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Where their parents fear to tread, the microkids plunge right in, no more worried about pushing incorrect buttons or making errors than adults are about dialing a wrong telephone number. Says Mathematician Louis Robinson, IBM's resident computer sage: "They know what computers can and cannot do, while adults still regard them as omnipotent." Says Hughes Aircraft Chairman Allen Puckett, who shares an Apple with Son Jim, 12: "A lot of adults grew up in a slide-rule world and still reject computers. But computers are as natural to kids as milk and cookies."
More and more members of the computer generation are tasting the heady pleasure of teaching their own teachers how to use the machines and, if they are lucky enough to have computers at home, instructing their parents as well. Says Ridgewood's Newman, a regular teacher of teachers: "It's a sort of mutual doorway. The barriers between adult and child, between teacher and student, are broken, and it's person to person. Nobody's looking down on anyone; they're looking each other right in the eye."
Often adults find it easier to ask a child how to do something than to ask another adult. Says University of Kansas Education Professor Mary Kay Corbitt: "One adult student of mine brought her son to computer class, and I discovered that he was doing her assignment while she watched. Two weeks later she overcame her anxieties and was participating fully." Confronted with the strange and unsettling world of the computer, teachers can get a useful perspective on what it is like to be a student again. After taking part in an elementary course in programming, Lois Brown, 54, a Wausau grade-school teacher, is thoroughly chastened. "Now I realize how little kids feel when there's a concept they don't understand. I sat in that course not wanting anyone to know all the things I didn't understand."
Despite their obvious wariness of computers, parents are taking the lead in getting them into the schools. In Florida, communities have staged cake and candy sales, carnivals and tree plantings, weekend car washes, even a bike-a-thon to raise funds to buy computers. Says Marilyn Neff of Miami: "We feel computers will be the new paper and pencil." Of the 250 computers in the schools of Utica, Mich., more than two-thirds have been purchased by parent-sponsored fund drives. Says Utica Principal Paul Yelinsky: "Moms and dads are coming in and telling the counselors they have to get their kids in computer classes because it's the wave of the future." So important is computer literacy that the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is beginning a major program to get even such traditional liberal arts schools as St. John's College in Maryland to begin giving courses in it.
Though many schools began purchasing computers