Posted by: Tom Ross | July 5, 2013

Cracking the Code

[Click on the title above to view on the CTE Central Blog website.]

“Why a child of five could understand this. Get me a five-year-old child.”
— Groucho Marx (as I remember it)

Smart phones, DVDs, flat screens, tablets, streaming movies, iTunes. You can say it’s all ones and zeros, but unless this really IS ‘The Matrix,’ that doesn’t mean anything to me. And I’m still blown away by how Siri can guide me to the nearest Steak ‘n Shake just for the asking, no matter where I am.


(The iPad, by the way, placed ahead of ‘world peace’ in a Consumer Electronics Association 2011 poll of what people wished for.)

I don’t really need to know how any of these work–it’s enough for me just to keep up.  But I think I assumed this generation did.

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this video that I realized there is a problem:

Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn to code:

 What Most Schools Don’t Teach

(A 9-minute video)



The video is followed by no less than 80 testimonials from entrepreneurs, leaders, and trendsetters in the world today including Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, all campaigning for more computer programming education.

CODE.ORG is a non-profit dedicated to growing computer programming education: “We believe computer science and computer programming should be part of the core curriculum in education, alongside other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry and algebra.”


President Obama thinks it’s important to teach children how to code. Quoted in the Forbes article, “Can Obama Convince High Schools to Teach Kids to Code?” he said in this year’s State of the Union Address, “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math—the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.” Coding advocates read into this the validation they are hoping for.

The Forbes article continues: “And despite the fact that computer science ranks highly among The 10 Skills That Will Get You A Job In 2013, or that Forbes’ Jacquelyn Smith ranked Software Developer as the #1 Top Job for 2013, CS education is decreasing in high schools.”

Jeremy Keeshin, the co-founder of a new startup, CodeHS, that promises to be “a library of online content that introduces the fundamentals of computer science to students with zero previous experience,” reports that, “Intro CS courses have decreased by 17% since 2005, and one of the major AP CS tests has been cancelled. Only 5%—yes only 5%—of high schools offer AP CS. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 30% of the 1.4 million jobs created in CS-related fields will be able to be filled by 2020.”



But does every student need to learn how to code? Does everyone, for example, need to know how to be a plumber? Jeff Atwood in his blog, Coding Horror, argues that this isn’t necessary, that it can lead to a lot of bad coding–and plumbing.  The Coders Lexicon agrees: “While I understand the need for more people to get interested in computer science and to fill our ranks with people who can meet the skills of the 21st century, going out there and telling everyone that coding is as easy as putting a bit of syntax down into an IDE and hitting compile is not the way.”

But Anthony Kosner, a technology contributor to Forbes Magazine, suggested last year that learning about coding may be an end in itself:

“Just the attempt to try to learn JavaScript, as Codeacademy starts students out with, is a useful and eye-opening exercise, no matter what you do in life. By familiarizing yourself with concepts such as variables, functions, loops and conditional statements you will begin to understand the vocabulary upon with the post-modern world is built. Learning to think in code will enable you to find the appropriate level of code to engage with [in order] to communicate better with others and make your own ideas more valuable to them.”


“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer
because it teaches you how to think.” — Steve Jobs, The Lost Interview

There’s a lot more out there on this subject to explore—too much to compile in one blog post. But if you’re interested, here’s a short list:

What do you think? Should more or even all high schools be teaching students to code? Share your thoughts and comments.


  1. Short notice but just found this online chat about teaching coding in the classroom TODAY:

  2. More background on this subject suggested by Education Week: Digital Directions:

  3. Coding in Utah: Task force explores requiring high school students to have more advanced knowledge.

  4. Running on Empty: This report finds that most states treat high school computer science courses as simply an elective and not part of a student’s core education. From the Computer Science Teachers Association:

  5. […] increase significantly post award and five years down the line. (I was also interested to see that computer software development ranks high on the […]

  6. Some interesting research on computer science teacher certification:

  7. This just in: The Hour of Code:

  8. The latest on coding from the New York Times:

  9. […] year ago we reported on the movement to teach every student how to code: Cracking the Code. This year, the New York Times reported about how coding has become a national movement, beginning […]

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