Midlothian, VA — Twenty adults perch uncertainly before computer monitors, their turn at last to delve into Basic and try the mysterious game of Applesoft at which their sons and daughters excel.
Six weeks later, they confidently guide cursors about the screen as they make entries in a hypothetical tax chart for the Widget Outlet on Entrepreneur Drive.
They have, in the interim, been given a hands-on introduction to microcomputers, with emphasis on home and educational applications. They have tried Visi-Calc, Applewriter II, and other software for personal filing and finance, word processing, and educational applications. They have also learned some elementary programming.
Fletcher Collins, the fourth-grade teacher at Collegiate who conceived the idea for the class, says the main goal is familiarization. ''We don't expect anyone to master programming in six sessions, but they begin to see the possibilities, to think, 'I could do this - figure taxes, learn a language, have a stock market hook-up, whatever.'''
''Frankly, I felt a perfect fool, not understanding computers,'' says Helen Scott Reed. A museum curator, she has worked for 10 years on restoring the Virginia governor's mansion. She plans to use a word processor, a technology made possible by computer science, for writing articles on historic preservation. And she will use information stored in a computer for comparing prices of antiques.
Sandy Fisher admits he had trouble at first just finding the keys, but wanted to find out how a computer could help him oversee his Goochland County farm. Ron and Anna Nease say they ''started at ground zero.'' Their Franklin computer, which uses Apple software, is shared with their children, Marianna and Carl. ''At 14, Carl knows 10 times what we do,'' Ron says. Anna found the course an excellent introduction; Ron felt it was more helpful in establishing criteria for a purchase than in giving detailed instruction to computer owners.
Celia Jones, once baffled by computers, has found the course delightfully clear. ''I was amazed; if you can read and follow directions, you can use a computer. I wouldn't be much of a programmer, but I started with nothing and now I feel quite comfortable with it.''
Celia's husband is on the waiting list for the course; he hopes to use a computer in his construction business for inventory, payroll, and accounting. Their first-grade son, Reece, is pressuring his parents to purchase one.
Co-teacher with Fletcher Collins is Bobbie Lublin, a Collegiate computer teacher. ''All the children are exposed to computers, even kindergarteners,'' she points out.
Some parents have computers at work, but want to enlarge their understanding; others, like attorney John Bates, must overcome an initial fear and prejudice against computers. ''I view the course as a first step in a program of self-education,'' he says. ''I plan to survey the field before purchasing one.''
The course provides an introduction to software on the market, one of its advantages over many community-college courses with an exclusively vocational mission. As Fletcher Collins explains, ''The parents can see why it might be worth it to buy software, though writing programs oneself does give more options.''
The Widget Outlet looms large on the three giant monitors and the 20 small screens. ''Load.'' The cassette players hum and the machines beep. ''Now,'' says Fletcher Collins, ''change line 40; if A is greater than S, then tax equals price times .04.''
The cursors blink. The numbers shift. ''Ha!'' cries John Bates. ''I put it in and it worked!''
It is ''instant gratification,'' just as promised in the Applesoft tutorial.