One man's story about how Macs saved him from his learning disabilities as a child
Now that he's an adult Mike McHargue is the CTO of the Zimmerman Agency, finding success in advertising and social music. But McHargue wasn't always on the path for success that landed him where he is today. As a child, he struggled with learning disabilities that impacted his ability to express himself in writing and class. It was only after he was introduced to the Macintosh as a child that he truly started to flourish as a student.
McHargue has published a wonderful happy birthday tribute to the computer that changed his life over on his personal blog. Anyone who has ever struggled with a learning disability -- shout out to all the other dysgraphics out there -- knows how hard it is to reconcile the disconnect between what you think in your head and what your hands produce when you write. But for the rest of you, consider McHargue's story as a look into how much technology has opened doors for children who would have otherwise been left behind.
As a child, he was put in special classes, but the results were mixed.
I was such a poor early student that I was put in special classes. To this day, I'm not sure if the teachers suspected me of hidden brilliance or too-far-below-the-bell-curve intelligence. I suspect they were unsure as well. This individualized instruction didn't accomplish much, aside from a safe harbor from the teasing of my schoolmates. There were discussions in some years about holding me back.
Things changed, however, when he was introduced to the Apple II in fourth grade. He started to teach himself programming, and learned about the magic of word processing. Our readers who have struggled with dysgraphia in the past will completely understand the wonder it brought to him.
I can still remember the room where the computers were kept, and the exhilaration I felt when you could simply *press a key and letters would appear on screen.* It was writing, but without handwriting. I could type thoughts far easier than I could write them.
The Apple II opened up the possibility of education, but it was the Macintosh that changed his life. Its cutting-edge graphic design options and easy-to-learn controls inspired him. Working on a computer provided the freedom to work without fighting to get his hand to write words.
Before he was out of high school, he was building campus-wide networks out of unused intercom cabling, and helping science teachers set up computers. In eighth grade he was honored with the title "Computer Trainer of the Year." It was the first trophy he'd ever received.
McHargue's story doesn't end there, but frankly as much as I relate to it, it's not mine to tell. You should read the whole thing yourself over on his blog, including how this former candidate for being held back was hired by the government when he was 17. Or how he met Steve Jobs. Or became a VP of a company by 25.
As another person who struggled with learning disabilities as a child -- my parents were told when I was 8 years old that I'd never graduate from high school -- and who succeeded in life only with the help of computers, McHargue's story hits close to home. He beautifully expresses the idea himself at the end of the piece.
I owe my life to that machine. Without it, I would have no career and no education. I wouldn't be able to blog. Steve Jobs said he wanted to put a dent in the Universe, and that dent created the space for me to have the life I live today.
McHargue is part of the first generation of kids who had the opportunity to succeed because computers like the Macintosh were made available to them in schools. For children like him, and the ones who came after, the 30th birthday of the Macintosh is something special. It's not just the anniversary of a computer. It's the birth of hope for kids who might otherwise have never believed they were capable of more than traditional education told them they could do.
Happy birthday indeed.
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