Monday, December 10, 2012

Teaching Kids Regular Expressions

Cory Doctorow:

I think that technical people underestimate how useful regexps are for “normal” people, whether a receptionist labouriously copy-pasting all the surnames from a word-processor document into a spreadsheet, a school administrator trying to import an old set of school records into a new system, or a mechanic hunting through a parts list for specific numbers.

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I certainly agree that regular expressions have been amazingly useful to me, and I wish I knew them much better than my basic understanding. However, taken in the abstract, "teaching kids regular expressions" seems so odd, and it seems like it would would be a poor fit into the education of most people. I didn't see anything in Doctorow's article explaining how/where he proposed to do this. I suppose maybe I could see regexps as a chapter or small section in general math texts, like telling time and counting money are at certain ages.

I do wish everyone were exposed to some way of empowering themselves with computers, though, be it regexps or scripting or writing spreadsheet functions (I'd like to suggest AppleScript, except I'm not sure if people could get enough concentrated learning out of it before they inevitably hit one of the frustrations or gotchas of the English-likeness monster, which is not something you want in a teaching/learning situation…).

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