[Edu-sig] The fate of raw_input() in Python 3000

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Sat Sep 16 19:35:58 CEST 2006

On 9/16/06, John Zelle <john.zelle at wartburg.edu> wrote:

> > It must be on the right track.
> And I can't see how any reasonable person could be against that, which I why I
> thought you were saying something else ;-). By all means, let's agree that
> teaching some programming as part of math is a sensible enterprise. But
> that's not happening at the moment, at least not around here. I don't see
> this as a reason to denigrate the computer scientists who are trying to
> teach "intro to programming" courses as another entry point into this
> important mathematical domain. If the students have not yet learned
> programming but have already learned basic algebra, then an introduction to
> programming seems the next logical step. There is no conspiracy of CS
> academia to keep programming out of the secondary schools. College CS
> programs are just dealing with the situation on the ground as we find it.
> Let me add just one more thought before signing off on this thread
> permanently.

I wish you wouldn't do that, as one of the more thoughtful voices on
edu-sig.  But I'm sure you have your reasons.  Also, "this thread" is
no longer what's in the subject line.  We're back to the broad

There should be no permanent signing off, unless you're leaving
edu-sig entirely (in which case, I'm sorry).

> mechanization along the way). The arrival on the scene of the modern general
> purpose computer is quite new. It seems to me there is still room for
> teaching math as math and treating the translation of mathematical techniques
> and algorithms into a fully formal system (a programming language) as a
> somewhat more specialized kind of mathematics, a subfield in its own right.

I don't think "subfield" is the right word, as CS *originates* a lot
of content, formalisms, algorithms, you name it.  It's not "monkey see
monkey do" vis-a-vis the mathematicians and their "parent" discipline.

The lineage should have a better self image.  Knuth's volumes assures
that it will, if it doesn't already.

> specialized knowledge they need later. So if current math teachers are
> uncomfortable with teaching programming, I've go no problems with them
> teaching some math that they do know well and can communicate their passion
> for.

I think this kind of relaxed approach does to little to factor in the
fact of doors slamming shut because opportunities were not offered.
Students who would have loved math, had the pedagogy been up to date
(as in "uses a computer language") instead hate it.

I've lost count of the number of times people have come up to me after
a talk and said something like "if math had been taught *like this* I
might have stuck with it."

There's a trade off with the passage of time, regarding how much dead
weight the curriculum can support.  "Just focus on whatever you're
good at and teach that" doesn't seem a recipe for high standards.
Where's the motivation to keep up to date, even within one's own
chosen specialty?

> for doing this. But of course, I'm self-serving in thinking that. I continue
> to be part of the vast conspiracy...
> --John

I go back to the sports metaphor.  What keeps football players in
shape?  Coaches for sure, but also playing other teams.  There's
competition and a way to measure skills.  This team is weak on
defense, strong on passing -- whatever (I'm not a huge football fan in
this chapter, so I won't extend this metaphor much further).

How is it that CS faculties measure themselves, or the discipline?
Kay kept bringing this up ("low pass filter" talk) in a broader sense:
 how shall we measure quality?

I'm not saying I want to go back to gladiators in the coliseum.  But I
do think we should be serious about addressing shortcomings and need
mechanisms for keeping in shape, whoever "we" may be.  Don't use war
metaphors if you don't want to.  Just recognize that humanity isn't
getting a free ride on Spaceship Earth -- there's a lot of work that
needs doing, or preventable disasters await.

Bernie Gunn, the New Zealand geochemist, tells me that most young
scientists he sees don't know how to use their computers except to do
emails and office type stuff.  Programming is beyond their ken.  And
yet geochemistry is dying for lack of strong number crunching.  This
pattern gets repeated.

If one feels flooded by incompetent graduates, there's a problem
somewhere.  College profs love to complain about the quality of
incoming freshman (I'm not saying you personally do this a lot), but
is that where the quality concerns end?

In part it's just a matter of world view.  I think humans should have
ended starvation as a major cause of death by this time.  Some
progress has been made, but the fact that in 2006 we've betraying so
much past positive futurism, the sincere hopes and dreams of so many
hard workers, now gone, is not a trivial matter for me.

I wake up every morning apologizing to the dead for our grave
incompetence and moronic idiocy.  I ask for the strength to be less of
a moron today than I was yesterday.

I know this is just my Fuller School training coming through, not
necessarily relevant to other schools' agendas.

Write it off a jihad if you wish, but I'm not going to stop
recruiting, trying to get more students to take their role seriously,
when it comes to making this a better world.


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