Leah Eichler’s article in The Globe and Mail on Saturday, August 15th entitled Should coding be compulsory for kids? got me thinking. Is this another flavour-of-the-month idea along the lines of learning Mandarin? There are plenty of “tiger parents” out there who will do anything to ensure their young geniuses acquire whatever skills are necessary to give them a leg-up in the academic and eventually the business world. Is learning how to code one of those hair-brained ideas that will soon die on the vine to be replaced by new-newer-newest math?
As a confirmed right-brain thinker who occasionally questions whether my left cortex is even still operating, I naturally have an opinion on the issue. And, of course, I have no qualifications in education or anything else remotely relevant but here’s what I think. Math, science, physics, chemistry and all those logical left-brain subjects I was forced to suffer through in school were extremely painful experiences for me. My marks were consistently atrocious as I simply could not grasp the concepts. On the other hand, ask the class to write an essay and I soared; to me, that was heaven. Each of us has different abilities and aptitudes.
Despite my hatred of maths and science and corresponding poor performance, however, I am glad that I had some exposure to these subjects. While I retained almost nothing of what I learned, I still have a vague recollection of what an algorithm involves; I can recognize a table of elements; I understand the process of osmosis (although this is more the result of sticking the nib of my fountain pen between the fibres of the mohair sweater worn by the girl sitting in the desk in front of me, and watching the ink spread, a.k.a. osmosis). I studied Latin for a year and a half; I studied French for five years. I only wish that after all that time and effort I could actually speak and understand French. History, which is now a favourite subject and hobby of mine as an adult, was rammed down my throat for years in a very painful and unsatisfactory manner in school. The teaching methods have a lot to do with our level of comprehension and retention.
The lesson from these experiences is that although we don’t always like to take our medicine it ultimately does us some good. Learning to write code for me is like having pins stuck into my eyeballs. It’s painful for right-brainers to understand and execute this skill but eventually has some payback. Two years ago I attended a one-day Saturday seminar in coding put on by a dedicated non-profit organization called “Ladies Learning Code”. By 11:30 in the morning I was completely overwhelmed and lost. Because of my deficient left brain equipment, I had a great deal of difficulty understanding and performing the basic skills being taught. So I reverted to my high school math class M.O. and day-dreamed through the rest of the day. But the lunch was good—I remember that.
Now I’m a blogger, happily sharing my right-brain fantasies on a software program called WordPress. If I could understand and practise coding, I could now do so much more with BOOMERBROADcast on the WordPress software, but because I failed my opportunity to learn code I’m stuck in the last century. Just like learning to type, oops, keyboard, I think there are certain skills that should be included as mandatory parts of school curriculum long enough to give students a basic understanding of the theory and practices that will help them in the working world. And like it or not, keyboarding and coding are skills can make life so much easier in the real world. When I was still working, I could have easily manipulated the custom marketing software I used had I known basic code instead of waiting forever to find someone else to do it when and if they ever had time.
In grade eleven I dropped Latin to take typing and short of reading and writing that turned out to be my most valuable job skill, one of the best things I ever did. I was unsuccessful at learning how to code and I regret it. There are many other practical skills that could be taught in school to help young people cope with everyday life. I’ve never run across a Roman on the street to impress with my fluency in Latin. Nor have I ever needed to calculate the liquid displacement factor resulting from a chemical reaction in a beaker. While I did once know how to use a slide rule, it has now been replaced by a gadget called a computer and if I only knew how write code, I could set the world on fire. I already know how to type, er, keyboard, so I’m making progress. All I need to do is drill into that remote, mysterious, never-used left side of my brain and start ‘er up. Yep. It’s that simple. Just give me the secret code.