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Choosing Moby Dick Over Computer Code

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

Where has the summer gone? It’s already back-to-school time, and my son heads back to college in a few weeks.

But there’s one change. His dabbling in the computer science field is over.

He tells me he’s done studying computer code, and sticking with his love for words — literature.

Why not? He’s survived a semester reading Chaucer, Milton and Moby Dick and not only lived to tell about it, he loved it.

His computer science class? Not so much.

I asked him about what happened with his one-time undying interest in computer science. Turns out it has become the hottest major on his campus, and his school actually tries to thin out the dilettantes by making the freshman intro course much tougher.

“The people who did well actually had computer science classes in high school,” my son said.

Some magnet schools around the country are offering such advance science courses, and by time a kid gets to college, they can code rings around a freshman whose giftedness in World of Warcraft is irrelevant.

It’s a little like stepping into a beginning music class in college with people who have been playing an instrument as early as pre-school.

You aren’t going to make it to 3rd Violin.

That’s the kind of competition kids like mine are facing. For my son, Moby Dick was an easy choice. But that’s so 1851, not 2051.

To some, my son’s choice can seem all wrong.

Increasingly these days, some coding is being taught in special public school tech magnets, but more so in private institutes and camps for kids as young as 7.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there are as many as 371 private entities and summer camps teaching computer coding, with one camp boasting a three-fold jump in participants to nearly 15,000 in recent years.

One private company in the Silicon Valley boasts a total enrollment at all its locations around the country at over 36,000 students, up from 19,000 in just three years.

And the mad rush is all due to the perception that computers and technology will not just get you into college, but get you a top-paying job immediately out of school.

By 2020, some 1.4 million computer-related jobs are projected to be available, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. But, a nonprofit group that advocates for advanced computer learning, says there will be fewer qualified students with just 400,000 majoring in computer science. A glut of jobs? Only if they don’t get shipped off to cheaper foreign labor markets. Still, the undergrads — and their parents — are optimistic.

My son admitted many of his friends were interested in computers for exactly that reason: entrée to a job in a high-paying industry. The hope is that all that would help pay down their exorbitant school expenses as quickly as possible.

And if it doesn’t work? They could be left studying a dead computer language that is usurped by the next hot thing.

My son already seems comfortable in his decision to forego the tech field, doesn’t feel like it’s the end of the world and is happy to study what he loves instead.

“Dad,” he told me. “College isn’t supposed to be a vocational school.”

I didn’t expect to hear that from a kid who in third grade was so hindered by dyslexia his teachers condemned him as not being college material.

But we got him the non-traditional tutoring he needed early on to read, not code. And now he loves to learn and has a solid 3.3 GPA (that would have been higher except for his computer science experience).

Frankly, I do understand why some of his friends’ parents are pushing them into computers.

When college costs so much, sometimes we put too much emphasis on paying for it and deriving some kind of value that translates into future earnings.

But that can mean we lose sight of the real value of having four years of personal growth, to take our time to mature and think.

Or has that kind of higher ed become too much of a luxury in a money-oriented, always on, modern digital world?

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund ( Like him at; Twitter @emilamok.

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