Two insights on teaching computer programming

Peter Van Roy pvr at
Sun Jan 15 13:46:17 EST 2006

Kirby Urner wrote:

>This is how to provide overview:  develop some fluency in a language (could
>be Scheme, why not?), then use that fluency to eyeball working code that
>roughly corresponds to real world production stuff (in a "cave painting"
>kind of way, i.e. we've stripped away a lot of the unnecessary complexity,
>so the core abstractions come through loud and clear):
Please forgive my ignorance, but this sounds a lot like the "méthode 
that was used in France to teach children how to read.  Instead of 
learning to
read the traditional way, by memorizing syllables and reading words in terms
of their syllables, the "méthode globale" is supposed to be a short cut.  It
works by a kind of pattern recognition: children memorize whole words as
patterns.  Then after six months, the children could amaze their parents by
"reading" a text.

Needless to say, the method was a disaster.  Children could not read words
they had never seen and made lots of mistakes with words they were
supposed to know.  It led to a whole generation of "reading disabled" 
So now the official pedagogy has backtracked to the old method.

Wouldn't teaching a programming language be similar?  Having 8th-grade
students "eyeball working code" written in a complex notation without
really understanding what it's doing sounds like a recipe for disaster.


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