My sister and I walked a few blocks over to our elementary and junior high school1 a few days ago. I had some business to take care of and I had to go back to begin said work. Stepping into the building after graduating close to 8 years ago feels a bit weird. Some of these steps I’ve tripped over, read a book on, ate a snack on, got reprimanded by my parents in front of my friends on, etc. Memories of my childhood played back too quickly in my mind, and I could tell my sister had the same moment when she asked me if I felt it too. I did.
I remember in the 6th grade heading over to Mr. Hobbes’ room for computer class. That’s what it was called, “Computer”, very direct and to the point. I don’t even remember exactly what we did; but I do remember having classes on how to format documents using Microsoft Word. I explicitly remember having to make a brochure and a poster. Over time, more of the core classes required us to have important assignments typed and printed. Of course, this probably led to a heavy taxation on school resources since now there was a semi-predictable drain of ink and available machines to work on2, but it was for a good cause. Personally, for the last few months, I think the only time I use a pen and paper to write is when I’m sketching ideas before I can verbally compose them or when I’m signing off an archaic receipt for a debit card transaction.
Mrs. Wright, Mr. Hobbes and Mr. Jeromé were the three computer teachers that I’ve had whilst in that school from the 4th grade up. I notice now that it wasn’t really about the students learning about the computer but more-so learning of its uses and being aware of its existence. The first computer I did end up using was in school and probably was so until 2006 when my mother and I came back from East New York with a hefty Compaq machine. That was definitely one of the ten ten moments of my life3. I really didn’t know what to do at it first so of course it resorted to classical gaming. Sites like Millsberry and Miniclip were made home pages in Internet Explorer at one point in time (a long one) and seemingly no one minded. Pounding away at the other games we’ve collected from AOL discs didn’t stop the siblings new-found addiction to the DOS machine running in our living room. Soon, we became the resident “experts” at the machine.
This is when my father introduced me to C++ via a book he had from school and then a television show called Standard Deviants that aired on PBS showed a lot over the summer introduced me to first web development then to application development. My father noticed the interest I had and gave the flint to the steel I was holding. That analogy might be backwards, but blergh.
I step into the office of the new head Dean of my junior high school and he greets my sister and I very warmly as all of the teachers who remembered us do4. We had a chance to speak quickly on the reason of the visit and then after glancing at my hoodie went into current events and how they’re beginning to reflect the past he grew up in down South. This guy marched with Sharpton and Jackson in their younger days so it’s a history lesson I enjoyed. But as was everything at that moment might have been, it was yet another distraction.
I’m terrified at the thought that these kids are growing up not knowing how much power is stored inside their pockets and how their brilliant minds can be used to power said devices and machines. To tell a young child that they can literally build anything they want and to provide them with the hammer and nail to do so is an act of mental liberation and empowerment. Of course, at such a young age and without too much historical context on how things were twenty years ago as opposed to today, all of it would be taken for granted5. What sucks though is that they won’t learn that it was a woman who built the first compiler for a programming language or that a dude crafted most of what’s BSD UNIX or even that a brother wrote the most popular and widely use shell on the planet and practically helped build video games as we know it! I learned all of this within 2014 and I hate that. Why wasn’t this placed front and center in textbooks? I probably shouldn’t be all that mad since we still lie to children about how Europe first encountered the Western hemisphere6 but it’s a funky country, I’m entitled to my thoughts.
I want my sisters to continue their legacy of amazing work in the new medium that we’ve been birthed into. I want my brothers to know that they can be the painters, sculptors and inventors of today and tomorrow. I want my people to be aware that for centuries, we’ve brought the culture, knowledge and passion that the world over have craved for time and time again. I want us to continue that in the new era that’s coming (or is here, depending how you look at it) and continue our legacy for bringing dope shit to the table. That starts with how and what we teach our kids of the future. We can’t have them using six-year old textbooks when we can have books with information that can be annotated by the teacher and updated in real time according to current events. There’s no reason why a math class can incorporate the use of visual cues to make even the most complicated of topics more digestible. Even an art class can take heavy advantage of exploring color theory at a young age with the aid of technology.
Outside of the confusing lack of funding of education (but seemingly infinite in “defense”), there’s a few ways to circumvent this. I have ideas but just showing up and presenting the things that can be made and were made using technology would be a first step. A lot of these kids now have Facebook and Instagram7 so showing how each part of the application potentially works would be a first step in getting them interested from a product design and software development standpoint.
I just want to know when I’m 30, 40 years older that my brothers and sisters are makers and not only consumers of the tools of tomorrow. That isn’t too much to ask at all; it’s our calling.
Of course, I can’t make some claims like this without having something that can be acted up. There’s a lot of smart people out there and I’m confident that with their help that some of the following would be possible:
teaching algorithms in class - We don’t have to introduce any serious form of algorithms to a young student in junior high school. If anything, it can be folded into how algerba’s taught now. Things like a simple sort algorithm can be introduced. When one’s able to take problems, learn from them and use said solutions to then solve future problems; they tend to be really efficient. Don’t we want more efficent students?
required computer history classes - If we can continue teaching the history8 we currently have on America, then we can be damned sure that we can teach children about the inception of technology and how it became so ubiquitous with their everyday routine.
an elective in computer engineering - This would be focusing on how computers work and what parts are inside them. I think it can be compared slightly to how we do anatomy for the human body but explaining how hard disks save information, how a CPU is not the entire computer8 and how tiny they’ve managed to make them over the years.
Again, there’s some brilliant people out there of whom I’m confident who can think of more things that can make technology as core as the math and literature we have in school.
It’s a PreK to 8 school. ↩
Even teachers’ computers were vulnerable to the “I just gotta print a page!” ↩
This includes being in a roller coaster, flying in a plane for the first time, and swimming with aquatic life in Maui. ↩
I’m the first of five, four of which who went to this school. We left a mark . ↩
This isn’t entirely a bad thing, depending on the context. ↩
Of which we can completely dispose. Like entirely. Since 90% of the students are Black; Black history and knowledge should be taught. ↩