Not coding school

Insightful Atlantic article entitled Will the push for coding lead to technical ghettos? With a subtitle of “The emphasis on knowing Java and JavaScript could put students of color on the bottom rung of the tech workforce.” Exactly!

In these posts we have decried the push from elites to have other people’s kids forgo a four year degree to go into the blue collar trades in manufacturing and construction. Which are sectors experiencing employment losses and where the historic wage premium is declining at best. But the same general criticism applies to a “skilled trade” like coding. Which is experiencing employment growth.

As the Atlantic article makes clear these are jobs that are likely to be done in the future by smarter and smarter machines rather than humans. Having a technical skill is not the path to a successful forty year career. And they are the lower paying jobs in the computer industry. The Atlantic writes:

“Coding is one piece of computational literacy and should be taught explicitly in school, but a semester or two of coding won’t do,” said Sweeney (Joseph Sweeney, the associate head of school at the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, a private college-prep school in Philadelphia) who emphasized that a more “broad and deep approach” is necessary. He advocates a progression where students are challenged to use design thinking—a method that draws on logic, intuition, and different types of reasoning—to identify opportunities, harness the appropriate tools and resources, and demonstrate their outcomes. Offering a glimpse into the not-too-distant future, he describes a day when we can ask a computer to build an app to scan a restaurant’s menu item, build the recipe, make a grocery list, and order the food to our door on demand. “The artificial-intelligence system will build the app,” he said. “Coding might then be nearly obsolete, but computational thinking isn’t going away. It’s the thinking necessary for a world run for us by machines.”

… Kamau Bobb, the program director in computer-science education at NSF, notes that the dominant argument in support of youth of color learning to code is to “get a good job”—creating a stratified system where students from racial and ethnic groups, and lower socioeconomic backgrounds, are prepped for work as service technicians and helpdesk agents. “While those [tech jobs] are needed and noble, they are at the very bottom … in terms of pay and prestige,” he said. Bobb contrasts this with white and Asian middle-class students who are urged to attend college and major in computer science. “What’s missing from this model is that students of color are offered a choice that truncates their ambition.”

We need an education system for all kids that builds broad rigorous non content/occupation specific skills that will be required to have a successful forty year career and that allows all kids to chose the education––including a four year degree––and occupation they want to pursue after graduating high school. Not an education system that prepares kids of the affluent for a four year degree and other kids for a technical occupation. As The Atlantic concludes:

… Sweeney, the private-school administrator, says the priority should be on helping all students develop the competencies and sense of agency to discover and invent. He has reservations about what comes next after coding. “How are you teaching your young people to learn, think, create, and lead in a world transformed by ubiquitous … and increasingly powerful computers?”

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Several weeks ago Business Week magazine had a major article about liberal arts graduates who could not find employment and were going back to school for a crash course in coding in order to get an acceptable job. I agree that for many or most students a more diverse liberal arts education is better long term. But a skill like coding or other specialized areas may help a student get “a foot in the door if he/she is having a hard time finding an entry level job.

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