Should we even try to teach programming? I have met hundreds of programmers in the last 30 years and can see no discernible influence of programming on their general ability to think well or to take an enlightened stance on human knowledge. If anything, the opposite is true. Expert knowledge often remains rooted in the environments in which it was first learned--and most metaphorical extensions result in misleading analogies. A remarkable number off artists, scientists, philosophers are quite dull outside of their specialty (and one suspects within it as well). The first siren's song we need to be wary of is the one that promises a connection between an interesting pursuit and interesting thoughts. The music is not in the piano, and it is possible to graduate Julliard without finding or feeling it.This has been niggling away at me in the background and in some of my dialogues with others for some time now
- alan kay, The Early History of Smalltalk
I have on occasions argued that programming skills in their own right do stand for "higher order thinking" (a phrase I'm no longer happy with) and deserve their own place in the sun.
And I have argued against the Victorian VELS (integration of computing into the curriculum) on the grounds that young students need exposure to skilled computing teachers and not the English teacher who sits out the front marking while kids get on with their word processing (and playing games they have smuggled in)
But the above quote from alan kay and his general emphasis that the main important thing is the non univerals does force me to look again at these stances
I wasn't wrong about the underlying problems of computer integration. I wasn't wrong that programming skills are in some hard to define way, "advanced". It's not so much that my arguments were wrong but that I didn't have a sufficiently firm grasp of the big picture, that the non universal powerful ideas really is the main issue.
This probably makes school reform harder still. Because the ways Schools generally teach maths and science is not powerful either. I've rocked the boat in science faculties in the past and they didn't like it. And teaching maths on the computer using logo? Yes, you can dabble with that in the middle school if you want to, but there just isn't time for it in the senior curriculum.
Programming can be powerful but unless we get the context and environment right then any gains will be much less than what could have been achieved. As Alan Kay points out many good programmers don't inspire in a more general sense. The harmony is not in the piano. logo or game maker is not weeties for the brain.
Although some of my own history is good it is easy to lose the way, to lose track of the powerful ideas, in the complexity and inflexibility of School
The reason I first decided to learn to program is that I read parts of a cult book, Godel, Escher, Bach by Doug Hofstadter (230 amazon customer reviews) and decided the only way I could possibly understand recursion was to explore it through programming. Mindstorm by Seymour Papert (my review) was another seminal influence, which led me eventually to comp.lang.logo on USENET, which became a vital part of my learning environment for a few years. Good start. So I explored some logo, did fractals and other interesting stuff (ISDP, Quadratics, immersion)
But 20+ years later I'm teaching year 9 specialist computer classes basic IT skills like file management and word processing in a computer lab. I'm bored with it, slipping into darkness.
Of course, I've been doing other interesting stuff along the way, like game making, but overall I've taken my eye off the main game -->> the powerful ideas / non universals. I don't see any easy answers for this in the context of School. But we need to talk about it.