By Clara Kieschnick-Llamas
Due to the increase of lines of work involving computer science, there has been a recent movement to make computer science a graduation requirement at Gunn. Last year, eight administrators and teachers met regularly and had a meeting with the district office about the possibility of making it a mandatory course.
Besides Chicago, no other city in the United States requires a course in computer science to graduate. Computer science teacher Josh Paley, however, believes that computer science should be a requirement and has heavily pushed this campaign. “Computing is fun, and I like to focus on that,” he said. “But there’s also the reality that to be a well-educated adult maybe you need to know a little something about computing, even if that’s not something you choose to do in life.”
Students such as AP Computer Science student junior Carmel Baharav also see computer science as a practical skill that could be beneficial to students if it were added as a graduation requirement. “It’s a very relevant skill set in general, because it’s looking at a problem that’s bigger than you and coming up with how to approach it,” Baharav said.
Baharav thinks that a required class would change many misconceptions about computer science. “A lot of times, people think it’s all about the languages, and they get turned away,” she said. “Even in Silicon Valley, people still associate computer science with something kind of nerdy and inaccessible, so I think it would [make it accessible] to a lot of people.”
Principal Dr. Denise Herrmann is not in support of this initiative, however, because she believes it would limit students’ options and be an unnecessary addition to the list of graduation requirements that currently exists. “It’s not that I don’t think it’s valuable,” she said. “I’d rather see [students] get to pick whichever combination of courses you want that are interesting to you and will prepare you.”
College and Career Counselor Linda Kirsch also noted that colleges only value computer science on a student’s transcript if he or she is majoring in a related subject. “We should be respecting the right that kids have the ability to be able to come on strongly to the places they want to go with the kinds of topics they want,” Kirsch said. “If you’re an artist, they are not looking for computer science. Engineering, sure, they would love to see that. It shouldn’t be demanded—it should be there and available.”
Kirsch argues that many students would struggle to fill this new demand, and would find it difficult to graduate. “The whole idea that you could be cutting people out of getting a diploma is very unsavory to me,” she said.
An additional worry, according to Rustagi, is that the requirement would add to the heavy Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) focus at Gunn. “We have good classes, so if we’re really going to push for change, maybe there are other places where we can change, rather than focusing on STEM, STEM, STEM,” Rustagi said.
A possible alternative to Paley’s proposed graduation requirement is incorporating computer science into math classes. Although it would be difficult to have math teachers learn computer science after many years on the job, Herrmann said, co-teaching computer science congruently with another teacher in a related subject could serve as an alternative solution. “It would be hard to have a person who is an expert in, let’s say, chemistry and computer science,” she said. “But what if we put those two things together?”
Paley, on the other hand, is not convinced. He believes that incorporating computer science into a math class may not be enough. In his opinion, a class solely aimed at teaching computer science will be imperative to learn the necessary material.
He also emphasizes that the class would not be an advanced course. “What I’m talking about doesn’t mean it’s a hard-core thing,” he said. “We have a class called Computer Science Principles, where you can have no background in computing, you can hate math—we don’t care. You’ll still have fun—that’s the idea.”