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Jan 96 Crabbs Apple
Volume Number:12
Issue Number:1
Column Tag:Crabb’s Apple

Tomorrow’s Developers

By Don Crabb

I just spent a surprisingly enjoyable two days as a presenter and keynoter at the 10th Annual Illinois Computing Educators conference in Addison, Illinois, outside Chicago. At this conference, today’s K-12 educators met to discuss the latest computer software and hardware, the lastest trends in computing pedagogy, the latest methods in computer laboratory management, and the lastest methods for moving their kids onto the Internet and the World Wide Web.

I say “surprisingly enjoyable,” because I found myself learning just as much about the state of Illinois K-12 computer education as I taught about the state of current computing technology and programming environments.

I learned that many of today’s kids, especially those in grades 7-12, are chomping at the bit to learn the guts of computing, how and why it works, and not just how much fun it can be. These expectations cut across racial and socioeconomic groups. This information counters the widely-reported stereotype that only nerdy white boys from wealthy suburban families are really interested in learning computer programming, computer architecture, computer networking, and software engineering.

What the thousand or so assembled teachers taught me was to forget that perception as they told me one story after another about inner city African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and other poor minority kids (girls and boys) who stayed after school just to have a bit more time to use meager computer resources. And just how many of these kids were not just computer-doodling, or banging the Internet and WWW for the hell of it. These kids are demanding to be taught how to put computer technology to use for themselves and their families and how to buy into the digital revolution.

And damnit, we’re the folks who ought to be stepping up to the task to make it happen.

Despite the best intentions, programs, and efforts of the teachers I talked with, the minority kids just aren’t getting the programming training they want and need. Despite the best intentions, programs, and efforts of the school administrators I talked with, the inner city kids just aren’t getting the programming training they want and need. Despite the best intentions, programs, and efforts of the corporate donors I talked with, the poor schools just aren’t getting the computer and networking resources they want and need. And despite the best intentions, programs, and efforts of the governmental educational chiefs I talked with, the poor, minority, inner city kids are being overtly and covertly locked out of the digital revolution that is reshaping America.

And damnit, we’re the folks who ought to be stepping up to the task to help fix these problems.

This is no longer just an educational problem. It’s a problem of the future of this country. Computing and digital information processing are the wave of the present and the wave of the future. For as long as any prognosticators can see. And if we don’t start digitally enfranchising all of our kids now, regardless of their race, or how much money their families make, or what school they go to, we’re going to create a caste system worse than any imagined in colonial India under the Raj. We’re going to create a country where the haves and the havenots are not defined so much by bucks as by bytes. The digital literati versus the digitally disadvantaged.

And damnit, we’re the folks who ought to be stepping up to the task of providing the guidance, the resources, and the peoplepower to give our educators the tools and software they need to extend the digital domain to all K-12 students, not just those with the fancy multimedia PowerMac setup in the media room at home.

What I am suggesting here is simple, but executing it will require a real committment on the part of individuals and their companies. Here we go:

1. Mac developers as a group are among the best programmers on the planet. That’s not a boast, it’s a fact. Mac hardware and software companies as a group are among the most innovative corporations you can find. That’s also not a boast, it’s a reality forced on them by a MacOS market that often defies description, and by their primary partner (Apple) that frequently defies logic.

2. Mac developers need a cause to rally around beside defeating Microsoft or learning to be codependent with them.

3. The U.S. is at a crossroads in its ability to provide a proper computing education for all of its schoolage kids.

4. Mac developers and their companies need to get involved supporting K-12 computer education efforts in the U.S., by offering their expertise, pro bono, on how to improve and extend programming and computer engineering curricula; by offering their services, pro bono, at teaching the teachers; by offering their spare time, pro bono, towards creating killer computer pedagocial apps to help the havenots catch up with the haves; and by offering donations of equipment, networking resources, and software to make all of these initiatives work together.

In short, what I am suggesting here is the private equivalent of a Vista or Peace Corps for all American kids revolving around digital technology, with a strong emphasis on programming and software development as keys to understanding how the digital world is working and will work and how to make the most of it. Software and hardware companies would grant paid release time to their developers to work in this program and release time to their managers to establish it, staff it, and get it under way.

Naturally, we’d buttonhole Apple to be the corporate bandwagon upon which we could hitch our pedagocial wagons.

Let’s call this new initiative the Digital Corps of America (the idea makes sense in many other countries, too). If you are interested in discussing this concept and want to help organize it, drop me a line at decc@cs.uchicago.edu. I will try to organize some electronic meeting forum or list to kick things off.

In the long run, with the Digital Corps of America we end up helping to “re-melt the pot” Americans are so fond of thinking represents the American Way, but in a way that makes sense in the Digital Age. And we help firmly establish the very computer markets we are now trying to niche out in our daily struggles by creating a whole new class of computer literate customers. Sounds like a win-win to me.

 
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