Codecademy is #MadeInNY. If you don’t know what Codecademy is yet, you really should. Codecademy is a company that seeks to truly disrupt education rather than incrementally altering classrooms, primarily teaching programming at the moment. If you don’t know what Made in New York is, then you’ll have disappointed the lovely folks at NYC Digital. We Are Made In New York “an economic development initiative that supports the city’s vibrant tech community.”
A page on the Codecademy website dedicated to after-school programming, encourages educators to begin a coding club at their school using the site’s resources. Although an educator visiting the page likely already knows this, the page makes the value of such an activity clear, placing it in <strong> terms: “Digital literacy is now a fundamental skill like reading and writing.”
The page invites its visitors to join “thousands of educators around the world” in using the resources at their schools. An embedded Google map pinpointing the schools defaults to a world view, where it lights up six continents from Hawaii on one side of the international date line to New Zealand on the other.
Let’s zoom in on Codecademy’s own backyard in New York for a moment, however. There are nine pins within the city: seven in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, and one in Queens. Unsurprisingly, there are none in the Bronx or Staten Island. Even the one pin that’s wandered off to Brooklyn appears directly above the words “Park Slope,” one of the wealthiest and most gentrified neighborhoods in the borough (to the point of ridicule). The sole pin in Queens is just off of the Saint John’s University campus, near Hillcrest, which has an average household income of about $90,000.
Digital literacy is now a fundamental skill like reading and writing. It’s not an all too controversial statement. Codecademy is not the first to make such an assertion and it will not be the last. The City of New York itself has acknowledged this; education is one of the five pillars of its Digital Roadmap. Still, the very same areas that were left behind in traditional literacy are now being left behind in digital literacy.
By failing to equip the neediest students with digital literacy, are we not merely enabling cycles of poverty? Forbes reported that college graduates in 2012 with majors in computer engineering had the highest starting salaries in the country. Those graduates started at a salary of $70,400. In contrast, Census data shows that the median income for the five years prior in Bronx Country was $34,744 — about half the money for almost triple the people.
Schools in the borough continue to struggle, placing increasing pressure on English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics. As an educator, why wouldn’t you? Those are the “disciplines” that are tested. Those are the “disciplines” that can make or break your school’s future livelihood. Those are the “disciplines” that can keep you employed or send you out into a bleak market. Meanwhile, the arts, social sciences, even the sciences and electives such as technology are falling by the wayside. It is precisely those disciplines that can contextualize the tested two that are cut.
Many children in disadvantaged communities do not understand the necessity of school. It’s easy to plaster a “Knowledge is Power” banner in a hallway, but these schools also indoctrinate their students with the idea of “show, don’t tell.” It’s about time we expected the same of schools. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds need to understand the practical implications of their educations. They need to understand that education is not merely an imposition but presents potential for empowerment.
Programming can do that. Programming can show students the potential to translate ideas into realities. Programming can allow students to present and distinguish themselves in a changing world. Programming can give students the ability to give back, to grow, and to rise above the obstacles that life has presented them with. To deprive the neediest students of the highest-needed skills is to enact a gross negligence.
Of course, Codecademy is by no means the only solution (although I like it so much I want to joke that maybe it should be). The statistics on officially-recognized Codecademy implementation are not at all the exact numbers of students learning these or other valuable skills, but they are representative of a greater problem.
How can we address this? On the simplest level, I would encourage NYC Digital or Codecademy itself to engage in targeted outreach to forward the appropriate link to schools in disadvantaged communities within New York. Such an action can replicated with school districts and free coding curricula everywhere with Internet connectivity. Tech companies should give back to communities near and far by helping empower their youth. Innovation offices and education boards should engage seriously and proactively with each other, wherever applicable. Teachers should take the initiative and begin coding clubs at their schools. And you, the citizen, should find the email address of an educator at a local school and send them this link and some wise words on the power it can hold.
Let’s make pipelines for programming, not prisons.
Update: Codecademy tweeted the following response to an initial tweet:
@SyedAAli our afterschool users are all over the world – the map is very outdated :)
— Codecademy (@Codecademy) August 12, 2013
The point still stands. More schools serving disadvantaged communities should use the awesome Codecademy curriculum to empower their youth.