The Way Kids Are: Pencils, paper and passion

Who are these kids of the '90s? How do they differ from children of other generations? 'The Way Kids Are' is a regular series of columns in which we invite readers to help us understand kids. Each column will begin by...
June 1, 1997

Who are these kids of the ’90s? How do they differ from children of other generations? ‘The Way Kids Are’ is a regular series of columns in which we invite readers to help us understand kids. Each column will begin by describing a recent experience with a child, followed by an analysis that will examine what this teaches us about children today. Submissions can be made by contacting editor Mark Smyka by phone: 416-408-2300, fax: 416-408-0870 or e-mail:

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‘If I make a story up, will you put it in your comic book?’

‘Can I draw a brand-new character for you?’

‘If I started right now, how long would it take for me to get good at drawing like you?’

These are just a few of the hundreds of questions posed by thousands of school kids across the U.S. who have had the pleasure of meeting the Scrap City Pack Rats.

The Scrap City Pack Rats is a traveling educational program centered on four superhero characters with physical disabilities. It is designed to promote understanding, awareness and appreciation of each individual’s unique contribution to our world.

This group of four supercharged radical rodents was developed by Mark Medford of Goodwill Industries in northern New England to spotlight the abilities of the physically challenged.

Lest this become an infomercial for a project I am passionate about, let me explain why I have chosen it as the focus of my contribution to ‘The Way Kids Are.’

I have had the great privilege to be a part of the Scrap City Pack Rats program for the past five years. As an official touring ‘Roadie Rat,’ I have traveled to many states, cities and towns. I have visited schools where the scent of flowers and the shine of fresh paint welcome you in, and played for kids in school rooms with peeling paint and the sad scent of marijuana finding its way in from the streets through open windows. I have shaken hands with teachers whose grip was firm and whose eyes reflected light and life, and met those whose handshake was weak and whose eyes were dim and distracted. In all of these wildly different settings, one single statement always rings true and clear: The kids of the ’90s are imaginative, enthusiastic and curious.

And lest my middle name become Pollyanna, let me say that there is a plenitude of problems out there, from violence to abuse to fear to on, and on, and on. . . . Despite all of that, these kids are engaged.

How do I know this? Because I have watched 300 second and third graders sit knee-to-knee in a hot room for an entire hour watching a primitive slide show, listening to an audio adventure and discussing the merits of a black-and-white comic book. Conventional entertainment industry wisdom would tell me I was hallucinating. The programmers, marketing analysts, advertisers and consultants tell us kids need stimulation and action, fast-paced, nonstop smart stuff. I wonder if this isn’t just another self-fulfilling prophecy. From what I’ve seen, a little passion, a couple of pieces of paper and some pencils still go a long way.

I fear the adult world of the entertainment industry is becoming increasingly out of touch with the streets and the schools, and therefore out of sync with the audience it purports to please.

I have always believed that the kid makes the sneaker. It seems the message we are sending today is the sneaker makes the kid. I believe that if we listen to the message these young kids of the ’90s are sending us, it might read like this:

‘We can think . . . we can dream . . . we can imagine . . . we can play. So give us books, support our dreams and keep our pencils sharpened.’

Con Fullam develops special projects for WCSH 6 and WLBZ 2, affiliates of Maine Broadcasting Systems, is an honorary Scrap City Pack Rat and a close friend and associate of the Wompkee.

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