The Kids Take Over


As with Linux, these kids are all about making things—and then making them better. They're also up against incumbent top-down systems they will reform or defeat. Those are the only choices.

It starts here, in the heart of Long Island, a couple dozen exits east of Queens. I saw it with my own eyes in Mineola's Public Schools, where kids, led by a nonprofit called kidOYO ("kid-oh-yo"), are learning to program in different languages on different devices and operating systems, creating and re-creating software and hardware, with fun and at speed. Their esteem in themselves and in the eyes of their peers derives from their actual work and their helpfulness to others. They are also moving ahead through levels of productivity and confidence that are sure to create real-world results and strip the gears of any system meant to contain them. Mineola's schools are not one of those systems.

OYO means Own Your Own, and that's what these kids are learning to do. In geekier terms, they are rooting their own lives online. They're doing it by learning to program in languages that start with Scratch and progress through Python, Java, C# and beyond. They're doing it on every hardware and software platform they can, while staying anchored to Linux, because Linux is where the roots of personal freedom and agency go deepest. And they're doing in all in the spirit of Linus' book title: just for fun.

With kidOYO, the heuristics go both ways: kidOYO teaches the kids, and the kids teach kidOYO. Iteration is constant. What works gets improved, and what doesn't gets tossed. The measures of success are how enthused the kids stay, how much they give and get energy from each other, and how much they learn and teach. Nowhere are they sorted into bell curves or given caste-producing labels, such as "gifted" or "challenged". Nor are they captive to the old report-card system. When they do take standardized tests, for example the college AP (advanced placement) ones for computer science, they tend to kick ass.

kidOYO is the creation of the Loffreto family: Devon and Melora, and their son Zhen, who is now 13. What started as a way to teach computing to Zhen turned into ways to teach computer science to every kid, everywhere. kidOYO's methods resemble how the Linux kernel constantly improves, with code contributors and maintainers stamping out bugs and iterating toward ever-expanding completeness, guided by an equal mix of purpose and fun.