Kids who love Linux

The personality of a Linux-loving teen

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At my public library job I work in Takoma Park, Maryland, I talk with several hundred youth every week. I try to boost their curiosity, guide them in their wonderings and steer them to interesting and useful web sites. I try to point them in a direction where they'll encounter creative fulfillment and career success, while at the same time finding a meaningful role for themselves in this world.

A few years ago I was humbled to receive a citywide community service award for my work mentoring youth.

It's a fascinating challenge choosing just the right words to say to a youth who you might see just twice a week for three minutes. I relish that challenge as an outside-of-school educator. I try to plant seeds in these students' minds that they'll either water or not water.

The other day I caught myself saying to a graduating 8th grade student, “When you get to high school, look around to find students who love Linux. These will be some of the smartest and most creative students at your school.”

But wait a minute, is it true that the smartest and most creative students in a school are the ones who love Linux? It's possible that my friendly counseling advice might be false. Maybe Linux-loving students are not in the upper echelons of their school. The counseling advice I was giving was based on a hunch, not on any data or conclusive facts.

Here is some of the foundation of my thinking. Just as vegetarian teens usually have a higher consciousness of food, ecology and social justice matters in the world, so too do Linux-loving teens generally have a higher consciousness about technology matters. They're more aware about the world and their role in the world. These are the teens who love visiting makerspaces and maker faires. They're the one's bending the world to their liking rather than bending themselves to fit the world. They're the tinkerers. They're the ones who see things differently, the restless ones, the ones with no respect with the status quo, the ones who bring new initiatives to life. They're the with ones unbridled optimism and contagious hopefulness.

A few years ago a middle school student walked up to me and offered to help me refurbish computers with Linux to deliver to students who don't have a computer to use at home. (I've been doing that kind of digital divide work for a while.)  When I saw how much he already knew, I asked him, "Did one of your parents or relatives introduce you to Linux?” He replied, “No, I taught myself a lot of open source things from the web. It's something I'm interested in."

This same youth is actively involved as a student leader in several other initiatives in town. He's chosen to have an active role in both his local community and in the world community. I credit his parents with raising such a stellar young man, and I credit the youth for his bold vision of how he chooses to live his life.

Is he a typical Linux-loving teen? I don't know. He might be. This would be a ripe topic for someone's doctoral dissertation. My hunch? He's a typical Linux-loving teen.

About the author

Phil Shapiro - Phil Shapiro has been an educator, teaching students from pre-school to graduate school for the past 30 years. He currently works at a public library in the Washington, DC area, helping youth and adults use 27 Linux stations. Between 2007 and 2012, he blogged for PC World magazine on various technology topics and currently writes for Ars Technica, MAKE magazine, FOSS Force, TechSoup for Libraries, and Visit him at his...