Programming vs. “Technology”

April 9, 2012, 8:00 am

What I was trying to get across in Friday’s post, Gary Stager did much more clearly in this article. In it, he recalls the time thirty years ago when Logo and BASIC were being taught in schools and kids were programming. But:

Things sped downhill when we removed “computing” from our lexicon and replaced it with “technology” (like a Pez dispenser or Thermos). We quickly degraded that meaningless term, technology, further by modifying it with IT and ICT. Once computing was officially erased from the education of young people, teachers could focus on keyboarding, chatting, looking stuff up, labeling the parts of the computer and making PowerPoint presentations about topics you don’t care about for an audience you will never meet. [...]

What kids do get to do with computers tends to be trivial and inservice of the educational status quo. Gone are the days when educational computing conference programs were home to the most progressive thinkers and revolutionary ideas in education. Teachers were considered thought leaders and scholars who were required to write peer-reviewed papers in order to present at such events. Today one merely has to promise 75 quick and easy things to do in 37 minutes with the hottest product being peddled to schools. Another popular topic is incessantly about how your colleagues won’t or can’t use the latest fad.

For me, here’s the most salient point in the article (emphasis mine):

I’m so old that I knew the guy responsible for “Guide on the side, sage on the stage” (Chris Held) and “Ask three before me,” (Leslie Thyberg) I even knew the gentleman responsible for “computer literacy.” (originally called computing literacy) His name was Arthur Luehrmann. I often find myself mumbling, “I knew Arthur Luehrmann. Arthur Luehrmann was a friend of mine. You sir are no Arthur Luehrmann.”

When Luerhmann coined the term, “computer literacy,” he intended it to mean computer programming the intellectual pursuit of agency over the computer and a means for solving problems.

Don’t believe me? Read this 1980 paper transcribed from a 1972 talk.

My point on Friday was that the “computer science for all university students” idea is not intended to be programming for some, office applications for others, a social history of the internet for still more others, and so on, dependent on whether students were somehow identified as being good at computers or not, or what their career trajectories are. I think this idea — it’s not exactly a movement, yet — really means programming. Other things can be added to the programming in whatever required course students take, but at the heart of any universal CS course should be programming and all that goes with it. “Intellectual pursuit of agency over the computer and a means of solving problems” — that’s programming, broadly defined, and I think that’s the target when we start talking about universal CS requirements for all students.

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