PyCon 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio

Thursday 1 p.m.–1:30 p.m. in

Errata for a keynote

Luciano Ramalho


In 2017 I was honored to deliver a keynote for the PyCon Education Summit. I also had a serious case of impostor syndrome. At the time, I was not a full time teacher, and had not been for many years. During my rather disconnected presentation, I said two things that I regret and that I'd like to correct by presenting a 5-minute lightning talk. The first one is about the distribution of programming ability in classes, when I quoted an article titled "The Camel has Two Humps" ([Bornat et. al, 2008][1]). As I write this, I just found out it was [retracted][2]. Regardless of the retraction, while reflecting on my keynote I concluded that the article, regardless of scientific merits, could have a very negative impact on educators, by supporting the cruel viewpoint that some learners are "hopeless". In my country, this viewpoint is endemic in the top universities, particularly in the STEM majors, and we need to challenge it, not support it with unscientific "studies" like Bornat's. My second regret was the conclusion to the story I told about how I and another boy were the only people in a study hall with 60 students to take up a librarian's offer to learn how to use the first Apple II computers that our high school had acquired. In the conclusion, I said the episode had a deep impact on my thinking. As I reflected on the lack of curiosity on the part of the 58 who chose the study hall instead of the computer lab, I blamed the school system. The moral of the story also had a meritocratic bias. "The opportunity was offered to everyone, but only I and the other guy took it." However, "meritocracy" is mostly used to deflect serious thinking about privileges. I was ready to take the librarian's offer because of my privileges: as an adolescent, I had lots of free time, lived in a home with hundreds of books, and long before microcomputers were widely available in my country, my father gave me a programmable calculator that was beyond the means of most high school students at the time, even in the US. So I had everything at hand to learn to code, and I was primed to take advantage of the computer lab when the offer came. These are the things I'd like to retract from my keynote, in a 5-minute lightning talk, if you give me the opportunity. [1]: [2]: