While my last post was well received, I did have a few conversations where people asked why I did this with such a seemingly minor ethical issue. They wondered that with issues the Facebook algorithm, bail and sentencing algorithms, gerrymandering and other issues dominating the ethical conversation, why focus this topic around something that seems to affect far fewer people and might not even be such a big deal. After all, when it does come up, flight crews can probably ask a few people to shuffle seats and voila, problem solved.
The thing is, this was intentional and it was intentional on two fronts.
First, who decides if an issue is major or minor? Our perceptions change throughout our lives and through our experiences. Something that might appear to be minor to us or minor right now could be major to someone else. I remember my first week teaching at Seward Park HS right after I left industry. Such an eye opener. Even though I went to public schools and faced my share of challenges, I had no idea how different my students lives were from mine. Things that might have been a minor inconvenience to me were a brick wall to them. It's also not enough to just view "slam dunk" issues through an ethical lens. We have to indeed walk the walk. I wanted a mundane problem that may have resulted from Innocent intent to illustrate that it's not about teaching a lesson on the topic du jour but rather it's about everything.
I also wanted to pick a topic that wasn't right out there in the mainstream. If I had them work on a recommendation system or some other issue that's been all over the news these days, they would have all guessed the punchline. I thought this would be low key enough so that they'd discover the ethical issue by inadvertently creating it.
The other reason was that I wanted to keep the issue simple and understandable. I already suspected that the code aspect would be a challenge for some members of the class. I didn't want a super deep ethical issue to cloud that side of the equation. A simple problem kept everything clean. They first seated the customers, realized that kids could be separated from parents, decided that this should be addressed, then tried to address it. Keeping problem simple is a tried and true teaching strategy. There's so much complexity in most ethical issues and most programming problems and students can only cope with so much at a time. This was an attempt to keep the load to a minimum.
As I said in the earlier post. I think the lesson needs tweaking - particularly in order to make the coding level appropriate but I also think it's a lesson worth keeping.
This past week, the class has been working with regular expressions. I get to deliver the punchline to that one tomorrow evening.