Whenever a new idea is introduced to education, expect a flood of criticisms. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, we need naysayers and critics to challenge all our ideas. It’s what makes a democratic society function and it’s important for our ideas to be challenged in order to improve them.
Hour of Code is one of those burgeoning ideas that is getting a lot of up take in schools. Proponents love it as an easy way to introduce the coding and computer science to students with little or no background needed from either the teacher or the student. Critics argue that it’s not enough and it dumbs down what is a critical and important skill.
We are doing a disservice to kids by assuming that they can’t grasp industry-standard languages, complex computer science topics, and applications. By limiting them, we undermine their capabilities and stifle their creative and inventive potential.
The promise of K-12 education has always been to provide children with a broad liberal arts experience that prepares them for life. While some chose a greater focus on college and career, this still suggests that we offer students a wide range of opportunities. We head down a very slippery slope when we try and steer students towards paths we determine are more important that others.
Hour of Code is most certainly an entry level experience. It does not offer the complexity and depth needed to find employment in that industry. But that’s not it’s intent. Physical Education classes do not offer the training for students to become Olympians or professional athletes. English classes will not offer enough for students to become novelists. Biology classes won’t produce scientists.
The reality is also that schools can never offer deep expertise in all these areas. Having a passionate and qualified music teacher at a school likely means that students will have a greater chance to excel and pursue their musical interests more so than at a school that doesn’t have that kind of educator. We’ll never be able to provide expertise in all areas. But expertise is not what we should be hiring. We need expert learners and connectors.
As much as we continue to advocate for a more personalized learning experience, the need for caring adults to expose students to new ideas and learning is our mandate. This, balanced with greater choice for students to pursue their interests is what can make our system even better.
So I’m happy to see teachers explore hour of code, genius hour and other initiatives that provide students a chance to experience something new. Is it enough to make them experts or go into much depth? Probably not. I’m not suggesting we always choose breadth over depth, but our mandate is not to produce coders, musicians, athletes, scientists, doctors or lawyers. No school will be able to go deep enough to create industry ready students. That’s not our job. Our job is to help them understand their strengths, find some interests and connect them to experts and opportunities to learn more.