Education – A Factory or a Greenhouse?

March 10th, 2021 by dayat Leave a reply »

The current public school system was first established during the Industrial Revolution when factory owners needed to have productive employees. They found their raw material amongst the street urchins, who were so prolific at the time. The purpose of the schools was to turn out productive workers. This changed a bit over time so that today the purpose of schools is to turn out productive citizens. The methods have changed little.

Initially the children were taught the necessary skills of Mathematics and Literacy. History and science were added because these are integral to a “classical” education. Second language and art have always been given a lower status as extras. Physical education was added because, unlike the street urchins of the Industrial Revolution, modern children do not get much exercise. So now we have what might be considered a well-rounded curriculum for a modern public school system. And yet many of us know that it is just not working. Various different groups of parents, teachers, politicians, and interest groups have added their bandages to the system but the failings are there for everyone to see. Students are getting poorer and poorer in basic skills such as reading, writing, and calculating. They are often not able to get meaningful jobs, even with a university degree. It might come as a surprise to some, but not to many, that most university graduates are not working in either their field or a job that requires a degree two years after graduation.

When intelligent fixes, applied by highly knowledgeable and experienced people in the field, do not give the desired results, it is time to go back and assess the basic premises. There are two fundamental ideas that the public school system is built on. Primarily, that the purpose of education is to turn out productive citizens. While this is definitely true, we should question whether that is all that it should do. And we need to carefully check how we determine what will constitute a productive citizen. Judging by the statistics from after graduation, we are not doing a very good job. There is an assumption that standardized testing somehow correlates to productivity. An assumption that not only has no foundation in fact, but also does not even make sense.

The second premise is that there is a “best practices” model to be found in education. If we can just find the best method for teaching ________ (you fill in the blank – it applies to all subjects), we will have succeeded. This is a business or factory model. The problem is that children are not metal blobs which can all be formed through the same process into little “productive citizens”. There is no best practice, as any of you with more than one child will know very well.

We need to stop thinking of our schools as factories. We need to think of them as greenhouses, where each seedling receives the care and nurturing required for that individual being to grow and mature. We need to change the entire way that curriculum is delivered, that students are tested, that outcomes are measured. Until we realize that it is time to move beyond the Industrial Revolution, until we realize that children are not widgets, until we realize that productivity does not mean making all children the same, we will continue to fail in the public school system. We will continue to betray the potential of our children.

Sharon Holzscherer

Principal, Mississippi School for the Arts



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