Code talkers: Education’s new literacy

Ryan B. Jackson, Ed.D

For the record, I am not a coder and I have never played one on TV. I am, however, fascinated and sold on the fact that coders are the inevitable lifeblood of our future workforce.

As our back-to-school excitement reaches fever pitch, a few things have my brain stirring. For starters, Google fiber recently completed its design for a fiber network in Nashville, with construction already underway. Google’s choice of Nashville as its fiber network hub further solidifies Music City as “an advanced tech city with seemingly infinite life-changing impacts for Nashville and its residents – specifically students.

We have all heard the tired education adage “We’re preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.” Coding stares this excuse-based declaration in the face before quite literally slapping the words out of our mouth. Software developers and digital infrastructure engineers are now circling Nashville as the new Tech-Mecca, spring boarding those with coveted coding skill sets to unchartered heights as the city officially shifts into overdrive. Ultimately, one of the byproducts of Google fiber and its Nashville infatuation is the opportunities it affords Nashville students in terms of future-ready jobs and cutting-edge careers. Thus, the question surrounding Nashville educators drastically shifts:

Are we preparing students for a future-ready, tech-based economy?

Unfortunately, the present answer for both Nashville and public school districts across the country is shamefully – no, scarily – an emphatic NO. We have already heard from the Department of Labor and their prediction that the U.S. alone will add more than 1.2 million computer-science related jobs yet as it stands we currently graduate fewer computer-science majors than in the 1980s!

Like I said, scary.

And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One doesn’t have to pour through mounds of empirical data to realize rather quickly that the disparity between race, gender and coding pushes ludicrous levels.

Ironically, Twitter’s #EdTech movement has spurred a much needed focus on utilizing technology resources in the classroom – and that’s a great start but if we are to keep up with the advancements of society and the expectations of a global marketplace, #EdTech alone no longer suffices. Thus, if you’re still anti-tech and the thought of students engaging in problem-based solutions through technological resources turns your stomach, I implore you, if not outright beg you, GROW or GO. Our future undoubtedly depends on it.

His next step is to create his own app!

His next step is to create his own app!

Any educator remotely tuned-in to the rapidly changing economic and business landscape understands the imperative shift from tech as a resource to tech as an outcome. Software apps engage both adults and children, so a follow-up question becomes Why are we not positioning students as creators, embedding in them coding skills that usurp stagnating analog skill sets while boosting their 21st century job-ready stock?

The Future of Literacy

Very, very soon the question will no longer be Can you read? Instead, the majority of tomorrow’s worthwhile employers will simply ask, Can you read Code? The answer to that question could very well seal a student’s financial fate. Students who can respond affirmatively snatch the red pill out of Morpheus’ hand, leaping into the real world headfirst as a creative participant in an ever-expanding digital reality. Everyone else is relegated to consumer-status: a blue pill blindfold that only allows users to play the game – never control it.

Thankfully, games such as Minecraft and interactive sites like Codeacademy.com are spreading awareness and enticing students of all ages to embrace the coding pathway. Yet it’s far too risky of a gamble – if not outright unethical – to merely hope students will stumble upon coding and if they like it, awesome! It’s no mystery both Millennials and Centennials crave hands-on, self-directed learning but our job as educators is to provide the framework, platform and opportunities for this learning to incubate, securing the imperative resources for this kind of journey while facilitating the admittedly arduous process.

That’s not to say there aren’t schools, programs and advocates actively promoting this life-changing skill set. In fact, newly elected Maury Co., TN superintendent Dr. Chris Marczak begs the question, “Why isn’t coding offered as World Language credit?” — I couldn’t agree more! As the Underdog’s Advocate, it’s my dream to see Coding “at scale” which will only happen through public education.

Recently, Crosspoint Church, one of Maplewood High School’s official community partners, opened Tennessee’s first-ever Teen Dream Center (TDC). Under founder Ketric Newell’s vision, The TDC provides life-changing opportunities for disadvantaged Nashville students, running the gambit from academics to social-emotional learning. The TDC stands on Ketric’s mantra of giving students a “Hand-up not a Hand-out.” As an advisor, it is my utmost dream to fulfill this vision by including a Coding pathway into the TDC curriculum, thus legitimately empowering inner-city students with an equalizing skill set that levels the playing field while positioning them for success. Using various social media platforms, we reached out to the Nashville coding community and the response has been overwhelming. The coder’s affirmation that this kind of program is exactly what the city needs has now further advanced to local coders volunteering time to teach inner-city students both computational thinking and C++ scripting.

The response from Nashville’s homegrown entrepreneurs only further fans these coding flames. Project Music finalist (the Nashville Entrepreneurship Center’s leading action to support innovation in the music industry) and EarIQ co-founder Joseph Moore has been coding for the past 20 years. “The basics of instructing computers should be considered fundamental literacy, not a esoteric skill required by programmers,” says Moore. “The child taught computational thinking at a very young age has an insurmountable advantage, no matter their eventual career choice. “

The question stands:

Are we preparing students for a future-ready, tech-based economy?

12 thoughts on “Code talkers: Education’s new literacy

  1. I think you pose an important question. In fact, I believe that it is the duty of communities and families to equip neighborhood kids with this ability. Not just organizations and educational outlets. This simple start with HTML and CSS and then on to programming languages can spark an interest in students who are interested. I wonder how impactful it would be to offer STEM classes to both parents as kids. Perhaps we could change the landscape of technology by embedding it into our day-to-day lives. This is true tech integration and families like mine would thrive there. I’m sure other families would too!

    This is an important conversation and my hubs and I have had the idea to reach out to girls in our neighborhood and offer practical STEM exposure. Sometimes it can be confusing on which way to go. This can expose them to it and let them pick from the large varieties of coding that exists. Everyone has to do their part, and the tech community is built up of selfless individuals. We can do this for our future.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Computer related jobs in general will always be a great career path. Coding for computers, phones and tablets would be a great choice, but don’t forget about data security. The need to keep our online and offline data secured will be a ever growing demand.

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  3. Which coding language? What platforms? Coding is not one simple language and if you know that you are good. For instance, I learned 3 different languages, in a basic way, in high school. They are now useless. There is a reason that computer programing is a four year degree, because it takes a lot of time to learn. I wonder how we would approach coding in any kind of reasonable and meaningful way in a school culture that cares only about tested aptitudes.

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    • Addressing your last point, is that not the purpose of creating awareness and challenging paradigms? Furthermore, obviously coding and the programmers who manipulate this arduous task are tenacious and intelligent. As I said, I am not a coder, nor am I here to announce the specifics as to which scripting platform students/teachers should embrace. I am here, however, to address the growing disparity between U.S. students, especially females and african americans, and the rest of the developed world. I am choosing to focus on outcomes, albeit forward-thinking ones, of our education system and why a sincere push towards computer-science is imperative if we are to not become a nation solely designed for retail positions. Ultimately, it’s a consumer vs creator argument.

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  4. […] “For the record, I am not a coder and I have never played one on TV. I am, however, fascinated and sold on the fact that coders are the inevitable lifeblood of our future workforce.As our back-to-school excitement reaches fever pitch, a few things have my brain stirring. For starters, Google fiber recently completed its design for a fiber network in Nashville, with construction already underway. Google’s choice of Nashville as its fiber network hub further solidifies Music City as “an advanced tech city“ with seemingly infinite life-changing impacts for Nashville and its residents – specifically students.We have all heard the tired education adage “We’re preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.” Coding stares this excuse-based declaration in the face before quite literally slapping the words out of our mouth. Software developers and digital infrastructure engineers are now circling Nashville as the new Tech-Mecca, spring boarding those with coveted coding skill sets to unchartered heights as the city officially shifts into overdrive. Ultimately, one of the byproducts of Google fiber and its Nashville infatuation is the opportunities it affords Nashville students in terms of future-ready jobs and cutting-edge careers. Thus, the question surrounding Nashville educators drastically shifts:Are we preparing students for a future-ready, tech-based economy?” To read further please click here:https://underdogsadvocate.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/code-talkers-educations-new-literacy/ […]

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  5. As a Public Administration grad I am certainly an advocate of offering students an additional skill-set that will align them with 21st century needs. Ryan, thank you for bringing this information to the forefront, and explaining the demand of educational expectations aligned with current and future workforce needs. The next leap is computer literacy and coding? Nashville chosen as a choice laboratory is a great opportunity in the computer literacy arena, the coding curriculums will offer Nashville’s educational leaders, administrator’s, teacher’s and student’s the opportunity to provide the nation with capable young students ready for an ever changing workforce. With the assistance and encouragement from Nashville non-profit/private partnerships in extra-curricular activities the school curriculum should be ready to offer to offer Coding as a new World Language credit, as Dr. Marczak, Tennessee’s Maury Co. Superintendent encourages. Is coding going to be offered in your school’s curriculum?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dr. Jackson,
    Thanks so much continuing a conversation that has been growing in education circles. As AP with the Academy of Information Technology at Overton High School, I work first hand with business partners and higher education institutions to connect our networking, programming, and web design students to opportunities in these areas. Programming and networking skills are vital, and expansion of coursework should be a priority. In fact, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce estimates there are currently over 1,000 open IT jobs in Nashville.

    But I want to turn the conversation to a very real obstacle to expansion: staffing. The number of teachers who are qualified to teach programming and networking at the secondary level is woefully insufficient to meet current demands for expansion of classes. It is not a sustainable model to rely on programmers from industry to come teach in high school or middle school. Instead, we must work with universities to diversify their teacher preparation programs. I firmly believe that teacher prep programs must evolve to meet the changing needs of today’s classrooms and tomorrow’s students. A sustainable staffing model should introduce new teachers to careers beyond the traditional content areas at the university preparation stage. We need to find our rising star math teachers, for example, and encourage them to take the programming and computer science courses necessary for licensure in this area. Only then will we truly be able to meet the demand for qualified teachers in computer science classes.

    Molly Sehring
    John Overton High School
    Nashville, TN

    Liked by 1 person

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