We Need to Teach Our Kids To Be Creators, Not Consumers, Of Technology

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Reposted from Mother Jones:

Even as the Department of Labor predicts the nation will add 1.2 million new computer-science-related jobs by 2022, we’re graduating proportionately fewer computer science majors than we did in the 1980s, and the number of students signing up for Advanced Placement computer science has flatlined. The truth is, code – if what we’re talking about is the chops you’d need to qualify for a programmer job – is hard, and lots of people would find those jobs tedious and boring.

But what if learning to code weren’t actually the most important thing? It turns out that rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do. As the cities that have hosted Code for America teams will tell you, the greatest contribution the young programmers bring isn’t the software they write. It’s the way they think. It’s a principle called “computational thinking,” and knowing all of the Java syntax in the world won’t help if you can’t think of good ways to apply it.

Computational thinking opens doors. For while it may seem premature to claim that today every kid needs to code, it’s clear that they’re increasingly surrounded by opportunities to code – opportunities that the children of the privileged are already seizing. The parents of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg got him a private computer tutor when he was in middle school. Last year, 13,000 people chipped in more than $600,000 via Kickstarter for their own limited-edition copy of Robot Turtles, a board game that teaches programming basics to kids as young as three. There are plenty of free, kid-oriented code-learning sites-like Scratch, a programming language for children developed at MIT – but parents and kids in places like San Francisco or Austin are more likely to know they exist. What’s needed to make that happen is for people who may never learn a lick of code themselves to help shape the tech revolution the old-fashioned way, through educational reform and funding for schools and volunteer literacy crusades. Otherwise, we’re all doomed – well, most of us, anyway – to be stuck in the Dark Ages.”

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