Teaching python (programming) to children

Cliff Wells logiplexsoftware at earthlink.net
Mon Nov 12 21:56:06 CET 2001

On Sunday 11 November 2001 03:36, Laura Creighton wrote:

> In the meantime, I think that letting teachers cut and paste whatever
> academic educational theories and texts they like reduces teaching
> to a hobby, and diminishes it as a profession.  Many people appear to
> want this.  They speak of the 'vocation' of teaching, and the
> 'calling'.
> David Ritchie and I both teach programming, as a hobby, and we
> have independently come up with the principle that it works better
> if you have the students code adventure stories.  So we do this.
> If it turns out we are misguided idiots, are students can always
> leave and do something else.  It is quite possible that we have
> only demonstrated that you should teach students that have joined
> a club where you code adventure stories, by teaching them to
> code adventure stories.  This is a problem with a self selected set.
> David Ritchie was teaching people to program in Perl.  I don't
> approve of that, and am pleased that he is now using python.  But
> I think that it was an _unfortunate_ choice.  But if David Ritchie
> was a professional middle school teacher, I would have a much
> stronger choice of words to describe what I think of the acceptability
> of Perl as a first programming language.

So then, what if your committee, who happens to have the esteemed Larry Wall 
as an advisor, decides that Perl *is* the appropriate language?  What will 
happen to *your* precious ideas about which language is more appropriate?  
This is the basic problem with committees making such decisions - you, whom I 
assume to be an excellent teacher - will be forced to abandon what is working 
well for you in favor of an idea foisted upon you by people who are at least 
one step removed from the actual teaching process. 

> I expect more from you and every professional teacher of programming
> to high school students.  (Which perhaps you aren't doing any more.)
> But unless I misremember, you said that you were teaching C++ as a
> first programming language.  And I think that this is worse than
> foolish, this is evil.  You should not have been allowed to do this,
> even if you wanted to, a responsible educational policy should have a
> list of acceptable first programming languages, and C++ should not be
> on the list.  

What if Python isn't on the list either?

But I don't think that you actually _wanted_ to teach
> C++ as a first programming language to high school students, but it
> was part of the the educational policy that you were given.  So it is
> not a matter of a lack of policy, which would be bad enough, but a
> greater evil.  The _policy_ itself is evil.  What other evils do you
> have, and how do you get them, and why can't responsible teachers such
> as yourself get rid of evil damaging policies?  If that is not worth
> getting angry about, I don't know what is.

My point exactly.  Committees and policies are dangerous things and once they 
are institutionalized, they tend to lose focus on what they were designed to 
do and instead merely more red tape for teachers to fight through.

Cliff Wells
Software Engineer
Logiplex Corporation (www.logiplex.net)
(503) 978-6726 x308
(800) 735-0555 x308

More information about the Python-list mailing list