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Microsoft Businesses Education Government Politics

3 Years Ago, Microsoft Said Tech Should Fund K-12 CS Education. What Changed? (motherjones.com) 102

theodp writes: Last week, Microsoft and some of the biggest names in tech and corporate America threw their weight behind a Change.org petition that urged Congress to fund K-12 Computer Science education. The petition, started by the tech-backed CS Education Coalition (btw, 901 K Street NW is Microsoft's DC HQ) in partnership with tech-backed Code.org, now has 90,000+ supporters. But three years ago, Microsoft backed a very different Change.org petition that called for corporate America to foot the STEM education bill.

"While the need to expand high-skilled immigration is immediate," read the letter to Congress, "we also need to expand STEM opportunities in U.S. education. A positive proposal has emerged in Washington to create a national STEM education fund, paid for only by businesses using green cards and visas. This fund will help prepare Americans for 21st-century STEM jobs. The proposal is supported by a broad coalition [PDF] that includes Microsoft, GE, the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Manufactures, and the National Science Teachers Association, to name a few."

The earlier petition, which wound up with 41,009 supporters, was started by Voices for Innovation, a self-described "Microsoft supported community" that says it's now "proud to support the Computer Science Education Coalition" as part of its efforts to "shape public policies for our 21st century digital economy and society." So, what changed? Well, Mother Jones did warn that what Microsoft promises and what it delivers for education isn't necessarily the same...

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3 Years Ago, Microsoft Said Tech Should Fund K-12 CS Education. What Changed?

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  • by rfengr ( 910026 )
    Would I be crazy to steer my kids towards CS theses days?
    • Re:CS (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @08:51AM (#52027219)

      Where would you steer them? I can't really think of a sector of the economy that can be adversely affected from the following factors...
      Outsourcing, Automation, Obsolescence, Overly high regulation, Political interests to discredit you, Already saturated so the pay stinks, and/or extremely dangerous.

      Computer Science and working in IT is just as risky as working in any other sector. Just as long as you work around the Outsourcing problem, you can become the factor causing the Automation, and Obsolescence.

      However more to the point. Having Computer Science Education doesn't mean that kids need to go into a Computer Science field, but enter their field with a degree of understanding and respect towards the discipline. Realizing what is hard to do and what is easy is a good skill to have. In my professional life, I had numerous encounters with customers and managers who either say. Such process is impossible for a computer to do, while it has a lot of steps each step is logical (or sometimes just can be skipped) allowing for a quicky program that solved hours of laborious man hours. Then you get the seemingly simple request which is very easy to explain, and train a person to do. While for a computer it is a difficult tasks and the chances of failure are higher than the acceptable limit.

      Computer Science is a discipline which is a subset of Math which focuses on the study of computation, and process workflow. You see many of these concepts being taught in other disciplines under different names, such as a MBA class in Business Operations which focuses heavily on performance algorithms, where instead of writing a program we look at a business process and find how to improve it.

      • Jail / prison guards. Mostly still union and then ADA fails / the GOP kills it. People will turn to them as there doctor of last resort.

      • Re:CS (Score:4, Interesting)

        by creimer ( 824291 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @10:27AM (#52027775) Homepage

        Computer Science and working in IT is just as risky as working in any other sector.

        I heard this after the dot com bust. People thought it was crazy for me to go back to community college to learn computer programming. But, hey, thanks to George W. following 9/11, I got a $3,000 tax credit to learn new job skills and going back to school was free. I went from working as a video game tester to working as help desk/desktop support technician. Today I'm doing computer security, making more money and paying more taxes. The future looks very bright in the next 20 years as the baby boomers retire and foreign workers will stay home to develop their own country.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      It depends, would it be crazy for a 1980's parent to steer their kid towards working in a foundry?

      CS today is the 1970's /1980's foundry work. No respect from management, expected to work very long days, and you are expected to do the work with outdated or patched up equipment as you are a burden to the company and not a profit center.

      • You must be kidding. You have no concept on what real work is. People in CS make the top 1% in salary and don't work long hours. What an idiot. You people have lost grip with how the real world lives.
        • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

          Some people in CS make the top 1% in salary and some don't work long hours.

          FTFY. This actually applies to many industries, not just CS, so I don't understand your point.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I personally would not steer any kid towards a STEM major these days here in the US. Even with a degree, they are far behind their peers in Europe, India, and China, and due to US law, they will be competing for the non outsourced scraps with H-1Bs, H-2Bs, and cheap foreign labor.

      As someone who has been in the field for a while, you cannot really have a career in IT. You wind up going from job to job every 2-3 years, and then wind up on your ass every eight years when the recession hits after the general

      • More bad advice. Law? There are plenty of unemployed lawyers out there. Christ, I hope you people never have children. STEM is the future. Too bad you are such a loser you can't keep a job for more than 2 years.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        As always it's not what you do, but who you work for. Want a job with decent pay, job security and good benefits? Work for the government. Our IT people have been in place for decades and when a new job comes up the chances are they will work here for a long time. The jobs can't be outsourced (security and all that) and in most cases they can't be filled by H-1Bs.
        It might surprise you how many unemployed attorneys there are. Unless you were top of your class or have an in with a prestigious law firm you cou

    • Re:CS (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Malaraukar ( 4561807 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @10:13AM (#52027681)
      I'm an educator. I teach Physics, CS, and Engineering. My advice is maybe. If your goal is to get your child to become a computer scientist, then no. If your goal is to expose your student to different ways of thinking, then absolutely. It's high school! No one should be making career choices at that age. High school, and parts of college, are all about developing agile minds that can incorporate many different ways of approaching tasks and problems. Most of my students are not going to be astrophysicists. However, all of them leave my class understanding how to use the scientific method in their lives. That's more important, imo.
    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      Would I be crazy to steer my kids towards CS theses days?

      I would use the term guide instead of steer, since the steering analogy implies they are forced down your path. But no, guiding your kids towards CS is not crazy.

      Every sector of the economy will be affected by increased automation and increased global competition. Even jobs that need to be done locally, such as plumbing, would be affected by a large flux of displaced workers looking for more local work. So any worries about outsourcing or automation and how they will affect the job market 20-30 years for yo

  • So tired of this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AntronArgaiv ( 4043705 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @08:25AM (#52027119)

    First, spend money on paying teachers, repairing buildings, buying computers and internet access for students who can't afford it (like many in the inner city schools), since all the books, etc are now e-books (not necessarily a bad thing). Hell, many of the kids in the poorer schools need breakfast and lunch.
    Tech and programming education is a distant second to competency in English, Math and History. Our schools (especially the ones in poor areas) are crying out for money, just to competently teach the basics, never mind tech education.

    Oh, and special ed, ELL for new immigrants, alternative tracks for low level learners, all those should also be getting funding before we start trying to teach everyone to be a programmer.

    Remember folks, everyone working for Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple learned to code WITHOUT a nationwide secondary school program.

    Priorities, people.

    • ..., buying computers and internet access for students who can't afford it (like many in the inner city schools), since all the books, etc are now e-books (not necessarily a bad thing).

      If you are talking about spending money from taxpayers, then I would disagree with this part. I would rather provide free access to computers and Internet access to all students. There will be issues if buying/giving computers and Internet access to only certain group of students. Providing free access to all would be more fair to everyone.

      • Teacher's salaries (cost to county, not takehome) run $30-60K per year day. That means a single teacher's salary for could provide (45000/200) 225 nice tablets, or with class sizes of 20ish, roughly 11 classrooms full. Make this "educational model" reasonably rugged, with an average service life of 3 years, and we've got 33 classrooms full of rugged tablets for the price of one teacher.

        Let's not even start to get into what it costs to build and operate a single classroom...

        • Sometimes days seem like years...

        • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

          Talking with a teacher friend yesterday, he said his school spent about a teacher's salary on new projector equipment for all the rooms 3 years ago. But they didn't spend a dime on maintenance or training teachers how to use the systems and all the filters are clogged and overheating and the projectors are starting to fail. So they are now spending 2-3 teachers' salaries on new smart touch displays to replace the projectors. (And unfortunately, they are low enough for the teacher to use them, so the back

          • I would disagree, to an extent, certainly anytime you roll out new tech there will be some examples of misuse, abuse, waste, etc. The projectors were probably a miscue (or, maybe the school board has a buddy with a projector/touch screen business... hard to get around that.)

            These capital purchases are one-time, and if every teacher has effective teaching tools, that can be better than +1 to the staff. In another perspective, would you rather stand at the front of the room pantomiming and drawing on a chal

        • by nbauman ( 624611 )

          Teacher's salaries (cost to county, not takehome) run $30-60K per year day. That means a single teacher's salary for could provide (45000/200) 225 nice tablets, or with class sizes of 20ish, roughly 11 classrooms full. Make this "educational model" reasonably rugged, with an average service life of 3 years, and we've got 33 classrooms full of rugged tablets for the price of one teacher.

          Let's not even start to get into what it costs to build and operate a single classroom...

          Yeah, but after the kids get bored from playing games and watching porn, they're still going to need a teacher to direct them in their education.

          Teachers can raise ideas like, "Here's how to start figuring out what the American Civil War was all about," or, "Here's how a basic electrical circuit works," or, "Here's a Shakespeare play you would be interested in," or, "See what happens when you pour this hydrochloric acid onto the mossy zinc."

          I remember my junior high school teacher suggesting, "Why don't we

          • Key word "good". I agree, by no means devalue the teachers, and certainly do what you can to get and retain the good ones. But, making them teach in 50 year old buildings with poor maintenance, and not giving them the best (or, at least, moderately adequate) tools to teach with, piling their rooms full of 35 kids per teacher, that's not going to help even a good teacher reach the kids.

            The most memorable quote I've ever heard at a government meeting was at a school board where the commissioner said "I will

        • That means a single teacher's salary for could provide (45000/200) 225 nice tablets, or with class sizes of 20ish, roughly 11 classrooms full. Make this "educational model" reasonably rugged, with an average service life of 3 years, and we've got 33 classrooms full of rugged tablets for the price of one teacher.

          The OECD recently published a study where they found a direct correlation between classroom computer use and poorer academic performance. There's also dozens of studies that show tech in classrooms improves learning outcomes for a small (privileged) minority of pupils in a narrow range of subjects. How does this affect your opinion on tech in classrooms?

          • That means a single teacher's salary for could provide (45000/200) 225 nice tablets, or with class sizes of 20ish, roughly 11 classrooms full. Make this "educational model" reasonably rugged, with an average service life of 3 years, and we've got 33 classrooms full of rugged tablets for the price of one teacher.

            The OECD recently published a study where they found a direct correlation between classroom computer use and poorer academic performance. There's also dozens of studies that show tech in classrooms improves learning outcomes for a small (privileged) minority of pupils in a narrow range of subjects. How does this affect your opinion on tech in classrooms?

            I don't know the OECD, or the motivations of their leadership, but if I cared, this would motivate me to investigate them before placing any weight on their opinions. Don't delude yourself that the study isn't biased, data collected and thrown away if it doesn't meet the aims of the persons who commissioned the study, published when it backs them up.

            One can easily envision classrooms where change, any change, directly correlates to poorer academic performance - teachers are human, and humans generally rese

            • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a 68 year-old international organisation consisting of 34 member states including the USA, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, South Korea, Switzerland, and Turkey. Every 3 years, they publish the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report. That's where all those statistics about who's education system is better than who's and everyone declares an education crisis (except Finland).

              It's part of my job t

              • Makes the position clear, yes, but we're still exchanging sound-bites. This time, I heard "replacing teachers with computers" which can be taken in any proportion.

                Do you cut the number of teachers by 50% and give them computers to compensate? That seems like an obvious disaster, hardly worth studying to collect data on.

                What I am talking about is more along the lines of: take a pool of 20 teachers, instead of hiring a 21st teacher, augment the existing 20 with computers. This will now be more a question o

                • Did you not read the bit about the inverse correlation between ICT use and learning outcomes?

                  Re: improving learning outcomes, there's a solid body of research going back decades that shows a long list of interventions in K-12 education. In practice, computer assisted instruction typically has an effect size of around .3 - .4. That's low and definitely not worth the time, effort, and expense involved. By comparison, interventions like formative assessment and learner-centred teaching typically produce effect

                  • Actually, no, this is a /. discussion and reading the article would be strictly out of character. Instead, let me make generalized assertions based on past experience, as is the norm in this forum:

                    Returning to my earlier point: who collected this data? what are their deeper motives? where are the studies published by groups with clearly differing agendas (everyone has an agenda) that back up these points?

                    Nobody goes out and labels themselves "The conservative union for exclusion of technology from learni

      • What good is free internet access without teachers disciplined to utilize this resource appropriately for the students? Just handing the reins over to them won't do, and in fact; cause more of a problem with encouraging shorter attention spans. The Internet isn't just some great digital library, it's also the cesspit of humanity too.

        • ^This. It starts and ends with qualified and enthusiastic teachers. But its not just teachers. The real challenge is parents. Without involved parents there is only so much even a great teacher can do with limited time to individually attend to a kid. All the computers and internet access in the world won't matter. Most kids have sufficient access to internet. Shiny new buildings or new stuff in classrooms are low on the scale of things that make a big difference. Sometimes its a cover up, a way to claim p
          • Re:So tired of this (Score:4, Informative)

            by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @12:59PM (#52028819) Homepage Journal

            Without involved parents there is only so much even a great teacher can do with limited time to individually attend to a kid.

            Diane Ravitch, who was assistant secretary of education under both GHW Bush and Bill Clinton, reviewed all the data (and had a PhD to understand it). https://dianeravitch.net/ [dianeravitch.net] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

            She found that the one factor that was most strongly associated with educational achievement was the parent's income. That's the best scientific evidence.

            If you want parents to be involved, you have to eliminate poverty and raise their income. It's not sufficient, but it's necessary. A mother can't read to her children or take them to a museum if she's working 60 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant.

            If you want parents to do a better job, give them the resources that they need to do the job.

            • Its not simply about them having better jobs and more money. Income correlates to education and ability, and to some extent desire. Educated parents naturally are better equipped to help their children succeed, and they'll naturally have better jobs and more income. A mother can't teach her kids nearly as effectively if she isn't educated, and yes its worse if she is a single mother and has little time. There are plenty of non-working parents who are not exactly helping their kids succeed. OTOH, many well-
              • by nbauman ( 624611 )

                I said, necessary but not sufficient. I've worked 70 hour weeks, and I can't imagine a parent giving a child enough attention after a 70 hour week.

                I was working 50-60 hours, and I wanted to take my niece to a science fair and do other activities, but because of my schedule, I could't do it.

                If you expect low-income parents to meet the standards of middle-income parents, you have to give low-income parents the financial and other resources of middle-income parents.

                You can't just say, "Oh, if they wanted to, t

                • You can't just say, "Oh, if they wanted to, they could figure out some way to do it." They can't.

                  I certainly didn't, and wouldn't say that. In fact that thought would be directly counter to may point regarding education, which I still think is a bigger element than money & time. Again, even a lot of those parents that have time available, yet are uneducated, don't do very well either.

                  • Education, and the means to provide, is most definitely socioeconomic. I think we can all agree here. The bigger question is "how to break the vicious circle" from parent to child so that they may meet their maximum potential. I believe the answer to be mentoring and random assimilation of poorer communities into the more wealthy. Exactly how you go about doing this from a cultural standpoint is another matter entirely; to be totally candid about it. People are just inharently tribal and flock among those w

        • So you completely missed my point. If you actually read how I replied to the parent post, you would understand what I said. I even quoted the parent, but still I have no idea how some people replied to my post are missing my point and take another topic into the conversation... :-/
    • Well, if tech is going to fund education, why not oil, finance, agriculture, and every other successful industry in the country?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      For K-8, throw out the textbooks, get a library. If a student is interested in a topic, buy a book on the subject and add it to the library. Entrenched interests like Pearson and McGraw Hill wouldn't stand for it because they would lose 2/3rds of their business overnight.

      Pearson had revenue of $7.19 billion in 2014.
      McGraw Hill had $5.31 billion in 2015.

      Why can't there be a government-produced set of books for general education?
      Not the subjective stuff, the hard facts, like STEM.
      I'm sure some good books for

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Throwing money isn't the answer. Throwing money appears to have made the problem worse. My kids school educates on 2/3 of the budget and has to pay building loans that the public schools here don't, and they get a better education. Why? Parents who care enough to do anything. Firing incompetent teachers didn't work; the union went defensive and doubled down on promoting failure. However, firing incompetent administrators is still a good approach.

    • Re:So tired of this (Score:4, Informative)

      by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @09:14AM (#52027337) Homepage Journal
      Enough with this myth that we aren't spending enough. NYC spends 20k a year per student, 19k in Boston, 17k in Baltimore, etc. Those are all what you would call "inner city" schools. We are spending enough on schooling. We aren't seeing the results.
    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      The books should be e-books, but I continue to see little tykes get off the bus, kneehigh to a grasshopper but schlepping a book backsack bigger than they are.

      I second the call for investing in school infrastructure. In particular, states need to equalize the tax dollars spent on schools, they need to get off that property tax or at least make the property tax spent equably across the state.

      And teach the sprogs competency in English, a foreign language (any will do), Math, Science, and History. Computing th

    • since all the books, etc are now e-books (not necessarily a bad thing).

      The geek is in denial about the limitations of e-books. They well and truly suck for anything but plain text.

    • First, spend money on paying teachers, repairing buildings, buying computers and internet access for students...

      ... and if Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, et al. paid their fair share of taxes, we'd be able to afford decent education for everyone.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @08:33AM (#52027137) Journal
    Microsoft, and, to be fair, the other tech giants, would like highly trained and competent employees at a cheaper price.

    The ideal market would be multiple qualified candidates for every job opening.

    Whether that occurs due to the proposed domestic educational steering program or due to H1B-type legislation doesn't much matter to them. If the government is also willing to pick up the tab, well, that's just gravy.

    • by shmlco ( 594907 )

      They want them, but they don't want to pay for them. Microsoft also recently ranted to Washington state about the lack of funds going to education... while legally setting things up so most of their US income was taxed in another state.

      • It is the loopholes themselves thAT (nipped that CapsLock in the bud) promote corporate presence in a State or a Nation, and I suppose until that playing field is leveled everywhere, there is an argument for localized exception.

        There is a very clever argument that implies the salaries paid by the corporation are taxed, and it is better to have that income than the none you get from no local corporations.

    • how about backing student loans / higher edu?

      That is part of why it's hard to find people at cheaper price when they have big ones to pay off. Also the high cost of housing in CA.

    • Microsoft, and, to be fair, the other tech giants, would like highly trained and competent employees at a cheaper price.

      True, sort of, but I think this overstates the concern about monetary cost and ignores other costs.

      The challenge with hiring top-tier tech people is that no one knows how to identify raw talent. The only thing we know how to do is to identify well-developed talent, and even that is somewhat hit or miss. When you couple this with the facts that less capable people are hard to get rid of and that they can do a tremendous amount of damage to an organization, the result is that "hire them raw and train them u

      • ...and what Google needs is a particular constellation of cognitive abilities which no one can really clearly define.

        When we say we're looking for a candidate that has the intangibles, "what we really mean is that we don't know what we're looking for, but we just know it when we see it." ~B.Billick

        • ...and what Google needs is a particular constellation of cognitive abilities which no one can really clearly define.

          When we say we're looking for a candidate that has the intangibles, "what we really mean is that we don't know what we're looking for, but we just know it when we see it." ~B.Billick

          Sort of :-)

          The basic abilities can't really be described or measured. The result of applying those abilities through years of study and effort can be both described and measured. So Google can articulate what it looks for in a candidate. It can't articulate what it would look for in that candidate before he or she has taken some years of CS courses.

  • You have to remember what was happening then. Windows 8.1 was released to do a ton of bug fixes. Windows 9/10 was just starting to get steam. They needed something to distract the public from how bad the Windows 8.0 OS and new Windows phone were at the time.
    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      Microsoft never released Windows 9 as a version because any programmer calling for the version name string as "Windows 9" could get back "Windows 95" and "Windows 98" as valid operating systems. Running Windows 9 software on Windows 95/98 would be very, very bad. Microsoft had a hard enough time killing off Windows XP.
  • Microsoft lies, and if you trusted them, you are stupid. End of line.

  • As the H-1B glut depresses wages, it will further discourage enrollment in STEM programs. It's a downward spiral that will result in no Americans going into STEM education paths.

    I have young kids. I see that some kids genuinely are interested in math and science. Unfortunately most of these kids are being told by their parents that there are little opportunities in STEM fields.

    I also see many more kids taking the vocational/technical track than when I was in school. Vo-tech seems to have lost it's stigma and is even being praised by many former tech workers.

    The H-1B program has caused almost irreparable harm to the tech sector in the US. It may take a generation to undo the damage.

    • I have young kids. I see that some kids genuinely are interested in math and science. Unfortunately most of these kids are being told by their parents that there are little opportunities in STEM fields.

      I think there are, in other countries. If you push your kids towards STEM, you should also push them to learn at least one if not two other languages, preferably big European ones.

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        [...] you should also push them to learn at least one if not two other languages, preferably big European ones.

        Doesn't hurt to be proficient in English, which is more or less an international language these days. Too many young adults are using '+' or '&' for the word 'and' in writing sentences. Concatenation symbols are fine when programming with computers, but not when communicating with people.

    • Vo-tech used to be good but now needs to drop the needs to be 4 years part and the cost needs to come down as well.

      For lot's of jobs 4 years is to long and at some schools there is like 1-1.5 years of filler and fluff that costs way to much. Now back in the day when the cost of school was lower and there where a lot more jobs that did not need the 4 years + of school.

      Places like ITT, devry and others where good. University of Phoenix was the school for working pros who did not have the time for school in th

  • by theodp ( 442580 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @09:03AM (#52027273)

    Computer Science Education Coalition Lobbyists [opensecrets.org]: Cornerstone Government Affairs (Microsoft also a client), Penn Hill Group (Microsoft also a client),Third Dimension Strategies.

  • by Jon von Gillern ( 3797575 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @09:04AM (#52027281)
    >> Microsoft, GE, the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Manufactures, and the National Science Teachers Association

    I see 2 corporations, 2 associations and one racist council (La Raza stands for "The Race"), members of which frequently advocate for re-conquering "Aztlan" (the american southwest, California to Colorado) and ceding control back to mexico. "The Race" has a large overlap with Mecha, a group that has the motto "For La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada", translated meaning "For The Race, Everything. Outside The Race, Nothing".

    http://humanevents.com/2006/04... [humanevents.com]
  • They support both corporate AND Congressional funding. Another theodp anti-education rant.
  • Giving Microsoft the control that comes with being the sole funding source of schools would be disastrous. So much for OSX and Linux!

  • In any market, the higher the ratio of supply to demand, the lower the price paid per unit of whatever is being supplied. Tech firms aren't simply interested in fulfilling their personnel needs - they want a sizeable surplus workforce so they can keep wages low. That way they can have lots of people whose first language is English and for whom local cultural norms are second nature, competing for relatively low-paying jobs. Then the whole H-1B thing will no longer be an issue.

    Any corporation would like noth

  • "While the need to expand high-skilled immigration is immediate," read the letter to Congress, "we also need to expand STEM opportunities in U.S. education."

    The problem is not with the H-1B program itself; the letter of the law provides a good relief valve for companies who really need a skill that can't easily be taught or acquired. The problem is twofold:
    - Big tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco, Google, etc. use the loopholes in the law to bring in direct, cheaper replacement workers that usua

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @01:08PM (#52028903) Homepage Journal

    http://www.nydailynews.com/opi... [nydailynews.com]
    Learning to code is overrated: An accomplished programmer would rather his kids learn to read and reason
    BY Jeff Atwood
    NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
    Sunday, September 27, 2015, 5:00 AM

    Mayor de Blasio is winning widespread praise for his recent promise that, within 10 years, all of New York Cityâ(TM)s public schoolchildren will take computer science classes. But as a career programmer who founded two successful software startups, I am deeply skeptical about teaching all kids to code.

    When I became fascinated with computers as a teenager in the early 1980s, computers booted up to a black screen and a blinking cursor. You had to learn the right commands to get them to do anything at all. In other words, you were forced to become a computer programmer in order to be a computer user.

    One of the great achievements of modern computing is that we no longer need to be programmers to create, build and get things done with the amazing supercomputers that everyone carries around in their pockets.

    Thatâ(TM)s a victory we should claim for our kids â" rather than purposefully, almost gleefully sending them back to the era before computers became user-friendly tools.

    Iâ(TM)m not saying young people should be oblivious to the way the sausage is made, any more than they should be oblivious to where their food comes from. Indeed, in the coming decades, there are thousands if not millions of good jobs waiting for skilled programmers and creative thinkers who understand the logic of programming.

    But as someone whoâ(TM)s been immersed in the digital world for most of his life, I can attest: Computer science is less an intellectual discipline than a narrow vocational skill.

    If someone tells you âoecoding is the new literacyâ because âoecomputers are everywhere today,â ask them how fuel injection works. By teaching low-level coding, I worry that we are effectively teaching our children the art of automobile repair. A valuable skill â" but if automobile manufacturers and engineers are doing their jobs correctly, one that shouldnâ(TM)t be much concern for average people, who happily use their cars as tools to get things done without ever needing to worry about rebuilding the transmission or even change the oil.

    Thereâ(TM)s nothing wrong with basic exposure to computer science. But it should not come at the expense of fundamental skills such as reading, writing and mathematics â" and unfortunately today our schools, with limited time, have tons of pressure on them to convey those basics better.

    Iâ(TM)ve known so many programmers who would have been much more successful in their careers if they had only been better writers, better critical thinkers, better back-of-the-envelope estimators, better communicators. And aside from success in careers, we have to ask the broader question: What kinds of people do we want children to grow up to be?

    Itâ(TM)s true. Anyone can learn to code. But very few people can explain why they wrote a line of code, what that code does or convince other people to use it and help them build it. These are all essential human skills that have everything to do with the art of communicating with other people, and nothing at all to do with the writing code that a computer can understand.

    Learning to talk to the computer is the easiest part. Computers, for better or worse, do exactly what you tell them to do, every time, in exactly the same way. The people â" well . . . youâ(TM)ll spend the rest of your life figuring that out. And from my perspective, the sooner you start, the better.

    I want my children to understand how the Internet works. But this depends more on their acquisition of higher-order thinking than it does their understanding if ones and zeroes. It is essential that they that treat everything they read online critically.

  • I just think that if school would focus on teaching the native language of the students; and mathematics, then they should be able to learn everything else they need on their own, and according to their interests.
    I don't understand the big push for STEM when Mathematics is a poorly marketable skill, and science is a low-paying field after crushing stress of getting a PhD.
    Am I the only one in the world who thinks this way?

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