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David Anderegg thinks we should no longer use the terms ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’:

[Anderegg] says that merely mentioning terms like nerd or geek serves to perpetuate the stereotype. The words are damaging, much like racial epithets, he says, and should be avoided.

Why?

[Because] math, science and computer science, Dr. Anderegg said, are courses that young people too often associate with nerds and geeks. As a result, he added, “they sabotage themselves in these fields, and the nation’s work force is suffering.”

“The best way to combat this,” he said, “is put it to bed,” banishing “nerd” and “geek” to the linguistic dustbin.

I am not sure how much I agree with Anderegg.  On the one hand, I think he has a point that historically certain sets of skills did not confer young students with a great deal of popularity.  In many cases, this pressure to conform and thrive provided students with a disincentive to develop their skills in math and the sciences.  However, I think culturally we’ve seen a shift, especially in the last 20 years.  Being able to create cool applications, websites, etc, is a source of popularity these days (what some have termed the phenomenon digital natives).  Most students today revel in having some degree of basic computer science/coding literacy–those that have exceptional skills reap an even greater return socially.  Furthermore, many people now embrace the term ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ (I often times use it to describe myself–e.g. ‘data geek’ or ‘analytics nerd’).

I tend to agree with Noah Brier that the bigger issue may be with how we teach and introduce children to computer science and, in particular, coding:

As I’ve mentioned in the past, this is something I believe in wholeheartedly. I think you can start with really little kids and make it fun (as the article points out, it’s important to give them the feeling of “magic” you get when you make a computer do what you told it). What’s more, I think it’s really important that the teaching of code be approached from the creative side: Introductory courses should be part of the art department, not science. This is about letting kids build what they dream of and code should be treated no differently than paint and crayons (of course it takes a bit more time to get the hang of than those other things).

Bottom line is stop focusing instruction on the code and start focusing on the output of that code. Let kids make stuff and they’ll be hooked.

He speaks from experience.

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