CS In K-12 - Embedded.com

CS In K-12

In the latest wave of insanity to sweep over the STEM education wars, now Code.org and a bunch of others are petitioning Congress to add computer science as a core subject for students, starting in kindergarten.

Kindergarten? Are they nuts? In kindergarten kids should be learning to color inside the lines. To behave in a group. Maybe to master the alphabet. A, b, d, e, f, g. But not C.

(Certainly it won’t be C but Ruby, or Python, or whatever language is the current fad. That will be obsolete by the time the 5 year olds make it to sixth grade.)

Programming is a valuable skill for more than programmers, since it enforces a terrific discipline. If the code is wrong, you failed. Period. It works when the code is right. That’s a great logical skill.

But for everyone? Brain surgery probably teaches even more discipline. Standing for 16 hours, where one slip of the knife kills someone, is far more demanding. In the CS world we can, and do, make thousands of mistakes, which we catch with tools and via debugging. Surgeons have much less margin for error.

Maybe the AMA should petition the feds to make brain surgery a requirement starting with kindergarten. We need a Huge Federal Program to train teachers in brain surgery, and to equip classrooms with state-of-the-art operating theaters.

I think education is hugely important. But kids don’t *need* to learn to program, or to do brain surgery. They do need to learn reading, at a far higher level than too many attain today. And history. No citizen will be an educated voter without understanding where we’ve come from.

And math. Oh my God, and math. We engineers are a mathematical elite, and are among the few adults who can even do trig. I would advocate mandating learning how to solve a differential equation at about the same importance as learning computer science. But without basic arithmetic and algebra few kids will have the grounding to ever get into a STEM program in college.

Some time ago I bought exactly 10 gallons of kerosene at $3.99/gallon. The 20-something wizard behind the counter pulled out a calculator and slowly discovered that ten times $3.99 is, well, that’s a higher math problem I won’t go into here.

Without basic numeracy no kid will get an SAT score enabling a STEM college education.

And writing. This is the communications age. If kids can’t communicate clearly and effectively they will have little future. If they can’t construct a sentence that is grammatically correct, they will be perceived as fools. If they can’t talk without a smattering of double negatives they will be doomed to never advancing. I am practically brought to tears listening to youngsters here in Baltimore. Sure, McDonald’s might hire someone who don’t give no never mind. But poor use of language bars one from a professional field. While writing this an email arrived with the subject line “I been trying to get ahold of you.” That sure sounds like a marketing offer well worth reading.

Don’t train kids in vocational subjects. Give them the tools they’ll need so that, should they chose to go into a STEM field, they’ll be equipped to do so.

CS is a great vocation, but not everyone needs to be a computer scientist. I support any effort to encourage kids to learn about CS and engineering on their own time. Dean Kamen’s FIRST, for instance, is a wonderful effort. But we don’t need a Huge Federal Program to train kids to program.

Congress, in their infinite wisdom, with all of the due deliberation and care for the future of the country we’ve come to expect, will, of course, bow to the opinion of the most generous donors. After all, getting an army of cheap programmers for Google is a critical national concern.

You can read the petition here


A poster by a product of our K-12 system


Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges, and works as an expert witness on embedded issues. Contact him at . His website is .

9 thoughts on “CS In K-12

  1. “K13 CS is a completely crazy idea.nnFirst off…. where do the teachers come from? The teachers that understand CS are thin on the ground. Repurposing history majors is not going to cut it. Teachers who just follow a curriculum are not going to help.n

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  2. “Agree with your comments Jack. Should point out that a quick Google reveals that the Vision Express poster apparently is a Photoshop hoax though.nhttp://metro.co.uk/2015/10/26/vision-express-denies-offering-free-rectal-photography-with-every-eye-t

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  3. “Well, there's already plenty of interest at the local school level; for example, my daughter did the Anna & Elsa “Hour of Code” at code.org in 4th grade. But I'm not sure how much she gained from it, and it would've been totally stupid at the Kindergar

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  4. “Yes Jack, they are nuts, but probably they are quite smart and have hidden intentions.nI was raised and live in a country where that is common daily stuff, it is called demagogy, and marketing, and positioning themselves as leaders, seeming to potentiate

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  5. “This is starting in Finland now – from the beginning of elementary school (7 years). Terms used for this is u201ccodingu201d but obviously it does not mean the same as we think. It will be related to math and starts with logic and at age 10 first steps

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  6. “This really needs a proper engineering analysis and not just the typical window dressing we get from politicians.nnLet's start of with: Why have we lost the age of STEM we had in the 1950s and 60s?nnMany people peg the huge swell of STEM interest in t

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  7. “… continued…nnMany kids believe the world is being ruined by tech. Many believe the oil will run out, their cities will flood and there will be mass starvation during their lifetimes (ie in the next 50 years).nnIn their minds, tech has gone from a

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  8. “I agree. And consider this: In 1955, when president Eisenhower had a massive heart attack, he certainly would have received the best medical care available. But what did that include? Nitroglycerin and bed rest, and probably not much more. Today the poore

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