teaching capitalism by teaching code

Please read this tweet

I’m going to pull from the work I’m currently doing in my thesis to remark about the historical implications of teaching code and other uses of emerging technologies in the composition classroom. I saw this tweet this morning, and thought about what this means: that exposition can be replaced by the act of coding. Then I asked: what does this do for writers?

In some respects, this is straightforward–that code is a writing process. I will not argue against that. But, to do some further research, I found that the woman who said this may have a more capitalist reason for speaking. “Coding as a Liberal Art” may very well mean well. The actual performance of coding is identical to the performance of writing. It requires knowledge of all writing processes and the rhetoric of form. But let us keep in mind how the business sector uses coders.

Coders perform coding to serve the interests of finance capital. Kimball’s experience with Silicon Valley, Microsoft, Harvard Business School in no way convince me that her interests are otherwise. Her investment to convince us that coding is inherent to the liberal arts is not from a liberal arts perspective. I rarely think any of her professional affiliations consider the humanism behind what they do. So when we begin considering coding in the classroom, we cannot remove it from the implicit and tacit uses of it. Yes, we can–and should–teach coding. But we should provide our students with access to Selber’s argument that humanistic perspectives are what compose the humanities (and “liberal” arts). We must embed our pedagogical emphases in the practice. If but for any other reason than they won’t get it elsewhere.


3 thoughts on “teaching capitalism by teaching code

  1. The question of coding in the comp classroom is an interesting one. I’m glad you went the extra mile to speculate on this woman’s motives for advocating coding as comp, but I think the question is still more complicated. Yes, coding may fall under the category of providing existing capitalist interests with resources; however, coding can also provide alternatives to working within those same interests. The student who knows how to code doesn’t necessarily have to rely on the pre-packaged programs and services that are offered by tech companies.
    However however, I also wonder if coding belongs in the comp classroom proper. I could see having a specific class devoted to the subject–perhaps a co-taught class with someone from Computer Sciences or a similar department–but I don’t necessarily see the need in a 10-week FYC class–or even a 20 or 30 week stretch. Though there are varied composition opportunities within coding, ultimately, I see it as teaching to a specific technology rather than focusing on a culture of critical thinking and ideas.

    • You got me thinking, Bri: what if composition professors taught code through the humanistic perspective that Selber outlines? I see code working in specific composition software. For instance, my digital literacy narrative mentions how I used to alter html code in my profile on MySpace to make my background colorful and like our present-day gifs. Students surely could learn something as simple as that to alter their public sphere identities to match their rhetorical perspectives.

  2. It is so funny that this is your topic because I taught this today. Well, not exactly, but I raised this question: Should we teach kids to code? I got this idea through a TED talk video outlining the benefits of teaching children critical thinking skills via coding techniques. While some of my students thought that the program they used to teach the kids (ages 8 to 16) was too simplistic (scratch.mit.com), many thought that the idea was an interesting one.

    (I also have no idea if that link worked!) I think they’re right to some degree. The problem solving skills that students use in a media forum that are more interesting than say a paper and a pen might be to many might allow students to polish their critical thinking skills in new ways that, let’s face it, many of our freshman students still lack. Others also thought that teaching coding should not be mandatory, but alas, I’m experimenting with them on Wednesday to see just how well they can problem solve using coding. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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