Coding in Classrooms

As I shared previously, I am now a graduate Library Science student at University of Arizona. Whoa, still feels exciting to say that and have it be real and true. I couldn’t be happier with how my degree program has started out and, though rigorous, my summer classes have been going extremely well.

A lot of things about my information technology classes have surprised me so far, but one thing hasn’t. I am still getting used to going from the humanities side of academia to the dark side (just kidding).

Something that becomes more and more apparent to me is the divide between the humanities and STEM-everything. I won’t elaborate on my thoughts on STEM, but you can check out those posts here and here.

I am sharing two articles from the New York Times and Wired, because they go hand in hand and it will help to illustrate my point (you can click the image above to go straight to the NYT article).

First, New York Times article from June 27, 2017 “How Silicon Valley Pushed Coding Into American Classrooms.” Apple’s Tim Cook recently said:

“…to help solve a huge deficit in the skills that we need today, the government should do its part to make sure students learn computer programming…”

…going on to say it should be a requirement in public schools. However, the organization called has already become successful at making this a reality, their goal being “to get every public school in the United States to teach computer science” while asserting that “computer science has become as essential for students as reading, writing and math.”

Now, earlier this year published an article titled “The Next Big Blue-Collar Job is Coding” which I would recommend everyone read. As you can guess from the title, this article argues that coding will be the next generation’s blue-collar jobs; the future of computer science looks less like the standouts of the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and more like the everyman “in states hit hardest by deindustrialization” such as Kentucky, Tennessee, among others.

This is not to take away from the great innovators that we do need in every field including computer science, however a nonprofit in Tennessee that is pushing for coding to be taught in high schools has said, “We just need someone to manage the login page. You don’t have to be a superstar.”

The last sentence here is what struck me as significant. I feel that Tim Cook’s approach to coding will inevitably make young coders feel that they are doing something magnificent when coding, something uniquely special to them as an individual. But if moving forward we are going to treat coding as something as vital as reading, writing and arithmetic so to speak, then we should also be emphasizing to young students that it is part of an education as a whole.

The way that Tim Cook and Apple, along with Microsoft and are approaching this from an industry demand standpoint and less from an educational standpoint is where I take issue with this. I would fully support the implementation of coding lessons in public schools if the goal didn’t appear to be that of funneling young people into positions at tech companies; positions which may be computerized in coming years making their jobs obsolete, which is already happening right now to those trained in factory jobs. If coding is taught as part of a whole educational approach, linking the humanities, we would have less mindless coding and more creative, innovative thinking and ideas coming to light.

I have taken some classes in coding and will write more on my experiences with that later, but at the moment I can’t help feel that the subject of coding in public schools is unfortunately eclipsing other equally important areas of an education. It’s unsettling, and not something we should be going into with a blind eye. Think of who or what is pushing this curriculum in public schools, (hint: which corporations) and what their motivation might be, in order to weigh the options of who is really benefiting from this long term; it probably won’t be the kids.

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