[Edu-sig] Programming in High School

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Wed Dec 10 22:57:48 CET 2008

On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 6:57 AM, David MacQuigg <macquigg at ece.arizona.edu> wrote:
> Kirby,
> This is very well written appeal, but in this mailing list, you may be preaching to the choir.  What I would like to see is a discussion of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.  I can't seem to get an answer from the few high-school teachers and students I have asked. I suspect it has something to do with requiring all kids to have their own computers, not wanting the rich to have an advantage over the poor, etc.  I've thought about teaching high school myself, but the bureaucracy seems overwhelming.

It is a much more systemic problem than that. I put a lot of blame on
the anti-intellectual forces in society that want education dumbed
down so that they can lie to their own children, and then to the
general public that grows up on this pablum. The fundamental problem
is the insistence on factory-style efficiency in education, a trend
started by Prussia in the 18th century. The result is that schools
nearly always teach only material for which there is an official right
answer, while in real life, whether business, government, the arts, or
politics, all of the interesting questions have no right answer.

The education of teachers was also radically dumbed-down in the
Prussian system. Teachers were expected to know no more than was in
the textbooks they would teach from, except at the highest levels in
research universities. In this view of society, those who needed to
deal with the unanswered questions on a daily basis (other than
scientists and engineers) were to be children of the elite class who
could afford to send them to private schools to receive an entirely
different sort of education. The sort of exceedingly unpleasant system
for generating leaders within an Empire that Kipling described in
Stalky & Co. http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/6422/rev0882.html

The Prussian system was put in place by a King who wanted a compliant
public that would make no attempt to interfere in his planning of the
next war, and by a right-wing Calvinist church movement that the King
preferred over the more liberal-minded Lutherans. _All_ of the
Imperial powers and the churches and business interests that supported
them supported this system for public education at home and abroad.
Japan and the State Shinto authorities particularly loved the German
educational system. Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose.

To come back to programming, what we have had since the introduction
of personal computers in the 1970s has not been programming but
so-called "computer literacy", in which children might get as much as
an hour or two a week in the computer lab. As an immediate
consequence, nothing they learned about computers, or from using
computers, could have any relevance to the curriculum. It is only now,
with the advent of one-to-one computing, that we can even think of
addressing this problem.

If we compare the "computer literacy" approach to programming with the
actual idea of literacy, we see that what we have been doing is
pretending to think we are teaching reading and writing if we have one
room in a school with 30 pencils and pads of paper, but no library,
and we let kids practice handwriting for as much as an hour a week.
But not at home, or in public, no of course not. But what would
schools do with programming in a one-to-one computing environment?
Well, I predict that if left to themselves, they would mess it up as
badly as we mess up literacy, or math and science, or indeed any
subject today. We only let students have access to an utterly boring
and stultifying version. It is just like exposing children to killed
or attenuated viruses in order to make them immune to those viral
diseases. Our schoolbooks contain nothing like the versions of any of
these fields that made the practitioners fall in love with the
possibilities enough to put forth the effort to master some part of
it, and our schools make far too many children immune to learning
anything ever again.

Earth Treasury has just recently, actually just yesterday, come to the
conclusion that we are ready to rethink the notion of a textbook, and
to rework the curriculum from top to bottom, in order to integrate
Free Software into every aspect of every subject. Some things in
education actually take place in the material world, of course,
including gym, manual training, art, and music. Even there, the
computer is an important tool. Think of all of the computerized
athletic training and analysis systems of Olympic athletes and the
pros; or of CAD/CAM; or digital art and electronic music.

The occasion yesterday was the Program for the Future conference at
the Tech Museum (San Jose CA), Adobe Systems, and Stanford, and the
celebration of the 40th anniversary of Doug Engelbart's Mother of All
Demos (look it up and watch the video), which laid the foundations for
all modern user interfaces, and much else in software engineering,
innovation support, and more. We have come nowhere near realizing it
all. I talked with Doug, with Alan Kay (of Dynabook, Smalltalk and GUI
fame) of Viewpoints Research Institute and with Mike Linksvayer from
Creative Commons (look up their cc:Learn project) yesterday, and with
Sugar Labs, FLOSS Manuals, and Open Learning Exchange before that, and
they are all ready to talk about how we can do all this. So let me
know about any subject and age range you want to work on.

> At 11:37 AM 12/6/2008 -0800, kirby urner wrote:
>>As such a manager, I'm frustrated with the schooling around here, but rather than just whine and complain, I get access to classrooms and start showing off how it might really be done, were those of my breed allowed to interact with the kids (rarely happens, rules prevent -- even though I've been cleared at the state level to work with kids, with fingerprinting and everything, same as any union teacher).

We can let you at a few hundred thousand kids, even if not face to face.
Silent Thunder (默雷/धर्ममेघशब्दगर्ज/دھرممیگھشبدگر ج) is my name
And Children are my nation.
The Cosmos is my dwelling place, The Truth my destination.

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