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Is it time to change the ‘factory model’ of our public schools?

Posted by: | January 19, 2011 | 2 Comments |

It’s been a while since my last blog entry. The year got off to a great start, but a busy start. I am in my fourth week of the Curriculum Foundations course at OISE/UT. The course started with the exploration of some of the early 1900’s conceptualizations of curriculum by education theorists such as Jane Adams, Franklin Bobbitt, George Counts, DuBois and Dewey. One of the ideas that impressed me the most so far is the idea of “Fordism” model of education, which is basically factory-like model of education that still pervades most of our public schools. However, public schooling as we know it today has not been around for a very long time. The notion that states should fund education is a relatively new concept. We have seen the emergence of many public schools during the 1900s, specially between 1900 and 1930 when the world was going through some rather difficult political and economic times. Today we take for granted the idea of public education! Before the public school came into law, there were private schools for the elite and chartered schools, which were established by the elites. Before that, education was something that occurred in churches and monasteries, and only a few were privileged to this monastic, religious education. John Dewey was the father of progressive education during the 1930s. His ideas were so advanced; however, the state refuted his progressive model of education and accepted the “Fordism” model. The schools today look like factories because they are modeled after factories. Dewey’s model was too messy and difficult to control by the state. So the idea that we can take students, partition them into classrooms with an authority figure (the teacher) and then teach them in rows would eventually after eight years of basic education produce citizens in the same way that if we manufacture different parts of a vehicle, assemble them together and we’d produce a functioning car. What problems do you see with this model? And what about figuring out what educational experiences should be presented to the kids, and in what order?  The basic premise of some early curriculum theorists was to take the adult as a model and figure out the curriculum that would develop a child into a learned person, and thus, a successful adult. Is it time to change the model of our schools? Who will initiate this change? Will it be supported by the province/state? How do we evaluate the new model, if we even know what the new model would look like? What kind of a society do we want in the 21st century? I feel that this is the time for change, and although change will be slow, its seeds may have started to be planted in a few progressive public school around the province.

Image credits: http://webpages.scu.edu/ftp/bdonaldson/images/classroom.jpg

under: EduThoughts


  1. By: Graham Whisen on January 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm      

    This is my second attempt at creating a comment. Unfortunately, I lost the first one due to a power failure. I think what I said before was:

    I completely agree that the factory model of education is coming to an end. In many ways, I can’t wait. As a educator I feel as though I am working extra hard to manage “learning for the future” within “systems from the past.”

    At times, I feel very disheartened when I think about the future of education. I am not entirely sure that there is the political or economic will to change the system to what it needs to be. The fact is that education research has told us for a long time that the way we have traditionally educated humans is very limited. Cooperative Learning is not new, Instructional Intelligence is not new, Constructivism, Brain Research, Cross-Curricular Literacy, Differentiated Instruction, Experiential Learning, Problem Based Learning etc., etc. – all of these frameworks are not new, yet the system struggles to change. There are a number of reasons for this, but in my mind the main reason is money. Individualized education is expensive. It also does not allow us to group students into convient categories (such as age and academic ability), so it does not yield “standardized” results.

    It is probably fair to say that the system of education will change, not because of forward thinking and vision, but because of forced necessity. These days, our students are so immersed in a culture of speed, entertainment and social networking. As a result, they are becoming disengaged with our “factory model” education system. Either the system has to change, or we will risk becoming irrelevant in the lives our students.

  2. By: mkrstovic on January 23, 2011 at 11:02 pm      

    Thank you for your message Graham!

    However, I wonder if forced necessity is enough of a driving force to change an education system. Without true visionaries and leaders, how can we move forward and away from the “factory model”.?

    We’re already starting to see the symptoms of this old model…I am referring to disengagement of boys, under-performance of girls in certain subject such as mathematics and sciences (still!)…



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