Little Orphan Computer Science

The never ending debate over where Computer Science fits in the curriculum continues. Mark Guzdial asks why computer science is not in the latest set of STEM standards from the National Academes of Science (What are we? Chopped liver? CS left out of National Academy STEM standards) There are lots of comments there BTW. Leigh Ann Sudol replies in her blog (What are we? Chopped liver? CS left out of National Academy STEM standards) with a statement that these are “Science standards not STEM standards” and aren’t we pushing for CS to be adopted as a math? Well not everyone agrees with CS as a math but people are often willing to take what they can get.

Part of this is because we compartmentalize f too much in education. Why is Physics not a math subject? Just try and teach it without math. In fact any schools worth its salt makes sure that the math department covers a lot of the math that physics requires to save time in Physics classes. The distinction feels artificial. And the various math courses are worse still. Why do we have algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics and calculus all separated out as if they were independent of one another? Why not just math, more math, still more math and lots more math? As it is, the way we separate things out allows, almost forces, students to think there is hard math and easy math when really its all math. Bah! And while I am at it, why is statistics in the math department and not in the science department? Or perhaps the social studies department?

Coming back to computer science. Sure a lot of us would prefer there be a separate computer science requirement for graduation. It fits the way we have traditionally thought of things. Failing that we look to include it in math or science. Of course it fits equally well in either. And doesn’t fit in either in much the same ways. How about pushing to get it accepted as a “foreign language?” I’ve heard that one before and it makes a sort of sense. Programming languages have their own culture of sorts. And many think that people who program (or computer scientists) have their own culture that is foreign to many. Personally I think that means that using logic and planning to solve problems is a foreign concept to many people but so what?  Smile Actually it means they should learn computer science.

I agree with Mark Guzdial that computer science should be included in national science standards. This is especially true if there is any claim to be including technology in those standards. And if states what to give math credit for computer science I can live with that as well. After all I took my first computer science course to meet a general education requirement and avoid taking a math course at the same time. Ironic isn’t it!

In the long term, computer science should be a requirement for all students to graduate high school. I really believe that. In the short term it isn’t going to happen so in the mean time let’s fight the battles we can win. If that means getting CS accepted as a science in some states and a math on others so be it. We’re computer people – if nothing else we know how to be patient. We’ll wear them down.