Monday, November 13, 2017

Can’t We (Computer Science people) All Just Get Along?

There is some real momentum in growing computer science for all people in the US. Even the Trump administration seems to be behind it (more or less). The pot of money for funding CS for All initiatives is growing. It’s not growing as fast as the number of people who are trying to work the problem though so it is still something of a zero sum game. And there in lies a problem – in fighting. At this point I feel like we are becoming our own  worst enemies.

Pogo Earth Day 1971t We have met the enemy and he is usLately it seems like far too many people are taking sides against other who really have the same goals. Work with the Trump administration or fight them on every turn? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  Work with industry supported programs or demand that companies give money without strings even if you are working in ways contrary to the company’s responsibilities to their shareholders and employees? Promote your own programs by attacking the motives and strategies of other programs? It’s getting as bad as the major political parties in some ways.

There are dueling blog posts, contentious discussions (fights) on Facebook groups and Twitter. It’s starting to get embarrassing. If the media took a close look at us we’d really be in trouble. It’s only time before that happens though.

I understand that lots of people have educational programs they really believe in. I understand that they really want others to use what they have developed, tested, and often have research to support. Great! But are we really well served when different groups attack others? I think not. Could money be at the heart of it all? I think perhaps it is. It often is when money is in short supply compared to demand. In the long run I think we’d all be better fighting for a bigger pie than a bigger piece of the existing pie.

And then there is the gender issue. Oh boy! Now make no mistake I think programs like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are great. They are important. I’ve been pushing to increase the number of girls learning computer science for a very long time. I think it is essential for society in general and computer science in particular.  I’m not sure that leaving boys behind should be a goal though and at times (especially if you are the parent of a boy) it looks like it is a goal.

The assumption that boys will naturally get into computing on their own without help is as much a sexist bias as any suggesting girls are not interested in computing. This is especially true in poor, rural areas and in areas where minority students are the majority.  Rural areas in general get overlooked as groups try to focus on large population centers and yet they have needs as great as any inner city.

benjamin-franklin-politician-we-must-indeed-all-hang-together-or-mostNow I am not saying we should stop having programs just for girls. Or that we don’t need programs specifically for other traditionally under represented groups. They are necessary. But let’s not be unsympathetic to other parts of our population just because they happen to be white or male.

And I am not saying that people should not promote their own educational programs. The more the better. But let’s not build our own programs by tearing down those of others.

Let’s work together, learn from each other, support each other, and present a united front to help the greater goal. Computer science for everyone.


Garth said...

It is interesting to read some of the blogs out there. There are some very opinionated people out there. It is interesting that many of them have these really strong opinions toward CS education but do not teach CS, or teach at all for that matter. I have some very strong opinions in regards to CS Ed but I have 30 years of teaching CS to base them on. Even then I am willing to listen and change. My little bit of the cosmos is pretty small to base a world view on.

Mike Zamansky said...

In my experience - and perhaps I'll share the details some day soon, there are some with a seat at the table who claim to be inclusive and want to work with everyone but in truth just want to be able to say "see, so and so was on board"

At least that was my experience with AFSE and many players in NY.

Sometimes we air our dirty laundry in public because we're being frozen out in private.

Mark Guzdial said...

I have a colleague here at Georgia Tech who works in STEM Education. When I started telling him about CS Ed, he said, "Oh! You're just like oceanic science!" And then he told me this bone-chillingly-similar stories about when oceanic science education was a *thing*, with multiple NSF-funded oceanic science education centers around the US, with tensions between camps (e.g., earth science vs. oceanic science), and with tensions between academics and vocational interests (e.g., the seamen's foundation really wanted all kids to learn oceanic science as a labor recruitment tool). Then NGSS came out and included oceanic science as part of the standards -- and it all went away. The Centers, the curriculum efforts, the vocational interests -- poof!