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Communications of the ACM


Toward Justice in Computer Science through Community, Criticality, and Citizenship

bar of blue light, bar of green light, and the word 'progress'

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates, Shutterstock

Neither technologies nor societies are neutral, and failing to acknowledge this, results at best, in a narrow view of both. At worst, it leads to technology that reinforces oppressive societal norms. The systemic biases and social hierarchies that influence our society also guide the design of computing technologies, resulting in harm and marginalization of vulnerable people within the tech industry and in broader society. We agree with Alex Hanna, Timnit Gebru, and others who argue individual harms reflect institutional problems, and thus require institutional and systemic solutions. We believe computer science (CS) as a discipline often promotes itself as objective and neutral. This tendency allows the field to ignore systems of oppression that exist within and because of CS. As scholars in educational psychology, computer science education, and social studies education, we suggest a way forward through institutional change, specifically in the way we teach CS. CS education must not only help students develop technical skills, but also frame computing within the context of society, with the potential to foster oppression or further justice." In this column, we take a critical perspective toward CS education and argue for a justice-centered CS education that focuses on communities, criticality, and citizenship.

CS education has attempted to resolve injustices by broadening access to computing through expansion of course curricula, professional development, and technology. Governments and industry have spent billions of dollars to increase access to computing education across the U.S., from computational thinking to data science and now artificial intelligence. While there has been an increased representation of students from marginalized groups, issues that disproportionately harm vulnerable students (for example, too few highly qualified teachers, chronically underfunded schools, and an overemphasis on high-stakes testing) have not been addressed. Increasing access without addressing structural inequities has led to lower academic success for these groups of students. Only 52% of Black students and 61% of Hispanic students passed the AP CS Principles exam, compared to 73% of white students and 83% of Asian students. This suggests access is not enough to increase success in CS.


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