This is a true story, and you may disagree with my opinion based on what has happened here.

I live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

A few months ago, my chemistry teacher assigned my honors class to do projects for the school science fair. Everyone in my class, sans me, had done a project the year before and were experienced in this field. Last year, there had been no computer science category, so I knew it was all up to me. This year, there were four entries in the computer science category. The other three were from my class as well. They weren't really computer science. Two were the same thing ("How does music affect a person during gaming") and another was something about people improving their typing speed from using MUDs as compared to using the school's typing program.

I constantly debated with them about this, trying to convince them that their projects belonged in behavioral science. After awhile, I just sulked about it to myself and accepted that they were there to stay. Besides, without them, there would be no computer science category and my project would have been placed in the health and medicine category or somewhere it didn't belong.

Now, we had to obviously write a research paper about this and the teacher kept track of our progress in the two months that we were given to complete the project. My teacher was very involved in everyone's project, but not mine. I had no one to go to for help. She didn't understand my variables. She had never heard of C++. She had never heard of an executable.

You may think this hurt me in the long run, but to keep her intellectual reputation, she would give me 100's on all of my updates and progress. On my rough draft, she wrote, "I'd write feedback if I understood this!" and admitted that she had been laughing about my paper all evening.

By now, we were getting to about two weeks before the fair. My honors English teacher had asked me a few other students to come speak to a class of honors teachers about stress and I admitted to my teacher then that I had not really began my project until a couple of days before. She said, "But you seemed so passionate about it."

I received my paper back. I got a 95 on it. Five points were removed because I didn't do my references in APA style.

The school science fair came. I spent a good amount of time speaking to about five judges about my project. They all wanted to know where I got the idea for my project. I'd have to answer in this embarrassingly-unintentional arrogant tone, "Well I've been into programming since I was seven years old." One man laughed and told me that was funny because he and some of his friends had struggled in college to learn C. The other four judges only knew enough about computers to operate one in an office environment for word processing and database management. They related all the knowledge from my entry with their personal experiences with computers. Unfortunately, there was no connection between Word and this code. I didn't want to embarrass them, and I really wanted to win, so I just smiled. After my judges had left, a teacher approached me and told me that the only thing she remembered about programming was doing punch cards in college. And I wanted to say, "Well all you're trying to do is demonstrate how old you are to me." But again, I kept my big mouth closed.

A majority of the students who looked at mine at exhibition time would say something to me like, "I'd read it.. if I understood it!" Naturally, I won first place in my category and ended up going to the regional fair with the guy who won second place, the one who did his on typing speeds.

The judges at the regional level, which took place at Francis Marion University, were not any better. We had one judge in my category. On my board, for the title, as an attempt to be clever, I had wrote, "cout « "Programming Languages and Executables" « endl;" He looked at me with humor and nonunderstanding in his voice, "Koot? C-O-U-T?" I responded, "It's code." Then he went through my paper and looked at my references. In my references, I had listed a bunch of people I had never got the chance to talk to. Nate (yes, the Everything head honcho) was one of these people who I obviously never got to speak to because it was all just some pipe dream of mine. He looked at his last name and said, "Nice name." I wanted to know why he was wasting his time looking at someone's last name.

Now after this experience, I really thought it was over for me. Then the worst thing happened. I showed up Saturday for the awards ceremony. Not only had I won first place in my category, but I had received the Intel award, the Yale Computer Science and Engineering award, and the Navy and Marine Corps award as well. What bothers me is that.... no one knew what my project was about except for me.

Outside of science fair world, everyone understood. Even my boyfriend's dad, who doesn't take any particular interest in computers understood. What was my project on? Something incredibly simple: comparisons of executable size in visual basic, quick basic, c, and c++. I didn't win those awards because I deserved them. I won them because everyone else is stupid and doesn't give half a shit about computer science here. Even the announcer at the awards ceremony read my title and saying, "Her title is 'foo', if anyone knows what that means."

I wanted to give all of my awards back. But I'm greedy and think these will look amazing on my college application. I wanted someone to interview me just so I could say, "Well I'm glad I got the awards, all five of them, but they could mean less to me knowing that I received them because someone was afraid of looking ignorant."

Well the point being, I think that the southeast needs to build a better curriculum to educate its students in computer science.


As a follow-up and response to mblase:

Actually, I did explain these terms in my paper. Not only do I write a 10-page introductory section, I made a glossary of jargon. I explained my project and its meaning to most people (with the exception of the announcer of the awards ceremony obviously because it would have been inappropriate to stop the entire program and explain), and I would not say that they were incapable of understanding, but rather they didn't want to understand.

And in response to Roland:

You are correct. I had not considered Atlanta, which I am aware is a computer science hub. My statement is a generalization. I believe that there are very few computer science Meccas in the southeast, but I will give credit to Atlanta.

Citizen:

I live in Atlanta, Georgia, where there is considerable knowledge in computer science. Atlanta is in the Southeastern United States.

Perhaps your title should have read Lack of Knowledge in Computer Science in Public Schools in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

I am not trying to be rude, but your generalization concerning the Southeastern US is in fact, untrue. Atlanta is a major force in the computer industry, with major hubs of companies like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Compaq, Lucent Technologies and Microsoft, not to mention countless smaller computer companies. The Georgia Institute of Technology as well as The University of Georgia host two of the most respected Computer Science Colleges in the country. Atlanta is also home to companies like Extreme Logic, that provide certification training to those in the computer field.

I agree that public schools (at least the ones I went to here in Georgia) are sorely lacking in computer expertise. It seems to me, though, that this may not be all that bad. What do you think would happen if public schools all over the country began providing excellent educational opportunities in computer science? There would be more individuals going into college and then the workforce with a great deal of knowledge in computers, thus flooding the marketplace with supply. Salaries would drop and it would be more difficult to find a job. Not too appealing, huh?

On my board, for the title, as an attempt to be clever, I had wrote, "cout « "Programming Languages and Executables" « endl;"

What was my project on? Something incredibly simple: comparisons of executable size in visual basic, quick basic, c, and c++.

Even the announcer at the awards ceremony read my title and saying, "Her title is 'foo', if anyone knows what that means."

So let me get this straight: you knowingly filled your science project with references and terminology that are unique to computer science, didn't explain any of them so that a layman could understand them, and then you get upset because a bunch of non-geeks were confused?

Shame on you.

The whole point of a science project is to educate people about something that you researched. If you knew full well that everyone else thought "computer science" meant typing and video games, you should have taken the time to explain what an executable was, what the fundamental differences were in your chosen languages, and why the ultimate file size should make any difference.

The world is not like E2: you can't expect people to automatically be familiar with field-specific terminology. Of course your public school teachers don't know what "cout" and "endl" mean; they've never studied programming.

Be fair and reasonable. Not everyone has the same background knowledge that you do.

"We've actually suffered from a 'cracker' attack;
some hick in Georgia managed to take out
a UUnet backbone with a shotgun about 2 months ago."

-- Rand Race, on Slashdot, July 30, 2000

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