10.24.2012

The UNBORED Manifesto

By Josh

With contributions from a diverse crowd of experts, Unbored provides information on everything from using the library to the history of videogames to the best grownup-free adventure fiction; teachers interested in boosting student achievement will want a copy in their classroom. Most of its 350 full-color pages, however, are dedicated to activities — the best of the old (crafts, bicycle repair, science experiments), and the new (geocaching, yarn bombing, LED “graffiti”) — for kids to do on their own and with their parents.

Here’s a manifesto — written by the book’s authors, Josh and Elizabeth — of the book’s underlying ethos. An ethos is a structure of habits that sustains and embodies a quality of mind, a tendency of character. In other words, by adopting DIY habits — including the ones listed below — you are forming a DIY self.


UNBORED MANIFESTO

Invent, grow, and build. Kids today are increasingly tasked with mastering basic math and reading skills. But our society’s emphasis on testing has also meant that shop, music, and even science classes are falling by the wayside. Kids should learn how to make stuff — whether it’s a robot, a knitted hat, or a garden — in a hands-on, leisurely way that engages the imagination. It’s important for kids to develop skills and expertise around their passions, and stuff that you make yourself is always more charming and cool than stuff you buy.

Hack, modify, and fix. We live in a “throwaway” culture; but there are creative, cultural, and economic benefits to taking things apart, figuring out how those things work, and learning how to fix them if they’re broken — or creatively improving things, even if they’re not broken. What we learn from the hacker movement is that you don’t have to accept the way things are, you can modify them. That goes for your own behavior, too.

Get mobile, in town and in nature. In 1969, 41 percent of children walked or biked to school; today, fewer than 15 percent do; the same period has witnessed increases in pollution, traffic, and obesity. Kids who ride bikes, do parkour, hike and camp, and otherwise roam and explore, not only develop their agility, flexibility, and dexterity, but they also gain the ability to adapt to a situation if it doesn’t turn out the way they expected.

Plug into the world. Videogames are fun and often educational challenges. But you’re only a kid once. It’s so important to have low-tech fun — to build backyard forts, learn the names of trees and birds, and discover first-hand how food is produced. The greatest videogames were inspired by their creators’ childhood exploration of woods and cities — why? Because being an independent kid is already a fun and educational challenge.

Seize control of your time. Over 15 million American kids are left on their own in the afternoons; this can be an opportunity to become more resourceful and independent. Kids can cook meals and snacks, and in doing so explore their tastes. They can do research on topics about which they’re curious. They can investigate mysteries, practice magic tricks, dream and doodle and tinker. We need time offline, to imagine and create.

Unearth the history of the present. Everyday life casts a bewitching spell — it would have us believe that the way things are now is not only natural and inevitable, but permanent. Studying the history of your town, your family, your gadgets, your food, your culture, is a way to break out of the voodoo of the everyday. When we go through life in a passive, unthinking way, we risk forgetting that the impossible is actually possible.

Transform your world. Like parkourists, skateboarders, and unschoolers, kids can learn to see any given environment as temporary and modifiable. Everyday life is an obstacle course, a code to crack, a puzzle to solve. From their room to their backyard, to their school, neighborhood, and town, kids can leave their mark — become actively engaged. In doing so, they become activists who will change the world for the better.

Find a scene. Sharing your own ideas and know-how with others, and learning from them in return, is incredibly rewarding. Joining a community of folks who share your interests is the closest we’ll ever come to living in a utopian society, where differences are respected, free speech is celebrated, and decisions are made democratically. Kids should use social media as a way to support real-life community — not as a substitute.

Experiment, gamify, make mistakes. Anything, from cooking to programming to modifying your own behavior, can be approached as an experiment, or a game — and the best way to learn is to jump right in. Perfect is the enemy of good. Engineers, scientists, game designers, and others know that making mistakes early and often is the fastest way to learn. It’s all about prototyping, iterating… and enjoying the process.

Break free. Many kids go directly from school to afterschool activities like organized sports, extracurricular classes, and music or karate lessons. These opportunities are terrific in moderation, but the adults who amaze us with innovative ideas were the kids who obeyed the siren call of their own eccentric, unique passions and interests.