Coding is not the new literacy; not everyone needs to understand computer science. The readings from this week describe the recent push in political and popular culture to get more people, especially young people, taking classes in coding and computer science. I don’t think there is a problem with exposing children to the basics of the field, but we should not prioritize coding on the same level as reading, writing, math, or history. That is not to downplay the importance of computers. Everyone should learn how to use a computer, but not everyone needs to know how to program one in the same way that not everyone needs to know how to build a car in order to drive one.
If we do continue in our push to bring computer education to K-12 curriculum, we should begin with basic computer literacy – how to navigate and use a computer as a typical user. This is likely not something that would require significant faculty resources but would require student access to computers. I think this is a worthwhile investment as being able to use a computer is extremely useful in practically all areas of study and this education could thus be incorporated into existing programs. If the curriculum goes beyond this, the next step, in my opinion, should be computational thinking as this is once again a skill that generalizes well to many situations in life. Here is where we must begin to be careful computer science education does not replace existing subjects because though computational thinking may be useful in areas outside of computing, I do not think it has the same intrinsic value as the traditional subjects. I believe that the recent push for computer science education has been at least as much about trying to groom a workforce for the technology industry as it has providing young students with a balanced education. Education, especially at the the youngest level, should be about preparing students for life, not the job market. All we need at this level is enough exposure to get children comfortable to using computers and maybe, if they’re interested, connect them with the resources they need to go deeper on their own.
On a somewhat unrelated point, I do think anyone can learn to program. Some people are perhaps born with a natural predisposition to want to program, which is a huge advantage, but anyone is capable of learning the skills necessary to code just as anyone is capable of learning the skills necessary to read, write, or do math. As I touched on before, I do not think this means everyone should learn to program if they do not want to. I had the luxury of being able to go to school to study what I am passionate about and the fortune of having a marketable passion. Very few people have these, so it is difficult for me to say everyone should go to college and do what he or she is passionate about. With this in mind, I believe it is a good thing that anyone can learn to program and that there are so many resources and levels of effective education out there for computer science. Everyone should have the opportunity to study computer science, but not everyone needs to take it.