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The “Secret Agenda” of Code.org

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By Hadi Partovi, founder, Code.org

Throughout Code.org’s achievements in our first year, I’ve been humbled by support from millions of students, parents, teachers, companies and other organizations.

But we’ve also been thrust into the spotlight. Understandably, some have misunderstood what Code.org is about. I want to set the most common rumors, questions, and concerns to rest:

1) “Are you suggesting everybody needs to become a software engineer? Isn’t it enough to learn how to use software?”

We don’t need all students to become engineers, just like we don’t need them to become chemists, biologists or mathematicians. All our children, however, need access to the basics. Every student learns how to dissect a frog, how electricity works, and what H2O means. Today, it’s equally important to learn how to “dissect an app”, how the Internet works or what HTTP means. This foundational knowledge will be increasingly important in medicine, law, journalism, business, accounting, politics, you name it. Computer science helps students develop creativity, confidence, and problem-solving - which help in all information age careers.

Most of today’s lawyers and politicians don’t have a clue about how a website works, yet they’re regulating the Internet. Most of today’s hospitals still use paper files causing enormous costs. Countless world problems could be solved by technology, but not when 90 percent of schools don’t even teach how it works under the hood.

2) “Why teach kids computer science when our schools struggle to teach basic math and English?”

The answer: for the same reason we teach science, history, or foreign languages. Just because computer science is new doesn’t make it less foundational. That’s why over one million parents have signed our petition to increase access to computer science.

Also, computer science can help address our nation’s math/science problems: applying math, English, or science to build a game or app drives up a kid’s motivation to learn more math, English, or science.

3) “Isn’t Code.org a political effort run by tech companies and their evil founders to fill software jobs cheaply, to grow their profits?”

We’re not a political action group and we’re not run by tech companies. Our vision isn’t to grow software engineers, it’s to grow access to foundational knowledge.

Code.org was initially founded with only the advice of my twin brother Ali Partovi and a handful of computer science educators. Ali and I together make up the first and largest donor to Code.org: our donation covers the majority of all Code.org spending since the day it was founded.

Because our vision was bigger than any one individual, Code.org is set up as a public 501c3 charity. As a public charity, we’re required to have a diverse base of small donors, we don’t pursue the special interests of donors, and we’re significantly restricted in political lobbying.

We’re lucky to have the support of so many tech companies and their founders. I personally recruited every major donor, and I’m humbled by their generosity and willingness (even at the corporate level) to invest in education as early as elementary school. Other than the contribution by Ali and me, no other donor has given more than a single-digit percentage of Code.org’s funds.

If we highlight “tech celebrities,” it’s not because they run Code.org; it’s because they’re role models for millions and they generously offered their time in response to my requests. Our donors don’t control our operations. They do not have access to our data. They deserve the credit for our successes, but I deserve any blame for our mistakes, as the buck stops with me.

As an aside, students who pursue computer science as a career will notice that 67 percent of software jobs are outside the tech industry. These jobs are in every state and country. Silicon Valley struggles to hire software engineers, but so does the rest of America, and the world.

4) “Ok, computer science is important. But why teach coding? Won’t today’s coding languages be irrelevant in 25 years?”

Our organization is called Code.org, but our focus is on computer science. If we could fit EverySchoolShouldOfferComputerScience.org in one word, we’d do it.  I believe most people don’t care about the difference between code and computer science. They just feel technology is passing them by quickly, and they don’t want their kids to suffer the same fate.

As a computer scientist, I know the coding languages we teach now may be out of date in 25 years.  But the concepts are fundamental: conditionals, loops, abstraction, these concepts span all languages. I learned them 25 years ago, and they’re relevant today. That’s why our intro curriculum teaches these concepts with visual programming, without any language.

The American Dream is about opportunity

The Code.org vision is for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science. It is a fundamental American ideal — and an ideal people worldwide aspire to — that access to education and opportunity should be equal for all. It seems un-American to accept that computer science classes are only available to the privileged few, in only 10 percent of schools. That is the problem we’re trying to solve.