Illiterate in Coding

I’m bad at math. A lot of people are bad at math, and there are lots of reasons for that, but as an English educator I want to focus on one reason, literacy. People tend to think of the English discipline when they hear the word literacy, but there are actually many more types of literacy than people realize. Math has a literacy to it. You have to be able to understand the deeper meaning that certain sets of symbols have when placed together in order to decipher the code. I’m talking about solving an equation, but I may as well be talking about reading a complex story or poem. I’m literate enough in math to solve basic equations, but it takes a lot of mental gymnastics. I have to look up the order of operation, use a calculator, and probably phone a friend. It isn’t second nature to me because I’ve never been interested in math, so I never bothered to become really fluent in math. However, I can write ten pages analyzing a single poem just for fun. I’m the annoying English major who will obsess over why a green light is green and what that means. I understand the way the authors use motifs through their writing because I was interested in English enough to become very proficient at the skills involved in the discipline. Beyond being literate enough to understand the symbols involved with math or English, there’s also the jargon involved with those and other disciplines. It helps to have the right vocabulary to talk about a discipline. Where I’m leading this is in the title, there is a literacy to coding too. 

This is something that I knew on a surface level before we had to go home. It was while we were getting into the thick of Git Bash that I began to understand that coding in a type of literacy. My journals that are full of commands are just vocabulary lists. That made the work we were doing in class a lot less daunting. I had a real handle on things, but then we were in the middle of class when we found out that we were coming back after spring break. Starting online classes took a huge toll on me because I love learning above everything else. I want to be an educator because I’m a life-long learner. Not having classes anymore hurt, especially in this class because I didn’t feel like I had learned a lot yet. I took this class because I knew there was so much I had to learn in it. When I decided to take this class, I had several expectations. I was excited to learn more about English in the digital age because I want to be able to assure my future students that English is still useful and worth learning more about. My main expectation was to be learning about the role English takes in the technology age. I thought we would be discussing how English as a discipline needs to react to technology in order to stay relevant, current, and updated. Needless to say, it was quite the shock to find out that no one could define digital humanities, and I’m still waiting on an answer to the question, what is digital humanities? I think that the class as a whole weren’t quite literate in code enough to keep up with what we were supposed to be getting done. That’s no one’s fault, but then on top of us being behind, COVID 19 hit. Because we weren’t having synchronous classes anymore, I decided to do my own research. I realized that I knew very little about coding save for what we did in class, but from the little I knew, I could tell that coding is just another type of literacy. There are symbols, orders of operation,  I am far from fluent in any type of code, but I would say that I am really good at understanding poetry which has a ton of symbols as well. In order to approach digital humanities from a lens I might be able to understand, I combined coding and poetry. 

It turns out that I’m not the first person to think of this. There are whole books of code poetry. I read several poems from the book Code Poetry: Poems Written in Programming Languages, and I did not understand them at all at first! It turns out that there are poems in every type of programming language, not just markdown. I had to do a lot of research for every poem I read. I combined my ability to analyze poetry with the little knowledge I had and was gaining about coding, and it was incredibly challenging and fun. One some level I knew that programming languages are languages, but I never thought of them as languages that could tell stories and convey deeper meanings. It showed me that code and English can not only coexist but cooperate with one another. There is room for the literacy of coding in the English discipline, and when the two work together, the result is complex, creative, and keeping English current in the digital age.

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