When I was asked to write this blog, I wondered if I should focus on the Arkansas Computer Science (CS) Initiative, after all who doesn’t like to brag about their program? Instead, I decided to publicly address something that has weighed on my mind over the past three years. Yes, while Obama was in office and more so now that Trump is in office. At almost every national presentation I have given, I have always stated, at some point and in some way, that “Computer Science is not a partisan issue, it will only become one when we the community force it to be one.” This is the focus of this blog.
On January 30, 2016, President Obama asked Congress to allocate $4 billion to expand K-12 CS education. This announcement, while the amount was questioned, was met with over all excitement and enthusiasm; the community had a POTUS that was finally talking about CS education. It is what really made the #CSforALL movement gain national attention and respect. Personally, I was captivated with the renewed excitement; people who had seemed to doubt that their state would ever make any progress forward, were again actively engaging in visionary discourse. We all know that the $4 billion was never approved in a federal budget, nor did many who were connected to D.C. discussions ever think it would be. Notwithstanding, the announcement generated headlines, got other federal agencies thinking about CS (thank you National Science Foundation), and bolstered the movement amongst states that had been thinking about, but not yet wholeheartedly committed to, jumping into the CS Education arena, which Arkansas has led since 2015 (yes, I had to throw that in there). With that in mind I ask, what are we doing to keep the excitement we all felt on January 30, 2016 as a catalyst for change?
Fast forward to September 25, 2017, President Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump announce that POTUS is requesting that the Federal Department of Education (DOE) devote at least $200 million of its grant funds to STEM fields with an emphasis on CS education. This announcement, which spurred the #CSforKids movement, was met with mixed reactions, and unfortunately, individual reactions could almost be predicted based on party affiliation. Personally, I was again excited, not at the mixed reactions, but that President Trump had found a way to continue the discussions about CS education from the platform of our nation’s highest executive office. We all knew that it would not look like President Obama’s plan, but I will admit that, prior to this announcement, I was anxious about it potentially disappearing from the federal focus completely. Before I get emails, I will acknowledge that we are still waiting on the DOE to open the competitive grant program, which I believe to be delayed for various reasons including but not limited to aggregating and considering the feedback and the lack of a long-term federal budget. With that in mind I ask, what are we doing to maintain the initiative’s momentum in a positive and cohesive manner?
Now that the history portion is out of the way, I address directly the question my title asks, “What are we doing?” After September 25, 2017, I was appalled at the way our community started fighting through various social media channels. I was troubled by the personal attacks that started flying between people who agree with each other more often than not on other political issues. I was disheartened to witness that the unofficial national leaders in the CS community, people who I admire and highly respect, were reduced to engaging in the political bickering and attempts to silence opposing viewpoints that has stalemated our country’s progress in so many other areas over the past two decades. This attitude shift in the community and its unofficial leadership created a toxic environment, which replaced excitement and enthusiasm with discouragement and pessimism. With that in mind I ask, what are we doing to make sure that CS does not become a topic that we are afraid to discuss publicly?
Fret not, all is not lost! We continue to see great bipartisan efforts taking place to continue the positive focus on CS education. The Governors for CS group, which is co-chaired by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) and Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D), is a great example of a group of individuals with various political ideologies, state needs, and regional differences coming together and focusing on advancing CS education, not only within their respective states but also across the nation. In addition to state executives, our community has a wonderful support structure through various groups, that for the most part play well together. The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), #CSforALL Consortium, ECEP, Code.org, and many other large scale efforts provide our community with mostly positive and non-political mechanisms that support our community’s continued growth. With that in mind I ask, what are we doing to follow and support the leaders and visionaries of our state and national efforts?
What are we doing? We are moving forward together! Sure, there will be some nay-sayers and negativity out there, but that is okay. Critical thinking and challenging the status quo is what makes a community stronger. To be clear, I am not asking for the CS community to become an “echo chamber,” as I firmly believe that open and honest discourse is necessary. Considering different situations and points of view is how successful and long-lasting programs are built. I am asking that we as a community step back occasionally and ask “what are we doing?” Are we engaging in conversations that are bolstering or hurting the initiative? Are we focusing on minutia, that while important, is prohibiting progress? Are we demonstrating to the larger educational community that CS should be taken seriously and is of vital importance to our students, or are we creating a circus side show? Are we building up the other members of the community, or are we putting them down to make ourselves look better? In short, I guess what I am asking everyone reading this to do is what I need to do a better job of myself. Stop asking “what are we doing” but instead ask, “what am I doing, and should I continue doing it?”
Anthony Owen, State Department Representative