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C'est la Z

A friendly reminder to use the right language when describing CS

I was part of this conversation the other day:

I always use that line to emphasize that I teach CS - a way of thinking and problem solving and looking at the world. The languages we use in our classes are tools to help us communicate ideas not the ends but rather a means.

I've spent the past couple of days at the CSTA conference. It's been a lot of fun. I've been spending the time with old friends and meeting new ones and as everyone who knows me knows - I love talking shop.

I overheard a conversation today. One CS teacher describing what they did to a few others. I overheard:

We teach Scratch then Swift and C++ and also teach Python

I heard statements like this describing programs more than a couple of times. I know we're at a conference of CS Educators but even in this community we have everything from beginners getting their feet wet to hardcore computer scientists to everything in between.

We shouldn't be teaching languages as an ends unto themselves and the majority of us don't.

What many of us do, though, is take the easy path and use the name of a programming language to describe what we do rather than really define what we do. This is why we hear "I teach Java" or "I teach a class in Swift" even when the teacher teaching Java might really be teaching Object Oriented program design and development or data structures or something similar just using Java as the language or tool.

I too fall into this trap but I try to catch myself. I try not to say "I teach Scheme" but rather I'll say "I teach Scheme. Actually, we're studying functional programming using Scheme as the language but for convenience, I'll just say Scheme for the rest of this talk…."

The words we use to describe our field set the tone. If we're sloppy and say "we teach Java," it's just like biology teacher saying "I teach microscope."

As we try to define our field in the K12 space and seek equal footing with established subject areas it's important that we use the right language so that other educators and policy makers don't get the wrong idea.

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