School Beat: Schools are (Still) not Factories

Lisa Schiffbyline‚ Feb. 07‚ 2013

Schools are not factories, though we as a society seem unwilling to truly accept this. Probing into the past of public education reveals that serious flaws of today’s schools--large class sizes, formulaic curricula, overburdened teachers, narrow conceptions of what should be taught, how children learn and how to assess it--have direct and eerie antecedents in a much earlier era of public education. In a troubling irony, our widespread historical ignorance within the education realm has allowed us to come full circle and essentially repeat in these early years of the 21st century what students endured at great cost in the early years of the 20th century.
In the 1910’s our country was captivated (or horrified) by the promise of Frederick Taylor’s “scientific management” approach to wringing out the most from every production setting. Through “efficiency studies” that broke down every step in every task and set a target standard of for literally every movement, Taylor’s methods were used to completely refactor the labor process. It’s old news that time and motion studies ruled that period, forever changing the nature of work from railroads to factories, but it may be surprising to many that those same “scientific management” strategies were also applied in that period to public schools, similarly and permanently altering our approach to education our nation’s children.