It’s so easy to focus on the negative, risky, scary, stories related to kids and the internet that we often risk missing the really awesome things kids are doing with technology. Ricky Gilleland, a 17 year old from Stafford, Virginia, has done what the US government has failed to do: he has documented and digitized the graves of every fallen soldier at Arlington Cemetery. You can read a very touching piece about him and the families of fallen soldiers in the Los Angeles Times. An excerpt from the article:
While discussing Arlington’s outdated record-keeping over dinner one night last summer, Ricky — who had just gotten an A in his Programming 1 class at school — announced, “I can fix that.” [… ] He spent afternoons in a bookstore poring over Web development manuals for the right program language to create the site. At night, in his family’s study, his computer hooked up to a 40-inch flat screen and his keyboard on a snack table in front of the couch, he input hundreds of names, photos, links to obituaries and newspaper accounts; he created a space to blog tributes.
To date his site has received over 116,000 hits and he has received hundreds of emails from families of fallen soldiers.
I find Ricky’s work to be a compelling reason why digital literacy matters in a big way. Given the right tools and opportunities for creativity, kids can do some really awesome things – today, here, now – not “someday” when they grow up. While Ricky takes programming at school, his mother discusses the way he’s been tinkering around with computers and technology since he was a kid. It’s important to create spaces for kids to tinker and experiment with technology and learn on their own terms; allowing them the freedom to play and learn through experience and mistakes. Far too often society thinks of kids as “human becomings” rather than “human beings”, but Ricky is just one example that demonstrates when given the right tools and opportunities, kids can do some pretty amazing things with technology!