[Chicago] Python in local school systems?

Ted Pollari tcp at uchicago.edu
Thu Feb 1 00:20:44 CET 2007

On Jan 31, 2007, at 4:15 PM, Michael Tobis wrote:

> I don't see why IT momentum should have anything to do with  
> teaching logical thinking to people who probably aren't going to be  
> professional programmers. Pretty UIs are not computer literacy any  
> more than Excel spreadsheets are.

I think you've got a high bar for computer literacy here --  
understanding of excel spreadsheets is much more germane  to most  
people's interactions with computers than is programming in python.

There was a time that most people who drove cars needed to know quite  
a bit about how they worked so as to get themselves out of having to  
sit bit the roadside as breakdowns were more frequent. Now, trouble  
shooting fuel injection problems or other engine operations is a  
specialized skill not at all required of the majority of people who  
use cars even for their livelihood.

My point is that "computer literacy" no longer means "programming  
literacy" or even "command line literacy" just like "programming  
literacy" no longer necessarily implies "assembly literacy" or even  
"C literacy".  And, moreover, there's nothing wrong with that -- far  
from it in fact, if you think about it from a design perspective, IMHO.

A slight casting of Dean's point would be that teaching a 'CS course'  
in high school often means "computer literacy" and not "programming  
literacy" and that the majority of the people in high school 'CS'  
courses aren't going to be interested in "programming literacy"  
unless it's done in a flashy way that keeps their attention by  
yielding visible results quickly.  Overall, this is the epitome of  
high school, if not human nature, IMHO.  Sure, I appreciate the year  
and a half of logic coursework I did in college and I do think it  
helped me, but I don't expect everyone to want to or need to go down  
that course for the world to be a happy place.

> Skills are transient. Develop intelligence and you can acquire  
> skills as needed.

You can teach skills much more readily than you can teach  
intelligence.  There's a time and a place for both and given the ever  
increasing ubiquity of computers, basic skills are essential, just as  
driving is an essential skill for a good majority of Americans.  You  
shouldn't need to understand how to build a car to drive one and you  
shouldn't need to understand how to program a computer to use one, no  
matter how valuable and abstractable or extendable the former is.

Moreover, if the above were true, university communities would be  
much different places, but that's a whole different line of  


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