Computer science — literacy for the 21st century

The moment a guy says, “I love reading books,” and then gives an example like, “Have you read the latest book by Junot Diaz?” I have to try to walk away and try calm my faster-beating heart. I have a similar reaction when any of the guys in my office have black screens of code open on two monitors.

Strange attractions and (sort of) jokes aside, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to require all public schools to offer computer science to all students. I admire the trend toward increasing emphasis on code as a fundamental literacy.  Whatever amateur coding skills I honed in the past are definitely obsolete by now, but my background has allowed me to at least understand code that other people have written. It’s been immensely helpful, not just in tech but in other areas of life (including writing!). On broadening the application of computer science:

But let’s back up a step: What if learning to code weren’t actually the most important thing? It turns out that rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do. As the cities that have hosted Code for America teams will tell you, the greatest contribution the young programmers bring isn’t the software they write. It’s the way they think. It’s a principle called “computational thinking,” and knowing all of the Java syntax in the world won’t help if you can’t think of good ways to apply it.

Unfortunately, the way computer science is currently taught in high school tends to throw students into the programming deep end, reinforcing the notion that code is just for coders, not artists or doctors or librarians. But there is good news: Researchers have been experimenting with new ways of teaching computer science, with intriguing results. For one thing, they’ve seen that leading with computational thinking instead of code itself, and helping students imagine how being computer savvy could help them in any career, boosts the number of girls and kids of color taking—and sticking with—computer science. Upending our notions of what it means to interface with computers could help democratize the biggest engine of wealth since the Industrial Revolution.

— From “We Can Code It: Why Computer Literacy is Key To Winning The 21st Century” via MotherJones

It may not be requisite for everyone to deftly write enough code to become a lead developer, but I agree with the Mayor’s statement that “a computer science education is literacy for the 21st century.”

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