Code.org is a non-profit organization that exploits the current “everybody has to learn how to program” paranoia, in which even Obama himself chimed in, urging Americans to learn how to hack. The stated goal of Ali and Hadi Partovi’s brainchild is to promote computer science education in the US, in order to fight a projected shortage of one million laborers in this sector of the industry. Given that people like Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg support Code.org, one may wonder whether all those statistics might also be used to convince Congress to loosen visa regulations in order to, you know, keep the wages of domestic programmers down. Just head over to the fake grassroots movement FWD.us this illustrious bunch also supports.
It’s not just a shortage of programmers Code.org is afraid of. No, that would be too simple. They also have to have the correct sex! On their homepage you’ll find the statement, “While 57% of bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, just 12% of computer science degrees are awarded by women.” So, there is nothing wrong with women attaining almost 60% of all college degrees. But Code.org would like to see this percentage reflected in computer science departments as well. I don’t think I ever saw a prominent and well-founded campaign that was aiming to increase the percentage of male graduates in a field were they were underrepresented. In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’m referring to virtually every academic discipline.
It’s not just university that troubles the minds behind Code.org. The glut of male students has to be fought already in high school. For this purpose, Code.org published some ideas about improving K8 education, like establishing a basic introduction to computer science. I wouldn’t have any problem with that. However, it is tied to a financial reward, and the message is that girls are more valuable than boys. Look at the specifications:
When 15 or more of your registered students complete the course and earn all 27 “concept mastery” trophies, you will receive a $750 DonorsChoose.org gift code. If 7 or more of your participating students are female, you’ll receive an additional $250, for a total gift of $1,000 in DonorsChoose.org funding! Make sure your female students fill in the gender field on the registration field when they sign up.
What are my chances? Everybody wins while supplies last! The first 1,000 public school teachers who successfully teach the course will win these rewards.
I had to chuckle at the line “everybody wins while supplies last”. What about instilling a sense of competition among students? This doesn’t seem to be a popular thought in the contemporary education establishment, in which every kids is seen as special and “gifted”. Everybody gets an A as long as they manage to sit still. Otherwise, pump some Ritalin into them!
If you have any doubts that systematic preference of girls is part of the agenda of Code.org, then have a look at their homepage. Here is a screenshot, in case the text gets magically altered:
Girls, girls, girls! There is just one little problem with the implied message that girls don’t get much encouragement: boys don’t really get much encouragement either. It’s not as if every guy in every high school programs computers in his spare time. Especially these days, where cheap hardware is abundant there really are no barriers to entry. However, most interaction with hardware is purely consumptive. I don’t want to make a value judgment, but there is quite a big difference between a 15 year-old being able to navigate to his favorite social media websites on the Internet, and implementing a basic sorting algorithm.
All it takes to gain competency in this field is a bit of cash and some spare time. And motivation. And a certain proclivity towards thinking in the abstract. John Carmack, one of the most influential programmers the world has ever seen, summarizes this as follows:
In the information age, the barriers [to entry into programming] just aren’t there. The barriers are self imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don’t need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it.
Here’s another one from Carmack:
The situation is so much better for programmers today – a cheap used PC, a Linux CD, and an internet account, and you have all the tools necessary to work your way to any level of programming skill you want to shoot for.
Focussing on outliers is deceptive. John Carmack bought himself a Ferrari with the money his company made with Wolfenstein 3D, and a couple more later on. However, there are countless examples of people who taught themselves how to program, and who went on to have good careers in this field. Yet, this doesn’t seem to fit into the chosen narrative of Code.org, so they rather spread a message according to which girls are more valuable than boys, and in which the educational system has to be “fixed” to get more girls into this field.
 Quoted in: David Kushner, Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture Chapter 16, p. 292.
 Quoted in: David Kushner, p. 254
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