Blog Post

Do Black Lives Matter in Computer Science?

In 2019, just 8 percent of the computer science workforce was black (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). This directly correlates to the lack of opportunity and participation in CS for African-American students in K-12 levels. In 2019, the College Board reported that 6.8% (6,589) of the 96,105 students who took the AP Computer Science Principles exam were black (Schaffhauser, 2019). But it is not enough to report single-digit trends. Teachers and administrators must employ equitable and inviting teaching practices that support black students in CS classes.

Photo of a side profile of a black male teenager looking at a computer screen

 

At the center of any inclusive computer science program is a teacher leader with an equitable mindset. The instructor must have a passion to diversify the CS field at the ground level by preparing students for future roles in technology and computer science. Furthermore, the teacher must have a dedication for vertical alignment toward industry standard platforms and languages. I have identified a few sustainable steps to increase black students’ participation in CS programs.

My first suggestion is to develop comfortable classroom cultures for black students. Educators and administrators need to create equitable, alternating roles in classroom activities. For example, the development of well-managed, authentic project-based learning builds confidence and pride among students while reinforcing educational competencies in core subject areas. In classrooms, display diverse images of role models and people pivotal to the development of technology that the students can look up to. Develop systems to ensure that all voices are heard and respected in the classroom. Teachers and students should also discuss inequities in the CS field and research discrete issues in order to brainstorm potential solutions.

The next step should involve the creation of opportunities outside traditional classrooms. Teachers should put together “STEM days” to exhibit students' work and lead small introductory lessons for parents and other students to understand what STEM and CS are about, such as Scratch Day. They can also organize technology booths at sporting events and have their students volunteer for shifts of presentations and tutorials. A good way to motivate students to participate is by providing extra credit.

Facilitating Skype or Zoom calls with people of color in the computer science field also gives students a chance to interact and uncover the breadth of available roles in CS. Identify pivotal people of color in tech, ideally in your community, and have them share their individual journey into computer science. Students can learn valuable lessons from professionals of various backgrounds to help them understand the challenges different people face in the field.

“If we don’t scout, recruit, invest in, and cheer for black … computer scientists as we do for quarterbacks, linebackers and wide receivers, our youth won’t be able to participate in the game of life when they grow up.” Andre Perry (2019).

In light of the global protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion are no longer eduspeak buzz words. The time for zero tolerance of exclusionary CS education practices is now. If schools continue to support CS teachers who only want to teach to white male students using a patriarchal non-diverse teaching model, we will never invoke change and will essentially strengthen the access barrier for future generations. Teachers must decide whether equity and inclusion is a fundamental tenet of their practice. The “All Lives Matter” approach hasn’t worked for students of color in computer science.

 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor force statistics from the current population survey. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18.htm.

Schaffhauser, D. Number of female students, students of color tackling computer science AP on the rise. (2019, August 19). In THE Journal. Retrieved from https://thejournal.com/articles/2019/08/19/number-of-female-students-students-of-color-tackling-computer-science-ap-on-the-rise.aspx.

Perry, A. Let’s invest in black kids who pursue STEM the way we do black kids on the football field. (2019, December 11). In The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from https://hechingerreport.org/lets-invest-in-black-kids-who-pursue-stem-the-way-we-do-black-kids-on-the-football-field/.

 
Leon Tynes teaches technology to K-8 students at the Academy of Math and Sciences-Desert Sky charter school in Phoenix, Arizona. Previously, he taught AP Computer Science Principles, App Development, 3D Modeling (Unity/C#) and Digital Media in the New Haven Public Schools District, Connecticut. Leon has worked closely with the College Board to provide diversity perspectives in CS education and participated in their annual Facebook APCSP Teacher Summit. He is also a Mobile CSP Master Teacher and was an APCSP reader for the past three years.

Comments

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Submitted by William Keil on Tue, 06/30/2020 - 22:02

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!"

In reply to by William Keil

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Submitted by Melissa Rasberry on Wed, 07/01/2020 - 12:03

Thank you for your comment, William! It is this very sentiment from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that undergirds why we believe it is important to listen to the experiences of our Black community members who have not been judged by the content of their characters, but rather the color of their skin. We encourage you to participate in the upcoming #ComputingWhileBlack activities to help get a better understanding of their experiences.

In reply to by William Keil

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Submitted by Leon Tynes on Wed, 07/22/2020 - 02:07

This is an uphill climb. But with the global impact of BLM and the corresponding movements in the Latinx/Hispanic and Native communities, a difference can be made. Diversity and multiculturalism will become the norm in STEM fields as it should be in every profession. The movement means so much more than t-shirts, protests and signs. This generation will hold entities accountable for unethical business practices and discriminatory practices. In turn, we must transform education out of the Brown v. Board era into a new and individualized model that supports diverse populations in regular practice. Thanks for commenting!

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Submitted by Sheri Schoonmaker on Wed, 07/01/2020 - 12:22

Before I became a teacher, I worked for 20 years with some amazing IT professional who just happened to have black skin (and brown and yellow and white).  These people graduated from Computer Science over 30 years and 40 years ago.  They (and I) did not need to have someone who went before us to tell us we could be successful in Computer Science.  In fact, in college in the 1980's, I was told by a professor that "girls should not be in engineering" when I went to ask for help.  That only made me want to achieve even more.  

When we coddle students, we are actually telling them that we think they cannot accomplish a task without help. It does the opposite of the good intentions.  It destroys confidence.  

In the work force, how would you feel if you found out that you were only hired because of the color of your skin?  Or the gender that you were born with?  Or the place you grew up?  Or your height or weight?  NONE of these things describes the person that you are inside.  The person of strength, of potential, and of possibilities.  These internal qualities are the ones we should be celebrating, encouraging, and publicizing. 

The article by Andre Perry - Let's Invest in Kids Who Pursue STEM the Way We Do Black Kids on the Football Field is excellent and illustrates the things we as a society value.  If you look at many Engineering colleges, especially at the graduate level, the majority of students were not even born in this country.  Maybe we need to rethink travel ball and sports camps and offer free STEM camps.  If you wait until kids are in middle school, it's too late.  They have already fallen behind.

In reply to by Sheri Schoonmaker

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Submitted by William Keil on Wed, 07/08/2020 - 10:20

Thank you Sheri. You expressed my sentiments better than I could have. I have taught students of every size, color, gender, and orientation. I look at each student as an important individual first, with unlimited potential. A true professional teacher should look at all students equally. If not, then they should find another profession. 

In reply to by Sheri Schoonmaker

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Submitted by Leon Tynes on Wed, 07/22/2020 - 02:01

Thanks for your comment. I agree and disagree with some of your talking points. For me, and so many other African Americans, the racism, bigotry and attempts to block my success were the driving force for my achievements to date. This country was built on the concepts of race and skin color was used to enslave them and systemically suppress them physically and economically for many decades. 

To your third paragraph - in undergrad, graduate school and in the workforce, I was told that I would never achieve degrees or promotions because of the color of my skin. It is a part of what black people go through, almost a rite of passage if you will. Many of my black attorney, medical doctor, accountant and coder friends that have earned their places in their professions have dealt with the same roadblocks in the same blatant fashion. But for so many of us, the external hatred and bigotry fuels the internal qualities that make us some of the best professionals in our respective fields. 

I love your idea about STEM camps, especially in underserved communities and in indigenous lands. If we are to teach diverse populations effectively, we have to give them the opportunities to explore CS and tech careers in order for them to thrive and establish a trajectory towards CS and STEM as a career. Thanks for commenting! This constructive dialogue is exactly what is needed to provide robust CS opportunities for ALL students moving forward.