working out loud

Coding for Democracy

Today, for work, I had the pleasure of watching a webinar on (also embedded above) where a panel of people heavily involved in making/coding/connected learning discussed the +/- of the “learning to code movement.” On the panel were some Writing Project folks (and friends of the Writing Project)—Mia Zamora, Joe Dillon, Doug Belshaw, and Mitch Resnick—and they had some really smart things to say about why learning to code is important.

As might be expected, I think many of us have the idea in our heads that one learns to code so they can be competitive in the job market, make better money, or make something that goes on to be a big deal (think: Facebook or apps on your smartphone). The people I mentioned above though, were more focused on looking at code as another type of literacy; something we explore with kids in the classroom because it’s a growing, important language in our world, and may be a way kids can express themselves and/or use to better understand their world and their place in it. Yes, learning how code “makes things go” can also teach a lot of other important skills, like problem solving, systems thinking, analysis, creativity, etc., but just the simple idea that it’s like learning to read or write English was awesome to hear.

We learn to read and write not just to fit into a job market, but to process our experiences and develop our thoughts, to communicate, and to connect with others through our stories. Is learning to code much different? I don’t think it is, but our society has constructed a purely capitalistic scaffolding around it. Just as learning to read and write are accepted as tools that everyone should have access to in order to engage in a democratic society, I would argue that in this day and age, so too is learning to code. The fact that women and minorities are sorely missing in the developer world also came up, and if we really look at the importance of learning to code as an issue of equality in the 21st century, then we certainly have a lot of work to do there, too.

I know I’m glossing over a lot of things here, but I think you can see that today’s webinar provided a much more in-depth look at the “learning to code movement,” and how it’s not just as simple as showing kids how to make a webpage. I think learning to code on any level gives us all an opportunity to be producers in this world, and not just consumers. It’s about giving everyone the opportunity to explore something that makes much of our world work, and the better we understand our world, the more empowered we are. The more empowered we are, the more engaged and productive and creative we can be.