Tech leaders call for mandatory computing education in Mass public schools

June 12, 2013 at 1:42 am 5 comments

My colleagues at CAITE sent me a PDF of the whole article, since you can only get the lead paragraph at the Boston Globe site. It’s good news!

Executives from Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., and other leading firms want to require all Massachusetts public schools to teach computer science, so local tech companies don’t have to rely on foreign workers to fill future programming and engineering jobs.

via Tech leaders push for computer standards in Mass public schools – Business – The Boston Globe.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  June 12, 2013 at 8:35 am

    I was not so impressed with the state education people’s response. It was a subtle brush off in my opinion. Steve Venter at Google has been pushing for more CS in schools for a while. He’s been active in trying to get more industry support as well. I give him a lot of credit for that. BUT the schools are not getting it. Yes it would be great to get more CS in the wider curriculum but that is difficult. I suspect that what Chester has in mind is incorporating applications use in the curriculum. That is also a great idea and easier than real CS but it is not CS. My other concern is that the DofE seems to want industry to do it all. It would help if they would at least look into counting CS for graduation requirements.

  • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  June 12, 2013 at 10:15 am

    There’s more coverage (and the whole article is viewable) at

  • 3. alanone1  |  June 12, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Hi Mark

    Let’s see …

    “This is good news” because

    (a) the schools have shown how good they are at helping children to get fluent in reading, writing, mathematics, science, civics, and thinking in general?


    (b) because the current teachers are so good at computing it would be a shame not to have them teach it to children?


    (c) because the computing field itself is so good at computing it really knows what should be taught?


    (d) computing is so good for learning how to think that the most enlightening sites on the web are slashdot and reddit?


    (e) all of the above?

    Frazer’s “Golden Bough” is an early great study of the nature of magical beliefs across many cultures. Two of the main properties that are always found are (a) The Law Of Similarity and (b) The Law Of Contagion. Both are below threshold cognitive precursors to scientific thinking.

    The first has to do with models capturing essences of the focus (and manifests in the making and manipulating of voodoo dolls and other kinds of representations). The second is the idea that a part of something somehow also contains the whole essence (for example in the use of fingernail clippings in the voodoo dolls and in homeopathy).

    Science uses above threshold manifestations of these ideas. The first is the use of physical and mathematical models to try out and understand behaviors. The second is found in the usefulness of both the atomic theory and the DNA theory.

    The “Laws of Magic” intertwine with many of the “Laws of Religion”. A very helpful example are the widespread “cargo cults” that have existed in Melanesia for more than 100 years.

    Once all this is grokked, it is easy to find/see these manifested in major ways in our own society, most especially in “education”.

    We find a search for successful rituals. We find many examples of the belief that “touching” what is desired will cause good things to happen. Etc.

    And we most especially find an avoidance of the critical idea of thresholds that must be crossed before anything meaningful will happen cognitively.

    This is why it took humans almost 200,000 years — even with the precursors of scientific thinking — to actually invent science. And it’s why only tiny percentages — even in “scientific societies” — understand anything important and real about science.

    It’s also very worthwhile to study and understand how and why these ideas play out in the pop culture society — a “magical thinking culture” society — that we have.

    This is why both “better” and “perfect” are the enemies of “what is needed” (and especially the first).

    Do you really think any of the businesses calling for “CS in schools” or the politicians and educators calling for caution, etc., have the faintest idea of “what is needed”?

    However, some plan will be made and executed, and because of “magical thinking” most people will think that the simple “similarities” and “touchings” actually have content. And that “little betters” actually have significance. They will relax for a while, happy that “something is being done”, “some improvement is being made”.

    The whole point of real modern education is to deal successfully “above threshold” with human problems of magical thinking …



    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  June 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

      Hi Alan,

      I see us as being way earlier in the process than your questions suggest. Before we can make good computing education, there has to be some interest in computing education at all. There’s almost nothing in schools now. You can’t make something good, or make what’s there better, until there is interest in it. I see the activity in Massachusetts as being a sign of interest, and that’s good. As the Computing at Schools effort is finding, having something in place makes it possible to put something good in place.

      I see this as being similar to the challenges in Georgia Tech’s Online Masters degree. I fought that effort because I saw it as being so much less (in terms of learning and efforts to diversify computing) than what we’re doing now. I would have been much more satisfied with the process if the conversation had been about “How could we make an online masters degree more effective?” Instead, when I made suggestions for how we could do the on-line courses better, I was told, “We have to use Udacity’s platform. They’ll decide what changes to make, if any.” The frustrating part was a total lack of interest in making courses that led to learning and greater diversity.

      To make any progress, there has to be some interest in doing something.


      • 5. alanone1  |  June 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm

        Hi Mark

        I agree with your last sentence, with a caboose (below).

        But schools over the last 60 years or so have done very poorly with “making what’s there better”. Usually there has been slippage in the opposite direction when any of a number of pressures is exerted on the system.

        One of the unfortunate results is that the number one desired result for real education — firmly embedding realization and perspective that ‘we hardly know anything’ even after lots of real work in learning — has failed. We have a citizenry that actually thinks it knows enough just inside themselves to comment on anything, and think that “it’s doing just fine”.

        We can also see this very strongly in computing and many other areas over the last 30 years or so, because the pop culture thinks that “doing anything a little” is the same as “doing the something”. This is greatly assisted by unawareness of what “the something” actually is.

        I don’t care much about filling perceived needs for jobs as a function of real education. But I do care about the evidence that indicates “we have lost our citizenry” to a dangerous extent because of how education has slipped from merely mediocre to blindness.

        The caboose is that we need an interest in doing/learning *above the thresholds* that have to be achieved to make the result more than a token or wearing designer jeans.


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