A growing number of states are moving toward allowing students to satisfy their high school foreign language requirements with computer coding.
The Kentucky Senate this week passed a bill that would count programming as a foreign language. Lawmakers in New Mexico have proposed similar legislation, and Texas already has a law in place.
After all, proponents say, Java and HTML are languages. And they're arguably more useful than Latin, which has also made a comeback as a popular foreign language choice in recent years.
Kentucky Sen. David Givens (R) told the Courier-Journal that counting programming as a foreign language would expose more students to computer science and help them land lucrative jobs in the computer industry.
Right now, computer science degrees make up just a fraction of the bachelors degrees awarded each year despite the fact that the industry is growing, and women and minorities remain severely underrepresented in the field. In fact, the number of women in computer science courses has actually declined in recent years.
Aneesh Chopra, who served as the nation's first Chief Technology Officer from 2009 to 2012, told Fusion, "I applaud efforts like Kentucky's to expose more students to software coding."
"Schools throughout the country have embraced STEM programs, but I often note that there are really two STEMs - the "SM" (science and math curriculum that has long been required in schools); and "ET" - the more hands-on, problem solving work in Engineering and Technology that has largely been seen as ‘elective,’ if at all," he wrote in an email. "It can (and should) be for everyone."
But advocacy groups like Code.org, which wants to expand access to computer science among girls and underrepresented minorities, say such laws could cause confusion around college admission requirements because few universities see coding as a foreign language. There will also be teacher certification issues. Would a teacher with a foreign language credential all of a sudden be expected to teach students how to code?
"Although we use the term 'programming language' to refer to C++, Java, Python, and so on, these aren’t natural languages," wrote Amy Hirotaka, Code.org's state policy manager, in a blog post.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.