The Education Factory

I found this really interesting blog about the whole idea of the “factory model of education” and its origins from the economic circumstances surrounding the industrial revolution. Of particular interest is this little extract taken from Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock that was mentioned in the author’s post:

Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by industrialism to produce the kind of adults it needed. The problem was inordinately complex. How to pre-adapt children for a new world ā€“ a world of repetitive indoor toil, smoke, noise, machines, crowded living conditions, collective discipline, a world in which time was to be regulated not by the cycle of sun and moon, but by the factory whistle and the clock.

The solution was an educational system that, in its very structure, simulated this new world. This system did not emerge instantly. Even today it retains throw-back elements from pre-industrial society. Yet the whole idea of assembling masses of students (raw material) to be processed by teachers (workers) in a centrally located school (factory) was a stroke of industrial genius. The whole administrative hierarchy of education, as it grew up, followed the model of industrial bureaucracy. The very organization of knowledge into permanent disciplines was grounded on industrial assumptions. Children marched from place to place and sat in assigned stations. Bells rang to announce changes of time.

The inner life of the school thus became an anticipatory mirror, a perfect introduction to industrial society. The most criticized features of education today ā€“ the regimentation, lack of individualization, the rigid systems of seating, grouping, grading and marking, the authoritarian role of the teacher ā€“ are precisely those that made mass public education so effective an instrument of adaptation for its place and time.

It is uncanny and quite frankly a little disturbing how accurate this description is. The good thing is that there is a wind of change. This video from RSA Animate (one of my favorite youtube channels) gives a really good overview of the history of the factory model of education and the changing paradigm shift. What I found particularly interesting (not surprising!) was the correlation between ADHD diagnosis (of almost epidemic proportions) and the rise of standardized testing. Watch the rest of the video (especially the bit on Divergent Thinking)! As a bonus here is another video I found particularly useful in helping me understand the history of education.

It’s time to leave behind the century-old education system andTurn the Page

8 thoughts to “The Education Factory”

  1. I also enjoy the RSA animate series and that particular video.

    What would it be like if such videos were more common and served to introduce topics with a creative visual instead? I have found that having a engaging media is often helpful. For this reason I often have presentations full of pictures and not text. Unfortunately I do not have enough time yet to create my own animated videos.

    1. Ken, thanks for your response. I agree animated videos/creative visuals are very engaging and are great tools for facilitating in class learning. Unfortunately, like you mentioned such videos are hard to create and require a lot of time. I have also shifted to the Assertion-Evidence slide format that makes use of the visuals rather than text in presentations.

  2. This all seems very accurate and is part and parcel of most of our experiences in school. I really appreciated your notion of how our perception of time has changed. Instead of dependent on nature to clock us in and out, we have allowed manufactured processes of time to replace them. Other societies today have different relations to time and structuring their day around such constructions; generally, those societies are also “less mechanical”. What is perhaps more frightening is what Chomsky calls ‘Manufacturing Consent’; how schools that prepare students not for reflective learning but instead “input” into the capitalist cog-machine instills a type of apathetic ideology that consents to various forms of political atrocities and violence. If our schools haven’t taught us to learn, have they also ‘dumbed’ and ‘numbed’ us down to the point that we also have trouble feeling? By mechanizing us, we lose a sense of being human.

  3. Thank you for this post. I had never thought about teaching/education in this way, but it is pretty accurate. It further points out the need for us to adapt our “product” to a changing “market”. That is to say that we no longer need students that can regurgitate information in jobs that require following a step-by-step protocol with no thought involved. Now, our world needs thinkers . . . students who can take knowledge from teachers, books, the internet, social media, etc., and assimilate it in such a way that is useful in a job market that needs problem solvers.

  4. Thank you for sharing these awesome resources. I especially found the excerpt from Toffler’s book very interesting. My question is, if the “education factory” was an “anticipatory mirror, a perfect introduction to industrial society,” how our changes to our current education system reflecting the society of today and tomorrow? Specifically, how might movements in higher education, such as the push for interdisciplinary education and the creation of online courses (i.e. MOOCs), be anticipatory of how our society will function in the coming years?

  5. You’ve touched on so many of my “favorite things” here I don’t even know where to start! Yes I do. With Audrey Watters. She is the disruptive, speaking truth to power force behind Hack Education, and pretty much everything she says is so spot on, it hurts. For a partial (not very cheerful) answer to Brittany’s question above, see her Top Ed-Tech Trends for 2015:
    Thanks for this, Siddharth!

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