Top Down Stupidity

Somehow I’ve never understood the progressive tendency to believe that you can just spend some money and wave your hands and shazam!!! magic happens.  Here’s a case in point.

The White House announced Obama’s new Computer Science for All initiative in a blog post recently. The president has allotted $4 billion in funding for states to ensure that every student between kindergarten and 12th grade receives sufficient computer science education. Of that $4 billion, $100 million will go directly to school districts, and $135 million will be made available this year.

As technology advances, more and more jobs require employees to have computer science skills. However, not everyone has access to that kind of education. Though more than 90% of parents say they want their children to have a computer science curriculum, only about 25% of schools offer quality programs. In 22 states, computer science classes don’t even count toward graduation credit. In 2015, about 600,000 high-paying tech jobs in the U.S. went unfilled, and in the next two years over half of all STEM jobs are expected to be related to computer science.

Obama Is Putting $4 Billion into Computer Science Education

Now far be it for me to pour cold water on all these great plans, but this is sort of the talk that went on thirty years ago or more.  And again just about every five years or so. With results that were, at best mediocre.  This is what happens when people mandate things that they don’t understand.

Look, I’ve been a geek since I was a kid.  I’ve had my hands on computers off and on since I was in cub scouts in 1969 and they took us to the Fairfield University computer center and I played my first computer game, tic tac toe.  I dismantled just about anything I could get my hands on and sometimes got that stuff back together.  And I’ve been coding since the computer dark ages when memory was measure in kilobytes.  I was lucky, but more important I had the aptitude and the attitude.

If you have the those the tools for improving yourself come to hand incredibly easily these days.  Look, people throw away more computing power than even the government had when I was a kid.  Computing power that was unimaginable when I was kid is available for a clever dumpster dive.  You could probably get it with the OS and software still on it if you ask nicely.  And the classes needed to learn just about any the latest computer languages are available online, for free.  As are all the things you need to learn how to make or build just about anything.  The opportunities available are essentially endless.

The fact is that you can’t mandate that people become what they are not.  No amount of mandated classes are going to turn the kids who simply don’t have the attitude and the aptitude into computer geeks.  Look this sort of thing has been tried throughout history, coercing people in the mold that elites want them in and the only thing it’s done is create societies of misery and poverty. The fact is that all the mandated classes in computer science, whatever that means, and as they say they keep using terms like that and they don’t understand that what they think it means is not what it really is.

Real computer science is about the theory of communication and computer architectures, about advanced algorithms and  clever hacks.  It’s about a love for the pure abstraction of numbers.  A true computer scientist gets ecstatic over a new sorting program.  This isn’t the sort of stuff that everybody can just do, nor should they. But that’s the essence of computer science.

Being a computer user, is something different.  The typical user doesn’t need to know about things like registers, lists and pointers. What they need to know is how to get the most out of the software they are using, which in many case is not easy, but that is not computer science.

This sort of thing is what happens when the people on top making the decisions have no idea about the things that they are making decisions about. Frankly, like so much lefty pablum, this is just stupid.  All it’s going to do is stress kids out, make them feel incompetent and incapable and waste still more government money and the kids precious education time while achieving nothing.  Typical of what’s happening right now.



  1. MadRocketSci · April 26, 2016

    I learned programming, but I learned it outside of school for the most part. We had basic classes when I was in school, where the teacher would walk us through the syntax of an if-then block. (I was already setting up weird math problems in loops and committing the cardinal sin of organized elementary lectures: “working ahead”) But I learned programming mostly because my parents bought us a computer (apple IIe, then DOS) for home use. I think I ended up using it the most, and most of that was playing around.

    I wonder if “real learning” – absorbing something sufficiently complex at a deep enough level that it just becomes a part of how you think – can even be done in a school environment? I think it might require allowing people to play creatively with the technology/medium in question. I learned machining by using the mill and lathe. I’m learning electronics mostly by playing around with parts.


  2. MadRocketSci · April 26, 2016

    PS – the Sierpinski gasket in my avatar was from a fractal program I wrote in highschool. I found a book on fractals in the library, and memorized the gist of a few of the algorithms involved. Then I wrote programs (in quickbasic – kludgy language, but it gave you a way to draw shapes on the screen without unzipping the Win32 API and throwing it all over the room) to draw fractal shapes. Generated all sorts of weird things just by playing around.

    None of this – the “wasting time” on the fractal book, or the programming after school was prompted or sanctioned by the school.


  3. MadRocketSci · April 26, 2016

    PS: On the attitude and aptitude thing:

    I’ve pretty much resolved never to judge someone else based on their perceived “aptitude”. It might be a thing, but as a kid, there were far too many times when my own “aptitude” was questioned rather viciously by teachers trying to cram me into a box. I was never going to amount to anything, according to them. My 2nd grade teacher wanted me committed.

    Let everyone try. Let everyone try anything they want to do. Let’s have no educators trying to preordain the limits of what someone else can achieve. Doing it should be the only true measure of “aptitude”.


  4. penneyvanderbilt · April 26, 2016

    Reblogged this on Ancien Hippie.


  5. Dave Levitt · April 26, 2016

    Over the past 9 months, I’ve interviewed over 70 folks to fill just 6 out of 8 open software development positions. I’ve rejected many folks with advanced CS degrees as they seemed to lack both the skills and problem solving attitude I felt were needed even for a junior position. The six I hired were all ones who went beyond their school or work requirements and played with the technology.


  6. MadRocketSci · April 27, 2016

    Oh? I’m going to be graduating soon (August-ish), and am applying to all sorts of places for jobs. I’m curious as to how my skills might stack up against the requirements of an advanced-CS position.

    My resume is here:
    Two projects I have been working on recently (these ones in Matlab, though I know compiled languages well also):


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s