I wouldn't suggest Perl as a first programming language then or now. These days, I'd suggest Ruby, though I'd also like to see Logo used in schools starting at a young age (1st or 2nd grade).
Thinking of memory management as a necessary part of learning programming is looking at the problem the wrong way. I'd call this "C Programmer's Disease", but this is apparently already taken by another evil. It's not really that abstraction, in the OO sense, is the first thing a budding programmer should learn, but that even memory management isn't low level enough. All useful languages and computing machines are themselves concrete examples of Lambda Calculus, which has nothing to say on the issue of memory management.
I'm tempted to say, therefore, that Lisp should be your first language, since the language can be easily simplified to a from that's barely more than an easily-parsable Lambda notation. However, I think you can learn a lot of the same things using Ruby, and you'll run into Ruby a lot more often in practice (no, I don't want a reply listing all the useful programs that have been written in Lisp). After balancing this factor, I give support for Ruby, though I wouldn't blame anyone for choosing Lisp.
"There is no shame in being self-taught, only in not trying to learn in the first place." -- Atrus, Myst: The Book of D'ni.
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