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Is Code.org Too Soulless To Make an Impact? 384

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the whatever-works dept.
theodp writes "By trotting out politicians (Bill Clinton, Mike Bloomberg, Marco Rubio, Al Gore) and celebrities (Chris Bosh, will.i.am, Ashton Kutcher), Tuesday's Code.org launch certainly was a home run with the media. But will it actually strike a chord with kids and inspire them to code? Dave Winer has his doubts, and explains why — as someone who truly loves programming — code.org rubbed him the wrong way. 'I don't like who is doing the pitching,' says Winer, 'and who isn't. Out of the 83 people they quote, I doubt if many of them have written code recently, and most of them have never done it, and have no idea what they're talking about.' Code.org's because-you-can-make-a-lot of-money-doing-it pitch also leaves Dave cold. So, why should one code, Dave? 'Primarily you should do it because you love it, because it's fun — because it's wonderful to create machines with your mind. Hugely empowering. Emotionally gratifying. Software is math-in-motion. It's a miracle of the mind. And if you can do it, really well, there's absolutely nothing like it.' Nice. So, could Code.org use less soulless prattle from 'leaders and trendsetters' and more genuine passion from programmers?" Just force all ninth graders to learn Scheme instead of Microsoft Word.
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Is Code.org Too Soulless To Make an Impact?

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  • Lol (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @02:36PM (#43038021)

    Just force all ninth graders to learn Scheme instead of Microsoft Word.

    Yes, because there are just so many companies looking for people good with Scheme.
    Oh wait, no, that's right, companies keep asking for people who know how to use MS Office products.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @02:39PM (#43038069) Homepage

    It's not soulless, it's condescending. Grabbing a bunch of random celebrities and pretending they have anything to do with learning to code is ridiculous.

    If there's one thing academia doesn't need, it's crass marketing with celebrity spokespeople.

  • by seebs (15766) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @02:51PM (#43038191) Homepage

    I've never seen a programmer who had to be encouraged to program. Mostly, I'm interested in the people you can't get to stop programming.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @02:56PM (#43038257)

    You mean in VIM. Teaching kids emacs is just wrong

  • by concealment (2447304) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @02:59PM (#43038293) Homepage Journal

    Especially for kids, but also for people with souls, "it makes money" is not a sufficient justification. Lots of things make money; anal prostitution and being a hired killer also make money.

    However, you can usually get traction by pitching it as a skill that is worthy in its own right as it bestows power upon those who yield it. Like learning to play an instrument, it is fun for its own sake and also useful in isolation. It allows you to create things and have a certain type of power.

    The point of coding for those who will have the "coder mentality" is that you can fix things, make them do what you need, and accommodate needs outside the generic functions that most people use. It's the same reason you learn to play a guitar, so you can write the songs you like, or learn woodworking, electronics, etc.

    I don't think this appeal will ever go wrong, while the sanitized and denatured "but it's a great job!" approach will sound like more manipulative, submissive, obedient and conformist adult-logic to kids.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:08PM (#43038393)

    I see Snoop Dogg and Enrique Iglesias and Will-I-Am. There goes any credibility right out the door with those jokers.

    Dan's initial criticism that there are no active coders on there is true. A majority of the tech execs I see probably haven't written real code in the last decade if ever. The last time I saw a suit code was... never. They sure did like to talk about the glory days of it when they were college grads because coding is a young man's career (ie, young people are willing to work in sweatshop environments for peanuts).

  • by Marrow (195242) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:14PM (#43038485)

    Did you even look at that link for scheme?

    (define (area-of-ring outer inner)
        (- (area-of-disk outer)
              (area-of-disk inner)))
    (define (area-of-ring outer inner)
        (- (* 3.14 (* outer outer))
              (* 3.14 (* inner inner))))

    The first example looks like mush and is just going to turn them off. Teach them python or java or something that wont turn them off to programming for the rest of their lives. I am sure you LISP guys can do wonders. But maybe its not so good for a first language. It looks like garbage.
    Yeah, I know I suck. blah blah blah

  • IT'S A TRAP (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@gmaiWELTYl.com minus author> on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:15PM (#43038503) Journal

    Most coding the commercial world wants is boring. Your home projects may be fun but most of the work out there is not. It doesn't pay that well now and it sure as hell won't pay better if a bunch of kids are tricked into pursuing it, further increasing the labor surplus in a professions you could teach yourself with nothing but a computer and an Internet connection.

  • by icebike (68054) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:28PM (#43038647)

    Oh, c'mon. Does Kobe Bryant drink Sprite? Did Robert Wagner get a reverse mortgage? Does Danica Patrick buy godaddy.com domains?

    More to the point, does Kobe Bryant entice ME to drink sprite? Ah, No.

    And yes, Danica Patrick (or someone claiming to be her official site) does indeed buy (get for free?) a domain from Go Daddy. [who.is]

    For a lot of us, having Al Gore or Clinton or Ashton Kutcher or similar clueless people pimping for a coding site is a clear signal to run away like our hair is on fire.
    Who pulled their strings to get them to jump on that bandwagon? It costs money to even get their attention. Where is that coming from, and what is their motivation?

  • Re:Lol (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Em Adespoton (792954) <slashdotonly.1.adespoton@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:31PM (#43038687) Homepage Journal

    Just force all ninth graders to learn Scheme instead of Microsoft Word.

    Yes, because there are just so many companies looking for people good with Scheme.

    Oh wait, no, that's right, companies keep asking for people who know how to use MS Office products.

    Teach a ninth grader to use Microsoft Word, and he'll be able to use Microsoft Word.
    Teach a ninth grader Scheme, and he'll be able to create the successor to Microsoft Word.

    Where does this mentality of "only use the tools people use to make money to teach concepts" come from?

    Does a ninth grader really need to know how to hold down an office job? Why not go a step further and give all first graders a calculator and stop teaching them basic math? After all, when you get a job, you're expected to know how to use a calculator, not do polynomial division in your head.

  • by crutchy (1949900) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:39PM (#43038785)

    the system that's dying in the united states is not capitalism

    because capitalism is where the government stays out of the way and stops fucking the economy up more (an economy supported by government is closer to communism than capitalism)

    "capitalist state" is an oxymoron

  • Can't agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:47PM (#43038899)

    I like where you're going, but can't hop on that bus.

    Learning how to use a wordprocessor. Learning how to make professional looking documents that communicate well to people is a valuable skill. I'm not a fan of Word, but whether it's Word or Libre Office, 90% of the kids will directly benefit from being able to compose their thoughts on the computer.

    I love programming, but the percentage of people that would have their lives improved in some significant way by a 9th grade course in Scheme seems unlikely to be 90%, where for Libre Office that number seems conservative.

  • Re:lol (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nametaken (610866) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:48PM (#43038907)

    Yeah, much to do about nothing. Most of the people in the Code.org video I saw were, in fact, programmers. Some of them were famous ones, some were not.

    So yeah when you see Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberk, Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Gabe Newell, etc you might think they haven't written a lot of production code recently, but they're faces you'd know, and they threw in plenty of people that are probably sitting at their machines writing code as we speak.

    And either way, it didn't hurt anyone to have any of them. Many of the "learn to program" sites didn't have much in the way of marketing, so this is something. We're going to bitch about it?

  • Re:Oh god no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RazorSharp (1418697) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:50PM (#43038945)

    You're not going to entice a kid to do anything with the promise of "math in motion".

    But if you try to entice them with the promise of big money, they'll be sorely disappointed when they enter the job market unless they are incredible coders. One doesn't become incredible at hacking code (or anything) because they think it's a good job prospect, one becomes incredible by loving the activity so much that they become immersed in it. Most people who write code for a living aren't living lives of luxury, it's wrong to use guys like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates as examples of what that career path will bring. That's like telling kids they should learn to play guitar so they can be the next Slash and make a bunch of money. Or telling kids they should learn creative writing so they can become the next Stephen King. You're setting most of them up for failure when that's the expectation.

    A person has to love what they do before they'll have the drive to do it exceptionally well. If we want more programmers then we should prioritize teaching mathematics in schools. In many schools in America, one can graduate high school without understanding the fundamentals of algebra. That's the problem. Many people who have the potential to fall in love with mathematics and programming never have the opportunity because our school system allows irresponsible children to choose whether they want to be productive or not. We care so much about children's feelings, their self-esteem, their self-expression that we've forgotten that they're children and their opinions don't matter, their desires don't matter, and that most will grow up to be useless adults unless we force education upon them.

  • Re:Can't agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lister king of smeg (2481612) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @04:18PM (#43039265)

    I like where you're going, but can't hop on that bus.

    Learning how to use a wordprocessor. Learning how to make professional looking documents that communicate well to people is a valuable skill. I'm not a fan of Word, but whether it's Word or Libre Office, 90% of the kids will directly benefit from being able to compose their thoughts on the computer.

    I love programming, but the percentage of people that would have their lives improved in some significant way by a 9th grade course in Scheme seems unlikely to be 90%, where for Libre Office that number seems conservative.

    so teach them LaTeX then?

  • Re:Can't agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Em Adespoton (792954) <slashdotonly.1.adespoton@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday February 28, 2013 @04:37PM (#43039463) Homepage Journal

    I have no problem with teaching kids how to create professional looking documents. However, professional documents are best created by software that separates the content from the layout, and preserves both. The only reason that Word creates professional looking documents is that we've suffered a generation of professionals who have used Word to create documents. Badly. The result is that "learning Word" is often "learning how to use the word processor everyone in the business world is using, and learning how to massage it to create meaningful output that will resemble what the person you're sharing it with is seeing". This is the equivalent of teaching knot tying because it's standard business practice to tie knots around everything being shared with someone else. Why not just teach them how to do it correctly, and leave Word as an elective course for people who actually need to use it to get something done?

    I was composing thoughts on a computer before Office existed. Word teaches bad writing habits -- people confuse the content of a document with the look of a document, and spend way too much time tweaking the look instead of efficiently creating the content, arranging it, and then deciding how best to present it.

    I recall being in classes that asked for a 5-paged somethingorother. While others were tweaking their wording to fit in/fill up 5 pages, I was writing the assignment up, revising it, and then at the end, spending a few minutes to make it fit the page as required.

    I'd be happier if schools taught the skills and then let you apply them using the popular tools (with some instruction). What often seems to often happen (and be lobbied for by non-educators) is that schools teach how to use a limited set of tools, and assume the students will figure out the skills and any other tools needed on their own time. Remember, to someone with a hammer who's never seen a screwdriver, a screw is just a fancy nail.

    Learning how to use a word processor is useful, if they're taught correctly. Word/LibreOffice are great in that if you've been trained how to write and use document markup, they can create elegant documents. However, if you're taught how to use them without first being taught about content, style and markup, most people will default to using a combination of tabs, spaces, and whatever markup looks closest to what they want to tweak their content as they go. This detracts from the teaching instead of enhancing it. It doesn't help that most of the teachers have never been trained in how to properly use a word processor either.

    Starting with Notepad and then moving to LaTeX before being exposed to Word would be extremely useful in ensuring the proper DTP skills are learned instead of faked by students.

  • Re:Lol (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Em Adespoton (792954) <slashdotonly.1.adespoton@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday February 28, 2013 @04:47PM (#43039575) Homepage Journal

    Your comments assume that schools are designed to be trade schools, where you learn to use the tools for the job. Schools do have this function, and it's useful, but they are also supposed to be teaching students how to think, how to manage abstract thought, and how to understand the world around them.

    If a student has been trained how to draw a circle in Word, maybe sort a list or do a mail merge, they'll later attempt to create a spreadsheet object in Word in which they store all their data, and use mail merge to query/fill the cells and otherwise manipulate the data. Trust me -- this happens constantly in the "real world".

    If a student has been trained how to do the same things in Scheme, they'll never use Scheme in the real world -- which means they'll be forced to use the skills they learned and apply them in new situations. They'll likely look at Word and at Postgres and decide that the second is a better tool for database operations. They'll be able to look at a DB program and figure out how it works and have the vision to say "I need something like this, but it also has to be able to do THAT" -- and either find the alternative they're looking for, or create it/get someone to create it.

    Teaching computer programming isn't about learning a programming language; it's about learning problem solving skills and critical thinking -- that can be applied in any other aspect of life; even writing a properly put together purchase invoice or office memo. The reverse is not true, unless the teacher is REALLY good.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @05:23PM (#43039995)

    Realise this makes me sound like a leftist, but history lesson: Most of the advanced technology the US has churned out over the past 60 or 70 years has been heavily funded or supported by the government via the taxpayers. From transistors to cryptography, satellites, AI, moon missions, jet fighters, the Internet, nuclear power... in all those cases the bills were being paid by Uncle Sam for many decades & only when the hard problems were solved did the tech become cheap enough for corporations to make profits off average users in a 'free market'. Now, isn't it interesting that in those times of demented socialists such as Ike and the like that US technology made massive, massive leaps and stunned everyone (unfortunately a similar thing happened with Uncle Adolf in the 1940s).

    Meanwhile since we dialed back government involvement (at least overtly) and 'let the market decide' we end up in a position in 2013 where the coolest shit the average person can imagine is playing Angry Birds on a phone or using a world-wide computer super-network to post their entire lives online while reading about what Katy Perry is up to.

    Corporations are good at incremental improvements. They're good at playing it safe. They're completely awful at doing new or innovative things unless someone else foots the bill and said innovation doesn't damage their existing markets.

    If the private sector was as good as the libertarian crowd reckons then am sure we'd have had a cure for cancer years ago, or cheap supersonic travel, or reliable electric cars. Note all those things have demand, a supply of willing customers to pay for them and are technically feasible and yet.... ... maybe in five years, eh?
     

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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