A friend just recommended an article on social media and asked for my thoughts. I must stop falling for this trap.
Rather than take a much needed nap or work on one my many unfinished writing projects, I skimmed Learning to code isn’t enough from the MIT Technology Review. The article is the latest media article arguing that kids need not develop agency over an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world – my life’s work for 41 years. As much as I would like to do so, responding to every sentence in this article is currently impossible (and will likely result in even more people hating me).
The MIT Tech Review article is as facile as others in the genre. The inclusion of a few black and white photos and events predating yesterday are intended to create the illusion of historical scholarship by weaving together a tattered quilt of cherry picked quotes into a narrative supporting their anti-intellectual thesis.
I remain gobsmacked by the amount of effort expended to keep children ignorant of computing and accept their fate as passive consumers of other people’s knowledge.
Before you criticize me for responding in so many words to an article I admittedly have not fully read, I am doing so to preserve my mental health. It is hard enough to be a progressive educator advocating for children, arguing with “journalists” and professional organizations about matters in which they possess zero expertise is exhausting and tiresome.
That said, perhaps the handful of observations I share below share a lens through which others might evaluate such work.
It’s always funny to say that teaching kids to code is not enough and then refusing to do even that. Now substitute any of the bazillion things schools/educators have reached consensus in teaching – Haiku, Algebra, Football. Clearly they too are not enough.
1) Most of the “coding advocacy” groups mentioned in the opening paragraph are misguided, self-serving, and led by unqualified dilettantes craving power or tech bros with great antipathy towards public education.
2) Nearly every idea about education advanced by the Obama administration was terrible, simplistic, or quickly forgotten. CS4All is no exception.
3) Andrew Molnar did not coin the term “computer literacy.” It predates him and was most likely the work of my friend Arthur Luehrmann.
4) ALL of Seymour Papert’s efforts were INCLUSIVE! He risked his life in the 40s and 50s fighting Apartheid in South Africa, alongside people like Nelson Mandela. The vast majority of his large scale research projects across decades were in urban communities or developing countries, working with underserved populations. The work we did together, was the subject of my doctoral research, was in a troubled prison in Maine where the state was being accused of torturing children.
5) MIT seems hell-bent on destroying Papert’s legacy after he brought great acclaim to the institution for 5 decades. MIT Press publishes dreck like The Charisma Machine, and the deeply flawed new book, Technology’s Child, in which Papert is only mentioned as Mitchel Resnick’s teacher. The most generous view is that they love to engage in whataboutism to produce a patina of balance, but minus truth or powerful ideas.
6) Indicting an effort for failing to produce benefits they never set out to produce is the ultimate form of intellectual dishonesty.
“The Logo and Dartmouth efforts were among several computing-related educational endeavors organized from the 1960s through 1980s. But these programs, and many that followed, often benefited the populations with the most power in society. Then as now, just learning to code is neither a pathway to a stable financial future for people from economically precarious backgrounds nor a panacea for the inadequacies of the educational system. “
7) I refuse to be lectured to about diversity by MIT, an institution whose entire brand is built on rejecting 95.3% of its applicants and accepts a whopping 685 undergraduates per year.
8) Even if the article is laudatory towards Papert et al’s efforts, it reduces and dismisses them by claiming that they didn’t scale. Why/when/how did that become the goal? What is scale? How about the millions of kids and teachers who benefitted from the powerful intellectual experiences afforded by Papert and his colleagues?
Code.org scales worksheets. Rather than be an advocate for rich learning experiences or support those of us doing the work, they have amassed great power AND siphoned public funds to compete with educators. They have zero interest in learning from any of us. Thanks to organizations like, Code.org, every kid on earth will soon get to draw and color a picture of what they think a computer scientist looks like. Then their school can issue a press release announcing their participation in Hour of Code. How’s that for scale?
9) I was sent a major city’s voluminous “Physical Computing” curriculum. By the end of the school year, kids will be taught to make an origami frog. Seriously.
After hundreds of pages of vocabulary, scope and sequence charts, and color code tables, there will be no actual computing. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.