I was recently interviewed for a Washington Post article and was asked, “Why is taking computer science so important? What do kids miss out on if they don’t take computer science?” The second question was a version of the first that I hadn’t heard before. I am constantly defending why CS is important, but have never promoted CS from the perspective of what kids will not get. So here is a shot:
In school, kids learn about DNA, political revolutions, solving equations, and writing persuasive essays. But computing drives each of these topics in our 21st century. What do kids miss out on? How to think about their world at the level of the itty bitty bit and how to manipulate this bit using higher level layers of abstraction to mold and transform how they and others can interact with their digital world, and by extension, the natural world and society itself. In essence, they miss out on actively participating in an era when the most powerful technology man has ever known is also one of the most accessible technologies man has ever known. Sure that could be making apps and games, but more so, it is about learning how to view the world and solve problems in a powerful way.
So I thought that was passable. But my friend, Owen Astrachan, a professor at Duke University and co-lead of the CS Principles project, captures it even better:
How is information created, constructed, understood, communicated, and lived with? We live in a world of information — and we learn about this world from the interaction between a physical and an online/virtual world. If a kid doesn’t understand how information is created and communicated — the speed and scale at which this happens, the complexities of software and what it entails — she’ll miss out on how the world we live in today works and how she can affect, cope, and change that world. This isn’t simply about programming, it’s about creating and altering information, about how information moves, about how it changes and is changed by people and society. (Astrachan, 2014)