Our current education system is based on an outdated need. When education first was popularized and created as a public institution, we were smack in the middle of the Industrial Age. At that time, the new model of work was the factory.
The popular working culture of hierarchy in a pyramid shape was born, with lots of workers at the bottom base of the pyramid, supervisors and managers mid-way up and a big boss at the top. The workforce needed people who could come in at the bottom levels of the pyramid, do the same sort of work day in and day out, and follow the directions of the management. If they worked hard, factory workers had opportunity to move up the pyramid to a shift supervisor or even manager position over time.
This model was working really well, especially with Henry Ford’s incredible creation of the assembly line. The primary leadership style was authoritarian, and workers were expected to follow the orders of the upper management and not think too much beyond how to do their assigned tasks. Each worker had their small scope of work in the larger machine of the factory.
Our education system was created to produce workers for this Industrial Age workplace. Schools were set up in a hierarchical structure mirroring the factories, and children were taught the rules of how to respond to authoritarian figures such as the teachers and principals or heads of school.
Children were taught to complete the assigned work without question, learn information in an often rote manner, and to work hard and move up through the ranks (also known as grades). Very little critical thinking occurred.
In fact, we viewed children developmentally as empty containers ready to receive the knowledge of more experienced and learned adults. Those children who could stay in school through higher grades had a better chance of becoming the middle level managers in the workplace.
The early value of education was essentially to produce a workforce that could readily meet the demands of the job market.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this origination of education, and it was a huge accomplishment for public education to be made available to all children. Before this structure, only children from wealthier families, and usually only the boys, were able to receive an education.
But in the years since the founding of our education system, the world has significantly changed. We have seen more growth and innovation in the past 150 years than in the entire two millennia previous. Statistics indicated in 1948 that all the available knowledge in the world is actually doubling every 30 years. In 2013, human knowledge was doubling every 13 MONTHS!
We have moved out of the Industrial Age and away from the factory model in many ways. Yet, our workplaces still exist primarily in a hierarchical, authoritarian format, and our education system has not shifted as a whole to move away from preparing children to be factory workers.
Yes, there are many promising practices being implemented in many school systems across the country. But the philosophical underpinnings of “how” we educate as a nation are still stuck in the Industrial Age. It is time for us to create a new philosophy of education that serves students in our current world circumstances and in looking to the future. Check back next week for my thoughts on that new philosophy.