Should kids learn how to code?

I truly believe so. In fact, this Wednesday the school where I teach will be participating in Hour of Code, and I’m really excited to be part of it.

There are some, however, who dispute the conventional wisdom that coding should be embedded within a student’s school day. Jathan Sadowski wrote a con-coding piece for Wired. Money quote (via Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish):

The problem is elevating coding to the level of a required or necessary ability. I believe that is a recipe for further technologically induced stratification. Before jumping on the everybody-must-code bandwagon, we have to look at the larger, societal effects — or else risk running headlong into an even wider inequality gap.

For instance, the burden of adding coding to curricula ignores the fact that the English literacy rate in America is still abysmal: 45 million U.S. adults are “functionally illiterate” and “read below a 5th grade level,” according to data gathered by the Literacy Project Foundation. Almost half of all Americans read “so poorly that they are unable to perform simple tasks such as reading prescription drug labels.” The reading proficiency of Americans is much lower than most other developed countries, and it’s declining. We have enough trouble raising English literacy rates, let alone increasing basic computer literacy: the ability to effectively use computers to, say, access programs or log onto the internet. Throwing coding literacy into the mix means further divvying up scarce resources. Teaching code is expensive. It requires more computers and trained teachers, which many cash-strapped schools don’t have the luxury of providing.

In reading the entirety of Sadowski’s opinion, I see his heart is in the right place. I do disagree with him, however, because I believe coding can be taught in conjunction with reading and (traditional) writing. For example, teach a student the basics of HTML and then have him or her write an essay within <p> tags. Voila, the student is on his or her way toward publishing on the internet while learning how to construct an essay.

I’m an educator who’s about to teach a little coding during an enrichment period on Wednesday. This isn’t costing my district a penny (contrary to Sadowski’s piece)–I’m doing it of my own accord because I believe coding is a skill that will enrich my students’ lives. And the kids who may be a little behind when it comes to national literacy scores, well, the knowledge that they can produce their own website by learning how to write sentences and code may help them excel in the more traditional aspects of school.

Learning to program makes the “Why am I learning this?” less abstract. Young people know why they’re learning it: For a better future.

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