Assembly Line Education

Six and a half hours a day. Nine months a year. Thirteen years. March, children, march. Take your diploma and drive thru. This is, as Jim Grant puts it, the American Lock-Step, Time-Bound, Grade School Structure. Do you have any idea where this model for education comes from in our history? The Kingdom of Prussia in the 18th Century. The king was having trouble with Lutheran aristocrats and decided to implement a compulsory education system that would indoctrinate his people to ensure the king’s place in Prussia.

Horace Mann, Massachusetts representative and education reformer, was looking for a common system of schooling and turned his eye to Prussia. This lock-step method of educating was revolutionary at the time. It followed the mighty and holy Henry Ford in its assembly-line structure. The still very present agrarian society was respected within the structure. The majority of schools in America were still private institutions and unorganized before Mann put the lock-step system into place in the 1840s. Mann also organized teacher conferences and delivered lectures and addresses advocating reformation of the education system. Horace Mann was an educational revolutionary and should be respected for his attempt to provide consistent education to all learners in his state.

We no longer live in an agrarian or industrial society. Our commodity is information these days. We also understand that each child develops at a different rate, influenced by genetics and environment, yet the structure we use still makes assumptions about learners that simple are not true anymore. This is the root ailment of our failing national education system. The problem is not qualified teachers or a decaying facilities. Instead, our organization or structure no longer applies to our world. The result is a variety of learners without common background knowledge in class. The teacher stretches his arms as wide as he can to gather these students together, yet he will never truly capture all of them. The learners that escape the grasp of the teacher tend to be the same ones each year, and those children are left farther and farther out of reach of the teacher. This is a tragic situation.

What is the answer? I’m not sure. I would love to see a conversation develop centered around re-visioning the educational structure of American schools. As always, your thoughts are welcome here.

2 thoughts on “Assembly Line Education

  1. Take a look at the sample chapters from DAVID THORNBURG’s book ‘The New Basics: Education and the Future of Work in the Telematic Age’ at:

    He expresses similar views of industrialization and its affect on education.

    In addition I found of interest an experiment by an Australian state (Queensland) on using a ‘New Basics’ methodology for classroom teaching that emphasised the real world applications of what was being learned and provided context for learning. Large projects called ‘Rich Tasks’ were undertaken that spanned multiple subjects. For example:

    Design, Make and Display a Product: Students will design, or improve the design of, a purposeful product. They will make the product or a working model or prototype. As part of a public display promoting their product, they will flesh out a (restricted) marketing plan and explore the suitability of materials for mass manufacture.

    The overview is here:

    and some examples of the Rich Tasks that were undertaken can be seen here:

    You can browse the site for the grades 1-4 and 4-7 rich tasks.


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