Frederick Winslow Taylor, a standardization and efficiency guru, was a profound influence on industrial-age best practices in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The stuff of legend, he championed the effectiveness of uniform work stations, factory whistles to regulate employee movement, and specialized/rote tasks. He deeply understood that by replicating processes in tightly controlled environments he could maximize business output/cost per unit and ensure product consistency. These were laudable goals for making tractors a hundred years ago, but not so great for school system design.
But the ghost of Taylor did cross the schoolhouse door, as was evident in countless versions of “factory model” high schools operating over the past century. Efficiency ruled, meaning that students had to fit into the pre-cast mould called schooling rather than having education wrap around the student. The 5 X 8 timetable was king and kids were (and still are to a large extent) batched by birthdate, deemed ready to start at the same moment and required to finish at the final June bell, not earlier or later.
The appetite for standardization and efficiency also showed up in other ways: desk sizes in classrooms based on grade designation rather than student comfort (I remember those days), and text book titles ordered in bulk because one prescribed resource was deemed sufficient (and efficient) to meet a group’s instructional needs. There was also the matter of how the education rule book was written (contract language, board and government policy) as if there were uniformity across the system. Essentially, schools were configured, operated and furnished with the expectation that they would contain 30 similar-sized and similar-aged students all facing forward ready to “receive instruction.” With the gift of hindsight, it was an effort to impose a two-dimensional framework on a three dimensional world.
Taylor would be shocked to see how far we have wandered from the mantra of uniformity, conformity and rules (see West Vancouver principal blog post link below). We aren’t all the way there yet, but many of today’s education spaces and learning/teaching rhythms are developed with a much richer understanding of the learner, her brain and the need for active engagement and individual challenge. Facing sideways or even backwards is allowed now that an appreciation of self-regulation has replaced top-down compliance and demands for self control. Open the classroom door and you will see micro-environments designed to meet students’ needs and learning preferences. Furnishings might include beanbag chairs, SWISS balls, wobble cushions and standing desks. Is that a spin bike at the back of the room? Those choices may drive the school district’s Purchasing Dept. to despair, but they are becoming part of a new normal. Take a walk down the hall to the Learning Commons, a far cry from the library stacks standing sentry to silence and isolation. See what creative teachers are doing to dissolve subject-specific silos to develop real-world interdisciplinary challenges for kids working individually and as members of teams. Check out the integration of nature into the classroom and the classroom into nature. It is all part of an inspiring and transformational journey. Unlike Taylor’s factory standardization, we understand that in our work, one size doesn’t fit all.
Read Principal Judy Duncan’s post here: http://bit.ly/1lhG36Q as she reflects on some of her own “then and now.” Her school is orders of magnitude beyond a Taylor-designed factory or even its own realities of 5 or 10 years ago. Fewer rules, more guidelines; less “No” and more “Let’s see how that might work.” Pogo sticks in the playground? Probably even different sized ones. Why not. What would Taylor think?