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Programming, Education, and the American Dream

3d65a0bc911de24fde5e58d84b0276af?s=47 Liz
February 10, 2015

Programming, Education, and the American Dream

Programming, Education, and the American Dream by Liz
Published November 18, 2014 in Programming

The learn to code movement has popularized the idea that coding is a skill everyone can learn. It's the American dream: learn the desirable skill and you'll succeed financially. I'll discuss the history of the American Dream, how new programming education endeavors have repackaged it, and how the lack of awareness and analysis of this privileged rhetoric is damaging our culture and workforce.



February 10, 2015


  1. Programming, Education, and the American Dream Liz Abinante • Software

    Engineer, New Relic • @feministy
  2. Overview “Learn to Code” Movement Education in America The American

    Dream Educating Programmers HELLO!
  3. Learn to Code Movement

  4. How did this all get started? LEARN TO CODE MOVEMENT

  5. Four things: 1. Startup success stories 2. National attention 3.

    Availability of curriculum 4. Lower barrier to entry for new technologies LEARN TO CODE MOVEMENT
  6. Startup success stories LEARN TO CODE MOVEMENT


  8. http:/ /www.forbes.com/sites/afontevecchia/2014/10/02/the-new-forbes-400-self-made-score-from-silver-spooners-to-boostrappers/ “This year, we gave each member of The

    Forbes 400 a score on a scale from 1 to 10 — a 1 indicating the fortune was completely inherited, while a 10 was for a Horatio Alger-esque journey. We also did the analysis for every 10 years going back to 1984. Looking at the numbers over time, the data lead us to an interesting insight: in 1984, less than half of people on The Forbes 400 were self-made; today, 69% of the 400 created their own fortunes.” STARTUP SUCCESS STORIES
  9. National attention LEARN TO CODE MOVEMENT

  10. Availability of curriculum LEARN TO CODE MOVEMENT

  11. New in-person courses Expensive development courses begin offering short (9

    week) or long (6-9 month) programs AVAILABILITY OF CURRICULUM
  12. AVAILABILITY OF CURRICULUM Free, and affordable, interactive online curriculum Interactive

    videos or guided step-by-step code challenges
  13. AVAILABILITY OF CURRICULUM Enhanced online curriculum with personal mentorship Bringing

    a classroom setting to a wider audience
  14. Lower barrier to entry for new technologies LOWER BARRIER TO

  15. Cloud development environments Alleviating both cost and complication LOWER BARRIER

  16. Cheaper equipment YWeb Career Academy teaches students on $300 Chromebooks

  17. “Simple” languages Easy-to-read and well-documented languages like Ruby and Python

  18. Emphasis on user experience, responsive design, and mobile Approaching software

    based on your interests instead of your skills LOWER BARRIER TO ENTRY
  19. “Anyone can learn to code!” LEARN TO CODE MOVEMENT


  21. I was going to be a teacher. Of, like… high

    school. Kids.
  22. I went to a code bootcamp …instead?

  23. I learned my first programming language in 2013.

  24. It turns out that learning to code is not the

    same as programming. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  25. Writing code is nothing more than typing using a prescribed

    set of rules. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  26. Becoming a good writer involves learning from others who have

    done it before you. So does being a good coder. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  27. When you say: “it’s easy” what you think you mean

    is: “it’s easy, I did it, and so can you.” ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  28. But what it sounds like to me is: “it's easy,

    I did it, and if you can't, that's your fault.” ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  29. Phrases like this place the onus for learning on the

    student, attributing no responsibility to the individual or institution uttering the phrase. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  30. Different students do not excel or fail because of innate

    abilities. Student success is dependent on their educational foundation and opportunities. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  31. Education in America

  32. Achievement, lectures, and learning EDUCATION IN AMERICA

  33. Then: our recent past “Leveling”: placing students at their current

    level instead of challenging them with more difficult material. EDUCATION IN AMERICA
  34. ‘Teachers used a technique called "leveled instruction." Palmer describes it

    as "an approach to literacy in which students spend the vast majority of their time in a text that is at their reading level. So if a student is in fifth grade and they're reading at a third-grade level, they spend most of their day reading texts at a third-grade level.”’ http:/ /www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/11/11/356357971/common-core-reading-the-new-colossus EDUCATION IN AMERICA
  35. Now Common Core standards for reading and math, grades K-12

  36. “The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards

    in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.” http:/ /www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/ EDUCATION IN AMERICA
  37. “The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put

    innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.” http:/ /www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html EDUCATION IN AMERICA
  38. Common core isn’t the solution It doesn’t address disparity in

    educational quality or drop out rates. It’s a band aid for a bad educational system. EDUCATION IN AMERICA
  39. Student demographics EDUCATION IN AMERICA

  40. Top 5 STEM high schools The top 5 STEM schools

    educate 5,711 students nationally. STUDENT DEMOGRAPHICS
  41. Top 5 STEM Schools White: 37% Minority: 63%

  42. Top 5 STEM Schools Asian American: 50% 2 Or More

    Races: 3% Hispanic: 7% Black: 2% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.3% Native American: 0.2% White: 36%
  43. Not Poor: 99.4% Impoverished: 0.6% Top 5 STEM Schools

  44. 37 kids

  45. But what about the worst schools? Turns out no one

    wants to talk about them. EDUCATION IN AMERICA
  46. Nationwide literacy rates http:/ /www.rif.org/us/about/literacy-facts-and-stats.htm EDUCATION IN AMERICA

  47. National Literacy: 4th Grade Above “Basic”: 66% At or below

    “Basic”: 33%
  48. National Literacy: 8th Grade Above “Basic”: 74% At or below

    “Basic”: 26%
  49. National Literacy: 8th Grade Scoring below “Basic” Percentage of Students

    36% 40% 44% Black Hispanic Native American Impoverished
  50. The important question becomes: Why are we pushing to incorporate

    computer science into public schools if so many students don’t meet the standards for reading and math? EDUCATION IN AMERICA
  51. The important question becomes: Why are we letting industry trends

    dictate what we teach children? EDUCATION IN AMERICA
  52. The American Dream

  53. A history of the American Dream AMERICAN DREAM

  54. Coined at beginning of the Great Depression, “the dream [was]

    not only our most precious national possession but our unique contribution to the civilization of the world.” The Epic of America (1931), James Truslow Adams AMERICAN DREAM
  55. What do people think the American Dream is? AMERICAN DREAM

  56. “White picket fences… and owning your own house.” AMERICAN DREAM

  57. “Striking it rich, becoming a millionaire.” AMERICAN DREAM

  58. “Being an entrepreneur.” AMERICAN DREAM

  59. “Being your own boss.” AMERICAN DREAM

  60. “Nuclear families and not worrying about money.” AMERICAN DREAM

  61. “Coming to America with nothing and becoming rich because of

    your own will to succeed.” AMERICAN DREAM
  62. “Elon Musk.”

  63. “I’m not sure, but it seems like a lot of

    rich white men know what it is and they don’t want to share it.” AMERICAN DREAM
  64. The Epic of America (1931), James Truslow Adams “The dream

    is a vision of a better, deeper, richer life for every individual, regardless of the position in society which he or she may occupy by the accident of birth. It has been a dream of a chance to rise in the economic scale, but quite as much, or more than that, of a chance to develop our capacities to the full, unhampered by unjust restrictions of caste or custom.” AMERICAN DREAM
  65. The American Dream is about individual achievement and unlocking your

    potential, barriers be damned. AMERICAN DREAM
  66. http:/ /www.forbes.com/sites/afontevecchia/2014/10/02/the-new-forbes-400-self-made-score-from-silver-spooners-to-boostrappers/ “Over the past 30 years, the number of

    Forbes 400 members who forges their own path, using entrepreneurial capitalism as a means to attain a vast fortune, has increased dramatically. This tells us many things, but one should stand taller than the rest: the American Dream, it seems, is alive and well.” AMERICAN DREAM
  67. Educating Programmers

  68. Can anyone really learn to code? EDUCATING PROGRAMMERS

  69. Our industry loves the self-starter, the autodidactic learner. It’s in

    our roots, our very foundation. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  70. Increasing barriers to entry Due to rising popularity, CS majors

    are implementing GPA requirements for admittance into the major ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  71. You can’t learn to code if you don’t have the

    right tools. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  72. To succeed as an industry, we have to stop expecting

    people to be able to teach themselves. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  73. Can you say “anyone can learn to code” to… ANYONE

  74. Can you say “anyone can learn to code” to… a

    person with a developmental disability? ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  75. Can you say “anyone can learn to code” to… a

    person without a home? ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  76. Can you say “anyone can learn to code” to… a

    person who doesn’t speak English & lives in America? ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  77. Can you say “anyone can learn to code” to… a

    single parent with no time for themselves? ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  78. Probably not. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE

  79. So what it really means is… ANYONE CAN LEARN TO

  80. Anyone with sufficient privilege, educational background, and access to tools

    can learn to code. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  81. Just like the American Dream, the Learn to Code movement

    isn’t really for everyone. ANYONE CAN LEARN TO CODE
  82. Bootcamps, startups, big $ EDUCATING PROGRAMMERS

  83. Silicon Valley leads U.S. as early startup funding hits 2-year

    high “Research firm CB Insights said there was more than $1.2 billion invested last month, up 56 percent from last October [2013].” http:/ /www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2014/11/17/silicon-valley-leads-u-s-as-early-startup-funding.html BOOTCAMPS, STARTUPS, BIG $
  84. “The average junior developer makes $73,000…” Dev Bootcamp http:/ /devbootcamp.com/2014/07/01/your-future-after-dev-bootcamp/

  85. “…98% job placement rate 90 days after graduating and a

    $110,000 average annual salary.” Hack Reactor http:/ /www.fastcompany.com/3023456/become-an-ios-developer-in-8-weeks-the-truth-about-hack-schools BOOTCAMPS, STARTUPS, BIG $
  86. “…graduates typically net starting salaries upwards of $70,000…” Flatiron School

    http:/ /www.businessinsider.com/flatiron-school-coding-program-2013-4?op=1 BOOTCAMPS, STARTUPS, BIG $
  87. http:/ /code.org/stats

  88. None
  89. None
  90. None
  91. None
  92. None
  93. It's the new packaging of the American Dream. BOOTCAMPS, STARTUPS,

    BIG $
  94. It’s there, ready for the taking: unleash your potential! BOOTCAMPS,

  95. But what happens if you aren’t successful? BOOTCAMPS, STARTUPS, BIG

  96. If you can't learn it, it's your fault. BOOTCAMPS, STARTUPS,

    BIG $
  97. The dream isn't broken, unobtainable, or privileged, it's for everyone,

    so you must be the problem. BOOTCAMPS, STARTUPS, BIG $
  98. What should we do about this? This is super depressing.

  99. Small changes make a difference: 1. Set realistic expectations for

    job and skill seekers 2. Improve schools by supporting education-focused initiatives 3. Cut the hype 4. Don’t buy into the hype WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
  100. The American Dream should be a positive thing that any

    child can achieve, not just the privileged.
  101. Thanks! Liz Abinante New Relic • Software Engineer & Professional

    Enthusiast @feministy • me@liz.codes