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The inclusion or exclusion of a non-controversial topic like computer science in elementary and middle school curricula is rarely an "ethical" issue in the usual sense of the word. After all, while certain educators and parents may question the need to teach students topics like evolution, curricula integrating programming and algorithmic problem-solving have few if any serious moral or ethical detractors.

Even so, the inclusion of computer science in elementary and middle school coursework implicitly touches on an important issue that pervades education design at all levels: equality. As of now, the field of computer science suffers from uneven representation in almost every way possible. As has been revealed in any number of demographic studies, the typical computer science major is a young Caucasian male from a relatively privileged background; computer science departments in universities continually struggle to attract and retain women and minorities.

One of the principal reasons for this disparity is that by the time students have reached college, they have preconceived notions about computer science. For instance, the image on the right is taken from one study of American sixth grade students asked to draw the typical computer programmer (lecture 18); evidently, even at this stage students begin to draw negative associations between careers in computer science and job satisfaction.

On the other hand, students who have approached computer science earlier are more likely to become attracted to the unique opportunities for problem-solving and creativity it supplies. That is, by encouraging students to approach computer science at an earlier age, schools are helping equalize the field of potential computer scientists by ensuring that everybody has equal exposure to the field before they have to decide on a major or a career.

Additionally, students who approach computer science at earlier ages are more likely to develop strong intuitions for algorithmic problem-solving and other important skills. Just as young children have a certain "neural tabula rasa" that allows them to acquire second languages much easier than adults (Herschensohn 136), students at the elementary and even middle school levels are likely to be much more receptive to the unique mode of thinking required by computer science than the typical undergraduate approaching computer science for the first time.

Thus, early computer science instruction not only encourages academic equality from a reputation standpoint but also from a more technical standpoint. By standardizing early computer science curricula, school administrators can ensure that their constituent students have a fair chance to approach computer science—one of the most popular and lucrative careers in the job market today—in the future.

Early Acquisition of Computer Science · ©2008 Justin Solomon and Peter Rusev