Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Harassment in the Computer Science Classroom

Two interesting and initially unrelated links came across my computer screen in the past couple of days. One was an image that said “Everyone talks about leaving a better planet for our children. Why doesn’t anyone try to leave better children for our planet.”  One of my teacher friends pointed out that as teachers that second part is how most of us see our jobs. The second link was basically a story of a teacher not doing enough to leave better children for our planet. To my daughter's high school programming teacher That is the story of a teacher letting the boys in a programming class harass the lone girl in the class.

It is a story of not enough being done to leave better children for our planet in general and a field I care deeply about in particular. Now the teachers I know all care deeply about creating a welcoming and comfortable environment for all of their students regardless of gender or race or religion or anything else. CSTA Conferences are loaded with sessions on bringing more underserved students into the classroom and making them comfortable. The same is true of SIGCSE and other conferences. So what is going wrong?

There is an certain segment of the population that is willing to write harassment off as “boys being boys.” And perhaps others think that the business world of computing is tough so girls should learn to get rough before they get there. To me that goes against the idea of education which I see as trying to fix what is broken in society rather than to perpetuate it.

The “to my daughter’s programming teacher” post has some good suggestions for teachers. Setting the tone is a key one in my opinion. We as teachers have to make it known from day one that programming is not just a guy thing and that women are every bit as good at it as men are. We have to be aware of what is going on in class and take action when/if someone is being made to feel uncomfortable. Talking to students helps here. We can’t just let things happen.

I’d like to finish with the caption of one other image that came by recently. “Hug a teacher. They are the only ones standing between us and a future full of morons.” It may be that teachers of computer science are the first line of defense against a future full of misogynous “brogrammers” who make the field uncomfortable for a wide range of people whose ideas and input we really need.


Ben Biddle said...

In some districts, hugging a teacher could get you fired.

Alfred C Thompson II said...

Sad but true Ben. One has to be very careful with physical contact these days.