TITLE: Politics in a CS Textbook AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 13, 2014 4:25 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Earlier this week, I looking for inspiration for an exam problem in my algorithms course. I started thumbing through a text I briefly considered considering for adoption this semester. (I ended up opting for no text without considering any of them very deeply.)
No Politics warning sign -- handmade
The first problem I read was written with a political spin, at the expense of one of the US political parties. I was aghast. I tweeted:
This textbook uses an end-of-chapter exercise to express an opinion about a political party. I will no longer consider it for adoption.
I don't care which party is made light of or demeaned. I'm no longer interested. I don't want a political point unrelated to my course to interfere with my students' learning -- or with the relationship we are building. In general, I don't want students to think of me in a partisan way, whether the topic is politics, religion, or anything else outside scope of computer science. It's not my job as a CS instructor to make my students uncomfortable. That isn't to say that I want students to think of me as bland or one-dimensional. They know me to be a sports fan and a chess player. They know I like to read books and to ride my bike. I even let them know that I'm a Billy Joel fan. All of these give me color and, while they may disagree with my tastes, none of these are likely to create distance between us. Nor do I want them to think I have no views on important public issues of the day. I have political opinions and actually like to discuss the state of the country and world. Those discussions simply don't belong in a course on algorithms or compiler construction. In the context of a course, politics and religion are two of many unnecessary distractions. In the end, I did use the offensive problem, but only as inspiration. I wrote a more generic problem, the sort you expect to see in an algorithms course. It included all the relevant features of the original. My problem gave the students a chance to apply what they have have learned in class without any noise. The only way this problem could offend students was by forcing them to demonstrate that they are not yet ready to solve such a problem. Alas, that is an offense that every exam risks giving. ... and yes, I still owe you a write-up on possible changes to the undergraduate algorithms canon, promised in the entry linked above. I have not forgotten! Designing a new course for spring semester is a time-constrained operation. -----