I know I should have looked away when I saw this, but I couldn’t help reading a New York Post opinion piece on Bill deBlasio’s proposal to bring CS to NYC’s public schools. Most criticisms I’ve seen have expressed concern about the implementation, not about whether it should be done at all. This piece says it’s just a bad idea all the way around. The first part of the author’s argument is that students aren’t passing the math and reading tests at high enough rates, so surely they can’t do CS. She’s right about the difficulty of recruiting CS majors to teach. And much as I hate the idea sometimes of running non-CS majors through a workshop to learn enough CS to teach an intro, that may, in fact, be where we have to start. And deBlasio didn’t say it had to be at the high school level. It’s an option at the middle school level as well, where I think a well-trained teacher can do a lot with CS concepts.
Her other point of contention is just giving “failing public schools” more money which she thinks will be wasted. So, in essence, the money could be earmarked for anything and she wouldn’t like it.
Her next argument is that tech CEO’s–really just David Gelernter–has stated that he doesn’t hire CS majors anyway, so what’s the point of creating more of them. First, he’s one guy. Second, several people, including Mark Guzdial, a respected CS Education researcher, has pointed out that Gelernter’s suggestion would skew white and male. Putting CS in high schools, where everyone has the opportunity to learn CS can offset this imbalance.
Finally, she argues that “High school is the time when students are supposed to shore up their reading and writing and math skills so that they can be qualified for college or some other kind of vocational training.” I would say that high school is a time to explore career options. And if CS is not taught in high school, the idea of CS being part of one’s career options is off the table. Yes, there are certain skills we want our students to graduate from high school with, but it’s not just math and reading. That focus comes from the crazy focus on standardized tests (and arguing against that is another blog post). Computer Science can actually be used to teach math and reading skills, if that’s what schools want. It can also teach logic (useful in arguments against journalists), critical thinking, systems thinking, problem solving, creativity, and more, depending on the context in which it’s taught.
Will NYC’s proposal be challenging to implement? No doubt, but I think it’s worth trying, and I’m selfishly rooting for it to succeed.