The current issue of Scientific American (Aug 2016) includes an article entitled “The Coding Revolution,” on the push to teach coding to K–12 kids. How revolutionary is this movement? Consider the following quotations from proponents:

“Computational thinking includes the ability to abstract, to engage in logical and symbolic reasoning, to take a big problem and decompose it into many smaller problems… These are skills that everyone can use, whether they’re using a computer or not.”

“This is about teaching habits of mind that can be used to solve problems in any realm—habits like breaking down a problem into its component parts, running small experiments to see which approaches fail and which succeed, and working together with other people to find and apply the best ideas.”

“We’re teaching kids to be problem solvers, to think logically, to engage in abstract thinking, to find patterns, to identify alternatives.”

“Because students are encountering the same mental tools across many different courses, they come to see how universally applicable they are, even outside of school.”

Sound familiar? That’s because similar claims appear time and again in discussions about the value of teaching the humanities. Replace “computational thinking” or “coding” with “critical thinking” and the arguments are basically the same in both realms.

The article tacitly acknowledges that the gains these proponents of K–12 coding see in their students come from progressive engagement with ever more complex problems over time and not from computational theory or coding as such. The problems are content specific, but the outcomes are not. This means that similar outcomes can be achieved in different disciplines, such as, say, literature or philosophy, through progressive engagement with the ever more complex content over time. How revolutionary!