I know as I begin this post that there will be any number of readers who will run to their bookshelves to find references to nail me on some of the observations that I am about to put into print. Sorry, I should have used the term” text”. Additionally, those people are not running to bookshelves with hard copies of textbooks or encyclopedias. I forgot we are in the 21st Century and we use computers and search engines. It is sometimes easy to forget. I would hope that comments of this post could bring some clarity to that which I often find confusing. This is the twenty-first Century.
As long as I can remember, I have always pictured the birth of our public education to have started in a conference room of factory building somewhere in the northeast. In my little vision I see captains of industry getting together and determining that if the United States was to move ahead as a manufacturing giant in a someday-to-be world economy, U.S. workers needed to come to work with skills that would be needed to support that industrial effort. We needed them to have a work ethic and a culture that would lend itself to the needs of industry. Of course someone pointed out that not all of America was industrial, so some concessions would be made. To placate Agriculture, they allowed farmers to have their child laborers from June until after the Harvest in August. Of course we needed uniformity, so they extended those dates to be common to all schools.
The idea was to set up the schools just like industry. They started the school day in the A.M. and the shift would then go to the afternoon. An eight-hour day would be great, but these are young people, so they shortened the shift by an hour. They could always get that hour back by giving kids work to take home. They set up little groups to train the needed skills, Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic. That was a cute way to name the needed skills, the 3 R’s. This is the Job for kids. If the kids show that they get it, they would get a promotion in their job as long as their manager approved. Each of the factories would be managed by a small group of managers under one overall lead manager. That manager, called the principal, would develop the schedules and make sure everyone puts the hours in.
This is how I pictured it in my mind. The facts do not really matter, so do not run to Google to download a firsthand account of who was where, and who said what back on the day as they thought all this up. None of that is important, because the reality is that this industrial model of Public Education is what we deal with as part of our culture. It matters not where it came from. Over the centuries, research has not changed this model. We still have our 8-3 shift. We still send our kids home for the summer to work the crops. We still group kids together and give promotions. We still focus on the 3 R’s. This is all despite the fact that research has supported doing things in a much different way in most, if not all, of those areas.
To take this industrial model a step further our society has come to believe that educators are manufacturing a product. People are paying taxes to support education and they need to know what their Return on Investment is. Hence, the Standardized tests were introduced. They provide an easy explanation, and a way to measure the needed skills of Reading, Riting, and, Rithmetic. It would seem that this is the product people expect to be manufactured. This is what is needed by our labor force to get and maintain job. That must be the goal of education, a job.
Now, I wonder is there a need to change what everyone chooses to believe. Centuries of time couldn’t do it. Research couldn’t do it. An economic downturn couldn’t do it. Huge unemployment numbers do not seem to be doing it. Even the collective common sense some educational leaders seem to have at times has had no effect. It would seem that people are demanding change to get a better Return on their Investment, but they want this without allowing any change to take place. I think that may for me be the most confusing part.
If we are to keep this industrial model, can we agree on what the product is? Can we restructure our workforce? Can we fairly hold managers accountable? Can we update our manufacturing tools with technology? Can we improve our work schedules?
If we cannot do all of that, an alternative might be to examine if this industrial model of educations is still the way to go. Is it serving us the way it should. If the safety, security and continuation of our society and democracy is dependent on the product of Education, it is incumbent upon us to get it right. It is a growing concern that I have, while I watch the 6:30 P.M. News each evening. It is my twentieth Century habit that increases my Twenty-First Century concerns.