Let’s Have More Readers AND More Coders

Readers of this blog know that I’m very sympathetic to the view that policymakers, from the President on down, do not pay nearly enough attention to U.S. adult literacy rates. So I really appreciate the sentiment behind arguments like this one—especially the idea that we’d get a bigger payoff if we focused our efforts (and dollars) on those in poverty and/or those who are struggling the most.

But I don’t understand why encouraging kids to take up computer programming can’t be part of this efforts. I feel pretty confident that Computer Science Education Week is not the reason we have low adult literacy rates in this country. It’s true that literacy skills are important foundational skills for other disciplines, including computer programming. But that doesn’t mean that they have to literally come first, before anything else. For some computer-loving reluctant readers, literacy instruction in the context of learning about computer science and programming is probably going to be a really good way to reach them. I’m as pro-literacy as you can get, but I don’t want to be in a position of debating whether kids should be learning coding or reading. The question is whether we are providing all children with opportunities to learn about whatever it is that grabs them—and yes, preparing them with the foundational skills to take advantage of those opportunities, but also, I think, continuing to embed sound literacy instruction into every discipline as they move along.

It’s also worth noting that the latest estimates we have about adult skills (Iglesias is using the old NAAL data in his post) show that adult math skills are an even bigger problem than adult literacy, and so encouraging interest in computer science or other math-related subjects might be prudent for this reason as well.