Coding Is Great, but Maybe Everyone Should Learn to Read

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 9 2013 2:17 PM

Coding Is Great, but Maybe Everyone Should Learn to Read

453018571
Tablets are great, especially if you can read.

Photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

The president has successfully reignited the conversation over whether in the digital age everyone should learn to code. I think the best way to think about this is as comparable to whether everyone should master Oliver Queen's salmon ladder routine. Which is to say, it'd be pretty awesome if we could all do that, but it's hardly the low-hanging fruit of physical fitness challenges.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, something like 14 percent of the adult population rates as "below basic" in their English-language prose literacy. Which is to say they can't read. Of those tens of millions of people, about 44 percent didn't speak English until they started school. So some fraction of the 44 percent is probably literate in some other language. Not an ideal situation, but more a consequence of immigration than of educational failure. But 56 percent of America's illiterate population did speak English at an early age. They just never learned to read. And note that the questions used to measure this are not very challenging.

One good reason it would be good if, in the future, we did a better job of teaching people how to read and write properly is that literacy is a good foundational tool for learning how to write computer software. It also helps you understand your credit-card bill. And to write your congressman about the need for political action on some subject useful to you. A lot of the conversation about education in this country seems to me to make this same mistake—ignoring how poorly the kids who are doing the worst are doing and how much good could be accomplished by bringing the worst performers up to par.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

There Are New Abuse Allegations Against Adrian Peterson

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.