Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Henry Ford model of education

The school year started last week with two days of staff development, departmental meetings and announcements. The message that came down was loud and clear: we are going to “work together”. In this case, “work together” means that we are all going to follow the same pacing, assign the same problems, and we are going to all teach according to a system (FAST framework) that came on from on high. And, just to make sure that we need help in achieving conformity, we will have instructional coaches whether we want them or not.

Never mind that we are supposed to introduce the Common Core standards and we have not been trained in them. Never mind that the FAST framework is evidence free – there is absolutely no statistically valid data that says this is a better teaching method or a more appropriate one than any other method. (There does however seem to be a simple formula at work here: new principal = new teaching framework). The point is that administration would dearly love to know that on any given day the same thing is being taught in say every Algebra 1 or Geometry class, that the teaching follows the same pattern and that even the same problems are assigned.

I am sure that this push for monotonous (and murderous) assembly-line uniformity is taking place at other schools as well. Anecdotal evidence indicates that even some private schools are beginning to succumb to the same influences. From my point of view, the saddest part is that teachers (certainly those in my math department) do not complain. If indeed we are professionals, we should be free to change pacing and assignments in a way that best serve our students. Granted that the midterm and the final should cover the same material, how we get there should be open to some innovation and, yes, artistry.

Two questions arise: why this push for assembly line standardization and why do teachers accept it. I submit that the answers are simple: administrators and politicians do not trust teachers and teachers do not act like professionals – they act more like functionaries. Under all this there is a cultural bias against “schooling”, an offshoot of Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life”.

The people who run schools in the United States, by enlarge are not from an educational background. The “Board of Education” rarely includes teachers or other educators. The state politicians who deal with education rarely have an educational background – they, like the members of the Boards, are mostly lawyers or businesspeople. Education is not their career. The mental constructs of these people come from their true careers – law or business. If the educational system produces an inferior product (and it does), then the solution these people reach for is quality control through standardized processes and periodic quality checks (assessments). When such a system is into place, then, if the product is still inferior the fault is obviously that of those on the assembly line – the teachers. Echoes of Detroit in the 70’s.

The teachers that I see around me are more like lemmings than professionals. This is perhaps because teaching is not a very prestigious profession, it certainly is not a very competitive one (it is extremely easy to get into an education major) and it is not well paid (especially if one counts the number of hours many teachers put in outside of class). The people that I see around me care about their students but they also find it much easier to be lazy – for example to follow the book even though the book is not aligned with Common Core. There is such a wealth of material on the Internet regarding Common Core pacing, projects ,tasks, sample problems that it astounds me that my fellow teachers go back to safety blanket – the textbook they are used to. What professionals!

As for myself – I am going to follow my own pacing and assignments aligned with Common Core and … hopefully I can get away with it.