The big word in the vocabulary of legislators, school boards, and even Presidents as far as Education goes is “accountability”. Teachers and schools must be held accountable for the “product” they produce. In that word “product” is the fallacy of this entire approach. I call it the Factory Approach to Education. It is based on several false assumptions.
First,the Factory Approach to Education assumes that students (human beings) are the raw material that are fed into the factory (schools) and out of that should come a product (graduate) that meets quality standards of production (learning). One of the problems with this approach that immediately becomes manifest to teachers, but few others it seems, is that each item of this raw material (student) is uniquely different. There is no quality control on the raw materials—-public schools must take whoever is in their district that shows up at their door. Among those are homeless children; children from abusive homes; children from education-friendly homes who have been to pre-school and early learning programs and children whose first exposure to learning is when they enter Kindergarten or First Grade; children who have books and magazines in their homes and those who do not; children who have traveled extensively and those who have never been away from their home town; children who have moved frequently from school to school and children who have always attended the same schools in their district from K-12; children who have learning disabilities and children who are academically gifted. The list could go on and on….
You get the idea—-each child in the list above has differing needs. To take all these different children and somehow come out with the same quality product (i.e. student) is equivalent to a factory owner trying to use all kinds of different quality raw material over which they have no control, and still being able to produce a quality product each and every time. That doesn’t happen! There is no machinery that can be built that would be able to do this and produce a quality product with every run, without control of the quality and kind of material to be used. It cannot be done! The saying goes that “it is difficult to produce silk cloth out of a sows ear” remains true for factories. In schools, teachers are asked to produce silk cloth each and every time out of all kinds of ears, not just sows’ ears! And we tell them we will hold them accountable for each student. We even try to base their evaluation on meeting this quality control standard as defined b y standardized tests. It seems laughable when portrayed in the above words, but truly it is sad, ignorant, and dangerous to our public schools, our teachers who are excellent and and the children they labor with each day to help them learn and achieve. We should be praising our teachers and schools for dealing with what they deal with each day instead of criticizing them for not meeting some external quality control standard. Thomas Jefferson, one of our”founding fathers’ held that democracy is impossible without a well-educated populace. Have we forgotten this? When he said “well–educated” he was asking for more than students being able to pass standardized tests in reading, writing, and arithematic.
I would also mention to lawmakers and school boards and our Kansas governor that “accountability” is a two-sided coin. Our Kansas lawmakers and governor want to hold teachers and schools “accountable” but they themselves remain “unaccountable” for the lack of funding of these schools and the low salaries of the teachers. Indeed Kansas is even taking away the tenure that protects good teachers as much or more than bad ones. Yet, this year in Kansas with block funding, school and teachers are being told to be accountable but legislators are lacking accountability in providing money to educate children as teachers and school districts know how to do.
Children are human beings. They are all unique. Our schools teach them much more than reading, writing, and arithematic. These extra learnings outside of academic learnings are not testable by multiple choice tests designed to hold teachers and schools “accountable”.
Schools teach children values. They teach them how to get along with each other. They teach them how to learn for a lifetime. They socialize chiildren by teaching them our culture and school them in our democracy and democratic society and government. They teach patriotism and also the way to criticize our country—something which a true patriot will do. Schools teach human beings—-human beings are not products to be shaped all in the same way in a factory system but are to be cared for and nurtured so that they develop to the greatest extent their own unique potential!