Another Requirement Disguised as an Opportunity

Hello World program displayed on a screen

Last summer, some 800 business, education, and nonprofit leaders” signed onto a statement calling for increased support for teaching computer science in American schools.

Now is the time for action, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Together we urge you, for the sake of our students, our economy, and our country, to work together to update the K-12 curriculum, for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science.1

And that is good, I guess. Every student should have the “opportunity” to take CS classes. If they elect to do so.

However, these kinds of high profile declarations tend to leech over from providing options to new mandates.2 Which is what the organizer of this campaign would love to see happen.

The high-profile statement was organized by Code.org,3 a non-profit advocacy group, as part of their goal to “make computer science fundamental to K–12 education”. In much more direct terms, make it a graduation requirement.

A few quick thoughts on the matter.

First, “opportunity” is not the same as required. Certainly, make the classes available, even do little sampler sessions in elementary and middle schools. But leave the final decision to actually invest the time and effort to the student, with knowledgable guidance from the adults in their lives. K12 school should be an educational sampler platter, not job training.

Next, there is no direct connection between learning to code and understanding technology, in the same way that taking Geometry doesn’t lead to being a logical thinker. The kind of coding instruction kids get most often is presented as a mechanical process, with conceptual ideas tossed in as an after thought. Kinda like the standard high school math curriculum.

Then there are the oft-repeated stories that the US has a critical shortage of CS workers and that studying computer science “puts students on the path toward some of the highest, paying, fastest growing jobs in America”. Developing critical thinking skills and learning the concepts of design would far better prepare most students for both life and work.

The stark reality is that coding has become a basic, entry level skill and long gone are the days of a single programmer creating the next Silicon Valley unicorn. I’m sure many of the business people who signed the CS support letter would love to have lots more coders applying for their jobs. But I’m not sure that would be good for the kids now being pushed into CS classes. 

Finally, instead of adding coding to the class load, students would be far better served by using the “regular” curriculum to help them critically investigate and evaluate how technology impacts their lives. What is motivation of that TikTok “influencer”? Does social media make your life better (or worse)? How can you use technology to improve society as a whole?

Bottom line, do kids really need another requirement disguised as an “opportunity”?

Just a few things to think about as we approach the annual media blitz that is Computer Science Education Week (and Hour of Code), coming up in early December.


The image above shows a program (in C+, I think) designed to print “Hello World”. It’s often still the first task new coders learn.

1. Look! Bill Gates signed it! So did Jeff Bezos! If billionaire tech people think it’s good, it must be. (end snark)

2. See also, A Nation at Risk. And any number of other educational panic attacks over the decades.

3. I notice that a major sponsor of Code.org is Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US. They heavily advertise crypto for the “average” investor, which becomes more interesting considering the recent news concerning that industry.

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