Should We Be Teaching Kids to Code?

Friday, May 16, 2014

More and more kids are learning to code at a young age, and more and more parents are wondering whether they should teach coding instead of, say, a foreign language. Michelle Davis, senior writer for Education Week Digital Directions, discusses the trends and the data.


A question for parents: Do you think your kid needs to learn to code? Is coding another "language" similar to, say, Spanish? cc @EWmdavis

— Brian Lehrer Show (@BrianLehrer) May 16, 2014


Michelle Davis

Comments [32]

Kevin L from Philly

Good discussion on an emerging iceberg of a topic!

For parents who are interested in Scratch and helping their children become creators instead of consumers, Scratch Day is this Saturday, May 17th!

Events page (find one near you):

If you are in the NYC area, there is a special CSNYC Scratch meetup that day.

May. 16 2014 12:23 PM

Not everyone is cut out to be a mechanic, yet we all use cars. Everyone will use computers, but not everyone needs to be able to program them. I do not foresee a time where everyone will need to code, it just doesn't make sense. The trend is away from that. We use to program in assembly, now we have high level languages as well as graphical languages that require much less understanding of the underlying hardware. That said, one of the best programs, in my opinion, for giving students a opportunity to program is US FIRST. There are several age brackets, and they learn robotics, and programming in a competitive as well as cooperative environment.

May. 16 2014 11:15 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Coding (aka learning how to communicate effectively with computational devices) is no more important than learning a foreign language. [Well, maybe a little more since the likelihood that you will interface with a computer is more likely than the odds that you will interface with a foreign language only speaker. We Americans just don't travel much.] The major takeaway for must dabblers will be that computers are just machines. No matter how miraculous the output never forget that they are machines and the mistakes they make are the responsibility of the people that programmed them or (in a very few cases) made them. A knowledge of coding facilitates this understanding but its lack does not prevent it. Learning a specific computer language is probably not useful - unless you are close to entering the workplace - because language dialects in vogue change so quickly.

There is a mountain of unsexy BAL and COBOL that needs to be maintained/replaced...but the business's attitude about all that stuff is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

May. 16 2014 11:05 AM
John A

To Lorne Caplan,
I am your age and would recommend the raspberry Pi plus a book to learn Linux and c programming language. For c again in a robotics sense, there's that Arduino. For just $16, go to a barnes and noble and pick up one of the Linux magazines. In it is a cd that can turn a discard old laptop or PC into a working Linux system with a c environment. The so-called "Maker" community has people you would want to meet. All nearly free.

May. 16 2014 10:59 AM
Tim from Montclair

As a vocational balance, yes, but not as a focus. Coding is basically another "shop class".

I think a greater balance of trade careers should be introduced earlier in the educational process: home electricity; plumbing; carpentry; metal working, etc.

I observe a hanful of my daughter's friends who are still developing their thoughts on a life career. Instead of spending a ton of money on 4 years of college uncertainty, more teens should develop trade skills (including coding) that are supportive of continuing their education as they mature.

May. 16 2014 10:55 AM
Nikita Mikros from brooklyn

The idea that the majority of jobs in the future will require coding is absurd. If anything jobs with computers are requiring less and less coding, even coders are using higher and higher level languages that abstract much of the details of the hardware away from the programmer. When I was a grad student making "computer art" students needed to write simple shell scripts to apply filters and special effects. All of that is done so much better and easier using off the shelf software like After Effects these days. The generation before us needed to write the actual code to make the images themselves. My first computer the Apple IIe was basically a useless piece of plastic if you didn't know how to do just a bit of coding, I now have the world at my fingertips after a 2 minute setup on any modern PC or mobile phone. The bulk of the jobs will need something that is pretty much the opposite of coding, namely aggregating other people's work.

May. 16 2014 10:53 AM
Nick from UWS

We should teach our children how to read,write and speak a coherent sentence first before destroying their minds with the rigidity of computer languages.

May. 16 2014 10:50 AM
Bonn from EV

Teach kids critical thinking via reading and writing.I recently helped a freshman college student with his essay. Such disorganization, uncritical and fuzzy thinking, extraneous and uninformed material. He had to scrap the entire essay and start again. He is probably a computer whiz, but at what cost? In coding, there is also a need for critical thinking and writing; they go hand in hand. Also, HSBC's long poster publicity in their banks is filled with punctuation and grammar mistakes. I am sure they have a great IT Dept., but this is an embarrassment. Many people waiting on line have commented on it.

May. 16 2014 10:48 AM
John A

To the contrarians on this board, I'll point out that programing is a way to take algebra and geometry and make them animate and do things. For kids feeling inferior, giving them control over a little part of the world is an ego booster.

May. 16 2014 10:46 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

John from NJ, not every mind is about math finding solutions. Not every one is capable of that method of thinking and organizing. Again another dead-end which seems to be an American way of doing things. Narrow and limited.

May. 16 2014 10:46 AM
David from Nassau County

The idea of "teaching coding" misses the point.

I teach various computer related topics in Engineering and Computer Science at the college level. What the instructors say about using the computers, writing in different computer languages, studying computer architecture, etc. is that we are teaching problem solving: how a machine, the computer can be used to solve a problem, whether that problem is how to add up a list of numbers, distinguish an enemy tank from a friendly, suggest a movie you would like, how to make a digital picture appear lifelike, or insure that a banking transaction won't go awry.

May. 16 2014 10:45 AM
Sally from UES

Every point I hear the discussants make could also be made about the study of any modern language. Or philosophy, or literature or history. Or any subject that isn't the math/ela that have achieved universality.

Nothing new here.

May. 16 2014 10:44 AM
carolita from nyc

Obviously the only people who object to kids learning code as an "extra" course don't know code! Code is syntax and grammar in its (almost) purest form. If a kid can learn code, they'll also become enabled to learn just about anything, including life skills. Get teachers who know code as well as their chosen subject into the system and you'll already see an improvement in the quality of teaching.
My life was changed by learning structural linguistics (which is not unlike or unrelated to computer science, for anyone who wonders what the relationship is).
I have no kids, and even I want to learn code. I"m learning right now, online, not because I want a job in computers, but because everyone is going to know code soon, and I don't want to be one of the old people left behind, dependent on the lucky ones who learned it in kindergarten.

May. 16 2014 10:44 AM
Sheila McRae from NJ

Coding is such a generic term. I am an IT project manager and coding jobs are the first thing off-shored. All of my coders are offshore. If you learning to build a video game , that's fine and kids will learn to code doing that. But whatever languages they code in now will be obsolete when they grow -up much as the cobol and basic I learned in 1977.

May. 16 2014 10:43 AM
Bonnie MacKellar

No, we do not want to teach our kids "coding". We want to teach them computational thinking. Teaching kids to program is a good way to introduce them to computational thinking, but it is the *thinking* that matters, not the *code*. Stop calling it "coding"! And no, learning computational thinking is NOT like learning Spanish.

May. 16 2014 10:42 AM

The only job of the future is empting the bed pans of all those boomers

May. 16 2014 10:41 AM
Andrew Raybould from Irvington

I am a software developer, and while I agree that coding games is a worthwhile extension to merely playing games, I agree with TriciaD on what matters. I would, however, add communication and language skills to her list of essentials.

These abilities are more important than coding, even for those children who later choose to become professional programmers.

May. 16 2014 10:41 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

The science teacher that just called in extolling the virtues of teaching coding perfectly demonstrates why our kids are so poorly educated. The teachers in our schools are completely devoid of any critical thinking skills. I imagine this is because they are hired by education boards that have been taken over b the corporate world, and in the corporate world, being a team player always takes precedence over being a deep thinker.

May. 16 2014 10:40 AM
Lorne Caplan from New Rochelle

How about learning to code if you are a 50 year old trying to retrain yourself or learn to build your own site? Where do I go without spending $20k to a school? Which languages do I learn C++, PHP, or any number of other languages?

I've been considering learning code partly to get work in the industry and partly to build my own site. Any recommendations?

May. 16 2014 10:40 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Sounds like another capitalist profit making con job dividing people from those who can and those who cannot. While they are at it why not just teach computer architectural engineering so that we can design our own personal computers.

May. 16 2014 10:40 AM
Cynthia from East Harlem - work

JUst remember that when the lights go out you can still write with a pen/pencil so lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater - also everyone is not a scientist - we all have different talents and all are needed in a lasting civilization.

May. 16 2014 10:39 AM

Why are even thinking about adding "coding" to the school curriculum when science is virtually disappearing? With the Common Core squeezing out any subject that is not English Language Arts and Math some academic subjects are becoming extinct.

May. 16 2014 10:37 AM
Nick from UWS

Just what we further anchor our children, drooling and slack jawed, in front of computer screens. Only morons would swallow this Kool Aid.

May. 16 2014 10:36 AM
rz from Uptown

I am 30. I wrote my first line of HTML at age 18.
I have kept up with it and now have a small biz based upon digital publishing and mobile games.

The most significant thing I have noticed is how coding changed the way I think, and it is has changed it for the better. Rationality, Problem Solving, and Efficiency are all virtues that programming fosters.

May. 16 2014 10:35 AM
John A

I have spent thousands to see whats new and interesting lately and would recommend, for about >> $30 << either the "Arduino" and "Raspberry Pi" toy devices. They offer fantastic opportunities for modern kids.

May. 16 2014 10:35 AM
Kari from White plains

My son is really interested in math ans engineering and good at them. He is 13, and I figured that instead of playing all day, it might be good to learn to make the games. He comes out of each class so proud of his achievements. He has something tangible to show for his efforts

May. 16 2014 10:35 AM
Nick from UWS

The ever expanding push to turn people into robots, controlled by Apple. Fuck all this shit.

May. 16 2014 10:34 AM
Maximo from Bronx. NY is the best. My son is addicted to it.
I could tell that Kids think differently when they start programming.

May. 16 2014 10:33 AM
John from NJ

Coding today is about creating and making. It is NOT purely about jobs. And it helps kids learn how to interact and work with other kids to find solutions to problems and have fun while learning logic, math, etc.

May. 16 2014 10:33 AM
Adrienne from New York

Do we teach kids how to be doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, etc. in elementary and middle school? Or do we teach our kids a love of learning and the foundational skills that allow them to pursue these fields which lead to good, stable jobs?

I don't think we need to teach kids to code, but to establish the foundation for them to pursue a degree in computer science.

I have a coding background and have elementary aged children. I believe that STEM in general, and computer science in particular, is an immensely rewarding area - both in terms of personal satisfaction and economics. But teaching every kid to code at the expense of other areas (foreign language) is not the answer.

May. 16 2014 10:29 AM

Not unless he is planning to move to India
Soon there will be no IT jobs here

It's the race to the bottom.

May. 16 2014 10:29 AM
TriciaD from LES

Kids don't *need* to learn coding skills. They *need* to learn logic, creative problem solving, math skills and appreciation for learning new things. Coding should be an elective.

May. 16 2014 10:21 AM

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