Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Joe Henderson: Require coding in schools? How about pushing technical skills

As if public schools donít have enough headaches, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently interjected himself into the debate about how best to train young minds.

In an interview with French media outlet Konbini, Cook said, "I think coding should be required in every public school in the world."

By coding, of course, Cook means the language that runs the worldís computers and pretty much everything else. I own a lot of Apple stuff. I am glad Cookís company employs thousands of people who know to make it all work.

Stop right there, though, before anyone out in education la-la land begins to think, "You know something, thatís not a bad idea."

Yes, it is. Requiring a field of study like that would be a horrible idea in a public-school system.

Begone!

A big problem with education today is that too many people have decided the world needs millions more mathematicians and scientists.

That ignores the fact that there are plenty of other avenues to career contentment and success that donít require higher-level math or science. Iím glad school systems are catching on to that point.

Pasco County will convert Ridgewood High School in New Port Richey to a magnet technical school next year. As School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong noted, "Not all students learn by reading a book."

A decade ago, such talk might have been considered educational heresy. Now it just sounds refreshing.

Tampa Bay Technical High School has been a fixture in Hillsborough County for decades, but it was worth the fresh look Tampa Bay Times reporter Jeffrey S. Solocheck gave in a recent story.

Students can learn skills like welding, radiology, auto repair, culinary arts, commercial art and, if they want to, computer systems technology.

Both the New York Times and Washington Post have reported extensively on the problem many companies have filling basic jobs. And Solochekís story contained this money quote, so to speak, from Jim Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education.

"The workforce is not demanding four-year-college-degreed people," he said. "The workforce is demanding people who can do something."

Amen.

Iím not trying to belittle higher math but, seriously, unless you are an engineer or something similar, did you ever use Algebra 2 once you were force-fed it in school? Learning to effectively communicate verbally and with the written word would be more useful for most people, but thatís not the emphasis these days.

Some of you might remember the panic that set in during the late 1990s when the scores on math and science tests for United States students began to fall behind places like China, South Korea, Finland and Canada.

So, educators and politicians amped up requirements and standardized tests while ignoring the basic truth that our public education system operates differently than those countries.

Besides, in recent years China has aggressively been upgrading its vocational training, maybe recognizing that not everyone is cut out to be a scientist.

I have this crazy idea that public school education should expose students to the widest variety of options possible, and then see what connects. If that sounds like an old-fashioned liberal arts idea, then Iím guilty.

Our current system makes that difficult, though, because testing and evaluation is at the core of everything taught in a public school. These days, students are expected to be focused on college from at least middle school, if not from the time theyíre in Romper Room.

That doesnít leave a lot of room in the system for students who might not have an aptitude to learn things they donít care about and likely will never use.

Iím not saying it wouldnít be useful for interested students to learn computer coding, if they choose. We need people who can do that.

We just donít need everyone to do that.

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