Commentary

Commentary: Computer Science: Our Missing Requirement

R.Haltmaier/The Phillipian

Andover’s graduation requirements clearly reflect the administration’s aim to graduate well-rounded students and well-informed people. Four-year students are required to take the standard English and history curricula, two years of laboratory sciences, three years worth of language courses, a religion or philosophy class, and math until at least the precalculus level. Students also have to complete an introductory music course, at least three other arts courses, and even a swim test to be eligible for a diploma. Regardless of what we plan on doing in the future or what we are interested in now, Andover students are expected to have at least a base-level understanding of every discipline. But computer science is an exception to this rule.

Computer science (C.S.) is technically part of the math department, so students are not required to take C.S. courses in addition to their math classes. Due to its status as a ragtag addition to the math department, computer science is treated either as a loophole way to continue taking a math-related course during math’s off-cycles or as an obscure elective that takes extensive course arranging to maneuver into one’s schedule, rather than as the unique subject that it is. While C.S. often utilizes math concepts, it relies heavily on logic, and can be interwoven with a variety of other subjects like art, science, and music.

C.S. is not some obscure branch of math that is only relevant to a select group of students who plan on pursuing it in college. Considering the value Andover places on well-rounded students and the prevalence of C.S. in everyday life, why wouldn’t C.S. be a graduation requirement?

One argument is that fitting in another graduation requirement is unreasonable, given the already extensive list of requirements. To this, I would say that we need to re-prioritize the skills that are deemed necessary for an Andover graduate. As an Illustration Editor for The Phillipian, I have a thorough appreciation for the arts, but I would argue that for most people, painting an oil portrait or playing an E-flat scale on the piano is a far less useful life skill than understanding how Wi-Fi works or what the ominous “Cloud” is.

Students do not need to graduate from Andover ready to take on a job in Silicon Valley, but we should have a basic understanding of the technological amenities we use on a daily basis. I was startled to learn in my Computer Science-450 App Development class that unverified websites leave device-server connections insecure, leaving the user’s computer potentially vulnerable to viruses or other unwanted invasions. At the time, I was a frequent user of 123movies, a free and unregulated movie site, but also a potential breeding ground for viruses and security breaches. Situations like these could be avoided with even a base-level computer science or tech education. We can hardly pride ourselves on being among the most progressive boarding schools in the country when our curriculum is so antiquated that it leaves most students technologically oblivious.

Another argument against normalized and required C.S. classes is one that comes from teachers within the department. Every C.S. teacher whom I have asked has said that they do not support a C.S. requirement because they prefer having classes composed of students who choose to be there. It is understandable that as a teacher, one might want more dedicated or driven students as opposed to having to deal with unruly students only there to complete a requirement.

However, making C.S. an option rather than a requirement only perpetuates the exclusivity of coding culture. Computer science is often viewed as a scary class full of giant computers and men dressed in hoodies rapidly typing ones and zeroes. By not giving students the necessary push to computer science, Andover neglects to include students without experience or pre-existing interests in the discipline. Who knows how many students graduate Andover without ever tapping into their unknown potential?

Although it may not be obvious, having no C.S. requirement can also further socioeconomic disparities on campus. Students coming from less privileged backgrounds are less likely to have had coding exposure during middle school, and a harder-to-reach C.S. curriculum only perpetuates pre existing race and gender norms surrounding coding. According to Code.org, only 22 percent of students who took the AP C.S. A exam were female, and only 13 percent of AP C.S. A exam takers were members of underrepresented minorities. Requiring all students to complete an intro C.S. course would slowly diversify the higher-level courses and contribute to the larger effort of ameliorating disparities within the field.

As part of Generation Z, our lives increasingly revolve around technology and the infrastructures of the web. As adults, we will be marching into a job market in demand of C.S. skill sets. Yet most Andover students will graduate with little to no knowledge on the nature of coding, the Internet, or the web. So not only is the lack of a C.S. requirement a poor reflection of the school’s values, it is leaves students underprepared for college and the workplace. Andover needs a C.S. requirement so that students are graduating with the ability to understand their actions in a tech-driven age.