I Thought We Were All Supposed to Learn Statistics?

Apparently, if the internets are to be believed, we now need to ensure that every child knows how to code. In a shocking turn of events, these initiatives are supported by people who have made tons of money by having other people code for them. Thankfully, there is some sanity out there on the intertoobz (boldface mine):

To those who argue programming is an essential skill we should be teaching our children, right up there with reading, writing, and arithmetic: can you explain to me how Michael Bloomberg would be better at his day to day job of leading the largest city in the USA if he woke up one morning as a crack Java coder? It is obvious to me how being a skilled reader, a skilled writer, and at least high school level math are fundamental to performing the job of a politician. Or at any job, for that matter. But understanding variables and functions, pointers and recursion? I can’t see it.

Look, I love programming. I also believe programming is important … in the right context, for some people. But so are a lot of skills….

I suppose I can support learning a tiny bit about programming just so you can recognize what code is, and when code might be an appropriate way to approach a problem you have. But I can also recognize plumbing problems when I see them without any particular training in the area. The general populace (and its political leadership) could probably benefit most of all from a basic understanding of how computers, and the Internet, work. Being able to get around on the Internet is becoming a basic life skill, and we should be worried about fixing that first and most of all, before we start jumping all the way into code.

A couple of years ago, it was all the rage to demand that students learn basic statistics (something I support). As the bloom comes off the Big Data Rose, those calls seem to have lessened (unfortunately). Now, in 2014, it’s unclear what coding actually means (solving a math problem? Setting up the software architecture for a server? Routing things through the intertoobz? You get the idea…). Should students have to opportunity to learn programming? Yes, along with a whole host of other electives. But coding should not be seen as an essential K-12 skill, especially if statistical literacy isn’t.

An aside: In college science majors, I would argue that teaching undergraduates the basics of programming should be taught, along with the basics of statistics.

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3 Responses to I Thought We Were All Supposed to Learn Statistics?

  1. it’s unclear what coding actually means (solving a math problem? Setting up the software architecture for a server? Routing things through the intertoobz? You get the idea…).

    If you don’t understand the different between routine IT work dealing with servers and the Internet and coding, you are kind of proving the point of the people who think everyone needs to know how to code, because this understanding is crucial. Coding is about converting a problem (it could be math, it could be chemistry, it could be biology, it could be economic) into a form a computer can answer. Not only is this practical in itself, but it has the benefit of seeing if you really understand a problem. If you can’t tell a computer how to solve a problem, you don’t really understand it. And perhaps nobody does. That’s extremely valuable to know.

    But coding should not be seen as an essential K-12 skill, especially if statistical literacy isn’t

    I’d say both are essential. Does this mean that other things may have to be dropped? Sure, just as adding things like science in the late 19th century meant that Latin and Greek got dropped. I’d say Euclidean Geometry probably isn’t that important any more and could be cut — I understand the argument that it teaches intellectual rigor and what not, but so does programming and statistics,

    An aside: In college science majors, I would argue that teaching undergraduates the basics of programming should be taught, along with the basics of statistics.

    That’s certainly true. It’s absurd how many bench-researchers will spend hours and hours fiddling with spreadsheets manually rather than learning programming or use arbitrary cut off values because they don’t understand significance.

  2. Min says:

    Whatever happened to Logo?

    Primary school children learn concrete concepts better than abstract ones. Wouldn’t it be better for them to learn how to make a turtle draw a square than to learn how to carry the one? Besides, controlling a turtle is much more fun. 🙂

  3. joe mccauley says:

    When I (and my students) started to fool around with programmable calculators, we all became programmers. No Internet existed to download programs, so we wrote our own. When the newer calcs came stuffed with programs, programming receded, except for the hardcore nerds. I will admit to using their talents and stealing their stuff.
    My favorite problem was using the Law of Sines to solve the SSA triangle. Only thoughtful kids came up with useful programs for the ambiguous case.

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