Education is Not Manufacturing

Teaching and Learning

One of the most powerful (and troublesome) metaphors for education is “manufacturing.”  It goes something like this:  “If we could only get the right methods in place, students would learn better.”  Or “If teachers were only better prepared, students would be more successful.”  Assessment and the concern for outcomes is also based in part on this metaphor:  “We want to produce students who know X and can do Y.”   Outcomes-based funding in education is certainly steeped in this notion of manufacturing: “We will only fund those institutions that produce the results expected.”   One of the problems with this model is that it assumes that the raw ingredients of the manufacturing-education process (the incomes, if you will) don’t matter.  Some schools have taken care of this problem by only admitting students who will succeed, and some schools succeed because of the economic success of their students’ parents (see the latest rankings in Texas schools for example).  Another problem with this model is that is fails to account for the human relationships that are necessary for teaching and learning to happen.  Teaching and learning are complex processes that depend upon more than what the manufacturing model offers us.  Sometimes, there’s just no way to know ahead of time what will account for student success or for student failure.  The variables are multiple, and they are not limited to curriculum and pedagogy and assessment practices, or even school funding.

2 thoughts on “Education is Not Manufacturing

  1. heather lewis

    You might know of this guy but if not, check him out. Sir Ken Robinson. His TED talk 2006 talks about education not working because it is seen as being equivalent to industrial manufacturing where things are linear and the outcome controlled. He says it needs to be based on a more agricultural model, where the farmer can’t control the outcome but can create the circumstances in which something can flourish. I’m going to see him talk tonight in Asheville, NC, so will be interested to see what he has to say currently.

  2. heather lewis

    Oops, just checked – his 2010 talk says the above, as a follow on from his 2006 talk that I haven’t seen. Sorry. Anyway, you both have great ideas about trying to do the best for human development, so I wanted to share a connection.

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