Whenever I spotted a headline like “Coding is More Important Than Shakespeare,” I thought, “This ought to be good.” I think regular readers know me well enough at this point to know that I know both subjects quite well, and often cross them.
Here’s the thing. He didn’t say that coding is more important than Shakespeare (and he even returns in the comments of his original piece) to point this out. The word Shakespeare appears just once in his original arguing, as does the word “programming”. The word “coding” is absent.
It is a massive article by internet standards and, perhaps proving his point, most of the people who read it will not have the mental ability to understand it – and I count myself among those that don’t. I get his general idea that there is a set of “stuff people should learn” that is objectively more useful (and thus important) than other stuff. He then goes into great detail with specific examples, and I’ll just say that poor Malcolm Gladwell does not come out of it well.
I like Khosla’s summary in the comments – “If there are 100 things you can learn, but you’ve only got space to teach 32 of them, how do you decide which 32?” It’s a valid question that I ask myself regularly as I watch my children progress through school, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will never again need to know half of what they’re being tested on. I think we should have more focus on finance, personally.
By the logic of practicality, I think he’s right. If you told me my kids’ school was going to offer programming or Shakespeare, I’d vote for programming. I think my life kind of proves that point, because I am not sitting here with a Shakespeare degree and self-taught in programming, but rather vice versa. This morning I had a conversation with the CTO of my company, who I learned used to be a theatre guy.
You have your entire life to learn whatever you want, and you shouldn’t ever stop. The debate isn’t over what is useful or important to learn – the original piece asks specifically about majoring in liberal arts. You learn important things every day. No one is stopping you from learning Shakespeare whenever and however you want. But our society’s ability to place teachers in front of you, people who are paid to be there, in buildings that are paid to keep the lights on, and to provide you with text books and so on, for a certain period of time, is limited. We need to choose.
My daughter is in eighth grade and I believe the only Shakespeare she’ll see this year is Romeo and Juliet, at the end of the year, briefly. When she goes to high school I’m led to believe that English lit is an 11th grade class, so I assume that if she sees any Shakespeare, that’s where it will be. But when it came time to ask about the curriculum I didn’t say, “Why isn’t there more Shakespeare?” I said, “Why isn’t there more programming?” I wished there was more Shakespeare, sure. But, like Khosla said, if I’ve got two questions and only opportunity to ask one, which one do I pick?
I wish we could choose Shakespeare more often. But I understand why we typically can’t. Why in the world do you think I’ve been exposing my kids to Shakespeare since birth? Did you really think I was going to rely on the system to provide it to them? I consider it my job to educate my kids until a time where they can educate themselves. The system merely provides some structure and filler for a period of time, intended to jump start them into the “real” world where, hopefully, they won’t fall flat on their faces as soon as someone stops holding their hand.