Made to Broken/Broken to be MAde

New Crises

In February of 2013,, a non-profit organization dedicated to pushing programming as part of education in American schools, released their video What Most Schools Don't Teach. The video begins with the quotation "I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think." The video reveals that over the next ten years, 1.4 million new programmers will be needed—and only 400,000 students will graduate with a degree in computer science. The pundits in the video promise not only an exciting career, but also a high degree of personal fulfillment.

In August, the organization would release another video titled "Code: The New Literacy" strengthening ties between writing code as a fundamental contemporary literacy pratice and themselves as a literacy sponsor.

According to Trimbur, stakeholders in a literacy crisis gain by circulating the trope of crisis while hiding political, financial, or social motivations. So it should come as no surprise that Steve Jobs said that everyone should learn to program a computer. Nor should it come as a surprise that Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Bill Gates were the major players in's video; equally unsurprising is that many of the founders, advisory board, and team are owners or investors in technology companies. crafts a message informed by crisis. In fact, the message explictly fits the agenda of corporate and capitalist entities: they may as well have said "learn to code so that you can get a job with our companies." Trimbur's essay predicted this need for coders and programmers in an information-based economy.'s videos concerning the need for programmers aren't necessarily wrong; there is a shortage of programmers. Their message, superficially altruistic, contains a nugget of truth. Still, the video mirrors the rhetoric of crisis discourse Trimbur and others have described: "the discourse of literacy crises portrays the schooled literacy of public education simultaneously as an arena of equal opportunity for all who wish to enter and as an explanation of the success or failure of individuals in class society" (p. 280-281). The videos promise lucrative jobs for talented people while deemphasizing the necessary requirements to learn code. The rewards of the capitalistic drive flash by: offices with arcade games, ping pong tables, and even musical instruments abound. Coders don't walk—they zoom by on scooters (likely to get to the free organic food served by the cafeteria, or to drop off their laundry for dry cleaning). All atypical amenities, and all meant to entice viewers to drop other subjects in favor of coding.

More than the bribery of an easy lifestyle, though, the speakers in these videos emphasize that "no one is learning code." Code is compared to everything from magic to understanding Hollywood. The endings of both videos note that every child in China is required to learn programming while only 5% of US children learn code in schools. And while that may be the case, they fail to mention any statistic regarding autodidatic students. Their message is clear: as a country, the United States should place more emphasis on code education through respected literacy sponsors. Given the rest of the borderline advertisements, the message is mixed. C.H. Knoblauch (2007) begins his essay "Literacy and the Politics of Education" by stating "Literacy is one of those mischievous concepts, like virtuousness and craftsmanship, that appear to denote capacities but that actually convey value judgments" (p. 74). Without code education, America will allegedly fall behind in the race towards capitalistic perfection—not to mention ultimate self-fulfillment for individuals. Knoblauch offers an explanation for's logic: "Invariably, definitions of literacy are also rationalizations of its importance" (p. 74). Certainly, for some students, code and computer science may offer new opportunities for expression, achievement, and jobs. But to insist that every student must learn code is simplistic at best, and harmful at worst. According to the New London Group's manifesto, "A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies",

[an] authentically democratic view of schools must include a vision of meaningful success for all, a vision of success that is not defined exclusively in economic terms and that has embedded within it a critique of hierarchy and economic injustice…To achieve [a new vision of pedagogy], we need to engage in a critical dialogue with the core concepts of fast capitalism, of emerging pluralistic forms of citizenship, and of different lifeworlds. This is the basis for a new social contract, a new commonwealth.

In short: code is a way, but not the way to educating an individual. The United States does not need more programmers; the corporations and industries within the US want programmers as market labor. In this sense, there is no coding crisis, only an issue of supply and demand. The natural question, then, is what is literacy in a time that demands knowledge of code? Further, what is literacy in the digital age, and how do instructors teach literacy in the digital age?

A Crisis Averted...