Drill bits and Eclipse — it’s really all about the same

May 18, 2011 at 11:12 am 16 comments

Really?  CS is just another form of shop class? Really?

That response heartens Paula M. Krebs, a professor of English at Wheaton College, in Massachusetts, who said she has worried that higher education “could succumb to the language of utility.” Colleges shouldn’t be judged, she argued, on graduates’ first jobs out but rather on the intellectual foundation they provide.

After all, says Ms. Krebs, now an American Council on Education fellow at the University of Massachusetts, “no one thinks high school should be training for the work world only. No one advocates a high-school curriculum of just shop classes, or just computer-science courses. You have to take English, math, history.”

via Higher Education in America: a Crisis of Confidence – Surveys of the Public and Presidents – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg Wilson  |  May 18, 2011 at 11:13 am

    One wonders if she regards English as “just spelling” and history as “just dates” 🙂

  • 2. Alan Kay  |  May 18, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Hi Mark,

    But I think she has a very good nose for both what is going on and the trends for both high school and college.

    Personally, I don’t think that the “CS” AP has much to do with “real CS”, and it would be judged as being roughly as terrible if rated alongside “shop classes”. So it’s kind of a double black hole.



  • 3. Leigh Ann Sudol-DeLyser  |  May 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    This may be a product of some of what we found in “Running on Empty”. In many states computer science is offered as a part of the vo-tech programs and is well defined there while in the actual HS computer science is basic skills like keyboarding.

  • 4. William Andrus  |  May 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I wouldn’t take it too personally. At one time, it was possible to get a career out of highschool. Most of these were in factories or on the farms. It was even at one time possible, not to go to college and still get a job as a programmer. I don’t think this is true today, nobody wants spagetti code, or basic html websites. I think her vision of what CS is just out dated.

  • 5. Darrin Thompson  |  May 18, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    CS is like shop class but with a _completely_ different demographic. Maybe not like wood shop, think more like auto shop.


  • 6. Owen Mathews  |  May 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    She obviously has no idea what CS is. In her mind she’s equating shop class with the vocational IT classes that teach students how to keyboard and use Word, Excel, Powerpoint, page layout programs, etc.

    Of course this points out a real problem—precious few educators actually understand the nature of computer science. So many people think I teach “IT” and I have to explain to them how that’s different from computational thinking and programming.

  • 7. Alfred Thompson  |  May 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    What was interesting to me is that Wheaton College actually has a very good CS department.

    • 8. Alan Kay  |  May 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      Very hard to tell from their sparse web page…

      They use Java for their first course (which is not encouraging …)

      The most interesting item is certainly;

      “CSCI 375 Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Knowledge representation, AI algorithms, Philosophical and Christian perspectives.”




      • 9. Alfred Thompson  |  May 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm

        You are looking at the Wheaton in IL and this article is from the Wheaton in MA http://wheatoncollege.edu/ I don’t know a lot about eather program but have heard some good things abotu the way they do things in MA.

        • 10. Alan Kay  |  May 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm

          Thanks very much! Yep, this does look much richer and more interesting from an outside glance.



  • 11. BKM  |  May 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    In my school district, a “good” district in suburban NY, the only computing course that is offered is through the business department – a course on website development. So I can see how people start equating computer science with shop

  • 12. Alan Kay  |  May 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Let’s find a high school with a “real computer science” course (and I don’t mean Java or website development).

    If this is difficult, then she has a real point.



    • 13. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 18, 2011 at 11:37 pm

      I know of one (private) high school that had a real CS course, because my son took it when he was there last year (as an 8th grader). The course used Dr. Scheme and roughly followed the “How To Design Programs” curriculum. While I don’t entirely agree with the pedagogical choices of that curriculum, it is real CS and my son learned a fair amount (more than he would have from a Java-syntax class).

      They did spend a little time at the beginning of the course on HTML, CSS, and Javascript, but most of the year was in Dr. Scheme.

      I think it helped, though, that Scheme was my son’s 5th or 6th programming language, as I think he would have found it quite confusing as a first introduction to programming. He is now mainly programming in Python (with little bits of simple C++ for programming the Arduino), and we’ll probably wait a year or two before he gets Java.

    • 14. Bijan Parsia  |  May 22, 2011 at 5:58 pm

      A quick Google for “high school cs progams” found several plausible candidates. E.g., http://www.python.org/workshops/2000-01/proceedings/papers/elkner/pyYHS.html

      • 15. Alan Kay  |  May 23, 2011 at 5:52 am

        I ordered the book mentioned.

        I did not find a lot to be encouraged about in the web page you cited — but their account was quite incomplete, and limited to just programming, and comparisons to C++ and perl, etc.

        I didn’t find anything in there about “real computer science”.

  • 16. Paula Krebs  |  May 8, 2012 at 9:04 am



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