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Ideologies of a New Mass Literacy (CCCC 2013 presentation transcript)

Ideologies of a New Mass Literacy (CCCC 2013 presentation transcript)

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The transcript for this video: https://vimeo.com/61820239

Presented at the CCCC2013 conference in Las Vegas, NV.
The transcript for this video: https://vimeo.com/61820239

Presented at the CCCC2013 conference in Las Vegas, NV.

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Published by: nettework on Mar 14, 2013
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Ideologies of a New Mass Literacy
Annette Vee, University of PittsburghCCCC 2013, Las VegasMarch 14, 2013
one can argue that procedural literacy is a fundamental competence foreveryone, required full participation in contemporary society, that believingonly programmers (people who make a living at it) should be procedurallyliterate is like believing only published authors need to learn how to readand write.Michael Matteas
, “Procedural Literacy: Educating the New MediaPractitioner,” 2005.
In the 19th century, churches, governments and educational institutions in Europeand the United States promoted the literacy of reading for the masses. Readingwas associated with morality, docility, good faith, and good citizenship.In the 21
century, a new movement for mass literacy is growing: the massliteracy of computer programming. This new mass literacy campaign is associatedwith new ideologies.Video clip: Marc PrenskyVideo clip: Douglas Rushkoff Video clip: Jeannette WingPromoters of the mass literacy of computer programming do not rely on morality,faith or docility. Instead, they invoke the rhetoric of citizenship, individualempowerment, intellectual development, and employability and economic benefitsto push their cause. In doing so, their arguments often dovetail with anothercontemporary force in mass literacy: As Deb Brandt has observed
, “writing seemsto be eclipsing reading as the literacy event of consequence.”
While reading hashistorically been promoted by universal literacy campaigns, writing has not.Writing was a greater threat to moral order. Now, however, writing is essential tocommerce. It is a source of employment, independence and empowerment, butespecially empowerment through the market.What does it mean that computer programming is being promoted as a massliteracy? That this promotion invokes the history of mass reading campaigns, yetalso seems to parallel more recent campaigns to promote writing?
 Arguments about education are always ideological, of course, and they tend toreflect the ideologies of their time. Arguments about literacy may serve as
uniquely effective ciphers of their time because of literacy’s central role in
learning and society. For those of us who promote and study literacy, itsideologies are particularly important for us to acknowledge
even, I would argue,to the extent that literacy is used as a powerful metaphor for other skills, likecomputer programming. Although I may not be able to fully answer the questionabout what this new mass literacy campaign for computer programming
, Iwant to draw our attention to its ideologies so that we might understand our role,even our complicity, in shaping them.
start by reviewing some of the history of how programming has been promotedas a kind of literacy from the 1960s to the present.
I’ll note a few examples of the
nant ideologies I’ve seen as I’ve tracked these promotional trends andfigures. As I do so, you’ll hear me use the word
to refer to theliteracy of computer programming. The promotion of computer programming goesby many names
computational thinking, procedural literacy, etc. I use the term
to refer to all of these, in order to capture the connection of programming to procedures
rather than the device of the computer
 per se
andto note the connection many people have drawn to literacy.Before moving into the history, though, I want to look at a contemporarycampaign for computer programming from Code.org. Code.org is a venturecapital-backed non-profit foundation focused on promoting computerprogramming education, and will be a central focus of this analysis. With an
advisory board that reads like a who’s who in Silicon Valley start
-ups, code.org israpidly becoming the highest profile sponsor of the mass programming movement.The following clip is from a video they put out in February 2013.[[Code.org: clip of girl explaining programming to Facebook engineer]]
That was just a taste of the current movement to promote programming as a newmass literacy.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
Although they appear to be accelerating now, calls for programming as a form of literacy actually began as early as the 1960s
long before the personal computerrevolution made them seem very feasible. At a 1961 conference at MIT called
s and the World of the Future,
computer engineer Alan Perlis
promoted programming as a literacy that should be taught to all undergraduates.He proposed a computing course that resembles first year composition:the first student contact with the computer should be at the earliest time
 possible: in the student’s freshman year. This contact should be analytical
and not purely descriptive, and each student during this first course shouldprogram and run or have run for him a large number of problems on thecomputer.
[…] T
his course should share with mathematics and English theresponsibility of developing an operational literacy.
In a liberal artsprogram the course could be delayed until the sophomore year, butcertainly deserves inclusion in such a program because of the universalrelevance of the computer to our times. (Greenberger, 188)
Perlis’s vision
is particularly striking given the state of computers at the time. In1961, only some college campuses had mainframe computers. But computers wereincreasingly important to large-scale business and government, including defense.The emphasis on broad undergraduate education in programming suggested thatfuture leaders of America should know something about these universally relevantmachines.
Perlis’s vision was at least partially realized with the BASIC programming
language, designed at Dartmouth University in the early 1960s by John Kemenyand Thomas Kurtz. Like Perlis, Kemeny and Kurtz saw the computer asuniversally relevant, and designed BASIC to be accessible to
undergraduates--not just those in engineering. They made the language freely sharable, and itspread across college campuses in the 1960s.
impossible to overestimate theimpact of the BASIC programming language on proceduracy initiativesthroughout the history of the movement
 —we’ll see it come up again in subsequent
This movement to teach all undergraduates programming in the 1960s moved off of college campuses in the 1970s. In his 1984 book 
Steven Levy tracesthe epicenter of programming from the east coast to the west around this time, andthe impetus to promote programming to the masses seems to have followed thesame geographical trajectory. At that time, the push for proceduracy was imbuedwith post-60s San Francisco area politics--hobbyists and hackers thrived, typified
 by The Homebrew Computer Club and the People’s Computer Company.
Cconsequently, programming took on a vibe of liberation and empowerment.T
he People’s Computer Company was founded in Menlo Park, California and
launched with a 1972
 publication that insisted “Computers are mostly used against
people instead of for people, used to control people instead of to free them. Timeto change
Against theoppressive IBM, which computer liberation advocate Ted Nelson called a

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