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letters | the future of the humanities

Learning tech skills isn’t the same as mastering scientific thinking

RE “HUMANITIES at risk” (Op-ed, June 16):

In her column calling for rethinking the way colleges teach liberal arts, Joanna Weiss says all college students should be able to code. I assume she means this as a proxy for learning science. It is not. Coding is a technique, and requires no understanding of science or its methods. Coding should be expected of everyone and long before college. A better recommendation would be, “Everyone learns to apply one of the laws of thermodynamics.”

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Weiss’s requirement would have been germane more than 40 years ago when I was in school. Now we expect coding to be learned by the time students leave elementary school. (And my granddaughter and her classmates show they are rarely stuck with one language.)

Another problem with holding a technique up is that techniques change rapidly; basic science doesn’t. Students today don’t even recognize what we did back then as coding, and soon today’s coding will be obsolete, but the laws of thermodynamics will remain the same.

Richard Johnson

Cambridge

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