Despite the rise of the nerds in Silicon Valley, with the past thirteen years being a boon for digital technology, it turns out that America is actually struggling at turning out high school computer science geeks! According to the New York Times, fewer girls and minorities are taking the high school Advanced Placement computer science exam than in past years. And thirteen U.S. states saw a decrease in the number of students taking the exam in 2013 compared to 2012, reports Georgia Tech. With our world increasingly digitized, why do we appear to be struggling to bring young women and minorities into the tech fold? Why isn't computer science growing in popularity among all youth like we would expect?
Researchers and commentators have opined that a "nerd culture" turns off women and minorities from pursuing computer science as a potential career. Commentators often speak of this "nerd culture" in derogatory terms and suggest that computer science should be made to feel more inclusive. Perhaps schools should double down on "nerd culture" and insist on bringing students to computer science instead of computer science to the students.
In other words, students should be made to pursue computer literacy instead of computer literacy being made palatable to jaded and apathetic teenagers. Computer literacy should be championed as a necessary skill, not a "nerdy" skill that can be relegated to a subset of society. Basically, a computer literacy class should be made mandatory for high school graduation.
Word processing, e-mail etiquette, Internet research, and speadsheet literacy should be skills required for the attainment of a 21st century high school diploma that indicates college readiness. While not every teen should be pushed to take AP computer science and learn to code, every teen should be required to demonstrate computer proficiency to be declared "college ready." Students should be pushed into this requirement, not have this requirement watered down for their convenience.
Texas school districts should accept that "nerd culture" is now necessary culture and demand that all students, regardless of race or gender, learn the fundamentals of digital life. Students who do not have to take a computer literacy class may graduate from high school without a decent e-mail address, knowledge of job searching and resume creation for the Internet age, ability to perform basic online research, or acceptable skill at word processing or database use. These students will struggle mightily to pursue higher education or full-time employment.
Teens are unlikely to find "nerd culture" palatable, but they don't find economics palatable either (I know; I teach it) and the state of Texas requires it for high school graduation. Let's stop worrying about making computing more appealing to teenagers and make a mature judgment call: Everyone needs to know how to compute. These days, it's as necessary as old-fashioned reading, writing, and arithmetic.