Codephobia

Currently, since only a relatively small percentage of the populace can program computers, it is considered “normal” to not be able to program.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that this will change over the course of the next, say, five to eight years. For example, if there were a successful shift in 9-12 education in this decade, then computer programming could become a skill possessed by all high school graduates.

This would not come about by “teaching them to program”. Rather, it would come about because programming becomes seen as an integral part of how all subjects are taught in high school — from literature to math and science to social studies to music. In this scenario, it will just be assumed that programming is part of the normal course of literate development, just as now, in the U.S., we view a steady progression in proficiency of reading and writing English.

We are not talking, of course, about the way programming is generally taught now, but rather about a much more integrated and user friendly approach that would be better aligned with student interests and ways of learning.

In this scenario, it would then become “normal” to be able to program, and “not normal” to not be able to program. Of course this could create a generational rift, since many older people still might not program. Although in the case of earlier technological shifts — such as the development of on-line social networks and the smart phone — older people have often followed the lead of younger early adopters.

In any case, at some point as norms shift, a person who continues to avoid learning to program might be seen as suffering from a recognized psychological abnormality, which might be called “codephobia”.

3 Responses to “Codephobia”

  1. Adam says:

    I guess it’s important to distinguish codephobia from what might be termed dyshaxia. I wonder how many people who assume they are dyshaxic are actually facing codephobia, in a culture which sometimes views programming as a superhuman endeavor. And that’s just among the few who are making the attempt. Lockhart’s “A Mathematician’s Lament” comes to mind, when considering how coding might be co-opted by a school system if it becomes prominent enough to require.

    I know you have argued that programming languages might be learned and created like natural languages by children, though I’m not sure if it applies as straightforwardly to written languages. But even if it did, consider the gap between the English people learn and the English classes that discourage many people from reading and writing for anything but practical communication. Admittedly, it’d still be a big improvement if coding for practical purposes was as common as writing for communication.

    Without even getting into the realm of recreation, I’ve found that writing as a way of *thinking* is incredibly valuable. For instance, I started this post as a bad joke with dyslexia+hacking, but I’m realizing a lot of things as I try to recover from the hole I’ve dug myself in with an imaginary audience. The difference from this to programming (as a way to think computationally) is essentially a specialization of writing, writing precisely for an imaginary audience you know better than yourself. And the audience can be summoned at will to render judgment! (and as Knuth et al would have it, a human audience is also important to consider, even if it is just you+10 months)

  2. Kaelan says:

    When I was learning HTML and CSS as a kid, it came really easily to me because I just thought of it like I thought of any other language. When you think about it, there are strong similarities. The truth is, unless you’re fully bilingual, you generally speak non-native languages for specific purposes, either to ask directions to the washroom, to talk to someone in a professional context or to communicate affection (here I’m talking about cat-language, my fifth and favourite language). Coding is doing the same thing: communicating for a specific purpose. In this case, it’s with computers, and the purpose is to issue commands and create virtual landscapes.

    And as a recent high school graduate, I really wish programming was mandatory for me.

  3. admin says:

    Following on Kaelan’s observation, I think the key is that programming was relevant to her — there were specific things she wanted to do, for which programming was the most useful and salient tool.

    I think that the categorization of programming as a narrow specialty has placed programming education in the same unfortunate position as math education in our secondary schools. It is seen as something you’re supposed to learn, yet the people responsible for this policy don’t really understand why this should be so, since they themselves do not program.

    Imagine if our policies around teaching kids to read were decided by people who could not themselves read. Such policy makers might have conversations with each other on the order of “Well, these people who read seem to think that this stuff is important. I guess we need to humor them.”

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