops, internships, and mentoring relationships. He has learned how to read and write, yes, and about science and history, sure, but he’s done so by focusing on subjects that he is passionate about, like skiing. He’s learned math by apprenticing himself to a local ski and design shop. He knows how to survive in the woods with nothing but a knife. I know I didn’t learn that in public school.

He calls all of this “hackschooling,” making him – and his parents – hackers. Rather than breaking into a computer program to steal, manipulate, or infect, though, he is turning education on its head to expand, explore, and evolve…himself

The more Logan talked, the further my jaw inched towards the floor. It is obvious that he is an intelligent, self-confident, and fulfilled young man. He also illuminates clear gaps in traditional education with a sweet sincerity and precocious directness that cannot be ignored. Indeed, it’s hard to reach the end of Logan’s speech without thinking “well, yeah, it’s great I learned about Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, but it might have been helpful for me to learn about myself, too.”

I know that my formal education included a lot of angst. Some of that drama was attributable to the fact that I was struggling with subjects and assignments that held absolutely no appeal to me. Every time I sat down near a Bunsen burner, or someone put a beaker in my hand, or I was asked to do with a pencil what I knew a calculator could handle so much more gracefully, I verged on tears and irreversible eye-rolling. Some of the drama, though, was also due to the fact that I was struggling with myself. The noise of adolescence was reducing my own voice to a whisper, and I never really knew if I was doing something because I wanted to or because I thought other people probably wanted me to.

Now I am a parent, with two children who will start their own schooling much too soon. I’ve repeatedly stated that I do not care what grades they get, sports they play, or skills they hone. I am unwavering, however, in my expectation that they each become good people – the very lesson I know they will not be lectured on or offered to pursue as an elective.

Not all of us have the resources to be “hackschooled.” That does not mean that Logan’s message should be dismissed, or even diminished. Instead, we need to listen to the memories that Logan’s words awaken.

I need to remember that my homework never reinforced my sense of self. I need to remember that my values were honed at summer camp and in the pages of books I chose to read. I need to remember that some of my best teachers were not people, but experiences.

I need to remember all of that so I can look for, and foster, those same opportunities for my children.

While their curriculum might never approach Logan’s, I can rest assured that, if learning never stops, then the hacking never has to, either.

Featured image via UnofficialAlpine.com

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