Why Johnny Can’t Program

A new piece by me, just up on Huffington Post:

Ask any kid what Facebook is for and he’ll tell you it’s there to help him make friends. What else could he think? It’s how he *does* make friends. He has no idea the real purpose of the software, and the people coding it, is to monetize his relationships. He isn’t even aware of those people, the program, or their purpose.

The kids I celebrated in my early books as “digital natives” capable of seeing through all efforts of big media and marketing have actually proven *less* capable of discerning the integrity of the sources they read and the intentions of the programs they use. If they don’t know what the programs they are using are even for, they don’t stand a chance to use them effectively. They are less likely to become power users than the used.

Amazingly, America – the birthplace of the Internet – is the only developed nation that does not teach programming in its public schools. Sure, some of our schools have elected to offer “computer” classes, but instead of teaching programming, these classes almost invariably teach programs: how to use Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, or any of the other commercial software packages used in the average workplace. We teach our kids how to get jobs in today’s marketplace rather than how to innovate for tomorrow’s.

Just last year, while researching a book on America’s digital illiteracy, I met with the Air Force General then in charge of America’s cybercommand. He said he had plenty of new recruits ready and able to operate drones or other virtual fighting machines – but no one capable of programming them, or even interested in learning how. He wasn’t even getting recruits who were ready to begin basic programming classes. Meanwhile, he explained to me, colleges in Russia, China, and even Iran were churning out an order of magnitude more programmers than universities in the US. It is only a matter of time, he said – a generation at most – until our military loses its digital superiority.

more….

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