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Maximising the disruptive potential of programming

Submitted by Phillip Kent
30 June 2013

I was struck by this part of the statement by Ben Fry and Casey Reas about the launch of Processing 2:

For the past twelve years, Processing has promoted software literacy, particularly within the visual arts, and visual literacy within technology. Initially created to serve as a software sketchbook and to teach programming fundamentals within a visual context, Processing has also evolved into a development tool for professionals. We stand by our mission statement:
Processing seeks to ruin the careers of talented designers by tempting them away from their usual tools and into the world of programming and computation. Similarly, the project is designed to turn engineers and computer scientists to less gainful employment as artists and designers.

A persistent question around programming and education is which programming language to choose for new or continuing learners in any given context (school, university, workplace). Debate goes around accessibility and ease of use, relevance to commercial programming practice, or being a ‘grown up’ language that has the features popular among academic computer scientists.

The above quote suggests an alternative criterion. The most valuable consequences of programming are those which disrupt conventional relationships of people with knowledge and ideas, and (therefore) to disrupt the conventional relationships between people and other people. Therefore the best programming language to select is the one that will maximise the disruption to established practices.

In a school, for example, the most positive change is to change the established patterns of teaching and learning – creating new ways in which teachers from different backgrounds work together across the conventional subject divisions (and in many cases they act as actual divisions which separate people and reduce communication).

Rather than looking for smoothness and comfortable ‘curriculum fit’, the goal should be productive disruption and discomfort – productive relationships emerging from shared goals and collaboration.

  • Processing