Those who can…can

Image of CanCan dancers

Those who CanCan

No, this isn’t going to be about dancing the CanCan, but a reflection on the old saying, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach….or its many variations.

First, teaching should never be disparaged. It’s a noble profession and teachers are the unsung heroes of many lives.

My thoughts were sparked by a statement in a very interesting homage to the programming language Basic.

Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one.

Although I don’t go back in time to quite that long ago, I do recall the days when if you didn’t know a little bit about how the computer and its programming worked you’d be in a bit of a pickle.

And I’m enough of a computer snob to occasionally think (but not say) that those days were the good old days, especially when people ask me what I in my told timer, snobbery think of as a ‘dumb’ question.

As I read that article and the author’s dismissal of the ‘everyone should learn how to code’ movement, immediately agreed, thinking

Good God, we don’t want people who can’t follow instructions writing them!

I admit that I was thinking of a particular sort of computer user, the sort that doesn’t read the instructions or uses the computer by wrote so that if a icon moves or changes colour in a new version, they are convinced that their computer is broken. Or the sort that asks me 10 times in a row how to to do the same task.

But then I remembered my own time teaching and learning, and I remembered that there isn’t only one way to instruct. And a good teacher know how to frame the knowledge in different ways so that it’s accessible to all her students.

I like to think that I was a good teacher, I know my students often said I was. And I prided myself on coming up with different analogies about how different elements behaved, or how to discover another way of looking at the information provided so that they could solve a particularly difficult equation.

In the end I decided that if the creators of BASIC, who 50 years ago, thought every student should have access to a computer and invented a programming language that would be accessible to the students at a liberal arts college

The thinking that led to the creation of BASIC sprung from “a general belief on Kemeny’s part that liberal arts education was important, and should include some serious and significant mathematics

And I firmly believe that to be true. Just as I believe that a part of every scientific education must include liberal arts.

So I celebrate the fifty year anniversary of Basic and salute Kemeny and Kurtz the Dartmouth visionaries created it all those years ago.



  1. Dana - 13 August 2014 9:54 AM

    Fifty years? Wow. I remember learning Basic in high school, and creating small programs to do simple tasks. And I agree with you about liberal arts – my daughter is starting to look at colleges, and we’re looking at schools that provide a well-rounded education.

    • carol - 28 December 2014 3:10 PM

      Hi Dana, it’s funny that after blogging about computing, my Internet connection went haywire. I truly believe in well rounded education, especially since I believe that the purpose of education is to teach you how to find answers, not what the answers are. Just as I believe that parents should teach their children how to make decisions, now what to decide. Of course the age of the child has a big impact on what sort of mistakes you want a child to learn from. Maths, history, hard and soft sciences, literature, music, religion, philosophy they all teach us about being in the world. Good luck to you and your daughter.


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