Fixing higher ed: You’re doing it wrong

First we discover that the NSF is dreadfully concerned about Craigslist job ads:

I am now wondering how to best take my recent indoctrination about the value of Scratch, Processing, and programming-free computer science and leverage it to gain employment in a STEM field. I was told that we are facing a shortage of STEM workers of critical proportions and that we must educate students — especially those from under-represented demographics — so that they can solve this crisis in our nation.

Yes, it is true. Your tax dollars flew me to Washington, DC so that the NSF could tell me about these important issues. The NSF is very, very interested in there being more computer science majors because a recent survey of craigslist jobs in the Bay Area showed that all of them required technology — including the ad to hire a new dogcatcher (MS Access databases). Thus, we need to teach more Scratch and Processing so that students can major in computer science to become Access-using dogcatchers.

Oh-kay.  The NSF is desperately interested in “programming-free computer science”.  Remember when Java was going to save the world?  This is the same idiotic optimism brought up to buzzword-compliance for a new decade.  Colour me skeptical.

But at least the NSF is looking at real problems and, in its endearingly inept way, trying to solve them.  The Arizona state legislature, on the other hand, is making up problems from whole cloth and then trying to solve them in an endearingly inept way.

In what has to be the most hilariously unconstitutional piece of legislation that I’ve seen in quite some time, senators in the Arizona state legislature have introduced a bill that would require all educational institutions in the state — including state universities — to suspend or fire professors who say or do things that aren’t allowed on network TV. Yes, you read that right: at the same time the Supreme Court is poised to decide if FCC-imposed limits on “indecent” content in broadcast media are an anachronism from a bygone era, Arizona state legislators want to limit what college professors say and do to only what is fit for a Disney movie.

Good luck with that, AZ.


4 Responses to “Fixing higher ed: You’re doing it wrong”

  1. 1 John
    February 11, 2012 at 04:00

    I had a Applied Cryptography class that was half computer science students and half Information Assurance students. More or less there there weren’t any programming assignments because the IA people didn’t know how to program well, one didn’t know any programming languages at all. Needless to say, the class was boring as hell because there wasn’t any “here’s the theory, now go implement it” that we’ve gotten through most of our CompSci classes. So, I can’t see programming-free” computer science ending well.

    • February 11, 2012 at 09:47


      Closest I’ve been to that was TAing a software engineering course that included a bunch of business majors. Now, the business majors were expected to write code (and to their credit did a pretty good job), but I was reprimanded more than once for assuming that they knew calculus — basic chain-rule derivatives and midpoint-rule integrals calculus, the sort of thing a mildly bright student can expect to see in high school.

  2. May 28, 2012 at 01:20

    Have you given any thought at all with translating your site in to Chinese? I know a several of translaters right here that will would help you do it for no cost if you want to get in touch with me.

  3. April 14, 2015 at 12:03

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