Now that Ready Player One is exiting theaters and transitioning to home video, I figured I would start with a quote from Armada, another book written by Ernest Cline.
“I had been hoping and waiting for some mind-blowingly fantastic, world-altering event to finally shatter the endless monotony of my public education.”
While this quote is from a fictional story, the first time I read it, I paused and took time to read it again. Though this was in the first chapter of the book, I continued thinking about it in the context of today’s students and the work we have in front of us. In Armada, the protagonist, Zachary Lightman, thought these words to himself when he saw something truly remarkable happening outside of his classroom window. While the details of everyday life are not as dramatic as those in the book, this scenario is not fictional.
Millions of children are finishing their last few days of school this week, and they are feeling like a prisoner about to be paroled. Why is this the case? Well my opinion is that for the past 40 or so years, we have established a system that in many ways labels over 1/3rd of our kids as “losers.” No, I am not talking about kids that scored at a certain level on an assessment or kids that didn’t make football, band, cheerleading… I am talking about the roughly 35% of our high-school graduates that do not go to college. Our nation, and states, have established public school systems that are trying to be assembly lines to produce college applicants; notice that I didn’t say college graduates. Approximately 40% of those that enter college do not graduate. When this taken into consideration, we are establishing a system that is set up to work efficiently for 39% of our population; what about the other 61%? Well many of them have thoughts, on a daily basis, like Zach, or cry out like Job in his final defense. That 61% figuratively, and sometimes literally, cry out to their teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, and state leaders, “why do you not answer me? You see me and know my current and future plight, but you continue to make decisions that support the others and leave me in the dark!”
Now that the drama is out of the way, I will get to the point. Computer science (CS) is not the panacea we all wish it was, but it is a great start for this 61%. Not only will CS be a direct benefit for many of them, it is a catalyst for changes that can positively affect all students. In my state, I have long disliked that we set state-level pre-requisites, based on seat time, on our high-school mathematics courses. When Arkansas adopted CS standards and courses, I made sure that we did not set state level prerequisites on our high-school courses; it should be up to the local teacher and school to determine what level course the student is ready for. This policy has been a phenomenal success! Students are actually enrolling in courses that are more attuned to their skill level, abilities, and desires. The best part is, our state leadership is now having discussions if this is something we should replicate in other subject areas, including mathematics.
Computer science is the bipartisan wave we can all ride to change the culture of our educational systems. I challenge everyone of you regardless of your position, to use the computer science movement in a way that is beneficial to our students, by demonstrating that our educational system, your district, your school, or your class can be nimble and reflective of student and societal needs. If we all will rise to this challenge, the community can respond to future generations with “you’re welcome.”
Anthony Owens, State Department Representative