Welcome back everyone,
I began by making the point that context confers meaning. I shared with you my story of Bill and Mrs. Jones. I also shared an example of how a fork is meaningful within the context of use. And, I contrasted two very different restaurants — McDonald’s and the Sushi Restaurant — and tried to show how a simple causal modality framework adapted from Aristotle provides us with a way of examining contexts.
Last class, I introduced you to Chimananda Ngozi Adichie and her talk about narratives, Lera Boroditsky and her talk about the influence of language, George Lakoff and his discussion of metaphors, frames, and embodied cognition, and Michel Foucault and a short bit about categories. Of course, we could spend the entire class focusing on any one of these authors and their work. But my purpose was to provide you with enough background that we could begin to look carefully at the language of schooling and its effects on students’ and teachers’ experiences.
Now, in week three, we are probably ready for an old Dan Seals’ song. Many people don’t realize it, but he sang a song that says a lot about schooling. I should mention I am making the connection — not Dan Seals.
Here is the song. See if you can figure out what this might actually say about schooling.
When we adopt particular schooling algorithms, methods, and metaphors, we bring something to the fore, and in doing so something recedes into the background. The song says it all: “For everything you win there’s something lost.” The idea is simple, and certainly one of the most important phrases in the song. It amounts to this: We can’t have everything. We must recognize that when we adopt one practice or way of life or one way of thinking we often give up another–so we must choose carefully.
Or, if we narrow our focus on only a few aspects of experience, we lose part of what we might otherwise understand. If we focus on sequences, do we forego meaning in some way?
The idea is something that is very important in the way we think about schooling and education. That is, every time we adopt some procedure, method, metaphor, etc. we give up or lose some other way of thinking and acting. Something comes to the fore–something else recedes into the background. The mother in Dan Seals’ song chose to follow one way of living and ended up having to give up another. In schools, we choose to adopt one form of schooling and we ultimately give up another. I am not saying this is right or wrong, just something to be aware of. The language we adopt obscures other possibilities. If I spend my time thinking of my students as ‘workers’ I am losing the time I might think of them as creative artists (or whatever the case might be). The narratives we adopt obscure other narratives.
It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? But I am sure you can relate to this: we sit through meetings where decisions are made to make some change without giving adequate thought as to what we should give up or what would inadvertently be lost as a result of the new practice. It is not always a deliberate change. Often we adopt practices without even knowing what we give up. I know you have experienced the same thing.
My KFC Story
A while back I was driving from Oregon to Alberta, Canada, to visit family. In the late afternoon I stopped at a KFC to order some dinner. My order came to $12.45. So I pulled out a $20.00 bill and reached out the window of my truck to hand the bill to the teen-age cashier. Just as I handed the cashier the $20.00 bill the power went off in the store. The cash register door opened, but the girl at the window just stared at the cash in the drawer. No numbers telling what the change would be showed up on the cash register screen. A young man came over and asked the girl what was wrong. It turned out that she wasn’t able to figure out how much change to give me. The young man was no help. (Now I know some of you are thinking I should have jumped in and said you owe me $32.45 in change). Before long there were four young workers congregating together hoping that the power would come back on so that the cash register would tell them how much change was due. Now given that I am a teacher I have to take some responsibility for this, somewhat amusing, situation. I mean, they didn’t ask to be left in the dark (math ability I mean). Then one of the kids pulls out his cell phone. Problem solved. They used the calculator on the phone to figure out the amount of change I was to receive. I should have spoken up sooner.
I think it would be fair to say that adopting one form of technology (the calculator) obscures another (the process of manual addition, subtraction, and multiplication). I am not judging–I no longer remember many phone numbers. The point is, we adopt a ‘way of being’ and we lose another. Anyway, this always seemed like a bit of an amusing story to me. Here were some young people relying on a technology that probably served the purpose well. However, one has to wonder what they were losing in the meantime.
The Academic Advising Story
Here is another story. The other week I had the pleasure of working at SOAR, WOU student advising. I sat with a number of students who had transferred from other colleges and were deciding the classes they would take here at WOU the following term. One of the students was planning on taking a 3 credit math course along with three other 3-credit courses. “These look like good choices,” I said to her. “Twelve credits would be a full load.” Immediately she opened up her phone, accessed the calculator, and typed in 4 X 3. “That will work,” she said. I asked her what she just did. She told me she was just making sure that four 3-credit courses would give her twelve credits. And, sure enough, it did.
Is it possible that this student, too, had worked at KFC? Or, is there a trend?
These stories are true. I don’t know for sure about the one that follows—it was written in approximately 370 BC. The concern is similar (not, of course, about KFC– though I am sure the Colonel could have put together a Mediterranean dish that would have been finger-linking good, even for Phaedrus ). This was a concern about writing.
Keep in mind as you read this, Socrates and Phaedrus are living in the midst of a transition from oral communication to the somewhat new culture of writing. Socrates pulls out a fabulous story of the Egyptian god Theuth. Although the context is different the idea concerning gain and loss is obvious.
Plato, The Phaedrus – a dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus written down by the pupil of Socrates, Plato
Socrates. Enough appears to have been said by us of a true and false art of speaking.
Socrates. But there is something yet to be said of propriety and impropriety of writing.
Socrates. Do you know how you can speak or act about rhetoric in a manner which will be acceptable to God?
Phaedrus. No, indeed. Do you?
Socrates. I have heard a tradition of the ancients, whether true or not they only know; although if we had found the truth ourselves, do you think that we should care much about the opinions of men?
Phaedrus. Your question needs no answer; but I wish that you would tell me what you say that you have heard.
Socrates. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Phaedrus. Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of any other country.
Socrates. There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first gave prophetic utterances. The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from “oak or rock,” it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes.
Phaedrus. I acknowledge the justice of your rebuke; and I think that the Theban is right in his view about letters.
Socrates. He would be a very simple person, and quite a stranger to the oracles of Thamus or Ammon, who should leave in writing or receive in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters?
Phaedrus. That is most true.
Socrates. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.
Phaedrus. That again is most true.
Socrates. Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than this, and having far greater power–a son of the same family, but lawfully begotten?
Phaedrus. Whom do you mean, and what is his origin?
Socrates. I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be silent.
Phaedrus. You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which written word is properly no more than an image?
Socrates. Yes, of course that is what I mean. And now may I be allowed to ask you a question: Would a husbandman, who is a man of sense, take the seeds, which he values and which he wishes to bear fruit, and in sober seriousness plant them during the heat of summer, in some garden of Adonis, that he may rejoice when he sees them in eight days appearing in beauty? at least he would do so, if at all, only for the sake of amusement and pastime. But when he is in earnest he sows in fitting soil, and practises husbandry, and is satisfied if in eight months the seeds which he has sown arrive at perfection?
Phaedrus. Yes, Socrates, that will be his way when he is in earnest; he will do the other, as you say, only in play.
Socrates. And can we suppose that he who knows the just and good and honourable has less understanding, than the husbandman, about his own seeds?
Phaedrus. Certainly not.
Socrates. Then he will not seriously incline to “write” his thoughts “in water” with pen and ink, sowing words which can neither speak for themselves nor teach the truth adequately to others?
Phaedrus. No, that is not likely.
Socrates. No, that is not likely–in the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent.
Okay, I know exactly what you are thinking. You are thinking that as soon as the KFC workers and the student at SOAR pulled out their cell phones I should have said: “this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in your soul, because you will not use your memory; you will trust to the external written characters and not remember of yourself. Your phone is not an aid to memory, but to reminiscence, and you do not posses truth, but only the semblance of truth; you will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; your will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; your will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.” But alas, I simply sat there and looked on in disbelief.
Now, I better fess up. I find myself using technology as a crutch now for things that in the past I would have remembered or figured out in my head. I am not one to judge.
Please keep in mind, change is not always bad. That is not the point. It has been argued convincingly that without the ability to write Plato could never have developed the long complicated arguments that he did. And, we wouldn’t even think the way we do. You see, lengthy arguments, the type that Plato (and all of us since) used required written text to record the argument as it progressed. A written argument allows one to go back and review what was written. That way one could develop arguments and rational thought by continually reflecting back on what had been written. Two steps forward, one step back, over and over again. But for us, in this lecture, the point is simple: you adopt something, you probably give something up something else in return. It behooves us to recognize this, take it seriously, and to try to be clear on what we are giving up.
Oh, I should show you what happened to a couple of adults who relied too much on technology passing up the ability to think for themselves. This happened to a couple of them just the other day:
Oh, if only they had their phones.
So what does all of this forgetting have to do with schooling?
The language (narratives) that support and nurture our procedures (traditions and context) may have diverted our actions from what would normally seem to be humanly significant to institutionally mechanistic. There are times when our own wisdom would suggest other courses of action. There are times we might feel as though the institution has hampered our wisdom.
For everything you gain there is something lost.
I guess you can tell that I am starting to weave in the idea of mechanistic language. I am doing that because by the end of this lecture we will have taken a dive into the narratives that encourage mechanistic thought.
As I said, for everything you gain there is something lost.
This is a reference to the idea that our adoption of school logic has obscured many other humanistic ways of existing. It may be that the adoption of sequencing in its many forms has resulted in the obscuration of meaning.
Where is the Love?
Once we begin to think of the trade-offs of adopting one way of acting, thinking, or talking over another, we begin to find an abundance of examples.
Let me share with you a talk by Barry Schwarz. His talk isn’t entirely about schools. But I think it might help us begin to tease apart what happens when one discourse comes to the fore and others recede into the background. Consider also, when you listen to Schwartz talk the words (language) that promotes one way of thinking over another.
One might question to what extent virtue resides, or even exists, within the logic of the institutional mind or within institutional procedures once the institution has established procedures.
Foreshadow: The ‘right thing to do’ regarding the human being can be subsumed by an institutional logic that overshadows questions concerning human beings. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where a clerk is seemingly incapable of considering your own personal circumstances and making a decision based on what a computer will allow him/her to input into a text field? Have you found yourself in situations where you are acting on behalf of an institutional procedure (sequence) rather than on what you believe in your heart to be more humanly appropriate? If you work in schools, you have.
Barry Schwartz speaks to this.
(turn on captions — lower right)
Would it be fair to say that we find ourselves, at times, in situations where we relinquish our decision to the algorithms, the ‘rules’ or ‘boxes to be filled in on a screen’? Are there times that our experience, our knowledge, and our good judgement would suggest that we take an action other than the one dictated to us by the system?
Now, just to emphasize a few things Schwarz says, let me reiterate in his own words:
Referring to janitors: “Now, not all janitors are like this, of course. But the ones who are think that these sorts of human interactions involving kindness, care and empathy are an essential part of the job. And yet their job description contains not one word about other human beings. These janitors have the moral will to do right by other people. And beyond this, they have the moral skill to figure out what “doing right” means.”
“Practical wisdom,” Aristotle told us, “is the combination of moral will and moral skill.”
“A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule, as the janitors knew when to ignore the job duties in the service of other objectives. A wise person knows how to improvise, as Luke did when he re-washed the floor. Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. A wise person is like a jazz musician — using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand. A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims. To serve other people, not to manipulate other people. And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born. Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you’re serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.”
“We hate to do it but we have to follow procedure.”
“Scott Simon, who told this story on NPR, said, “Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking.””
“One tool we reach for is rules. Better ones, more of them. The second tool we reach for is incentives. Better ones, more of them. What else, after all, is there?”
“Moral skill is chipped away by an over-reliance on rules that deprives us of the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisations. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. And without intending it, by appealing to rules and incentives, we are engaging in a war on wisdom.”
“. . . familiar to you, is the nature of modern American education: scripted, lock-step curricula. Here’s an example from Chicago kindergarten. Reading and enjoying literature and words that begin with ‘B.’ “The Bath:” Assemble students on a rug and give students a warning about the dangers of hot water. Say 75 items in this script to teach a 25-page picture book. All over Chicago in every kindergarten class in the city, every teacher is saying the same words in the same way on the same day. We know why these scripts are there. We don’t trust the judgment of teachers enough to let them loose on their own. Scripts like these are insurance policies against disaster. And they prevent disaster. But what they assure in its place is mediocrity.”
“If you run an organization, you should be sure that none of the jobs — none of the jobs — have job descriptions like the job descriptions of the janitors. Because the truth is that any work that you do that involves interaction with other people is moral work. And any moral work depends upon practical wisdom.”
I hope you find this last statement as interesting as I do: “the truth is that any work that you do that involves interaction with other people is moral work. And any moral work depends upon practical wisdom.” When we think of what goes on in schools at times, can we say that there is a lack of emphasis on the importance of moral work? Please know, like Gatto, I am talking not about our own individual morality but rather the expectations demanded of us. We can be moral, but the actions demanded of us might not take morality into consideration.
When we talk about “the expectations of the teacher,” or “the role of the teacher,” or “teaching practices,” or “curricular integration,” etc., etc. from which context are we considering these questions? Are we thinking in terms of schooling procedures and sequences or are we trying to consider these questions from a position of meaning — a moral, virtuous, perspective?
What does this recognition of obscuration mean to us? What happens when we are immersed in the language and actions of school / or institutional logic whereby the institutional logic drives the narrative? What happens when we enter into the institutional logic and fail to see beyond the logic? Does the language of institutional logic encourage us to think beyond the mechanistic workings of the institution? Is meaning as “sought by all sane human beings” obscured.
If you are interested, go ahead and pull up a district’s job openings for teachers. It is unlikely you will find the job description expressing the need for teachers to be moral or virtuous or having practical wisdom. It may be assumed, but certainly not explicitly stated. But you will find that the institutional logic is explicitly stated. This is not to say that the institutional logic isn’t important. Institutions don’t run well without it. However, I think it would be fair to say that institutional logic might be obscuring other important endeavors. Or is it?
Schwartz makes a rather obvious point. He describes something we witness all the time. But it seems as though the institutional culture obscures virtuous, wise, acts.
Enough Background. Let’s Start Talking Metaphors, Frames, and Narratives
The Real Mission of the Mission Statement: Can You Spot the Prevailing Metaphors
I thought I would do just a quick search of school mission statements to see if there were any metaphors and frames that seemed to shape the thinking of the school. Quite honestly, of course, I don’t know any of the schools I read about, but I think I can give you a sense of how metaphors and frames might shape the reality of a school or district. Here is how I proceeded. I found a website that listed the mission statements of 101 schools. I then did a word search using the word ‘work’. Of course, there were lots of schools that talked about work in their mission statements:
Yokayo Elementary School: Productive Workers who perform collaboratively and independently to create quality products and services that reflect personal pride and responsibility.
Kimball Elementary School Mission Statement and Goals: Every student differs and must be challenged to work to his/her greatest capacity.
Tiskelwah Elementary: To be encouraged to work to optimum potential in reaching the academic skills outlined in the school curriculum.
Silver Oak Elementary School: to develop the intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities of each child to the fullest extent possible so that each can lead a productive worker, citizen, and individual in our society.
Knowlton Elementary: We provide experiences for students which build the real work world skills required for the future.
Crescentwood School: Practice a positive work ethic.
Shaffer Elementary: We are committed to educating students so that they have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be effective communicators, complex thinkers. responsible citizens, self-directed learners, ethical persons, and quality workers. Establish standards that demand excellence and build a solid foundation for lifelong learning, workplace skills and citizenship
Cherokee Elementary School Mission Statement: Our mission is preparing our Cherokee students to become successful citizens and workers in the twenty-first century.
Silver Oak Elementary School is to develop the intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities of each child to the fullest extent possible so that each can lead a productive worker, citizen, and individual in our society.
It probably seems evident that the purpose of school has something to do with work. Good enough.
Next, I did a quick search using the word ‘love’.
Westridge School Community, where children are treasured, is to foster a love of learning in an innovative, cooperative climate which empowers all students to be competent, productive, caring and responsible citizens.
Jamieson Elementary we are committed to each and every child. We are committed to encouraging our children to possess the following qualities: A mastery of academic skills and a love for learning.
At Pine Tree Elementary, we believe that each child is a valued and unique individual. We believe that our educational process should be student-centered and that Pine Tree Elementary’s mission is best achieved by an active partnership involving students, parents, and staff. Furthermore, we want each child to embrace the love, joy
and value of education. The following emphasize our beliefs: We want each child to embrace the love, joy and value of education.
William Penn Elementary School: to provide an environment where each child is treated with respect and love.
Rosemont Elementary: The culmination of our efforts is to instill in our students a lifelong love of learning.
And the list goes on. I don’t know about you, but I find it interesting that when we are thinking about narratives and frames it seems that the schools whose mission statements talked about having students being prepared for productive work lacked the words leadership, love, or joy. Now, this is not meant to be an exact science, and it would be unfair to generalize about anything here, but it might suggest that different frames (world views) might create different sorts of reality.
Question Set Number One (Continued)
Question 13: Are you able to find your school’s mission statement? Perhaps on the school’s website. If you can find it, what can you say about the language being used? How does the language frame students and teachers?
Let’s talk about work-related metaphors and language
The topics that follow are not linear. While it is nice to provide a nice linear argument in academic writing, what follows over the next few weeks will be a bit more like weaving together a tapestry. Why not linear? We are piecing together the context of our schooling experiences. And at this point, we could start our analysis in many different places. And while the particular topics might appear piecemeal right now, as we move further into our analysis, we will have a better understanding of how all the pieces fit together.
Let the Big Mac be our guide
Remember in our first lecture I contrasted the Big Mac with Sushi? It wasn’t entirely an accident that I chose those examples. McDonald’s and schooling have many similarities. We can hear it in the language.
McDonaldization of Society
Perhaps you are wondering why I am standing here in front of this Mcdonald’s. It is not because I am hungry. It is because I have a bit of a story for you that has to do with McDonald’s. If I were to come up with a name for this story, it would be, The McDonaldization of Our Thinking.
Now, Professor George Ritzer, who is really responsible for this story, would call it The McDonaldization of Society. I say George Ritzer here because he wrote the book McDonaldization of Society. I am borrowing from him in this tale.
I should say, the reason I like the idea of using Dr. Ritzer’s research on rationalization, and using McDonald’s as an example, is because of its relevancy as well as your familiarity with fast-food restaurants.
Now, I am sure you recall that we did compare the Big Mac with Sushi in a previous lesson. The reason for that comparison is really going to make sense now, because we are going to connect those initial discussions of “time”, efficiency, standardization, and product management, directly to schooling.
We will start to not only see just how much our schools resemble McDonald’s, but we are going to look more deeply into the historical roots of some of the rationalistic thinking that is foundational to schooling and McDonald’s. We will start to understand ‘why’ many of our schooling practices resemble a fast-food restaurant. The connection we are going to make is not to food this time, but to the way the food is produced and to the business operations. And, as you probably recall, when we created our Big Mac causal frame, there were aspects of time, efficiency, process, and standardization that shaped not only the Product but also the Materials and the Form. Understanding this background context is essential to our understanding of the similar foundational aspects that exist between schools and McDonald’s.
Many of the same forces that brought McDonald’s into existence are the same forces or causal agents that are responsible for shaping our schooling environments. Now I am going to start with McDonald’s here, a brief review of sorts. But as I said, there is a significant connection that actually ties schools and McDonald’s together. That connection is the idea of Scientific Management.
What is Scientific Management you might wonder? Well simply, it is making a science out of doing things. It is a process whereby we step away from our lived bodily experience and take on the spectator view. Then from our spectator view, we turn that which we see into objects, measure those objects, compare those objects and ultimately manipulate and manage those objects. Voilà, scientific management. Why use the term scientific? Well, as you know, with science comes objectification and measurement. To do science, we think of things as objects that we then manipulate and measure. We adopt a spectator view to do this. We will learn more about scientific management as we go, but being introduced to some of these ideas through Dr. Ritzer’s analysis of Mcdonald’s simplifies our entry into some of these ideas.
When we start to examine schools more closely, and the way they were influenced by scientific management, we will shift our sights over to one of the most influential designers of schooling — Frederick Winslow Taylor. We can attribute the main ideas of scientific management to Mr. Taylor. By examining his work, in combination with the work and influence of people such as the Gilbreths, some of the American industrialists, common businessmen, and a whole host of compliant school men, we will begin to develop a depth and breadth of understanding regarding the connections between McDonald’s and schooling.
Let’s start with Ritzer’s discussion of McDonaldization of Society. Imagine, you walk into any Mcdonald’s fast food restaurant. There are some processes in play. Some you recognize immediately, and some you may not have thought about before. But once you become aware of them, you will recognize them. Ritzer defines these processes as efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. I will briefly say something about each one but keep in mind that one of the most interesting things in all of this is how this form of thinking has reshaped the thinking and actions of many different human interactions— education or educating being one of them. But, as far as education goes, the influence of scientific management made its mark in the early 1900s. So we are not dealing with a direct causal agent here, as far as McDonaldization goes, but rather contextual similarities.
Let’s go through the four processes described by Professor Ritzer. One, efficiency, we discussed that earlier. Because the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality, more efficient processes mean more products and more profit. Two, calculability. Calculability refers to the collection and use of data, automated data mining, and the mathematical computations that accompany data gathering. Of course, data shows up in surveys, customer actions, social media, etc. Better data means, for Mcdonald’s, better decisions as far as profits and marketability. Three, predictability. Predictability is something you are very familiar with. I think you will agree, that when you get a food item from McDonald’s you can be assured, regardless of the McDonald’s location, that you will end up with a food item that is almost identical to the same food item purchased at any other McDonald’s. Whether you are eating a Big Mac in Salem Oregon, Seattle, or London England, a Big Mac is a Big Mac, regardless of the location. Not only that, if you eat an Egg McMuffin in July and then order another in December, once again, the Egg McMuffin will be the same. Then, four, control. The workers are expected to do the same things, cook the same way, treat customers the same way. The workers follow the routines and rules put forth by the management. Workers are trained to do a limited number of tasks and are expected to perform those tasks with an expected level of competency, and workers are closely monitored to ensure they are complying with the expectations laid down by management.
Now here is a bit of history that you might not know. Ritzer tells us: “In 1958, McDonald’s published an operations manual that detailed how to run a franchise. This manual laid down many of the principles for operating a fast-food restaurant: It told operators exactly how to draw milkshakes, grill hamburgers, and fry potatoes. It specified precise cooking times for all products and temperature settings for all equipment. It fixed standard portions on every food item, down to the quarter ounce of onions placed on each hamburger patty, and the thirty-two slices per pound of cheese. It specified that French fries be cut at nine-thirty seconds of an inch thick. And it defined quality controls that were unique to food service, including the disposal of meat and potato products that were held more than ten minutes in a serving bin.
Grill men were instructed to put hamburgers down on the grill moving from left to right, creating six rows of six patties each. And because the first two rows were farthest from the heating element, they were instructed (and still are) to flip the third row first, then the fourth, fifth, and sixth before flipping the first two.
You can immediately see that the process is very structured and standardized.
Think of this for just a moment. Here we have a manual that is written out in great detail, to exacting specification, the movements expected, the operations demanded, and the expectations of management to be followed by all employees has been concretized, externalized. Perhaps the fact that one has an employee manual is not so unusual. But what might make this manual unique is the degree of specificity and standardization of expectations. Now that was 1958. Let’s go a bit farther back in Mcdonald’s history and consider the process. “The McDonaldization process,” Ritzer tells us, “was created by two brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald, in their first restaurant in Pasadena, California, in 1937. They based that restaurant on the principles of high speed, large volume, and low price. To avoid chaos, they offered customers a highly circumscribed menu. Instead of personalized service and traditional cooking techniques, the McDonald brothers used assembly-line procedures for cooking and serving food. In place of trained cooks, the brothers’ “limited menu allowed them to break down food preparation into simple, repetitive tasks that could be learned quickly even by those stepping into a commercial kitchen for the first time.”
Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society: Into the Digital Age. Ninth edition. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2019.
That’s interesting. Notice the connection between efficiency and the assembly line procedures. It is also interesting to note that personalized service was diminished. Let’s keep in mind, there was already a context in place that allowed the McDonald brothers to even think about incorporating assembly line thinking into their restaurant design. Another thing that we will witness in our historical studies is the way that ideas revolving around scientific management can flow out into the public — becoming part of the background context for other activities and endeavors so to speak. Consider this as you think of how background context can infiltrate our everyday experiences. Ritzer points out:
“. . . meals at home often resemble those available in fast-food restaurants. Frozen, microwavable, and prepared foods, which bear a striking resemblance to meals available at fast-food restaurants, often find their way to the dinner table. There are even cookbooks—for example, Secret Fast Food Recipes: The Fast Food Cookbook—that allow one to prepare “genuine” fast food at home. Then there is also home delivery of fast food, especially pizza, as revolutionized by Domino’s.” Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society.
Professor Ritzer points out another effect of the fast-food industry. He refers to it as vertical McDonaldization; Professor Ritzer refers to Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation, speaking to the idea that industries servicing McDonald’s have had to change the way they do things in order to satisfy the quantity demands. He says, “Potato growing and processing, cattle ranching, chicken raising, and meat slaughtering and processing have all had to McDonaldize their operations, leading to dramatic increases in production. That growth has not come without costs, however. As demonstrated in the movie Food, Inc. (2008), meat and poultry are now more likely to be disease-ridden, small (often non- McDonaldized) producers and ranchers have been driven out of business, and millions of people have been forced to work in low-paying, demeaning, demanding, and sometimes outright dangerous jobs. (Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society).
In what follows, we will learn a bit more about McDonaldization. In addition, we will deepen our understanding of schooling foundations by digging into Max Weber’s theory of rationalization, and Frederick Winslow Taylor’s development of Scientific Management.
Let the Big Mac be our guide.
McDonaldization Theory of George Ritzer
Question Set Number One (Continued)
Question 14: I briefly talked about scientific management. Scientific management is one of the foundations of schooling. Hopefully, some of these themes are coming together. Science requires an objective (spectator) view so that we can see things from a distance. From a distance, we can talk about things as objects (objectification) that we can measure and manipulate. If it weren’t for this objectification, we wouldn’t have the four components of ‘rationalization’.
Can you give an example from your own schooling experience that would represent each one of the four components of ‘rationalization’ according to Ritzer?
Can we reveal a bit more about the context that gave rise to rationalization?
I think we can!
All words that have influenced our schooling. But schooling came after McDonald’s. Let’s see if we can find some context for MacDonald’s rationalization.
Scientific Management, Measurement, and Objectification
Have you ever wondered how a technology such as photography might have had a direct impact on what you do right now as a student or teacher?
Have you ever heard the saying, “the test is only a snapshot of the student’s total ability”? It is interesting how we place so much value on a few snapshots. The fact that we even say something like this shows the extent to which we break our day up into time snippets.
When we breaking the day up into parcels of time, those ‘time’ experiences begin to distort the entirety of experiences. Experiences begin to be flattened, one small snippet seems to have the same meaning as another. Flattened and abstracted like rivers on a map.
Something else you might find interesting is just how the photographic snapshots played a role in the development of the idea of efficiency. And almost everything you do in schools now is related in one way or another to efficiency. Even metaphors like growth mindset are judged by the ability to contribute to efficiency.
Anyway, here is the photography connection.
MAREY films XVI man
Notice the timer on the left of the screen (after the first 27 seconds into the clip).
Did you happen to notice the date? 1895.
Notice the screen (grid) behind the images
Why the grid?
a : the dimensions, capacity, or amount of something ascertained by measuring
(2) : a system of standard units of measure
- metric measure
Let’s change up the question?
Do you ever feel as though you are on an assembly line doing what you have been told to do, when to do it, and how fast?
Do you wonder if students ever think they are on an assembly line, cranking out material as quickly as possible, the teacher setting the pace?
Do you sometimes feel as though the system is moving too fast, unable for anyone to slow things down?
Let’s change the focus:
There is a phrase in schooling literature that you probably hear often. It is “effective and efficient.” You know, “Our practices should be ‘effective and efficient’.” “Our research should lead to ‘effective and efficient’ practices.” “If we could make our schools more ‘efficient and effective’ our students would do better.”
Do you ever wonder where this drive to efficiency comes from? Not from children. They don’t go out to play in an “effective and efficient” manner. Not from people enjoying themselves. People don’t go and listen to a concert hoping it will be “effective and efficient.” People don’t go to a movie or read a book in hopes that it will be “effective and efficient.” And, as you have probably sensed from Frank Smith, “effective and efficient” doesn’t arise or out of, or support, the classic view of learning. Though interestingly, it seems to be quite prevalent within the official theory.
Let’s look at two historical pieces to our schooling puzzle.
We have just seen two of the earliest photographic motion analysts. Let me share another with you here: Frank B. Gilbreth. The video clip is 30 minutes long so you will probably want to skim through parts of the video. But you will get a clearer understanding of the beginnings of time-motion study and the technologies that helped make this possible
Original Films of Frank B. Gilbreth (1945) Society for the Advancement of Management
Even though you are not likely to want to view the entire clip, this will give you a better idea of the Gilbreth’s work and just how this work had such an influence on our thinking. A bit of skimming here will give you the idea.
So what do we have?
To analyze motion, it helped to photograph a sequence of images, one after another, in fractions of a second, and display them in a grid.
an eye toward efficiency
The second, Winslow’s efficiency.
So what do we have here?
In the factory, many men would quit because they could not stand the fast pace.
Wheel making was broken down into a hundred steps, with different men working at different machines. Complete jobs were reduced into simple repetitive steps.
No need for a skilled craftsman.
Any job, if analyzed under the perspective of task orientation, can be done quickly and efficiently.
Management sets the pace.
High pay for hard work
Surveillance was the norm.
Discipline measures were regularly evoked.
No talking on the job.
Does any of this sound a bit familiar to our own schooling lives? Don’t many high school students work all day in school, then go home to work a second shift late into the evening, and then get up early to do it again the following day?
We hear the words describing these experiences. The metaphors substantiate the logic. But where does this logic come from?
Isn’t discipline one of our commandments. Isn’t surveillance the norm? Aren’t students expected to get permission to go to the bathroom? Would it be fair to say that students are encouraged not to talk or to ask questions?
What you might not know is that “efficiency” was an American buzzword in the early part of the century. Ladies’ Journals to the school board meeting rooms were abuzz with talk of “efficiency.” What we take for granted is something that grew out of a particular context.
Here is a little snippet you might enjoy.
Time Motion Study The Easier Way(1946) General Motors Corporation, Employee Cooperation Staff
Now keep in mind this was 1946. If Bob suggested to Marge today that she try to be more efficient in the kitchen he might just get an ear full–and rightfully so. But I suppose those were different times.
Ever wonder why educational researchers in universities spend their time trying to come up with “better” teaching methods? Ever wonder how those educational researchers in universities spend their time trying to come up with “better” teaching methods? Motion studies of sorts. You find ways to turn out more work with the same effort.
Hey Dana, isn’t that ‘efficiency’?
Where did all of this ‘efficiency talk’ come from?
Bob and Marge were part of the efficiency story. Caught up in the efficiency wake.
What follows, though, is perhaps one of the most important influences on our thinking. Here is the source, at least passages from it. It is from Frederick Winslow Taylor’s book The Principles of Scientific Management. This was an important book that outlined the scientific / task management that, you will come to see, had an enormous effect on how our schools were designed and run. It seems a bit crazy in hindsight, but it is true. Frederick Winslow Taylor developed and refined the idea of scientific management that lead to greater efficiency in the workplace. Before long it was the rage to think of making everything efficient. Schools were eventually deliberately targeted.
As I said, these are only a few selections from Taylor’s book. You can probably skim it and get the gist. You will quickly recognize the similarity to the school environment (the institutional logic). I selected passages (boldface) that you could read allowing you to skim the other parts–just to make things a bit more efficient 🙂
After skimming through this we will enjoy the video clip Frederick Taylor — The Biggest Bastard Ever. But first the Principles of Scientific Management.
The Principles of Scientific Management
The remedy for the country’s inefficiency, “lies in systematic management” . . . Furthermore, “the fundamental principles of scientific management are applicable to all kinds of human activities, from our simplest individual acts to the work of our great corporations” — “to the management of our homes; the management of our farms; the management of the business of our tradesmen, large and small; of our churches, our philanthropic institutions, our universities, and our governmental departments.
“The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employ(é).”
“No one can be found who will deny that in the case of any single individual the greatest property can exist only when that individual has reached his highest state of efficiency; that is, when he is turning out his largest daily output.”
“That in a word, that maximum prosperity can exist only as the result of maximum productivity. p. 12
“Why is it, then, in the face of the self-evident fact that maximum prosperity can exist only as the result of the determined effort of each workman to turn out each day his largest possible day’s work, that the great majority of our men are deliberately doing just the opposite, and that even when the men have the best of intentions their work is in most cases far from efficient?” p. 15
“in order to have any hope of obtaining the initiative of his workmen the manager must give some special incentive to his men beyond that which is given to the average trade. This incentive can be given in several different ways, as, for example, the hope of rapid promotion or advancement; higher wages, either in the form of generous piece-work prices or of a premium or bonus of some kind for good and rapid work; shorter hours of labor; better surroundings and working conditions than are ordinarily given, etc., and, above all, this special incentive should be accompanied by that personal consideration for, and friendly contact with, his workmen which comes only from a genuine and kindly interest in the welfare of those under him. It is only by giving a special inducement or “incentive” of this kind that the employer can hope even approximately to get the “initiative” of his workmen. p. 34
Broadly speaking, then, the best type of management in ordinary use may be defined as management in which the workmen give their best initiative and in return receive some special incentive from their employers. This type of management will be referred to as the management of “initiative and incentive” in contradistinction to scientific management, or task management, with which it is to be compared. pp. 34-35
The task which the writer has before him, then, is the difficult one of trying to prove in a thoroughly convincing way that there is another type of management which is not only better but overwhelmingly better than the management of “initiative and incentive.”
Under scientific management the “initiative” of the workmen (that is their hard work, their good-will, and their ingenuity) is obtained with absolute uniformity and to a greater extent than is possible under the old system; and in addition to this improvement on the part of the men, the managers assume new burdens, new duties, and responsibilities never dreamed of in the past. The managers assume, for instance, the burden of gathering together all of the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen and then of classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, and formulae which are immensely helpful to the workmen in doing their daily work. . . . They scientifically select and then train, teach, and develop the workman, whereas in the past he chose his own work and trained himself the best he could. . . . They heartily cooperate with the men so as to insure all of the work being done in accordance with the principles of the science which has been developed. p. 36
The development of a science . . . involves the establishment of many rules, laws, and formulae which replace the judgment of the individual workman and which can be effectively used only after having been systematically recorded, indexed, etc. pp. 37-38
Perhaps the most prominent single element in modern scientific management is the task idea. The work of every workman is fully planned out by the management at least one day in advance, and each man receives in most cases complete written instructions, describing in detail the task which he is to accomplish, as well as the means to be used in doing the work. . . . This task specifies not only what is to be done but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it. And whenever the workman succeeds in doing his task right, and within the time limit specified, he receives an addition of from 30 per cent to 100 per cent to his ordinary wages. p. 39
The first illustration is that of handling pig iron, and this work is chosen because it is typical of perhaps the crudest and most elementary form of labor which is performed by man. This work is done by men with no other implements than their hands. The pig-iron handler stoops down, picks up a pig weighing about 92 pounds, walks for a few feet or yards and then drops it on to the ground or upon a pile. This work is so crude and elementary in its nature that the writer firmly believes that it would be possible to train an intelligent, gorilla so as to become a more efficient pig-iron handler than any man can be. Yet it will be shown that the science of handling pig iron is so great and amounts to so much that it is impossible for the man who is best suited to this type of work to understand the principles of this science, or even to work in accordance with these principles without the aid of a man better educated than he is. And the further illustrations to be given will make it clear that in almost all of the mechanic arts the science which underlies each workman’s act is so great and amounts to so much that the workman who is best suited actually to do the work is incapable (either through lack of education or through insufficient mental capacity) of understanding this science. This is announced as a general principle, the truth of which will become apparent as one illustration after another is given. After showing these four elements in the handling of pig iron, several illustrations will be given of their application to different kinds of work in the field of the mechanic arts, at intervals in a rising scale, beginning with the simplest and ending with the more intricate forms of labor.
The writer has given above a brief description of three of the four elements which constitute the essence of scientific management: first, the careful selection of the workman, and, second and third, the method of first inducing and then training and helping the workman to work according to the scientific method. Nothing has as yet been said about the science of handling pig iron. The writer trusts, however, that before leaving this illustration the reader will be thoroughly convinced that there is a science of handling pig iron, and further that this science amounts to so much that the man who is suited to handle pig iron cannot possibly understand it, nor even work in accordance with the laws of this science, without the help of those who are over him.
The law which was developed is as follows: The law is confined to that class of work in which the limit of a man’s capacity is reached because he is tired out. It is the law of heavy laboring, corresponding to the work of the cart horse, rather than that of the trotter. Practically all such work consists of a heavy pull or a push on the man’s arms, that is, the man’s strength is exerted by either lifting or pushing something which he grasps in his hands. And the law is that for each given pull or push on the man’s arms it is possible for the workman to be under load for only a definite percentage of the day. For example, when pig iron is being handled (each pig weighing 92 pounds), a first-class workman can only be under load 43 per cent of the day. He must be entirely free from load during 57 per cent of the day. And as the load becomes lighter, the percentage of the day under which the man can remain under load increases. So that, if the workman is handling a half-pig, weighing 46 pounds, he can then be under load 58 per cent of the day, and only has to rest during 42 per cent. As the weight grows lighter the man can remain under load during a larger and larger percentage of the day, until finally a load is reached which he can carry in his hands all day long without being tired out. When that point has been arrived at this law ceases to be useful as a guide to a laborer’s endurance, and some other law must be found which indicates the man’s capacity for work. When a laborer is carrying a piece of pig iron weighing 92 pounds in his hands, it tires him about as much to stand still under the load as it does to walk with it, since his arm muscles are under the same severe tension whether he is moving or not. A man, however, who stands still under a load is exerting no horse-power whatever, and this accounts for the fact that no constant relation could be traced in various kinds of heavy laboring work between the foot-pounds of energy exerted and the tiring effect of the work on the man. It will also be clear that in all work of this kind it is necessary for the arms of the workman to be completely free from load (that is, for the workman to rest) at frequent intervals. Throughout the time that the man is under a heavy load the tissues of his arm muscles are in process of degeneration, and frequent periods of rest are required in order that the blood may have a chance to restore these tissues to their normal condition. To return now to our pig-iron handlers at the Bethlehem Steel Company. If Schmidt had been allowed to attack the pile of 47 tons of pig iron without the guidance or direction of a man who understood the art, or science, of handling pig iron, in his desire to earn his high wages he would probably have tired himself out by 11 or 12 o’clock in the day. He would have kept so steadily at work that his muscles would not have had the proper periods of rest absolutely needed for recuperation, and he would have been completely exhausted early in the day. By having a man, however, who understood this law, stand over him and direct his work, day after day, until he acquired the habit of resting at proper intervals, he was able to work at an even gait all day long without unduly tiring himself. Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character. Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work. He is so stupid that the word “percentage” has no meaning to him, and he must consequently be trained by a man more intelligent than himself into the habit of working in accordance with the laws of this science before he can be successful. The writer trusts that it is now clear that even in the case of the most elementary form of labor that is known, there is a science, and that when the man best suited to this class of work has been carefully selected, when the science of doing the work has been developed, and when the carefully selected man has been trained to work in accordance with this science, the results obtained must of necessity be overwhelmingly greater than those which are possible under the plan of “initiative and incentive.”
Although the reader may be convinced that there is a certain science back of the handling of pig iron, still it is more than likely that he is still skeptical as to the existence of a science for doing other kinds of laboring. One of the important objects of this paper is to convince its readers that every single act of every workman can be reduced to a science. With the hope of fully convincing the reader of this fact, therefore, the writer proposes to give several more simple illustrations from among the thousands which are at hand.
For example, the average man would question whether there is much of any science in the work of shoveling. Yet there is but little doubt, if any intelligent reader of this paper were deliberately to set out to find what may be called the foundation of the science of shoveling, that with perhaps 15 to 20 hours of thought and analysis he would be almost sure to have arrived at the essence of this science. On the other hand, so completely are the rule-of-thumb ideas still dominant that the writer has never met a single shovel contractor to whom it had ever even occurred that there was such a thing as the science of shoveling. This science is so elementary as to be almost self-evident.
For a first-class shoveler there is a given shovel load at which he will do his biggest day’s work. What is this shovel load? Will a first-class man do more work per day with a shovel load of 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 15 pounds, 20, 25, 30, or 40 pounds? Now this is a question which can be answered only through carefully made experiments. By first selecting two or three first-class shovelers, and paying them extra wages for doing trustworthy work, and then gradually varying the shovel load and having all the conditions accompanying the work carefully observed for several weeks by men who were used to experimenting, it was found that a first-class man would do his biggest day’s work with a shovel load of about 21 pounds. For instance, that this man would shovel a larger tonnage per day with a 21-pound load than with a 24-pound load or than with an 18-pound load on his shovel. It is, of course, evident that no shoveler can always take a load of exactly 21 pounds on his shovel, but nevertheless, although his load may vary 3 or 4 pounds one way or the other, either below or above the 21 pounds, he will do his biggest day’s work when his average for the day is about 21 pounds. The writer does not wish it to be understood that this is the whole of the art or science of shoveling. There are many other elements, which together go to make up this science. But he wishes to indicate the important effect which this one piece of scientific knowledge has upon the work of shoveling.
At the works of the Bethlehem Steel Company, for example, as a result of this law, instead of allowing each shoveler to select and own his own shovel, it became necessary to provide some 8 to 10 different kinds of shovels, etc., each one appropriate to handling a given type of material not only so as to enable the men to handle an average load of 21 pounds, but also to adapt the shovel to several other requirements which become perfectly evident when this work is studied as a science. A large shovel tool room was built, in which were stored not only shovels but carefully designed and standardized labor implements of all kinds, such as picks, crowbars, etc. This made it possible to issue to each workman a shovel which would hold a load of 21 pounds of whatever class of material they were to handle: a small shovel for ore, say, or a large one for ashes. Iron ore is one of the heavy materials which are handled in a works of this kind, and rice coal, owing to the fact that it is so slippery on the shovel, is one of the lightest materials. And it was found on studying the rule-of-thumb plan at the Bethlehem Steel Company, where each shoveler owned his own shovel, that he would frequently go from shoveling ore, with a load of about 30 pounds per shovel, to handling rice coal, with a load on the same shovel of less than 4 pounds. In the one case, he was so overloaded that it was impossible for him to do a full day’s work, and in the other case he was so ridiculously underloaded that it was manifestly impossible to even approximate a day’s work.
Briefly to illustrate some of the other elements which go to make up the science of shoveling, thousands of stop-watch observations were made to study just how quickly a laborer, provided in each case with the proper type of shovel, can push his shovel into the pile of materials and then draw it out properly loaded. These observations were made first when pushing the shovel into the body of the pile. Next when shoveling on a dirt bottom, that is, at the outside edge of the pile, and next with a wooden bottom, and finally with an iron bottom. Again a similar accurate time study was made of the time required to swing the shovel backward and then throw the load for a given horizontal distance, accompanied by a given height. This time study was made for various combinations of distance and height. With data of this sort before him, coupled with the law of endurance described in the case of the pig-iron handlers, it is evident that the man who is directing shovelers can first teach them the exact methods which should be employed to use their strength to the very best advantage, and can then assign them daily tasks which are so just that the workman can each day be sure of earning the large bonus which is paid whenever he successfully performs this task.
There were about 600 shovelers and laborers of this general class in the yard of the Bethlehem Steel Company at this time. These men were scattered in their work over a yard which was, roughly, about two miles long and half a mile wide. In order that each workman should be given his proper implement and his proper instructions for doing each new job, it was necessary to establish a detailed system for directing men in their work, in place of the old plan of handling them in large groups, or gangs, under a few yard foremen. As each workman came into the works in the morning, he took out of his own special pigeonhole, with his number on the outside, two pieces of paper, one of which stated just what implements he was to get from the tool room and where he was to start to work, and the second of which gave the history of his previous day’s work; that is, a statement of the work which he had done, how much he had earned the day before, etc. Many of these men were foreigners and unable to read and write, but they all knew at a glance the essence of this report, because yellow paper showed the man that he had failed to do his full task the day before, and informed him that he had not earned as much as $1.85 a day, and that none but high-priced men would be allowed to stay permanently with this gang. The hope was further expressed that he would earn his full wages on the following day. So that whenever the men received white slips they knew that everything was all right, and whenever they received yellow slips they realized that they must do better or they would be shifted to some other class of work.
Dealing with every workman as a separate individual in this way involved the building of a labor office for the superintendent and clerks who were in charge of this section of the work. In this office every laborer’s work was planned out well in advance, and the workmen were all moved from place to place by the clerks with elaborate diagrams or maps of the yard before them, very much as chessmen are moved on a chess-board, a telephone and messenger system having been installed for this purpose. In this way a large amount of the time lost through having too many men in one place and too few in another, and through waiting between jobs, was entirely eliminated. Under the old system the workmen were kept day after day in comparatively large gangs, each under a single foreman, and the gang was apt to remain of pretty nearly the same size whether there was much or little of the particular kind of work on hand which this foreman had under
Bricklaying is one of the oldest of our trades.
For hundreds of years there has been little or no improvement made in the implements and materials used in this trade, nor in fact in the method of laying bricks. In spite of the millions of men who have practiced this trade, no great improvement has been evolved for many generations. Here, then, at least one would expect to find but little gain possible through scientific analysis and study. Mr. Frank B. Gilbreth, a member of our Society, who had himself studied bricklaying in his youth, became interested in the principles of scientific management, and decided to apply them to the art of bricklaying. He made an intensely interesting analysis and study of each movement of the bricklayer, and one after another eliminated all unnecessary movements and substituted fast for slow motions. He experimented with every minute element which in any way affects the speed and the tiring of the bricklayer.
He developed the exact position which each of the feet of the bricklayer should occupy with relation to the wall, the mortar box, and the pile of bricks, and so made it unnecessary for him to take a step or two toward the pile of bricks and back again each time a brick is laid. He studied the best height for the mortar box and brick pile, and then designed a scaffold, with a table on it, upon which all of the materials are placed, so as to keep the bricks, the mortar, the man, and the wall in their proper relative positions. These scaffolds are adjusted, as the wall grows in height, for all of the bricklayers by a laborer especially detailed for this purpose, and by this means the bricklayer is saved the exertion of stooping down to the level of his feet for each brick and each trowel full of mortar and then straightening up again. Think of the waste of effort that has gone on through all these years, with each bricklayer lowering his body, weighing, say, 150 pounds, down two feet and raising it up again every time a brick (weighing about 5 pounds) is laid in the wall! And this each bricklayer did about one thousand times a day.
As a result of further study, after the bricks are unloaded from the cars, and before bringing them to the bricklayer, they are carefully sorted by a laborer, and placed with their best edge up on a simple wooden frame, constructed so as to enable him to take hold of each brick in the quickest time and in the most advantageous position. In this way the bricklayer avoids either having to turn the brick over or end for end to examine it before laying it, and he saves, also, the time taken in deciding which is the best edge and end to place on the outside of the wall. In most cases, also, he saves the time taken in disentangling the brick from a disorderly pile on the scaffold. This “pack” of bricks (as Mr. Gilbreth calls his loaded wooden frames) is placed by the helper in its proper position on the adjustable scaffold close to the mortar box.
We have all been used to seeing bricklayers tap each brick after it is placed on its bed of mortar several times with the end of the handle of the trowel so as to secure the right thickness for the joint. Mr. Gilbreth found that by tempering the mortar just right, the bricks could be readily bedded to the proper depth by a downward pressure of the hand with which they are laid. He insisted that his mortar mixers should give special attention to tempering the mortar, and so save the time consumed in tapping the brick. Through all of this minute study of the motions to be made by the bricklayer in laying bricks under standard conditions, Mr. Gilbreth has reduced his movements from eighteen motions per brick to five, and even in one case to as low as two motions per brick. He has given all of the details of this analysis to the profession in the chapter headed “Motion Study,” of his book entitled “Bricklaying System,” published by Myron C. Clerk Publishing Company, New York and Chicago; E. F. N. Spon, of London. An analysis of the expedients used by Mr. Gilbreth in reducing the motions of his bricklayers from eighteen to five shows that this improvement has been made in three different ways: First. He has entirely dispensed with certain movements which the bricklayers in the past believed were necessary, but which a careful study and trial on his part have shown to be useless. Second. He has introduced simple apparatus, such as his adjustable scaffold and his packets for holding the bricks, by means of which, with a very small amount of cooperation from a cheap laborer, he entirely eliminates a lot of tiresome and time-consuming motions which are necessary for the brick-layer who lacks the scaffold and the packet. Third. He teaches his bricklayers to make simple motions with both hands at the same time, where before they completed a motion with the right hand and followed it later with one from the left hand.
For example, Mr. Gilbreth teaches his brick-layer to pick up a brick in the left hand at the same instant that he takes a trowel full of mortar with the right hand. This work with two hands at the same time is, of course, made possible by substituting a deep mortar box for the old mortar board (on which the mortar spread out so thin that a step or two had to be taken to reach it) and then placing the mortar box and the brick pile close together, and at the proper height on his new scaffold. These three kinds of improvements are typical of the ways in which needless motions can be entirely eliminated and quicker types of movements substituted for slow movements when scientific motion study, as Mr. Gilbreth calls his analysis, time study, as the writer has called similar work, are, applied in any trade.
For nearly thirty years past, time-study men connected with the management of machine-shops have been devoting their whole time to a scientific motion study, followed by accurate time study, with a stop-watch, of all of the elements connected with the machinist’s work. When, therefore, the teachers, who form one section of the management, and who are cooperating with the working men, are in possession both of the science of cutting metals and of the equally elaborate motion-study and time-study science connected with this work, it is not difficult to appreciate why even the highest class mechanic is unable to do his best work without constant daily assistance from his teachers. And if this fact has been made clear to the reader, one of the important objects in writing this paper will have been realized.
It is hoped that the illustrations which have been given make it apparent why scientific management must inevitably in all cases produce overwhelmingly greater results, both for the company and its employees, than can be obtained with the management of “initiative and incentive.” And it should also be clear that these results have been attained, not through a marked superiority in the mechanism of one type of management over the
The necessity for systematically teaching workmen how to work to the best advantage has been several times referred to. It seems desirable, therefore, to explain in rather more detail how this teaching is done. In the case of a machine-shop which is managed under the modern system, detailed written instructions as to the best way of doing each piece of work are prepared in advance, by men in the planning department. These instructions represent the combined work of several men in the planning room, each of whom has his own specialty, or function. One of them, for instance, is a specialist on the proper speeds and cutting tools to be used. He uses the slide-rules which have been above described as an aid, to guide him in obtaining proper speeds, etc. Another man analyzes the best and quickest motions to be made by the workman in setting the work up in the machine and removing it, etc. Still a third, through the time-study records which have been accumulated, makes out a timetable giving the proper speed for doing each element of the work. The directions of all of these men, however, are written on a single instruction card, or sheet. These men of necessity spend most of their time in the planning department, because they must be close to the records and data which they continually use in their work, and because this work requires the use of a desk and freedom from interruption. Human nature is such, however, that many of the workmen, if left to themselves, would pay but little attention to their written instructions. It is necessary, therefore, to provide teachers (called functional foremen) to see that the workmen both understand and carry out these written instructions. Under functional management, the old-fashioned single foreman is superseded by eight different men, each one of whom has his own special duties, and these men, acting as the agents for the planning department (see paragraph 234 to 245 of the paper entitled “Shop Management”), are the expert teachers, who are at all times in the shop, helping, and directing the workmen. Being each one chosen for his knowledge and personal skill in his specialty, they are able not only to tell the workman what he should do, but in case of necessity they do the work themselves in the presence of the workman, so as to show him not only the best but also the quickest methods. One of these teachers (called the inspector) sees to it that he understands the drawings and instructions for doing the work. He teaches him how to do work of the right quality; how to make it fine and exact where it should be fine, and rough and quick where accuracy is not required,—the one being just as important for success as the other. The second teacher (the gang boss) shows him how to set up the job in his machine, and teaches him to make all of his personal motions in the quickest and best way. The third (the speed boss) sees that the machine is run at the best speed and that the proper tool is used in the particular way which will enable the machine to finish its product in the shortest possible time. In addition to the assistance given by these teachers, the workman receives orders and help from four other men; from the “repair boss” as to the adjustment, cleanliness, and general care of his machine, belting, etc.; from the “time clerk,” as to everything relating to his pay and to proper written reports and returns; from the “route clerk,” as to the order in which he does his work and as to the movement of the work from one part of the shop to another; and, in case a workman gets into any trouble with any of his various bosses, the “disciplinarian” interviews him.
It must be understood, of course, that all workmen engaged on the same kind of work do not require the same amount of individual teaching and attention from the functional foremen. The men who are new at a given operation naturally require far more teaching and watching than those who have been a long time at the same kind of jobs. Now, when through all of this teaching and this minute instruction the work is apparently made so smooth and easy for the workman, the first impression is that this all tends to make him a mere automaton, a wooden man. As the workmen frequently say when they first come under this system, “Why, I am not allowed to think or move without some one interfering or doing it for me!” The same criticism and objection, however, can be raised against all other modern subdivision of labor. It does not follow, for example, that the modern surgeon is any more narrow or wooden a man than the early settler of this country. The frontiersman, however, had to be not only a surgeon, but also an architect, house-builder, lumberman, farmer, soldier, and doctor, and he had to settle his law cases with a gun. You would hardly say that the life of the modern surgeon is any more narrowing, or that he is more of a wooden man than the frontiersman. The many problems to be met and solved by the surgeon are just as intricate and difficult and as developing and broadening in their way as were those of the frontiersman. And it should be remembered that the training of the surgeon has been almost identical in type with the teaching and training which is given to the workman under scientific management. The surgeon, all through his early years, is under the closest supervision of more experienced men, who show him in the minutest way how each element of his work is best done. They provide him with the finest implements, each one of which has been the subject of special study and development, and then insist upon his using each of these implements in the very best way. All of this teaching, however, in no way narrows him. On the contrary he is quickly given the very best knowledge of his predecessors; and, provided (as he is, right from the start) with standard implements and methods which represent the best knowledge of the world up to date, he is able to use his own originality and ingenuity to make real additions to the world’s knowledge, instead of reinventing things which are old. In a similar way the workman who is cooperating with his many teachers under scientific management has an opportunity to develop which is at least as good as and generally better than that which he had when the whole problem was “up to him” and he did his work entirely unaided.
Do you see some of the connections between what we do in schools and the principles laid down by Taylor? Do you see some of the connections between what we do in schools and the bricks laid down by brick layers? How about:
Perhaps the most prominent single element in modern scientific management is the task idea. The work of every workman is fully planned out by the management at least one day in advance, and each man receives in most cases complete written instructions, describing in detail the task which he is to accomplish, as well as the means to be used in doing the work. . . . This task specifies not only what is to be done but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.
Sounds a bit like a lesson plan, the associated activities, and administrative management.
Now that you have read some of Taylor’s own words, let’s take a look at another summary.
Frederick Taylor – The biggest bastard ever PT 1
Frederick Taylor – The biggest bastard ever PT 2
So there we have it. Frederick Winslow Taylor–our first history lesson for the week.
Perhaps in the future when someone asks, “What five people had the most influence in American education?” you might have a different answer than the typical answer given in university classes. I always thought the answer was Gardener and his seven (nine) intelligences, or John Dewey and his thoughts on progressive education. I am starting to think that Frederick Winslow Taylor would fit into the ranks of the most influential.
Question Set Number One (Continued)
Question 15: Using the causal modality frame you are now accustomed to, take any school activity and make it the centerpiece of your frame. The activity could be painting a picture, writing a poem, learning calculus, learning a new song in choir, learning how to play baseball, discussing something in social studies or history, trying to understand physics, it could be any school activity. Now, set the Purpose to be ‘efficiency.’ What happens to the school experience from the student’s perspective? What happens to the school experience from the teacher’s perspective? What does this do to the bodily experience? Does this affect the materials? Does it change the situational experiences?
There we have it for our first set of questions. When you are finished with question 15, you can email your responses (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please include ED 643 Response Questions in your subject heading 🙂
Now, if you have scads of time and you would like to learn a bit more about Taylor, Muybridge, and the Gilbreth’s you might enjoy the clockwork video below. But I include this for your interest only.
In this short documentary, we can see some further connections between time, the millwright, efficiency, and management. All figure into the way our schools and schooling practices come into being.
Taylor, Muybridge, Gilbreth,
Have a great week!