The value of teaching home schooled kids to program

I’m coming back around to blogging more actively, and I thought I would cheat a bit and post a comment I left at Penelope Trunk’s homeschooling blog.

Writing is an activity that extends from scribbling a grocery reminder, all the way to the works of Shakespeare. Coding is an activity, a type of writing, that covers a similar range.

According to Wolfram Aplpha, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has 1019 sentences.

A sentence is roughly equivalent to a “statement” of code–a complete thought if you will. By comparison, a relatively simple iPhone app I am working on right now currently has 3073 statements.

In a play, if a single line is slightly off, there might be a momentary sense in the audience that something is amiss. In an application, a single error in a single line of code makes the difference between an app that runs and one that crashes or does not even start. So, there is a different level of technical rigor. Not everyone is comfortable, or even capable, of working very long at that level of rigor.

Some are though, and thanks to them, we live in a culture where a person can transparently and unwittingly rely on millions of hours of labor by many thousands of people to reach millions of minds with their writing…and casually disparage that achievement.

WordPress, for example, is the result of 43 person-years of coordinated effort. It is the product of 45 contributors and represents 168,610 lines of code. Not only are programs such as this collaborative in their code development, they are also a product of millions of users providing feedback. There is simply no creative product in the experience of humanity that approaches the scope of a major software package such as this.

An argument can be made that software is the highest form of human creative achievement, period.

I agree with you that parents should not push their children to learn any particular skillset if they have no interest. If the topic is vital to them, the child *will* come around to having an interest in it.

And I agree wholeheartedly that we cannot clearly foresee the demands of a market a decade in the future, so we should be very reluctant to promote studies purely because of their perceived economic value.

But if the child has an interest in programming, or writing of any kind, it should not be disparaged. It should be enthusiastically supported.

The day when people capable of expressing the depth and subtlety of a Shakespeare play, or sonnet for that matter, are a dime a dozen is still as far off as it was 400 years ago. The day when people capable of writing great code are not crucial to the advancement of humanity are at least as far off.

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