Computers in the Public Schools

After meeting today with my other computer teachers, also known in my district as business teachers, I am more convinced than ever that Computer Science needs to be its own subject. By making computer class part of the business curriculum we severely limit the possibilities what we can do in our classes. We have a classroom full of humanity’s greatest invention for creativity and communication and we are constrained to teach students how to type business letters and make business cards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have some knowledge of business skills because our students will all be in the business world at some point, but to limit ourselves to only teaching business skills really limits the possibilities of our students. Computers can do so much more, from writing the next great novel, to composing the next great symphony, to modeling the next great building, there is so much we could letting our students explore, that we are sadly missing this opportunity.

That’s why we need to split Computer Science out and make it the next core class, alongside math, language arts, science and social studies. This is what Chicago Public Schools is doing, and they are also making Computer Science a graduation requirement to make sure that all students are getting the exposure to this set of knowledge. Image if all public schools did this in some form! I realize that school districts would need to provide computers or computer access to all of their students and would need to build the infrastructure to support all of these computers, but many have figured out ways to do this. Earlier this year the BBC in Great Britian was able to give every 11-12 year old a micro:bit so that they could explore coding and be makers. If we did those kinds of things here in the US, image the possibilities.

Computer Science as 21st Century Literacy

Much like reading and writing was the literacy for the 20th century, I firmly believe that computer science will be the literacy for the 21st century. Throughout the 20th century, people knew that to get ahead in life you needed to be able to read, write and do arithmetic. It became a staple in our public schools and it became the literacy that we measured everyone against. And now at the beginning of the 21st century we can look around and see that we have done a pretty good job of getting everyone at least the basics of these three skills. But for the next century we need to go to the next level.

Some, like Elon Musk and Ray Kutzweil believe that within this next century, there will be a merging of humanity with our technology. Some of us already believe this is happening today. How many of us would be totally lost without our phones? Without our laptops? Without the Internet? We depend on computer technology for almost everything today, and without computers we wouldn’t be awoken in the morning, we would be able to make our breakfast, we wouldn’t be able to take any transportation to work and we wouldn’t be able to do our job.

This is why we need to have a computer literacy that we start teaching in the 1st grade and we steadily add to it throughout our schooling so that we have a literacy for our technology like we has a literacy for our society.