Why there’s no such thing as an ‘F’ in computer science: The Fear Factor in CS (and other things we learn)
Nice article by my colleague Ayanna Howard and Oracle’s Alison Derbenwick Miller. I’m teaching Media Computation again this semester, and it seems to me that the biggest barrier for my students is simply fear. They don’t type code because they’re afraid of failure. They don’t try to understand the code because they’re afraid they can’t.
It’s not just CS, of course. At my last ukulele meetup, I sat next to a woman who brought her ukulele, but wouldn’t take it out of the case. She just sang the songs along with us. When I encouraged her to bring it out, she said, “I’m just a beginner. I’ll learn to play it first, then I’ll play along.” That gets the process wrong — it’s playing along that leads to learning to play it. But I was struck by her body language and voice when she made the statement. She was deeply frightened — of making mistakes and being ridiculed for it, I guess.
I get that. I did my first public performance singing and playing the ukulele in December. (Christmas carols are pretty easy, and are completely acceptable at a December open mic night.) I was so frightened. I finished one song (“Silent Night”), then invited my daughters up to sing with me (“Jingle Bells”) to help me get through it (thanks to them for the support!), but still couldn’t get past one verse. My legs and arms were shaking so badly I didn’t think I could go on. Fear is powerful.
Ayanna and Alison point out something important and real that we have to help students get past.
They will give you myriad reasons, among them that the work just isn’t interesting, that the cool kids don’t do it, and fear – fear it’s too hard, fear they’ll be ridiculed as “nerds,” fear of being exposed as an intellectual fraud, or ironically, as the “too smart kid,” fear of failure.
Fear is an awful thing. It’s a four-letter “f” word that holds incredible power – power to keep us from doing what is good, what is right. Power to stop us from taking risks. Power to maintain the status quo, to stop disruption, to inhibit change. Power to stymie innovation, and to limit opportunity.
Fear is bad. Fear stands between us and a better world. It stands between us and our better selves.