Linky Friday: The Swamp Party


algebra photo

Image by arjin j

[Ed1] I totally remember this. High school scared the crap out of me when it came to college… and I found college easier.

[Ed2] Reason takes a closer look at Seattle’s free community college plan, and similar ones. They don’t sound like bad plans, in the overall, but don’t seem to deliver what they advertise.

[Ed3] It will be interesting to see who will be able to get these loans, and who can’t. The idea of “loans based on a share of income” has been tossed around for a while, but if we do that then we need to consider income potential.

[Ed4] I’ve been to one of these frat parties (called a “swamp party”). I recommend them. Now might not be the best time to talk about this, though.

[Ed5] Toby Young argues that Prince George ought to be going to public school.

[Ed6] Noah Smith tweets on the anti-algebra movement and Adak Elkus juxtaposes it with “everybody should code.” I remain unconvinced. Coding proved infinitely more valuable to me than algebra, and I don’t mean vocationally. Learning coding logic taught me logic in a tangible way.


[La1] Mathias Shapiro is done with the hustle.

[La2] So why are unionized workers less happy? (Note: It’s not necessarily cause-effect.)

[La3] Well this is certainly a positive development, if true.

[La4] Somebody give me an award, please, because evidently I avoided the unavoidable.

[La5] I don’t know enough about French politics to know if President Jupiter ought to have said this about union workers, but cue the victory music!


Photo by MabelAmber

[An1] All roads seem to lead to pets just being allowed everywhere. I could definitely see, however, them not being allowed to speak.

[An2] Behold, the intelligence of the octopus. Which is good, because evidently they’re taking over 2/3 of the planet. Perhaps they will appreciate this shrine.

[An3] This is, if not a supervillain origin story, then at least the fulcrum of a supervillain plot.

[An4] Female birds are sneaky.

[An5] The French have a love/hate relationship with rats, according to Theodore Dalrymple.

[An6] I swear, all the plots for 2017 are just ridiculous.

[An7] How does this island exist? Do the snakes just each each other? This is like the Nightmare! level of a video game. Can we convince Trump that it’s an island nation we need to nuke?

[An8] First, kill all the kangaroos. Well, many of them anyway.


[Ec1] Maybe unhappy people just need to better understand marginal utility.

[Ec2] Are our outrageous health care costs mostly just a product of our standard of living?

[Ec3] Behold, the wisdom of the lower classes.

[Ec4] Oliver Wiseman suggests the wealthy are hoarding the American dream.

[Ec5] The power of optimism, as human capital!


india flood photo

Image by joiseyshowaa

[Ci1] Our major cities are producing fewer black mayors as African-Americans dilute their vote by moving around. {This was previously linkied, but evidently nobody followed it because it was linkied wrong.}

[Ci2] Richard Florida declares an end to the urban revival. Meanwhile, Devon Marisa Zuegel writes of the many ways the government created suburbia.

[Ci3] This seems mostly like the dream of the rich and popular kids to hang out with other rich and popular kids instead of those it is bound to. And, ultimately, using its power and influence to make that happen.

[Ci4] Does India have a sprawl problem that’s making its flooding worse?

[Ci5] I speak of some western cities as giving Mother Nature the middle finger, but maybe I should add South Florida to the list.

[Ci6] Meh.

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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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137 thoughts on “Linky Friday: The Swamp Party

  1. Ed4: The link goes to story about flooding in urban India. I.e., c.i4

    La4: Me to, although I also apparently went to a high school where not one student slept with a teacher and this is apparently unavoidable either.

    Ci2: Suburbia also received a massive propaganda boost from the entertainment industry in the mid-1940s. There were more than a few movies about how the proper place for young families was in a single family home in the burbs rather than in a city.


  2. Ed4 is fixed.

    Ci3 is the correct link. I think a lot of the “cities over nations” is a desire of cities to be able to treat cities across the world as their family rather than smaller, less productive, and less cool locations nearby. That’s where I’m getting at with my analogy.


  3. [Ed1] Agreed. It was “supposed to be” much harder in college, but the commentary on the linked article about teacher behavior wasn’t entirely correct either.

    [La1] As I get older I more and more confirm that it’s “quality of life” over money or whatever, at least for me. But I’m also older, so if value to me is playing witcher 3 all day on a friday off, that’s what I’ll do. If it’s planning that next trip, running errands so I can spend time with the GF later, I’ll do that.

    [La4] I’ve worked with some very very attractive women. Yep, I wanted to sleep with them. Problem since I was married at the time and / or they were. If I were only more like this guy, I’m sure I would have been having hot sex with them……

    [An2] That pic is cool, and so are cephalopods. I have a “save the pacific northwest tree octopus” poster in my house and a octopus etched onto a slate roofing tile. Both are wicked cool. That being mainly because cephalopods are cool.

    [Ec4] You can come and take my upper middle class dreams out of my cold dead hand.

    [Ec1] “I have a theory that if you understand it, you will be more civil. More friendly. More subtle and understanding. You will understand yourself and those around you better. ” Oh yeah, this is why I’m so adorable and loved. :)

    [Ci6] if that picture in the article is representative of modern architecture, they yes, it sucks….HARD.


  4. [Ec4]: I’ve seen this “dream hoarders” meme in a bunch of different forms recently. Most recently I saw it in a Brookings blog post about how people who use 529 and other tax-advantaged accounts to save for their kids college are “dream hoarders.”

    Cool story, I guess. But this whole thing is some phenomenally bad marketing. The thing about my dreams is that they’re non-rivalrous. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been fairly successful at achieving them. And they’re also pretty impervious to dumb internet/wonk-ey takes, as well. There’s much better ways to speak up on behalf of changes to the tax code.


  5. Ed1: Well, **I** feel personally attacked.. (just kidding).

    Honestly, I have never done 90% of that crap – instead of releasing class 30 minutes early so I can do research stuff, I just stay 30 minutes later, that kind of thing. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong?

    (Also the Powerpoints and putting stuff up online? That’s pressure from above: “Enhance retention or else.” It’s either make stuff more accessible or lower rigor, which I’m unwilling to do).

    I just graded my first batch of intro class exams and….they may have bought into the meme that “college is easier” a little too much, sadly.

    I suspect that meme grew out of R1 schools where profs actually get paid to do research, and not a “teaching oriented school” where research is something we do “on our own time” (none of our time really is our “own,” I think….)


    • My suspicion is that the meme comes from the different rhythm of the school year and how the students relate to the instructors. In high school there is a lot more hand-holding and parental involvement. The kid goes home every day, and the parents harangue him into doing his homework. Then he goes off the college, where he has many of the benefits of adulthood while not yet having all the responsibilities. He has perhaps three one-hour lectures per day, usually with no homework in the high school sense. Then he goes back to the dorm, zones out for a few hours, and searches out a keg party. Sweet! Then midterms come. Then finals. Mom and Dad eventually see a report card. The day of reckoning comes. When I was in college (not all that recently, admittedly) a lot of those guys quietly disappeared. Most of the ones who stuck had to figure out how to make this work. The idea of looking to college freshmen in September to get an idea of how easy or hard things are? Adorable!


      • I knew plenty of people in law school who attended big universities and seemed rather horrified when I told them about the small classes at my SLAC and even smaller classes in my Masters program (where I was one of nine directors). A lot of people had a view that 400 people lectures were a feature and not a bug.


          • True, and I didn’t think about that. My biggest class is capped at 40, and most of mine are closer to 20, so it’s REALLY obvious when someone skips.

            Also, because of a history where some people “took the money and ran,” we have to report non-attendance for Financial Aid reasons. Taking attendance every day (and dealing with the “can I have an excused absence” thing) sucks, but I will say since I’ve made it really obvious I am taking attendance I have fewer people skip.


        • I went to a small school as well, an the rule of thumb was, “If you skip class, you’ll bump into your professor at some point that day.” Some upper division classes had 8-10 students. I had one class with only two. At that point, missing class is like standing up a date.


          • I was never in a class of two but I was in a class of 8-12 at times especially upper-division seminars. My biggest class was 100. Most were around 20-25.

            Most departments still had very generous attendance policies though.


            • A friend of mine was in a device physics class of 8 and was the only person who showed up one day. That was not a good day.

              A class of two is intense. It was an upper division econ class that was very heavy on proofs, so hardly anybody had the prerequisites (much less the interest) to take it. We spent as much time at the whiteboard as the professor did. Skipping the homework was not an option. If the subject matter is something you’re excited about, that format is amazing. Just kicking problems around on the board with an expert. In fact, it might be a way of making a class you’re not interested in amazing as well.


              • I had one class of two. It was Old English. I think it may have actually been a graduate course and the professor jimmied things around so I could take it as upper division. We met in his office, and it was more sitting around and having a directed discussion on the topic. And of course for a situation like that, everyone involved was into the subject or we wouldn’t have been there.


            • attendance policies have changed since the Feds got involved with student loans and the like. The amount of “reporting” stuff we have to do has gone up to a shocking degree, and at one point it was being bruited that we might have to report attendance EVERY SINGLE DAY – yes, the end of each teaching day, sit down to our computers and use one of my campus’ infamously slow and buggy interfaces to report on who was and was not present in class.

              I believe I offered the modest proposal of “can we not just microchip the students and have detectors at the classroom doors that feed into a central database, if we’re going there?”

              That did not get reported back to the higher admins. We still have to report numbers of absences, but only on a monthly basis so far.

              But yeah. It’s REALLY hard to be an “absent minded” professor any more because there are so many things you have to remember to do.


                • Yes. There’s even a term for it: ghost students. We have to report any no shows for the first two week. If they don’t show up, they get dropped. For students that fail we have to report the date of their last attendance. Apparently, this helps the school avoid trouble from the feds in financial aid.


      • I dunno. I think the ability to skip class when I didn’t feel like it without serious implications for my grade (or detention, et c.) really did make things much, much easier for me. I hesitate to say I’m in any way typical, but one of the biggest challenges in school was always sitting still and staying focused through a lecture. I still find it kind of exhausting, even with my medication.

        By my fourth semester or so, I would go to the first lecture, do the first homework set, and based on that decide whether I needed to go to subsequent lectures. It worked OK.


    • When I was a professor, being a STEM guy, I handed out some beefy homework. But the radical point came when I decided that they could do their homework jointly. Everyone who worked on it signed it, and shared the grade. But they had to take tests on their own (and being STEM, the tests were a lot like the hw.)

      So they formed study groups and did joint homework. They got together to talk about my class, which, being the theory class for a bunch of aspiring programmers, was thought to be the most boring and irrelevant. Bwahahaha!


    • I really don’t recall college classes being cancelled, but I’m a GenXer and my data is probably too old.

      I generally agree w/ Richard here though about the different rhythm of education. My high-schooler has her first class at 7:20 AM and school gets out at 3:20 PM. She gets home and makes lunch for herself because the cafeteria food either sucks or there was no time, and usually has at least a couple of hours of schoolwork. If her college experience is like mine, three hours of class and three hours of schoolwork will feel like dialing it back.

      (I also wonder if some of the people in the link took any AP courses; those weren’t available for me, but the materials look potentially harder than one would generally expect at college, or at least there is the disconnect between a teacher preparing an exam based on materials covered in class and a teaching covering materials that might be on a standardized exam)


      • I really don’t recall college classes being cancelled, but I’m a GenXer and my data is probably too old.

        I’m probably a Gen-X’r (b. early 1970s), and a small number of my undergrad classes were occasionally canceled, usually if the instructor was ill, though in a couple cases the professor mentioned having an appointment with a publisher. It was never much of an issue. I do recall a French professor who often had us practice conversation in small groups and then left during that time to smoke a cigarette. I recall thinking that was unprofessional. It was only a 50 minute class anyway.

        As a TA in my PHD program in the 2000s, there was a professor in our department who cancelled at least 4 lecture sessions a semester (usually more). In an environment where she gave only two lectures a week, that means at least 2 weeks of lectures were canceled. When I TA’d for her, sometimes she had me give the lectures in her absence, but it got to the point where I refused to do so, because her reasons were more about poor planning than anything. In fact, the times when she’d tell me she’d have to cancel, her demeanor seemed more like that of a student trying to get an extension on an assignment. (P.S. She had/has tenure.)

        (I also wonder if some of the people in the link took any AP courses; those weren’t available for me, but the materials look potentially harder than one would generally expect at college, or at least there is the disconnect between a teacher preparing an exam based on materials covered in class and a teaching covering materials that might be on a standardized exam)

        I took a lot of AP classes in high school (and fortunately, my school district paid for us to take the exams). I personally found those classes to be a lot harder than my freshman-year classes in college, but that impression might be partially due to the fact that I worked during high school but didn’t work during my freshman college year. Things got a lot harder in my sophomore year when I started working again (and taking more credits).

        At any rate, I do think teachers having to prepare us for someone else’s exam played a role in making those classes harder. However, at least a few of my high school teachers probably would have been challenging regardless.


        • I had exactly one class cancelled on me in my undergrad years — this was the 90s. And IIRC, they had a professor quit the week before classes started, which necessitated not cancelling the class outright, but reducing down to one or two the number of times that class was available.

          Of course, that included the one weekly time that would fit into my schedule. Which would normally be an “Oh well” but that was a required class in my last semester of my undergrad.

          There were three of us in that boat, but the university was actually quite flexible and helpful. We took it “independent study”, the remaining professor was incredibly helpful. They were very apologetic and we all graduated on time.


          • I think I may have misunderstood what was being discussed. By “cancelled classes,” I was thinking of cancelled class sessions, not canceling the entire class. That happened to me once as an undergrad, if I recall correctly. It was 3d year German. I don’t know why, and I was disappointed. But I didn’t need it to graduate and just wanted to take it for the fun of it.

            ETA: the class was cancelled about a month before the semester started.


        • I probably should not have conveyed my comment in generational terms, what I meant to convey was that I was undergraduate in the late 80s, so I may not remember well, but I simply don’t recall a teacher cancelling a class session, it certainly could have or probably happened. I was just taken aback, as I think fillyjonk was, with how frequently college is described as not that hard because classes get cancelled or shortened. And I did attend a large, public R1 undergrad. After graduation I attended a smaller private R1 university, and my main observation about the undergrad was that they never seemed to have Friday classes; it seems like the school gave up on M/W/F.


    • I have long maintained that if Utah’s ski and tourism industry ever starts to feel like failure to follow the rest of the West down the marijuana path is hurting them, the state will find a way, just as they did with alcohol. Medical marijuana is where all the states that have legalized recreational use started (and easy prescriptions are almost recreational — before recreational use was approved here I noticed that among that group of acquaintances, “I know a guy…” in their conversation was replaced with “I know a doc…”). Utah polls show about 60% of voters support medical marijuana, and signature gathering for a medical marijuana ballot initiative started in Utah last month. I’m glad Mr. Hatch had fun with it, along with recognizing that removing the federal restrictions avoids potential problems for his state.


  6. An7: Your question: “Do the snakes just each [eat] each other?” First paragraph of the article: “The snakes live on the many migratory birds (enough to keep the snake density remarkably high) that use the island as a resting point.”


  7. Ed5 –

    But the main reason it would have been a good idea to send George to a state school is so he could meet children from all walks of life, not just those who can afford to go private.

    I would bet a good pint that the public* schools described in the article don’t have kids from all walks of life, and perhaps his private school has more thanks to noblesse oblige motivated scholarships.

    *I seem to remember what the Brits call a ‘public school’ is actually what we’d call a private school here.

    Eta – iirc Chuck and his sis were the first generation to go to school at all, instead of private tutors.


    • This is where the British are much more class warriors than Americans. I don’t think they would put up with a Prime Minister who sent their kids to a place like Eton or Harrow. Meanwhile, even the most liberal Democrats are not outraged by Obama sending his kids to Sidwell Friends.


          • The security issue is an excuse the elites use the issue comes up. Meanwhile, some, especially those on the left, criticize the proles when we want to put our kids in a private school to get a good education.


        • I think regardless of the security issues, it would be hard for a child of a president, while that president is in office, to get have much of a good experience in a public school because they’d get a lot of special treatment and would be isolated from making friends in a way that I think would be less likely in a private school like Sidwell. It might be better for the child to be around elite persons who are already getting special treatment.

          That’s all speculation on my part. But as much as I don’t like the class implications of an elite private school or, which is very similar, the elite public schools in very affluent areas, I’m less willing to judge high-level politicians for those decisions. (Low-level politicians, like state reps in the legislature who nobody really hears about anyway, are probably a different story.)


  8. [Ed6]

    I remain unconvinced. Coding proved infinitely more valuable to me than algebra, and I don’t mean vocationally. Learning coding logic taught me logic in a tangible way.

    Could you have gone straight to learning coding logic without learning algebra? Was learning algebra some kind of diversion?

    I’m not really getting the anti-algebra logic.


    • It’s really a pushback against “advanced algebra”, which preps students for calculus. Basic algebra shows up everywhere, including in coding.

      But it might well be that learning coding is a better way to learn basic algebraic concepts, being somewhat more concrete.


      • That makes more sense. The criticism I’ve heard is the push against having everybody able to learn calculus in HS, which essentially pushes basic algebra back to pre-high school study, utilizes arithmetic for purposes of preparing for algebra, and might be too much too soon for many students who could benefit from more time on arithmetic.


      • That makes a lot more sense. I get that the average person probably isn’t going to use Cramer’s rule, but there are still some basic operations covered in advanced algebra that would need some coverage. Logarithms/exponential functions come to mind. Compound interest/growth is super important and non-math people just miss out on it. I could definitely see a few critical things extracted from advanced algebra and geometry and combined into a useful applied math class.

        I can’t imagine going through life without the basic symbolic thinking manipulation you learn in basic algebra, though.


        • but there are still some basic operations covered in advanced algebra that would need some coverage. Logarithms/exponential functions come to mind.

          I took two years of Algebra and in my second year, I supposedly “learned” about those, but it didn’t take. When I took trig the year after Algebra 2, I learned those quickly. I don’t know for sure (maybe Algebra 2 somehow gave me the background?), but I think I could’ve skipped Algebra 2 altogether.


          • There’s a lot of stuff that they teach with matrices that are more or less trivia for practical purposes. Like, I don’t know why you’d bother putting a lot of effort into teaching a high school kid how to take the determinant of a matrix, except as a step along the way to showing them the neat but otherwise unhelpful parlor trick of Cramer’s Rule.

            Aside from solving systems of linear equations using a computer, I don’t think there’s much in linear algebra that would be useful to a high school student who doesn’t plan to do something mathematical later. And I say that as a big fan and regular user of applied linear algebra.


      • I’m totally down with the idea that teaching coding might be a better intro into algebraic concepts than the “path to calculus.” But still, algebra matters. It needs to get taught.

        Software isn’t going away. Furthermore, it isn’t going to get any simpler. Knowing how to “think like a computer,” which means to think in symbols, is going to keep mattering.

        Work hard. Get gud.


  9. La1: I agree that the American love of the “hustle” has a lot of downsides and doesn’t save most people even if they have it. Especially freelance and contingent works. Like Shapiro, I have no problem with working hard but I’ve always been perplexed by how many employers like long-hours for the sake of long-hours.

    The Upshot at the Times looked at a Janitor at Kodak in the 1980s and a Janitor at Apple today to show rising income inequality:


  10. [Ed6] Coding is not a fad. It’s new, but it isn’t going to go away. It may be a better way to learn some of the concepts of algebra, even. Nobody’s going to learn to factor polynomials from coding, but substitution of equals for equals is pretty much what a function call is.

    I’d very much like to see us teach more coding.


    • I’m not sold on the anti-algebra push, but I think people get too little math as it is.

      Still, the idea of functions in math ( f(x) or f(x,y), etc. ) when it is expressed as
      public double areaOfCircle(double radius)
      public double areaOfTriangle(double base, double height),
      tends to really sit in the head.

      So perhaps the answer isn’t less algebra, but blend algebra and computer science.


      • I see people every day who are kind of surprised that they all of a sudden need a modest degree of mathematical sophistication to cope with some aspect of their job or another. I also see people every day who are at least as surprised that they need some degree of programming skill.[1]

        I think this is a good plan. “Less algebra” is not a good plan.

        And computer graphics is almost always fun for beginners, and is a good reason to learn a fair amount of math, including trig and basic linear algebra (which is how I learned those subjects).

        [1] Or they don’t realize they need some degree of programming skill and make a terrifying mess. A lot of the time it’s the people who know a lot of math who do that.


        • Given how increasingly technical our world becomes every year, less math is only a good plan if you intend to establish a technocracy (and seeing as how we will be elites within the technocracy, I could be sold on the idea…).


          • I think a good half a year or even a full year of statistics would be better for lots of kids than calculus. Maybe even algebra. Everybody is confronted with stats, not everybody needs algebra. And lord knows people get bamboozled by bad stats all the time.


            • Well, properly understanding stats still requires basic algebra, and mixing stats up with some coding could still having compounding benefits.

              What it boils down to is that teaching coding alongside math is a great way for students to get some concrete examples to hang their mental hats on.


        • I just spent some time with an incredibly talented intern who will be joining Google as a software engineer and was surprised and bummed out that he had never played with Logo as a kid. He would have done some crazy stuff in Logo.


          • Logo and turtle graphics was already going out of style for kids in the 80s as the ubiquity TRS-80s and C-64s at home, and Apple IIes in the schools, made everyone BASIC (people). (and by the time the late 80s rolled around, there was the three headed dragon of Fortran, Cobol and C depending on which track you wanted to purusue.)

            That was my experience, anyway.


      • I’m not sold on the anti-algebra push…

        I have friends who routinely forward anti-algebra columns/papers to me. A majority of what they send me appear to be by educators in fields like history who have otherwise qualified applicants to their college program who can’t get in because of a university algebra requirement. Surprisingly often, somewhere in the piece the author also attempts to work in something to the effect that engineers ought to be required to take six hours of history (or whatever) before they can graduate.

        I would be more inclined to consider their point if they were approaching the subject from the direction of “Isn’t there math that would be more useful than learning how to factor a polynomial?” rather than pretty blatantly looking to just get their students out of any sort of math requirement at all. I could probably be convinced that a good foundation in probability and statistics would be more useful. OTOH, there are quite a number of things needed in a good foundation that are part of algebra classes: functions, notation, etc. (The importance of notation in math is under-appreciated.)


        • Surprisingly often, somewhere in the piece the author also attempts to work in something to the effect that engineers ought to be required to take six hours of history (or whatever) before they can graduate.

          They do. Most four year degrees requires history, government, basic economics, English (literature and composition), math, science — the first two years of a 4 year degree are a mix of general classes and your core classes.

          I mean it doubles up — a history major takes those required history classes in passing, and probably doesn’t even consider that virtually every other student on campus will take History 101 (or American history or whatever it’s called).

          My CS undergrad required, IIRC, 6 hours of history, 9 to 12 of English, 3 of economics, 6 of government — the science and math requirements are a little wrapped up in my degree, so I can’t recall which were required for which.


          • Yeah, I was gonna say – Gen Ed classes, which everyone has to take. Granted, the Gen Ed history is probably less rigorous than a majors’ history class.

            I remember one of our majors (Fish and Wildlife conservation) was griping about his art appreciation distribution class, until someone else said “Dude, you get to *go see plays* and then write about them, and you get class credit. Here, you’re writing 14 page management plans. That arts class is NOT HARD.”


          • This is very school dependent. I went to McGill in the STEM program (my degree’s in biology) and I had zero requirements that weren’t STEM. Not English, not History, not nothing. At the time I took it, it was literally treated as bizarre and inconvenient that I wanted to do a humanities minor instead of spending more time on math and science.

            Looking at their requirements now, I can see that they have a lot more options, including a “liberal major” B.Sc. and a combined BA/BSc, but there is still an option just like what I did – all the requirements are in biology or other sciences. And there’s a Quant. Biology option where you are actually required to take even MORE science/math courses with even LESS room for anything else.


    • I don’t think coding is going away but what I am still concerned by the coding push because I see it as part of the “education reform” package which seems to make all of education about commercial skills.

      Maybe because I am still a bit of an artsy dreamer with bohemian pretensions but I think that there is value in education and learning for the sake of education and learning. Though like many liberal arts kids, I figured out eventually that you need to earn a living (hence law school). Part of me still imagines a life of the mind where I get to read books or think about ideas/events and discuss them all day. Hence liking this blog. One of my favorite things in law is reading and analyzing decisions from courts.

      But when I hear “we need to teach all kids coding” or some such, I think of it as a kind of push to make all of education about economics and commerce and money-making skills. This usually comes at the detriment of art, music, theatre, dance, history, literature, etc.

      Now maybe I am a romantic weirdo and most people want education policy to be stuck to corporate/commerce abilities.* But I would like an educational policy that also realizes that part of education and learning does not need to be and should not be directly connected to financial success. We should teach music because music makes us humane and is a natural good. Not need to sell it because music uses math and math leads to dollars. We should teach Plato and Aristotle and Locke for the appreciation of their ideas and how they influenced our society and world. Same with Marx, Smith, Mencius, etc.

      *I marvel in awe and a bit of sadness at eighteen year olds who know they want to study accounting. Awe because they have an act together which I didn’t at that age. A bit of sadness because it seems really unromantic to me that they want to study accounting. Then again, I wanted to be a theatre major at 14 and stuck with it.


      • Teaching coding is less about a marketable skill and more about:

        A) helping a student gain tangible context about an intangible subject (i.e. math)

        B) helping a student understand more about the modern world, because lets face it, more and more of how we interact with our world is through tools and devices that can be programmed, and not just simple programming, like an alarm clock.


      • Saul, do you mind if I ask, but do you know much about coding at all? It is not merely a job skill. In fact, the kind of coding I would suggest teaching, which is more or less the Structure and Interpretation style thing, perhaps dumbed down a bit for regular folks, is definitely not “Learn Android programming in 40 days.” Instead, it really is “pure computation carried out by a machine.” This really is “math as math should be.” It is a way of thinking as fundamental as reading and philosophy.

        But if you don’t know it, then you don’t know what you’re missing.


        • The common confusion between learning a programming language and learning computer science. It’s the difference between learning a language, and learning linguistics. You need to know a language to be able to learn linguistics, but learning a language does not make one a linguist.


        • Oh, no, you don’t want to teach people that. Might as well be call it “confuse people about math” for like…95% of the population.

          I mean it’s not quite like insisting people be fluent in Base 8 or Base 16 math before you’ll teach them algebra, but it’s a basic level of confusion they don’t need.

          Teaching them to write a simple program in a straightforward language introduces them fine to computers and the basics of using them. They do exactly what you tell them to do, even if what you just said was stupid. Sometimes the simplest things are incredibly complex for a computer, and vice versa.


        • Pedagogically, I am now a devotee of “from the particular comes the universal”. I think you want to start with particulars, such as a specific programming language, and move from there to abstractions. I do not think it is a good idea to start with abstractions.

          Though it makes all kinds of sense to pick your particulars with an eye to the abstractions.


          • jay (and why can’t I tag people anymore, this site is broken) — Well, SICP starts with the concrete language of Scheme, and indeed it builds the abstract from the particular. It just builds a lot of abstract. Now, I have a few friends who’ve taught CompSci who think something like How to Design Programs is a better intro to the subject. I perhaps agree. It seems to be trying for a similar thing, but at a lower level. Which good. SICP definitely earns its “elite” reputation. That said. It’s what I learned from. For me it worked out pretty well.

            Ultimately I think “computation as math” is a deeply beautiful subject. Ultimately I’d love to see people digging into this stuff, but on the other hand, that’s probably too abstruse for “regular folks,” whereas learning a bit of Scheme is not.


            • I kind of feel that Scheme is fine, but Python is also fine, and Javascript is also fine, and frankly, C is fine and so is Java. It’s all programming.

              And if Python is easier for beginners to relate to – and I’m very much open to being swayed by data in either direction – than Scheme, I think Python should be it. My personal favorite is Ruby.

              Don’t get me wrong, I love the LISPy stuff. I got taught to prove LISP programs correct by John McCarthy’s lover (and later his wife), Carolyn Talcott. It was fantastic. I also know I’m not normal, and I already had a bachelor’s degree in math, with multiple courses in logic under my belt.


              • I don’t actually care what language is used as long as the concepts are taught. I’m thinking of “computation as term rewriting”, along with metaprogramming and recursion. With just these tools you can build all of math, although you wouldn’t go that far in an intro course. Also you’d want to add mutable state, since actual computing is usually stateful.

                Scheme is a great tool to teach this. Honestly, Python kinda isn’t. That said, an ideal tool might have a “game like” front end, with puzzles and challenges. I’ve done some classroom work (as a volunteer) and there are a lot of cool ways to teach coding that aren’t tedious.


                • I think this is one of those areas where there’s a wide variety of learning styles. I sort of bounced off every language I tried to learn, from FORTRAN to C++ to Python,[1] until I came across Lisp and suddenly things that I really struggled with before seemed incredibly straightforward, for roughly the reason that you state–the mathematical structure of what was going on was much clearer.

                  I’m enough of a weirdo, though, that I worry that if something works for me, it won’t really work for 95% of the population. For one thing, one of my favorite things about Lisp is I find its syntax much more readable than most other languages….

                  [1] I mean, I could do simple stuff like write dorky games or approximate an integral using trapezoids, but I always felt like I was trying to steer a car with my elbows. This is how I still feel when I’m required (usually for regulatory reasons) to do serious work in Excel.


                  • (usually for regulatory reasons) to do serious work in Excel.

                    If ever there was a statement demonstrating that our regulatory environment is as fished up as a football bat…


                      • Is it just a formatting request? Like, we need a spreadsheet, we have Excel, please don’t use Minitab.

                        Or are they expecting you to do serious numerical work in Excel? I’m not trying to say Excel is bad software, only that when I think of serious work for regulatory compliance, Excel is the tool I use to format the results, not do the work.


                        • I don’t know enough about spreadsheets or software at all, so excel is my default. What surprises me about it is how incapable it seems to be when it comes to holding a large amount of data. One spreadsheet I’ve been working with at work has maybe 40,000 lines of information (with about 10 cells per line, so about 400K values entered in toto.), and the excel document takes a VERY long time to open or save anything. We just do that spreadsheet for sorting or for reference. We don’t do any formulas.

                          Is it just that that’s way to much information for any spreadsheet to handle, or is excel peculiarly bad and other programs work better?


                        • They expect to have models delivered in Excel. While most are relatively small and simple—they can run in Excel after all—it’s still a bonkers choice. It also makes testing and validation a nightmare, as you might imagine.


                  • but I always felt like I was trying to steer a car with my elbows.

                    That’s how I often feel modifying someone else’s code. Why won’t they write logically? :)

                    (Also: Why are you using static arrays for this and not vectors? You know eventually this isn’t going to be enough. We’re not resource short here, and frankly the built in STL vector sort is superior to what you’re going to take the time to write anyways, so why are you using static arrays?

                    Or god help me, stop making class members public because you’re too lazy to write the methods you need.)


        • I’d like to know what “coding” is. I assume it’s more than just learning html or xml tags, which I have to do at work. I took BASIC in high school and enjoyed it. I took PASCL, too, and was utterly confused by it (for one thing, I didn’t understand how or why it was different from BASIC).

          Does anyone know of a good primer to introduce a novice like me to coding? I’ll likely never be a “coder,” but it would be nice to know some of the basics. (I realize I could probably search on my own….and it’s an open question whether I’d have the time or dedication to look into it.)


          • it’s barely scratching the surface and will probably horrify the serious coding folks in these threads, but is not a *bad* place to start – it’s what I used to get over my coding anxiety and start digging into more interesting and serious things. when I start poking at Ruby it won’t be a Serious Resource but it’ll be a thing I play with to soothe my concerns that I am stupid and an imposter…. before I get on to really learning things. So I recommend it for that.

            (Also HTML and XML are (mostly) what’s called a mark-up language – they change what things look like, or how they are labeled, but not what they *do* – when people speak of coding they are normally talking about languages that *program*, ie cause things to happen or change, not just to look different. That’s an oversimplification, but perhaps a useful one.)


          • Well, I’m a bit torn. See, you really should learn an object-oriented language first. Except there’s a bunch of extra “stuff” (the object oriented stuff) that you have to have to do even a simple program, and it’s often not explained for a long time. Because they’re explaining more basic stuff, like how to create a variable, or how loops or decisions work.

            Honestly, maybe try C#. It’s not a bad language, it’s very C-like (and a lot of languages devolve from C) so you can switch to C or C++ easily enough, and it enforces the object oriented paradigm like Java does.

            Strict enforcement of OOD is a real PITA at times (the simple programs you make learning to code don’t need it and it’s just excessive overhead for some time) but my experience has been it’s easier in the long run if you’re taught OOD from the start. I know a lot of “Started with C” coders who still think objects are glorified structures, and don’t understand about 95% of why and when you should use them.


              • Hmm. True, but if you want to learn coding, to get a real feel for what it is — you really want something C-like.

                Then again, I’m biased. 80% of my experience is in C-like languages, with the remaining 20% being various forms of web development done on the side.

                I probably should dig into Excel at some point, just because it’s so ubiquitous among the folks I work with.


              • I’m reluctant to bless Excel as a general-purpose framework just because the spreadsheet format breaks so many of the best practices rules.

                With misgivings, I might suggest Python. Yes, there are shortcomings. OTOH, my experience pretty much mirrors that of Eric Raymond: I was surprised by how quickly I was writing useful code, and how soon I wasn’t bothered by the things I thought would be annoying, like indentation.


                • There’s a free Python based game dev kit I was looking at (honestly, there’s probably tons) that I’ve been meaning to play with.

                  I mean it’s simple stuff like creating basic 3D objects and the like, but sounds like a fun way to learn.


                  • Lots of stuff available through Python. Guido made a couple of clever choices: (1) he made it easy to access C-language libraries, providing access to a very large set of existing solutions to various problems, and (2) the standard library includes GUI stuff. You can say lots of bad things about Tkinter (and the underlying Tcl/Tk), but if you stick with it you’re pretty sure that code written on one platform will run (under the same version, at least) on a different OS.

                    The first Python program I wrote was a version of Freecell. The appearance of buttons and such vary somewhat from OS to OS, but the game has run without changes everywhere I’ve tried it.


                • Python vs Excel would really depend on what your end goal is. If you really want the students to learn programming and are using math to do it, might as well start with Python. If you are teaching math with a side of programming, then a calculator program with macro capability is a better start, and Excel is used damn near everywhere, so you get the added benefit of teaching a job skill.


                  • Absolutely. While much of the discussion above is about using code to help with numeracy, my personal biases always interpret “learn to code” as meaning learning to think about data of all sorts, data structures and relationships, and reasoning about or symbolic manipulation of data.


      • I’m in favour of education doing more than just increasing one’s own labour productivity, but I object to the dichotomy you’re setting up here. There are plenty of opportunities for self-actualisation in STEM and commercial subjects. I studied economics because it captivated me like no other subject I had encountered, and I continued to find beauty in its formulas as my studies advanced.


      • We’ve probably over-adjusted towards math and sciences in terms of job opportunities.

        The idea that American workers are being left in the dust because they lack technological savvy does not stand up to scrutiny. Our focus should be on coordination and communication between workers and employers.

        The Myth of the Skills Gap

        The study used national surveys of a selection of manufacturing and IT jobs and found that the skills requirements most associated with hiring difficulties are higher-level reading or higher-level writing.


        • Perhaps but I don’t see that changing anytime soon. From what I understand American educational philosophy is often a result of whatever our national anxieties are at the time.

          My girlfriend is from Singapore. Many of her friends in the U.S. are also ex-pats/immigrants from the region. My girlfriend is seemingly unusual in that she went to an arts and humanities based high school. Her friends seem to have gotten an education that can be described as math, math, math, and more math. Many of them went abroad for undergrad and grad school.

          It seems to me that a lot of education reformers are stressed about increasing competition from Asia (especially China but also Korea, Singapore, Malaysia) and see that those countries are relentlessly STEM oriented in their educational paths. So you might be right but I don’t see the STEM push as stopping anytime soon.

          Plus there are a lot of progressives who think STEM is empowering and the arts and humanities are not sadly.


          • I don’t see it changing any time soon either; I just think its worth pointing out that the STEM anxiety is not necessarily market-based and high school kids should be encouraged to seek out more demanding reading/writing classes, which unlike STEM classes, have become less rigorous than when I was in school.


      • Engineering is prone to boom and bust cycles, for sure. But, as other commenters have mentioned, there’s some very fundamental ideas that one learns from coding. Things that aren’t “job skills”. In fact, undergrads very frequently complain that their undergrad CS degrees didn’t teach them enough “job skills”.


    • Coding is not a fad. It’s new, but it isn’t going to go away.

      Yes. Everyone who has a white-collar job is going to do spreadsheets. Many people with blue-collar jobs will occasionally have to do a spreadsheet. May the gods protect me from ever again inheriting responsibility for a complex spreadsheet prepared by someone who wasn’t taught some basics of good programming practice.

      It may be a better way to learn some of the concepts of algebra, even.

      Yeah, only a maybe on this. Coding and numeracy are not the same thing.


  11. I just look forward to everybody that is saying “everybody needs to learn to code for the future” also saying in twenty years “look, I understand people are upset that 50% of all coding jobs have been replaced with automation, but if you aren’t willing to drop another few thousand to retrain yourself, you shouldn’t get upet when you can’t get a middle class job.”


    • This is only relevant if (a) the purpose of learning coding is vocational or (b) we assume that you are learning coding for “a coding job” rather than coding being a part of other jobs.

      People whose job isn’t coding do coding all the time in MS Office, for example. The code isn’t the ends (the thing being turned in or sold) but rather the means to an end (figuring out some problem).

      Though for the most part, I favor it for the first one. I think learning it teaches you valuable skills even if you never use it professionally. It’s math and logic in a tangible environment.


    • has already given you one very good answer, namely that coding is part of other jobs, and that it has value for its own sake.

      And let me add to that to say that while programmers are constantly automating everything that they can figure out how to do, it hasn’t yet remotely eliminated the need for professional programmers. I recall the chairman of the Stanford CS department, Ed Feigenbaum, claiming that AI would make programming obsolete in 5 years. That was roughly 1982.


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