Coal country and computer science country used to be different places. But Wyoming, much like Liz Lemon, is trying to show us that we really can have it all.
In the next few weeks, the Wyoming State Legislature will vote on Senate File 29, which would add computer science (CS) to the state’s “common core of knowledge”, making it a requirement for K-12 public schools to offer CS education. If it passes, Wyoming would become only the second state in the country to mandate CS education, ahead of neighboring Colorado, ahead of liberal Massachusetts and Vermont, ahead of Silicon Valley’s home state of California.
My earliest professional days were spent in a classroom, having taught in public schools in both Miami and Los Angeles. Ostensibly, the role of a teacher is to help their students grasp the material at hand, but any good public school teacher knows that their real job is to prepare their students for a world that is far from a level playing field. To me, this is one of the most intoxicating possibilities of CS: it should be a great equalizer, a skill whose mastery needs not depend on your physical attributes or socio-economic status.
Zac Opps, a teacher at Powell Middle School in the Park County School District #1, sees the same potential. “It is indeed sweet,” he says, “that the Equality State will help its students realize economic opportunities that can allow them to leap out of poverty – opportunities immune to gender or ethnicity.” Coal mining and mineral extraction tend to be jobs filled by men; introducing more CS jobs not only increases the total number of employment opportunities in-state, but also creates more entry points into Wyoming’s workforce for its female workers.