It was the columnist Thomas Friedman, at the New York Times, who suggested that in the future, students in higher education contexts double major in a field of choice and in computer science. Continuing the theme of new literacy skills, it struck me that computer science was a potential addition to the list of skills that are considered necessary for 21st century citizens. Today, students that haven’t hit middle school can be prepared to program by working with programming languages like Scratch, developed at MIT for young students who wish to learn basic programming concepts in a fun, collaborative and creative way.
Though it may not be fully realistic to imagine everyone as a programmer (after all we often hear how many students emerge from school not ready to write a basic paper for a college class), it is an interesting, if not optimistic aspiration. Still, with many schools under economic and political pressure to increase math and reading scores, computer science classes for all grades falls down the list of priorities. And this lack of emphasis contributes to the notion that many aspects of programming should be left to specialists, making computing a more insular culture that only the brave, the nerdy and the geeky dare enter. A lack of exposure perpetuates some of the problems of computing and the image of computer science in culture, just at a time when more people should be enrolled in a basic course or see if it interests them. A large portion of the good jobs in the future will involve these skills, at least if the government statistics on areas of job growth develop as expected.
Ultimately, exposure is a positive for anyone. I am about to embark on a semester of object-oriented theory, java programming in graduate school, though a visual artist for many years. Though I expect obstacles, I imagine I will feel I have accomplished something when I finish the course.