Programming engages students
Today's kids have every incentive to learn programming. Whether it's to trick out a Web page, interface with Facebook, or write scripts to help with homework, programming has real-world applications that have relevance to kids' lives.
Instead of labeling their enthusiasm for computers as disruptive or aberrant behavior, we should harness it as an educational tool. By integrating computer literacy into school curriculum from an early age, we would give students a learning experience that more accurately reflects the modern world around them.
Equally important, mainstreaming the teaching of programming would shed the antisocial stigma associated with computer literacy. Girls in particular would be much more likely to take an interest in computing if doing so wasn't the social equivalent of joining the Chess Club. Even if they didn't go on to careers in IT, the basic skills they would learn would be applicable later in life to everything from Excel spreadsheets to troubleshooting system crashes.
Let's also quash the old-fashioned idea that computers allow students to "cheat on their math homework." Computer programming languages are really just alternative ways to represent solutions to logical problems. Instead of rote math drills, why not challenge students with assignments that engage their creativity as well as their capacity for logical thinking?
The problem isn't that computers don't fit with the standard educational curriculum. The problem is that the curriculum hasn't evolved to incorporate the realities of the Internet Age.
Skills for the global marketplace
Of course, if we can't get schools to teach algebra, mandatory computer literacy is a pipe dream. In most states, the funding necessary to give every child access to a PC simply isn't there. And teaching computing implies that teachers at the middle and high school levels will be sufficiently computer literate themselves.
If we dare to dream, however, he benefits of a modernized, computer-centric education system would be enormous. Some advocates of education reform favor re-establishing trade schools as an alternative to college education. But if we integrated computer training into mainstream school curriculum, high-school students would graduate with skills that would be applicable to virtually all walks of life.