The Perils of a Brownsville Tech Revolution


Richard Shu, Opinion Editor

Disrupting the intergenerational poverty cycle in any city is a daunting proposition. But in Brownsville, plans for a new technological and wellness program promises to upend the trend by training at-risk teenagers for the future. Dubbed “The Campus,” the new initiative will begin with lessons on app development at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Howard Houses, including lectures on coding at local schools and workforce education initiatives at public libraries. Eventually, the organizers behind the initiative hope that Campus services will work with startup incubators and stress relief programs to create a Silicon-Valley-like environment that will foster innovation and provide career opportunities.

The vision behind The Campus is noble. The technological revolution has long been out of reach for students in poor communities, where schools lack the resources and expertise to bring out the best in their students. The Campus recognizes that there is untapped potential in underprivileged students, who are often people of color, and hopes that by keeping them safe and educated they will be able to rise from poverty. It smacks of the dreams of egalitarianism that the digital revolution has long promised.

But anyone can make a promise — for The Campus, the true test will lie with the execution. Teaching children to adapt to the modern workforce requires much more than a single course in JavaScript. Armed only with a few basic coding languages, students of color can expect to find jobs at the very bottom of the workplace hierarchy as service technicians. Additionally, the technology we use changes every year, and soon these students may find that their skills have become obsolete. Being able to write in Java may soon be as antiquated as using a telegram or a fax machine.

The best jobs — the most prestigious and future-proof ones — require a much more comprehensive understanding of computer science. These jobs also require that potential employees understand the theoretical underpinnings of code, of quantitative methods and have a solid approach to problem-solving. Preparing students for the technological workforce necessitates a carefully cultivated mindset that allows them to adapt to the ever-changing challenges of the modern marketplace — not a particular set of skills, but a way of thinking. 

The Campus, for all its ambitions, cannot replace a solid learning mindset with a few lessons in code. In addressing the unique challenges of New York City youth, it must take care not to lose sight of the complications and nuances of technological education. Done wrong, The Campus could become stifling, consigning students to a life of menial computer jobs. But with a carefully considered approach, The Campus could empower students to achieve great things, to improve their communities and to take advantage of the oncoming tide of careers that will be created around the country by the technological revolution.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 21 print edition. Email Richard Shu at [email protected]