Debunking the Industrial Age School Myth

Something about the argument that our “current school system was created in an industrial era and hasn’t changed since” has always not set right with me. A lot of this has to do with the fact that my high school looked nothing like these videos of students on an assembly line with graduation dates stamped on our foreheads. A decade later, the school that I taught at in a  different city didn’t look like that, either. And even schools that I worked with recently in a different part of the state did not look like that.

But maybe that was just my experience. Maybe I was just hitting the same outlier school every time?

Or maybe it really was that the argument itself was invalid and I just didn’t know enough about history to know why.

Mike Caufield posted today about the problems he has with the current ideas of Sugata Mitra, and in doing so he also shed some light on the real problems with the “schools are industrial-age relic” arguments.

Caufield’s summary of his disagreement really tells the whole picture, but it is worth reading the whole article to look at specific historical reasons why he comes to his conclusions:

The history Mitra narrates is this. There once was a race of Victorians. They built a can opener called education, and nobody has changed that can opener since, even though we no longer eat from cans. But we no longer eat from cans! Give me a million dollars, please.

This is what we hear from so many educational reformers today.  No one would deny that our systems are not working and need to be fixed, changed, or re-built from the ground up. But how can we really know what needs to be changed if we are so ignorant of where we have come from and where we currently stand right now? To extend Caufield’s summary into the world of educational reformers, what we are basically getting is this:

But we no longer eat from cans! We eat from plastic containers. So we are going to change the can opener to a plastic container opener thingee (whatever that is – don’t ask us to explain ourselves okay?). Don’t listen to these people saying they don’t need can openers or plastic containers.  Ignore the man behind the curtain and give me a million dollars, please.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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