The nature of empowerment

Today I met with somebody who told me that he has been following my posts about “programming without math”. He expressed surprise when he found out that the images I showed in part 7 (my post of Dec 11) were from an actual implementation. Yes, I’ve been busily coding this stuff, making a real system, with snap-together code tiles, and I’ve been playing with that system. It hadn’t occurred to me that people wouldn’t realize that it’s real (or at least as “real” as mere computer software can ever be).

Of course there is an irony in the way I’ve been doing this. I’m promoting this idea of empowering people by giving them a way to program without requiring them to first learn mathematical modeling. But in order to build a system that lets them do all this — in order to create the underlying capability — I myself am certainly using mathematical modeling. This goes back to the point that Douglas made several weeks ago. Somebody, somewhere in the programming ecosystem, needs to do the plumbing, run the electrical wires, build the chairs to sit on and the bricks and mortar of cyber-capability. There’s no way around it — somebody has to have these specialized skills.

But that doesn’t negate the fact that everyone else could have a lot more power than they do now, without needing all of those specialized skills that I use to build a system like the one I showed snapshot of on Dec 11. And of course it would be nice, as long as people are getting hooked on the power of programming, if some of those people would decide to dive down deep and also learn the kinds of mathematical skills that I, and people like me, use to build the underlying infrastructure.

Empowerment doesn’t come all at once. It comes one step at a time.

2 Responses to “The nature of empowerment”

  1. Douglas says:

    I look forward to trying this out with my son. He’s seven now. At eight I was writing programs something like this:
    10 SETCOLOR 12
    30 GOTO 20

    I had the pattern memorized (kids are really good at that) and would make modifications to the string in quotes, or the color code. The programming language was built into the command prompt, and the programs you could buy for the computer weren’t much more entertaining than that, frankly.
    Something else about the program is that it had my name in it. I think kids would really like to be able to work with their own saved images, (either photos of their friends and themselves or images saved from the web of their favorite movie/game characters) their own voices, their own videos, etc…

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Douglas, very good advice! This is something that Mitch Resnick’s Scratch program also has. I think it’s one of his key insights about motivation, and I don’t see any reason to leave it out.

    This is not a question of the language itself, but rather of the support library for a particular learning tool that uses the language. A rough equivalent is found in the way beginning “readers” for kids that feature subjects kids care about. This is the multimedia-era equivalent of that.

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