James Williams

Programming and Spoken Languages

Tags: General

I first heard rumblings about states replacing the spoken language requirements for graduation with programming languages a couple months ago. Kentucky has started the initial phases to do so. Bad idea.

The arguments for this type of action is usually some variant of wanting to better prepare kids for the market and/or most of them won't use their spoken language skills anyways so what does it matter.

I majored in a foreign language and Computer Science in college so I can see issue from both sides. Students who are strong in math and science are generally better programmers. I can easily teach a physicist, mechanical engineer, or mathematician to code. It's not so easy to teach a PoliSci major. The other issue with allowing programming classes to satisfy a language requirement is that while Kentucky state schools might be OK with it, out of state schools might make the student take remedial language courses. Also, there is lots of tumult in the programming world, libraries and languages fall in and out of favor fast. AP Computer Science courses teach in Java, whereas some schools use C++ or Python as their primary language. I'm not sure if I trust that the students will be learning not only about the language at hand but HOW to learn a language which is the more important skill. I'd rather give them more math and science instead.

I do think that learning a programming language and spoken language are similar in making you think in different ways but I don't believe the former should substitute for the latter. Why are we focusing on one part of Computer Science when we are lagging so far behind in some many other things?

In a perfect world, we would have enough teachers/volunteers to strengthen the Math/Science/Engineering clubs so that they could teach before/after school. In addition to being encouraged at home, my school had strong MESA and NSBE clubs. I did egg parachute drops, made mousetrap cars and spaghetti bridges because of them. They brought me to the umbrella of STEM and from there I found Computer Science.

The point of the matter is if you are swapping out foreign languages for programming languages without making an equal or greater investment in math and science, you are potentially creating shitty programmers that will be harder to correct because "I've been doing it this way since high school."