Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Why Johnny Can’t Code

Filed under: — adam @ 9:19 am

Interesting article by David Brin from Salon today on the lack of an educational consensus on what constitutes “the learning language”, or indeed >any< learning language at all.

It used to be BASIC – textbooks of other subjects had BASIC programs in them to try out, and it was installed everywhere. Even my Intellivision, one of the early game consoles, had a BASIC module.

Sure, it’s not good for teaching you about any modern programming concepts, but that’s less important in the beginning than understanding how computers fundamentally work.

There’s been a lot of ranting recently about how kids these days can’t program because all they learn is Java and they never get near the guts of the computer itself (because why should they learn something they’re never going to use?), but I think I agree with Brin’s point – it’s deeper than that. The prevailing opinion is that languages that force you to understand what they’re doing are not only useless but obsolete. The analogy to eating your seed corn is apt – we’re cutting off an entire generation from the hacker tools they need in order to learn how to do interesting stuff with technology instead of just put other people’s pieces together (and people who have never learned the basics are far more likely to be stumped when something doesn’t behave as they expect).

I’m not sure what the answer to this is, really, but it’s definitely worth discussing.

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