French or Ruby on Rails?

Fred Wilson makes a great point about our schools today and it can best be summed up with this quote: 

If the Obama administration wants to really do something about jobs and retooling America for the 21st century, it would fund the development of great middle school programming curriculum. It would fund training teachers to teach that curriculum. It would get millions of kids writing code before they have their first date. That would change a lot of things.

Our experience has been that the computer classes at our kids' school focus on teaching students how to use basic programs like Word and Excel.  Sadly they don't do a great job of that and we, the parents, end up doing a lot of "tutoring" at home.   

I think our experience is the norm.  UNCG professor and economist Dave Ribar posted this piece about the College Board canceling the more stringent of their two AP computer science courses.  He also offers this quote: "The result of sporadic or skimpy computer science training is that a generation of teenagers great at using computers will be unlikely to play a role in the way computer technology shapes lives in the future, said Chris Stephenson, executive director of the New York-based Computer Science Teachers Association."

While I don't think French or Spanish should disappear from the school curriculum, I do think that we should get serious about teaching our kids computer science.  Put it this way: where do you think the jobs will be in 2020 or 2040?  Computer technology is one area of the economy that we can be pretty confident will continue to grow for the foreseeable future and it would serve us well to enable our kids to take advantage of it.  After all, these aren't burger-flipping jobs but desirable jobs as highlighted by a Bureau of Labor Statistics profile that Ribar cites:

In May 2008, median annual wages of wage-and-salary computer applications software engineers were $85,430. The middle 50 percent earned between $67,790 and $104,870. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $128,870.

2 thoughts on “French or Ruby on Rails?

  1. Jim Caserta

    I learned the Basic programming language, on old Apples when I was in middle school. Programming is important to many fields, outside of pure computer science, because it facilitates the solving of problems. Computers are tools that people aren’t getting enough training in, or as complete a training as they could get. How many kids will actually use calculus to solve problems in their professional lives? I actually do, but I also use my rudimentary programming skills. You can teach a lot about logic, problem solving (making the code work), and organization in programming classes, but it is probably harder to find a qualified teacher for high school level programming as it is to find good math & science teachers.

  2. Jon Lowder

    Jim, I agree wholeheartedly.  The logic I learned in the few weeks of learning Basic has been as useful as anything Ive learned since.  Great point about finding qualified teachers too.


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