EducationPop QuizTechnology

Pop Quiz: Should kids be learning to code?

“Our society is increasingly technological in nature. School curricula must be changed to reflect this reality by teaching all children to code, lest they be left by the wayside in our modern world.”

We’ve all heard this argument in some form or another.

Is this really a good argument, though? We have division of labour for a reason, after all. The mere fact that nearly all of us own programmable devices doesn’t mean that we all need to know how to program them. We certainly don’t expect similar competencies from car owners, despite the massive penetration of car ownership in our society. If basic maintenance and safety knowledge is enough for one-and-a-half tons of steel-on-wheels, why wouldn’t it suffice for an iPhone?

Writing in Wired, Jathan Sadowski makes a different argument against mandatory coding–namely that it will result in even greater inequality. This would happen, he argues, because with 45% of American adults already “functionally illiterate,” adding new material to the mandatory curriculum will only stretch resources even thinner, and might in fact result in some kind of dystopian future in which the wealthiest among us CONTROL ALL TEH TECHNOLOGIES!

Hey wait…how is this different from right now again?

There has been a fair amount of discussion of this topic on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, in which his readers have brought up a lot of good points, including the obvious fact that whatever programming language you teach the kids in 8th grade is going to be very outdated by the time they are actually adults (hello, QBasic! I remember you!).

That’s not to say, of course, that there is no value in learning the kind of logical, methodical thinking that programming requires (and that having such a background wouldn’t make learning another language easier later on), but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which the required programming classes end up focusing more on language-based minutiae than on conceptual issues. How else could you possibly make a standardised test for it?

As for the argument that programming languages are a perfectly good replacement for foreign languages, recently enshrined into law in (where else?) Texas, I have only one response.

Image of Picard and Riker facepalming

Do you think coding should be mandatory in school? Did you have any experience learning programming languages when you were in (K-12) school? Does anyone really think that programming languages and natural human languages are at all the same?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wedesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).

Featured image: Arnold Reinhold

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Dan holds a PhD in Music History from a major Canadian university and is now pursuing a M.Ed in Higher Education at another one, because he likes to collect very expensive paper. He performs stand-up comedy at venues all over Toronto when he's not busy playing JRPGs with his cat, Roy. You can follow him at @incontrariomotu, but he isn't going anywhere. You can also send him a tip on PayPal ( if you like his work!

1 Comment

  1. January 6, 2014 at 5:44 pm —

    I think everybody should at least learn some basic aspects of programming in school. The basics could be taught in math along with topics like mathematical induction. These lessons should primarily serve the purpose of demystifying the act of programming. The lessons should also demonstrate what algorithms are and how they are implemented. You might not learn how to build a car in school, but you learn the basics of mechanics and you get in touch with the possibilities.

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