Thursday, April 21, 2011

Henry Fords School of the Future now our schools of today. Spoiler - That's not a good thing.

I have been geeking out on Information Design - how humans effectively understand and relate to the information around them. This has stimulated a lot of my thoughts on learning.

One of the more stimulating and intriguing voices I have found on Information Design is Mike Cooley (I even tracked down an old copy of the only book he ever published back in 1980; "Architect or Bee? The Human/Technology Relationship")

In an essay he wrote more recently titled Human Centered Design, Cooley looks at the impact of the industrial revolution in shaping how we understand ourselves and our modern paradigm on education.

...the educational system in general - and universities in particular - still seem determined to pursue teaching forms based on factory models. When Henry Ford donated a hundred million dollars to an institution he called the School of the Future, he said, "I have manufactured cars long enough to the point where I have got the desire to manufacture people. The catchword of the day is standardization"...
Even Ford's use of the word "standardization" is prophetic of our current fiasco with standardized testing in the public education system.

Cooley further deconstruct the factory model quagmire:
...More recently, I have described methods of organizing universities as factories within which the students are referred to as commodities, the examinations as quality control procedures, graduation as delivery, and the professors as operators. They have a Frank Worlf algorithm (computer-based) to work out the rate at which professors are "producing". The factory model is now all-pervasive. It conditions and distorts every aspect of life in the technologically advanced nations. I am not sure if it was every true in the Shakespearean sense that all the world's a stage, but it is certainly true that at the close of the 20th century all the word's a factory - and all of nature that surrounds us is inert material for it's remorseless production line. (Information Design Pg 72; my emphasis) 

It's fascinating to think that less than a century ago, when "the machine" was still in a very rudimentary form, we were content, even proud, to think of ourselves as highly advanced machines (something along the lines of "machines might do manual labor better then us, but we still have the brains of the show"). Now that machines out class both our brawn and now in many ways our brains; it seems ludicrous, even scary, to think of ourselves as being machine-like.

The fact that the school and workplace are largely shaped by this paradigm is a huge source of many of our feelings of inadequacy and frustration (we are expected to be something that we feel utterly incapable of being).

It only seems natural that we would be disgusted by that antiqued "factory model" analogy, rejecting the idea that humans are machine-like; which leads to a reliance on standardized testing to ensure quality control in our schools and the relentless demand for efficiency in the workplace.

While the "human as machine" and "school as factory" analogy might have threads of truth, it has not aged well alongside the rapid advancements we have seen in the machine the last half a century. Now more than ever it impresses on the individual an impossible mold (to be consistent with the analogy by using manufacturing imagery).

It's high time to work our way into a new paradigm that more accurately understands the human condition.


Anna said...

I find myself wondering if websites like Etsy will show that standardisation works as badly for manufacturing as it does for human education, or if standardization in manufacturing will persist.

DK said...

Ohhh Anna! You just got me super excited about a book that had first caught my attention a couple weeks ago. You might enjoy it:

Emphyrio by Jack Vance

Anna said...

The library appears not to have it.

DK said...

Ha, I was going to do the same thing when I get home tonight. Hopefully Washington County does... :)

Seems like you can get a pretty clear idea of the book from the wiki page though.