By everyone I mean EVERYONE

While I’ve primarily posted things so far about teaching programming to kids, I stand by my domain name: computer science is for everyone. Students being able to get first jobs is important…and so is other people being able to start new careers. Two news blurbs to highlight on the subject:

The first, from TechCrunch: Codecademy, one of the biggest names in online programming tutorials, is teaming up with a series of other organizations to create broader initiative ReskillUSA. Their focus, according to CEO and co-founder Zach Sims, is “making the pathways for people clear for how to get from zero to employed,” by assembling quality resources and working to convince employers that you don’t need a college degree to be competent. (Probably obviously, I am SO on board with that.)

The second, from Ars Technica: a groundbreaking initiative to spread California’s ever-expanding tech community into San Quentin Prison. Eighteen inmates are participating in a JavaScript immersion program: six months of eight hours a day, four days a week. Long-term effects remain to be seen; a major challenge so far is that inmates aren’t allowed internet access, so it would be difficult for program completers to consult with and get code out to potential clients before their release. Afterward, though, “[t]he education and training gained from the 7370 coding academy will instantly change the trajectory of my life. There is nothing like being self-sufficient and educationally astute after paroling from prison,” says participant Joseph Demerson.

Any readers with programming experience will likely join me in applauding these men for their dedication: working on a big project without being able to consult related forum discussions when you get stuck is no small feat!

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We Need CS Because Jobs, Part 2

Oy. Sitting down to write tonight’s post, I’m realizing, is the first time I’ve sat down (well, other than on my bike) in sixteen hours now, and the long post I’d been drafting in my head is just not going to happen tonight.

Instead, I’m going to leave you with this article from Wired that neatly ties together a number of threads from yesterday.  Remember all those tech jobs there aren’t Americans to fill? We’ve been dealing with some of that workload – quality assurance, in particular – by outsourcing it to countries like India and China. However, software testing prices overseas are rising. As overseas software testers cease to charge rock-bottom prices, the article explains, the tradeoff of low cost for inefficiencies of time differences and language barriers are becoming less worthwhile to, well, anybody with software to test.  The article profiles a handful of people working toward “urban onshoring,” an attempt to transform struggling communities by bringing tech jobs to them.

Sure, a lot of jobs still are outsourced; sure, testing may not be the most glamorous software job in the world (for the record, though, the article addresses both of those concerns). However – and this is what really grabbed me about this piece – it’s a job with a starting salary of $35,000 a year that requires only eight weeks of training, even for people without college degrees. Given that, what could students be ready to do after eight years of regular computing instruction in schools? We’ve seen a lot of push in the last decade to get more students into college; however, we’ve also seen student debt increase steadily to a national total of $1.2 trillion and the economic disparity grow rather than shrink. What if, instead of pushing everyone to go to college, we equipped them to finish high school employable in jobs more lucrative than waiting tables and making lattes?

Intro followup: No, I’m not teaching for America

I didn’t intend to start here. This is, after all, a blog about technology education; if it’s a soapbox, it’s meant to be a focused one, not a platform for everything that goes on in my head. But my first post included a link to a bio that’s now out of date, and it seemed like a good idea to set the record straight.

Long story short, given a lifelong love of teaching and words, I started on an ESL education track as a sophomore in college. Most of the way through, I got cold feet about the content area and started considering TFA as a path to trying a different one without having to go back to school – it seemed to me that the primary criticism was that five weeks couldn’t possibly be adequate preparation, so a person who’d done all the coursework for a traditional license was bound to do fine, right? – and applied. My acceptance letter (placement: special ed) came two days into our special methods class, two days I’d spent falling in love with teaching ESL. Not ready to give up the license I’d been working toward and intrigued by the overlap of the two fields, I deferred in order to student teach after all.

That’s the point at which I wrote that bio, and that was the plan for months. But as I student taught, I was surprised at how not good I was at it. My classmates experienced the same thing: that nothing is like teaching other than teaching, and that for all of our training and preparation and microteaching and field experience, for all of of our past successes in and out of school, for all of our passion and motivation and idealism, we were not good yet. Getting your head screwed on straight as a teacher takes a couple of years – exactly the point at which TFA teachers are released from their commitment. It seemed to me that letting teachers back out right as they reach competence can’t possibly be reconciled with a stated belief that all kids are equally deserving of a quality education. And if I became a “success story” of a career educator despite starting with them rather than because of it, would that not be perpetuating an organization I could now no longer believe in? So I declined their invitation.

These ideas are neither particularly novel nor constructive, a major reason I was hesitant to begin with this post. But then today I finally got around to reading Dana Goldstein’s article on how the organization is changing under new leadership, and now I have a note other than frustration to end on. I see two hugely important things happening under co-CEOs Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matt Kramer: first, the recognition that cultural tourism is happening – that many applicants are driven by a Freedom Writers-inspired white savior complex – and curriculum being added to institute to actively combat that. Hats off to them and to anyone reminding us naive twenty-somethings that we need to mature past thinking we can do anything, into understanding enough complexity to realize how arrogant it is to think any of us can singlehandedly save the world.

Second, there seems to be a tacit recognition that the shift from the original goal of alleviating national teacher shortages to a focus on developing a generation of leaders – without more acknowledgment that that was the case – was shady. It’s a good and necessary thing that people likely to influence policy are given a chance to see classrooms other than their own, certainly; it’s just also unfair to students to pretend that those people are quality teachers. The development of tracks of more intense and content-focused training and longer commitment implies awareness of that problem, and it’s what gives me hope. I’d love to see that idea pushed even further, to see the two completely diverge: one pathway for people ready to commit to a future in the classroom (whether that’s people changing careers or majors, or who couldn’t otherwise afford the semester of paying a school to let you work full time that is student teaching, or whatever other reason) to receive a year or two of focused training from veteran educators, and a separate path for future policymakers, administrators, and lobbyists to commit time to studying education in both theory and practice without having to be students’ teacher of record.

Yes, a lot of these conversations can get ugly, and existing legislation is flawed, and there is much temptation to despair. The fact remains, though, that the conversations are being had. We’re engaged in thinking critically about the directions we want to go, and the internet allows for more information to be accessed and more voices to join the dialogue than ever before. This idea of not losing sight of small gains is the tie-in to the computer science world as well: like education reform, attempts to diversify perspectives in tech have yet to succeed widely. However, they’ve gotten crucial matters to take root in public consciousness. We are thinking and talking, and that is step one. Don’t lose hope.