Educational Taylorism

One of the favored arguments for the the increase in testing, standards and the like is the need to prepare our students to be workers. While I’m quick to make the citizens-over-workers argument, I’ll play your little worker game.

I’ve been reading The Future Arrived Yesterday by Michael Malone as of late. I pushed through the overly ironic title to find some good suff.

Malone’s overall thesis is that today’s corporations are on their way to becoming what he terms “Protean Corporations” or dying. (Hello, GM?) While that’s all well and good and likely to lead to its own post, I want to point to Malone’s outlining of the evolutionary stages modern corporations have gone through to get to the precipice on which they now teater.

Notably stuck in my craw is Taylorism.

Malone writes:

At its most obsessive, Taylor’s time-motion studies broke tasks down to less than a second per step, to the point twhere he and his adherents could determine how a worker should best place his feet, how far his arm should move on a task and how much he should turn to pick up the next component. And it worked: at progressive companies like Ford, workers achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency and productiviy.

Awesome, right? Familiar too?

In most Philadelphia schools, teachers follow a core curriculum dictating when, say, a 9th grade English teacher teaches a certain standard/material. As of this year, those same Philadelphia high schools have been giving their students weekly, 10-question multiple-choice tests in math and English to check up on students’ progress.

Again, awesome, right?

Malone also points out:

…[I]n almost every lace – from Bethlehem Steel to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers – where Taylor personally implemented his theory, the result was usually internal dissension followed by Taylor being fired. And while other companies did successfully implement the Taylor Plan, often to great competitive advantage [KIPP?], these new systems not only didn’t quell labor strife, they actually seemed to exacerbate it.

I know, I was shocked at that last point too. Seems our Educational Taylorism might not be the best direction in which to head.

Not to fear, Malone explains:

Taylor had made the most common error of scientists and technologist: he had treated human beings as just one more component in the production process.

It seems, we’re not only attempting to prepare our students for an approach to work that is in its last throes, but we’re using a management approach that has led to strikes, congressional hearings and general unrest.

If only the corporate world could do more than show the folly of our ways and supply us with a better way of doing things at the same time. Oh, wait:

During those long war years, [HP co-founder Dave] Packard, running the company almost alone, had discovered the incrediblepower of letting the cmployees themselves make decisions, to assume control over their own careers, and to take it upon themselves to keep the company healthy and successful…Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard seemed to understand, almost intuitively, and years before anyone else, that in a world of constant change, the old rules had been turned inside out.

More than anything else, I want our schools to start looking to the HPs of education for direction. SLA understands these tenets. My last school, Phoenix Academy in Sarasota, FL, understood them as well. I was amazed each time I went to then-principal Steve Cantees with some unorthodox idea on how to get the school’s recruited population of our district’s lowest achieving students to improve their writing. Each time, Cantees would listen, ask questions and then sign off on the idea.

At some point, I commented on how surprised I was each time he agreed. “Zac, these kids have had school the usual way, and we know it didn’t work. It’s time to try something new.”

Chris Lehmann is the same way. My fear is we have fewer and fewer examples of the kind of progressive pedagogical practice to which we can point and say, “See that, that’s what the world needs.”

The ‘why nots’ are easy: It’s messy. It requires a comfort with failure.

There is no silver bullet. We have to be comfortable with failure, and trust, like Hewlitt and Packard, that teachers will “take it upon themselves to keep the ‘company’ healthy and successful.”

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2 thoughts on “Educational Taylorism

  1. Pingback: Twitted by grammasheri

  2. Zac, I teach Science by Analogy with my home students (my kids). The process is comparison, comparing what one knows with what is unknown or unexplored. We were walking about town and I was casting out the standard question: “What does that remind you of?” and “How is that different/similar to something you already know?” When I tossed out the question as we strolled past the square brick middle school, my daughter, then 9, said “It looks like a factory.” My eldest, then 12, spoke “It looks like an armory.” In the 1890’s a small cadre of university elites (like the president of Harvard) gathered as The Committee of Eight to design a modern public school framework to respond to the most recent Indutrial Revolution. In Noah Webster’s 1826 dictionary education is defined [paraphrased] as the disciplines and subjects studied toward creating a citizen capable of supporting the commonweal. Look up the current definition. I AM SO GLAD I HAVE YOUR BLOG IT IS AWESOME. CarolAnn

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