Challenging the Narrative of “Learn to Code”

In DGST 395, we’re dabbling in coding. I wrote about the experience taking the course and “learning to code” last semester, and this semester, I decided to take a different approach. While we’re going to spend a few weeks on Nick Montfort’s book, I want the students to think critically about the rhetoric and strategies around the “learn to code” narrative that currently dominates parts of our cultural narrative.

Are the approaches effective? What are the implicit and explicit messages being sent by these initiatives/platforms/techniques? How do they work to erase other narratives?

I started by having the students brainstorm “places” where they could learn to code on the Internet. They didn’t have any trouble finding a long list of places online where they could learn to code (including books that could be taken out of our own library). They noted how much of the rhetoric is about how easy and fun learning to code can be.

And then I pushed them.

Well, what message does that implicitly send?

Could it mean that if it is easy and fun (and FREE!), then you should be doing it and if you’re not doing it then you don’t have any right to complain about your lack of professional/economic success or about the lack of diversity in tech?

I may have been a bit heavy-handed. But I wanted the students to think carefully about these efforts, about the narrative, about the messages we’re receiving.

We’ve started playing around a little bit, but next week, they’re going to “learn to code” on their own using one of the myriad of platforms and approaches they found. At the end of two weeks, they’ll be sharing they’re critiques. But I wanted to give them more grounding in various critiques than my slightly hyperbolic one.

I started with who I know best. Audrey Watters didn’t disappoint, with Decoding “Everyone Should Learn to Code”. I moved onto the next usual suspect, Model View Culture (RIP) who had a number of excellent articles tagged “Learn to Code.” I also found a piece from Mother Jones examining the phenomenon.

I took to my social media circles next and was gifted with a number of great resources:

I’d welcome any other suggestions people have as resources, particularly if they are platform-specific. Thanks!