Why Counting CS as a Foreign Language Credit is a Bad Idea from CSTA Blog

March 19, 2014 at 1:06 am 6 comments

Interesting and detailed response to the decision in Texas (and proposed in New Mexico and Kentucky) to count programming as a foreign language.

When these policy makers look at schools, they see that computer science is not part of the “common core” of prescribed learning for students. And then they hear that Texas has just passed legislation to enable students to count a computer science course as a foreign language credit and it seems like a great idea.

But all we have to do is to look at Texas to see how this idea could, at the implementation level, turn out to be an unfortunate choice for computer science education. Here are the unintended consequences

1. If a course counts as a foreign language course, it will be suggested that a new course must be created.

2. If a new course is created, chances are that it won’t fit well into any of the already existing course pathways for college-prep or CTE.

3. This new course will be added to the current confusing array of “computing” courses which students and their parents already find difficult to navigate.

4. There will be pressure brought to ensure that that course focuses somehow on a “language”. For the last ten years we have been trying to help people understand that computer science is more than programming. Programming/coding is to computer science as the multiplication table is to mathematics, a critical tool but certainly not the entire discipline.

5. If this new course is going to be a “language” course, we have to pick a language (just one). And so the programming language wars begin.

via Computer Science Teachers Association.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bradley Beth  |  March 19, 2014 at 11:56 am

    I was on a panel “Engaging Students with Computer Science Education” at SXSWedu a couple of weeks ago where we discussed this. I think we had some good discussion that I haven’t seen reflected in the posts I’ve read online.

    Pragmatically, this isn’t even a good idea. I’ve heard more than few people say “at least it will count for something”, but I think counting it as a foreign language is probably the worst thing you can do if your goal is broadening participation.
    (1) If you label something as ‘foreign’, you think of it as something apart from your life/identity. The inclusion of ‘foreign language’ in graduation plans is often for reasons of learning about other cultures (at least that’s true here at UT). Should we reinforce this other worldly nerd culture stereotype?
    (2) If you force a choice between a foreign language and CS, you could further exacerbate the ‘two cultures’.
    (3) In Texas, where this is in the works, we have huge problems reaching the exploding hispanic population. Citing Barbara’s fantastic data collection, the numbers show that last year 18.87% of AP CS test takers were hispanic while hispanics/latinos represent 36.71% of the population of Texas. This last figure is aggregated over all age ranges; I imagine that if you took the relevant slice across the high school aged, you’d find it to be even higher. Many of these are ESL or LEP. Many are doubly fluent in two languages (at least). I don’t think offering CS as a foreign language is likely to be motivating to these students. Not to mention that equating Java with the rich culture that accompanies one’s native language is bordering on insulting.

    From Irene Lee representing CS4ALL: Many colleges expect applicants to be well-rounded, liberally educated students. Coursework in foreign language is often a part of that expectation. Students who take CS to satisfy a foreign language requirement are likely to be disadvantaged in the admissions process.

  • 2. Stephen Davies  |  March 19, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    I’m surprised I haven’t yet heard the worst of bad reasons for this: it lets/encourages computer science majors to opt-out of taking a REAL foreign language.

    Learning a second language is a crucial component of higher education, in that it helps students learn something of the culture, history, and even thought patterns of another people group. It opens students’ minds to other ways of thinking and other ways of living. It helps us Americans break out of our deeply-ingrained ethnocentric ways and appreciate the rest of the world.

    Studying “Java” does none of this. Calling that a foreign language makes a mockery out of what foreign language education represents. And as a practical matter, 99% of computer science majors who have the opportunity to avoid the rigors of Spanish or Greek or Arabic by conveniently letting C++ be their “foreign language experience” will do so, to their own detriment as well as that of their future peers.

  • […] Some states are beginning to allow computer science classes to count toward the foreign language requirements for high school students. You might think that’s a boon for CS educators, but this post explains why maybe it isn’t such a great idea. […]

  • […] states are making computing courses count as foreign language courses (even if that’s a bad idea),  it’s worthwhile to consider what the value is of learning a foreign language.  A recent […]

  • […] that he was going to announce that CS would count for (i.e., replace) foreign languages (which is not a good idea).  This announcement was a bit better than that, but it’s still not clear what it means. […]

  • […] Guzdial, M. (2014). Why Counting CS as a Foreign Language Credit is a Bad Idea from CSTA Blog. Retrieved from https://computinged.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/why-counting-cs-as-a-foreign-language-credit-is-a-bad-id… […]


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