strangest systems I've sent email from

Swift Griggs swiftgriggs at
Mon Apr 25 14:05:38 CDT 2016

On Mon, 25 Apr 2016, Brian L. Stuart wrote:
> First, it's not pointing out which languages/techniques are popular that's
> narrow- minded and short-sighted.

I get that. 

> It's the view that popularity and "commercial viability" is the primary 
> consideration of value in education that's narrow-minded and 
> short-sighted.

I know what you are getting at.  It's basically an extension of the
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.  The idea is somewhat that if students learn a
"good" language that'll teach them some meta-structure that will help them
later.  Conversely, I've heard folks say that BASIC is the opposite since
the goto statement encourages bad-coding. 

> Second, it's the perspective that's narrow-minded and short-sighted, not
> the person who expresses that perspective.

I get that too. Then, let me say that the *idea* that I was attacking 
Pascal via Oberon rather than the Ivory Tower Academics is ridiculous. 

> Many people fail to appreciate the distinction between training and 
> education and as a result see the primary purpose of the university to 
> be job preparation.

I completely understand the point you are making. I don't disagree.

Since most folks are too broke to afford it without taking on massive 
debt, modern students might be forgiven if the distinction is lost on them 
after they emerge with huge debt saddling them. Your point might be 
logically valid, but ask a 23 year old if they care when they can't get a 
job after giving the uni a quarter million bucks and 4-5 years of time 
they spent being "educated" rather than "trained". The underlying point I 
was making is that schools don't always "train" a person ...  and that's 
what I wanted and actually needed. There weren't any dedicated coding 
schools I had access to back then. So, my option was to attend a local 
school I could afford or nothing. Much to my chagrin all but one of the 
profs had turned off their brains in 1986 and it was the 90's. The only 
one of them who could actually teach *or* train me in anything was too 
busy managing a ranch (seriously) to spend much time teaching. The rest of 
them could barely grade my code.

> That so many people misunderstand the purpose of the university isn't a 
> reflection on their individual intelligence or priorities.  It's a 
> reflection on the misplaced priorities of the secondary education system 
> and of society as a whole.

True. I wonder though, do you believe that teaching a language with almost 
zero commercial value is justified in the name of education because of 
it's superior "meta" qualities ? They couldn't have done both since all 
commercially successful languages are just so much trash ? IMHO, one can 
teach using just about any Turing-complete language (and yes I've taught 
programming classes myself, just not at a University). If the lang sucks 
then you can point out what sucks about it and what not to do.

My first language was Logo. It'd have been a lot more helpful at the time 
if it was something else. I tossed Logo aside the minute I got a compiler. 
99% of the useful design patterns are ones I've learned on my own. As Will 
Hunting says, I might have paid $1.50 in late fees to learn what they 
taught me in school and been a lot better off, but bereft of the sheepskin 
in the end. Then again, I went to two crappy schools that didn't 
specialize in CS. I didn't graduate. I dropped out in my 4th year after 
the frustration boiled over. So, maybe my personal perspective is just as 
personal as those folks who went to MIT and fell in love with LISP, just 
different (about $250,000 different, in fact).

> It's the same misplaced priorities that lead so many students to be so 
> obsessed by the most meaningless part of the system: grades.

Grades aren't meaningless if you have a grant/scholarship to maintain or 
need to get into graduate school. They aren't meaningless if you have to 
pay tuition and ever class you have to re-take costs you $$$. They have 
plenty of meaning to employers like IBM who might not hire you for that 
entry-level position with a low GPA. They might not reflect some aspect of 
education or learning you think is important, but there is more to going 
to uni than just to get a mind expanding education.

I think folks who haven't been to school in 20+ years have a totally 
warped view of what is happening nowadays. They are becoming 
astronomically expensive and the value they impart is more and more 
questionable. The debt trap they participate in is good enough reason for 
many students to avoid them altogether and seriously consider "training" 
style schools as alternative if you'd like to say, be able get a job via 
passing a technical interview when you graduate. 

I was coding at a job about six years ago and we wanted to hire a couple 
of interns. So, we interviewed about 6 candidates. All our code was in C 
or C++ and we found that none of the students from the local universities 
had those skills. They were taught (some) Smalltalk and (mostly) Java. 
Okay, fine, but the ones I interviewed had very weak critical thinking 
skills, and that was the worst part since I could have grudglingly taken 
the time to teach them C or C++. I could only attribute that to the 
memorize-and-regurgitate culture of the schools, but maybe it was just bad 
luck.  We ended up hiring a 17 year old kid with GED who made the college 
grads look downright pathetic. He was self-taught on cheap home computers. 
He knew a few scripting languages we didn't care about but we taught him C 
and C++ and he was doing commits about three weeks later. Later on we 
hired one of the interns and had to let them go because he didn't 
understand that he couldn't skip work like he skipped class and also 
couldn't think or code his way out of a wet paper sack.

If I remain dubious of the value of "education" vs "training", just chalk 
it up to my personal experience.


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