Not everyone will be a programmer

So we shouldn’t require coding/computer science.  This is the argument I see every time someone responds to an article about requiring Computer Science.  Using that argument, we shouldn’t require anything.  We should ask kids what they want to be when they grow up at around the age of 12 and then set up a specific round of courses for them to follow.  Oh, and they can’t change their minds.

Another argument against requiring it is that coding is hard to learn and not many people get that good at it.  Again, other subjects are hard for some people: math, science, English.  And yet we require all of those.

Here’s the thing.  Most of the basic skills one needs to just get by are learned by 5th or 6th grade.  By that point, one knows enough math to deal with a paycheck and basic banking.  One can read a newspaper and other material about the world or in the workplace that’s necessary to function.  But we want students to know more than just the basics.  We want them to be educated citizens, to understand the world around them in all its complexity and to be able to participate in the world in various, usually specialized ways.  But every citizen makes decisions related to math, and science, and yes, computer science, through the voting process, so that’s just one reason to go beyond 5th grade skills.  Think about the recent Net Neutrality decision.  Knowing that the Internet is not just a “Series of Tubes” is important to making a good decision about that.  Look at HealthCare.gov.  Understanding how computer systems can and can’t work together and how the web works helps you understand a little about why that was such a disaster.  They didn’t bring in bankers or construction workers to fix that.  They brought in computer scientists and coders.  Political campaigns now involve a ton of coding to analyze patterns in social media, to target ad campaigns, and to test slogans.  Heck, businesses do that for products now.

Finding cures for diseases involves computing power.  The genome was mapped thanks to computer science.  Environmental problems are being worked on through the power of computation.  All those analyses of global warming, ice melting patterns, and predictions of ocean levels: computing power.  Art, drama, music, all those can involve computing in powerful ways.  Music is being written through code. Drama can involve computing through lighting and sound at a most basic level.  Or it can involve programs that display props or are part of the action (think Her).  Artists have long turned to computing to create interactive art or creative images impossible to conceive using traditional methods.

Understanding the logic of computer programs can lead to better lawyers, politicians and lawmakers, or writers.  Architecture and manufacturing now involve 3D printing, laser cutting, and programmatically creating drawings and plans.  Law enforcement and detective work involves analyzing patterns in data or testing evidence.

I could go on.  Every field involves computing in some way.  Not every person in those fields are going to program as part of their daily work.  But understanding what computers are capable of can lead to leveraging the power of computing in ways that they might not otherwise.  A business person who knows that one can analyze visits to their web site in order to better target ads or to build products that meet demand is going to be more successful than one who doesn’t know that or fully understand it.

So, stop saying that CS shouldn’t be required because not everyone will program.  I’m glad I know higher level math and that I took chemistry and read every play Shakespeare wrote.  I’ve found all those things useful even if I don’t use them every single day.  And I went through several possible careers before I landed in technology.  Had I not been exposed to it in 7th grade, I might never have thought of it.

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8 Replies to “Not everyone will be a programmer”

  1. Absolutely, Laura! At our school, kids are required to take arts courses: chorus or band or pottery or dance or theater….. How many of them will become professional artists of some sort? Hardly any. So that kind of explodes that argument. We can also make the case for using computational thinking in many fields. Plus, “program or be programmed.”

  2. At our school the kids are pretty much buried in required courses. Requiring another would cause some major scheduling issues. In order to get CS in to the curriculum full time something would have to go out. I would not like to be in the middle of that curriculum meeting. Personally I say 4 years of English is one year too many but for some reason I just do not see that happening. The required curriculum is so entrenched that changing it would require a major paradigm shift. Of course there is the little detail of if it was required where would the teachers come from? In my State there are 5 certified CS teachers. No joke. I think CS should be a required course but there are just so many problems with it happening.

  3. In my case the conversation goes something like this:

    Chemistry / Physics (or other subject supervisor): Why can’t they just take CS as an elective.

    Me: Why should CS be any less important than physics or chemistry – most of our students don’t go into either of those fields yet we require a year of each. Why is your subject more important when my subject has more potential impact on more kids. Why don’t we make chem and phys electives?

    Supervisor: hommina hommina hommina — well, chem and physics are state requirements.

    Me: No they’re not – let’s make them electives

    Supervisor: ———————————————-

  4. I always wondered how to spell “hommina”. Chem and physics are also big requirement for many college majors. I do not think CS is required for any major, not even CS. My high school requires 3 years of science. CS is not a science, it is a practical art. Kind of like wood shop or typing is a practical art.

  5. Bob, we have art, drama and music classes that are required in MS. Some art is required in US as well.

  6. I just learned yesterday that the NCAA does not recognize CS as a core course for computing a GPA for scholarships. This is obviously a major issue in requiring CS in a HS curriculum.

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