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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

If you build it they won't come; making the schools change is hard

Yesterday there was announcement about the urgency of teaching computer science in K-12:

I don’t know about the “urgency” but I can say that we have already built what the schools need: a year long all day, everyday, intensive online, mentored, deep dive into learning to program:

All the companies that say they want to help need to know where the problem lies. If you build it, they won’t come. 

How can you get the schools to launch something like what we built? You can’t. You would have to eliminate one of the sacred liberal arts subjects that we all endured in high school. Throw out history or literature or chemistry? Not happening. Until Harvard stops requiring these subjects of its applicants, no one can make a single change.

Apart from the sacred subjects we also have the sacred notion of a “course.” A course is one of five students take at the same time, and therefore needs to be taught one hour each day. You can’t really learn to program except by programming a lot. Listening to the teacher talk (who probably does not know how to program anyway) and then coding at night for an hour will not turn a kid into a programmer.

As it happens, I met Monday with a college (who I will not name) that understands the urgency of cybersecurity and wants their students to be able to learn about it. So, they have a course or two to offer. We have another deep dive (a six months all day intensive online mentored learn by doing course.) 

Can this school offer it? Of course not. The faculty would never agree to such a thing. Professors want to teach 3 hours a week. They won’t agree to teach more hours and none will agree to the idea of a student doing only one thing in a semester.

So, while I am heartened by the idea that the government and industry would like to help the schools change, it is important to remember that the schools do not want to change.

All that money would best be spent on building new schools that don’t have an embedded faculty with vested interests. And, until we abandon Common Core (ironically Bill Gates’ contribution to education), we will not have computer science in the schools in any serious way. 

We need to get rid of the subjects we teach in school and the way school is structured. Only then can we introduce real change. And while we are at it, we must make Harvard come up with requirements that do not reflect Roman ideas about liberal arts education.t come

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