Come the Revolution

I was talking to a – male – programmer the other day, and he was telling me how much his high school CS teacher sucked. This is not an uncommon story. I know some good high school teachers. I’ve heard about a lot of bad ones.

This particular bad one taught Visual Basic, and gave this guy a book on Java and told him he couldn’t expect any help.

I think this guy expected me to be, I don’t know, surprised? Horrified? Worried?

Actually, I said,

“I don’t worry about people like you. You know you’re interested, your parents are supportive, you find ways to learn, now you’re doing fine. But – how many people could have been interested, but never got the opportunity to find out what computer science and programming really are? This is why I worry about women, because I think women often fall into that group of people, and if we help those women, we help everyone in that group.”

I’m very cynical about the education system. I think (hope?), that eventually we will get rid of “teachers” and instead have TAs whose job is to keep order, whilst students get their personalized learning from educators via a computer and the internet – the use of instantly graded quizzes, live-chat, and forums etc.

That would give more scope for following the things you’re interested in, you have some minimum requirements (say X number of core modules to be completed within some time frame) but students can progress at their own pace (one of the most depressing things I found at school was having to learn things at the speed of the slowest person in the class). There is then less need for the term system, a strict timetable, or a certain number of hours a day. Home school becomes more feasible (and a curriculum can be mandated, so no skipping actual science in favor of creationism), and extra-curricula activities more important for socialization. It would be easier to do intense weeks of science with actual scientists (apparently high school teachers who are anxious about science are passing that anxiety on to their students, similar to the way that happens with math and girls).

In this utopia, quality would be higher, the job of keeping order and educating would be separate, students would have more freedom, and you could pay educators more because they would scale. It wouldn’t be 1 to 30 students, it could be quite reasonably 1 to 100, more even, because bureaucratic overhead would be removed – no attendance, no discipline, no grading quizzes. Just creating great curricula, and moderating forums and responding to questions, and some marking of long-answer questions.

Maybe society will keep educating children in human-capital factories. Hopefully not. Meanwhile, I’m not worrying about people being put off their dreams, I’m worrying about people who never realize they have them.

2 thoughts on “Come the Revolution

  1. Interesting post Cate. As a new high school CS teacher I ensure that I feed the inquiry engine of each student. The core concepts of CS take some time for teenagers to comprehend and simply telling them to join a moderated forum instead of an in-person classroom will likely not be motivational for very long.

    It is amazing what high school students are capable of if you let them use their creativity. Thankfully there are many different CS learning experiences available these days. When I was in high school the only option was Basic and assembler.

    The educational system needs to change and my favorite advocate for change is Sir Ken Robinson. His TED video on education is excellent:


Leave a Reply