March 1, 1993
From an educational point of view, would you put the Mathematica language on a par with Fortran or Pascal?
People might attack me for immodesty, but I think in the present day and age, if you’re teaching general people about programming computers, Mathematica is far and away the best programming language to use—and I’ll tell you why. There are a certain set of people, who when they are grown up, will write things like compilers. Those people need to know C and they need to know how to build parsers. But in the world right now, there are probably only 50 people who write compilers. And probably most of them learned what they needed outside of school, anyway.
What one should be trying to teach when one teaches people about programming, are two things. First of all, one should teach them the practicalities of actually doing programming that they might use later on in life. Second of all, one should teach them concepts about what it means to program a computer, and what ways of thinking programming involves.
Taking the second of those things first, teaching the concepts of programming in a language like C or Pascal is crazy. You can only teach a very small subset of what is known today about the ways it makes sense to do programming.