Notes for David Brin “Why Johnny can't code”

Key concepts: .

The assumption that BASIC is obsolete and kids will find more relevant learning platforms in contemporary operating environments is false.

Related theorists: Bogost.

(np) BASIC used to be on every computer a child touched -- but today there's no easy way for kids to get hooked on programming.

Everyday computers no longer come ready to learn programming.

(np) Only, quietly and without fanfare, or even any comment or notice by software pundits, we have drifted into a situation where almost none of the millions of personal computers in America offers a line-programming language simple enough for kids to pick up fast.

Argues seems sound that skills learned by line-coding level on early personal computers transfer and improve contemporary professionals, as extreme pole of Bogost procedural literacy.
(np) And the thought processes that today’s best programmers learned at the line-coding level still serve these designers well.

Even though obsolete math textbooks may contain simple programs, they cannot be tried via everyday computers.

(np) I would be shocked if more than a few dozen students in the whole nation actually type in those lines that are still published in countless textbooks across the land. Those who want to (like Ben) simply cannot.

Absence of modern programming languages providing easy, effective, interesting pedagogy like BASIC.

(np) Those textbook exercises were easy, effective, universal, pedagogically interesting — and nothing even remotely like them can be done with any language other than BASIC.

Recognizes this is an undesirable, self inflicted global condition like tragedy of the commons devouring seed corn, and although this profoundly affects global evolution, it has gone unnoticed in a way Heidegger feared would happen, perhaps retarding further human intelligence augmentation in the symbolic register that coincidentally allows machines to continue to get smarter; we could all fall into new dark ages if the global supply of capable technologists diminishes beyond a critical threshold, or the machines take over as dramatized in many science fictions.

(np) In effect, we have allowed a situation to develop that is like a civilization devouring its seed corn.

Are the conditions for spontaneous evolution of the type of expertise apparently required to become a programmer like WWII generation automobile tinkerers?

(np) The closest parallel I can think of is the WWII generation of my father — guys for whom the ultra in high tech was automobiles.

Little explored material specific epistemological situation of human, not machine, readable simple programs in print.

(np) We are now typing in programs from books.

Argument that learning line coding, which is concretized deep fabric holding up world of OOP, worth studying, rather than something to put down (Seneca); my layer model recognizes platform knowledge no different than layered mathematical or any other language comprehension knowledge.

(np) According to the masters of IT, line coding is not a deep-fabric topic worth studying. Not a layer that lies beneath, holding up the world of object-oriented programming. Rather, it is obsolete! Or, at best, something to be done in Bangalore.

The assumption that BASIC is obsolete and kids will find more relevant learning platforms in contemporary operating environments like OLPC is false.

(np) Microsoft and Apple and all the big-time education-computerizing reformers of the MIT Media Lab are failing, miserably. For all of their high-flown education initiatives (like the “$100 laptop”), they seem bent on providing information consumption devices, not tools that teach creative thinking and technological mastery.


Brin, David. “Why Johnny can't code”. Salon. 14 Sept. 2006. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.