In his book “Calculus: An Intuitive and Physical Approach,” Morris Kline makes a statement regarding the derivative that is relevant to what we have been discussing in our class. He says:
All kinds of motions take place around us, and for each of them there is a function or relation between distance traveled and time in motion.
The idea of a relation between variables is not confined to motion. The national debt of this country varies as time varies, and the relation between these variables is also a function. If money is allowed to accumulate interest in a bank, the amount in the account increases with time. Here, too, we have a function. Obviously, many other examples could be cited.
The notion of a function as used in the calculus is more restricted than we have thus far indicated.
The statement that a person’s obligation to society increases with his age expresses a function, the variables of which are obligation and age. However, it is not possible to measure the extent of this obligation in numbers.
Although we are so used to thinking like this, this doesn’t work.
The calculus is concerned only with variables whose values can be expressed numerically. Thus time, distance, and money accumulating in a bank are variables whose various values can be measured and therefore can be expressed as numbers. (Kline, p. 7)
How do these statements regarding derivatives relate to what we have been talking about?
What Kline is saying is simply that functions that mathematicians work with are relationships that can be quantified. This has proven to be very valuable. Math and science rely on understanding relationships that are quantifiable.
Let us think back briefly to what Smith told us about the science of psychology and education. Do you recall this? There was a point in time when psychologists, being enamored with the prestige that science offered, no longer wanted to be thought of as philosophers. Psychologists began experimenting on topics such as learning.
Educators, also enamored with the prestige given to science, adopted the methods of the psychologists.
In both cases, to make measurements between variables, the things being studied had to be objectified in such a way that measurements could be made. While this makes perfect sense in science, this becomes problematic when dealing with educational issues.
Let’s go back to the function Kline mentions that mathematicians recognize is not measurable: “The statement that a person’s obligation to society increases with his age expresses a function, the variables of which are obligation and age. However, it is not possible to measure the extent of this obligation in numbers. The calculus is concerned only with variables whose values can be expressed numerically.”
Now, what if we wanted to turn this unmeasurable function—obligation with age — into something measurable? What would we have to do? Well you can see that age is already defined in such a way that we can derive numerical values from it. So what would we have to do with ‘obligation’? We would have to break it apart, make clear definitions, have particular boundaries, and perhaps turn it into definable bits of information. Interestingly, we are so immersed in a discourse that suggests that this is not only possible, but easy, shows just how influential the scientific lens has become in our educational practices. However, as soon as we start to objectify something like ‘obligation’ all sorts of distortions arise.
You might begin to see how Smith and Gatto have been comparing two different discourses—one that allow for objectification and measurement with another that doesn’t. When we think back to Gattos Seven Lesson Teacher speech, we can hear him giving examples of the natural human lived experiences objectified, measured, and manipulated.
Likewise, we can recall how Schwartz talked about the way that moral acts can not be simplified and programmatically arranged and followed because ultimately we find ourselves in situations where our human wisdom is obscured.
From a professor’s perspective, this doesn’t stop us from wanting to find generalizations and willing to objectify our students’ educational life world so that we can bestow the honor of scientist (researcher) on ourselves. If we can’t find easily quantifiable things to research (as we do in our quantitative research agendas, we do our best and measuring the non-quantifiable and refer to these practices as qualitative research.
In today’s lecture I would like to give some more examples of how we have arrived at this particular place, or have been thrown into this particular context, in terms of objectification and measurement.
Why think about this? What does this mean for us?
When we are in this context of objectification and measurement, we do things that may not be appropriate in terms of educational relationships — think of the function that makes mathematical sense in comparison to the one that doesn’t,
Let’s recall the importance of context:
Recall if you will: last day I started the lecture by once again making the point at how context shapes meaning. By changing the context of the Bill and Mrs. Jones we saw the meaning of Bill and Mrs. Jones’ encounters transition from something unsavory to something beautiful.
Context shapes meaning. Whether with Bill and Mrs. Jones or objectification and measurement.
I have also been poking at the idea of how context changes the way we think about our schooling activities. Smith’s Official Theory of schooling interprets schooling practices one way, while the classic theory interprets the same practices in quite another way.
We can extend this to our interactions with parents, colleagues, and administrators. If we view education to mean one thing, the actions taken in school might mean something very different from someone who brings another context (or lens) to bear on the analysis.
We even considered how one’s narrative can have significant effects on how they interpret their school performance, or other’s comments about them. If your narrative says you are intelligent and that you can do well in school, a teacher’s critique might feel much less scathing than if your narrative is telling you that you are a failure.
Regardless of how we look at this, context plays a significant role in how we make meaning of our schooling practices.
The narrative of objectification and measurement shapes how we interpret our practice.
Are we developing our awareness of recognizing background context?
I think we are. By now we should be confident in our ability to see how different context’s (lenses, beliefs, priorities) is shaping our settings, activities, and interpretations of schooling practices. We are deliberately looking into, behind, or beyond, the practices and questioning why particular practices seem to make sense.
Everything that Glitters
We also spent some time poking around the idea that when one interpretation or context comes to the fore, another may well recede into the background. I can’t remember the time when I sat in a meeting and the question came up as to whether or not we can measure something. We can measure anything, can’t we?
A brief review of Taylorism.
I love Taylorism, if I am a business person trying to make a profit. By taking his management techniques and making them the context, then all of my worker’s activities and tasks make perfect sense. More money for me, and more money for my shareholders, and more product for my customers.
But is this the right context for learning?
Notice I say context here. Recall, context gives meaning. If the context is efficiency, what starts to happen in my class as a result? What happens in my school? What happens to me and my students?
I certainly don’t want my learning to be inefficient, but what happens when efficiency becomes the context? What becomes the derivative? How does the context of efficiency dictate the learning activities?
After reading some of the sources in this lecture, you will be able to point to specific examples of just how schools adopted some of the ideas that came out of our industrialized society. I hope that you can enjoy thinking about these ideas. In this lecture I try to show some of the direct influences of scientific management (and factory thinking) on our schools.
To this point we have looked at assembly line thinking—more specifically, Taylorism and scientific management. We have seen how the drive toward efficiency created a justification to objectify workers and manipulate them for greater profits.
We saw the analysis of movement, referred to as time-motion study. We also looked a little deeper into scientific management and time-motion study and where this thinking came from when we read a few passages from Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “The Principles of Scientific Management.” We witnessed deliberate attempts to ‘incentify’ workers so that they would have greater ‘initiative’ to work faster.
We also saw the establishment of managerial systems put in place to oversee how efficient workers were.
We also saw the establishment of “the task” — projects broken into small disconnected tasks in the name of greater efficiency.
Furthermore, this way of thinking was called a science. Calling something a science tends to lend some credibility to the endeavor. If you recall Taylor said, “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.”
Weaving scientific management into our school discourse
Let us spend a bit more time deepening our understanding as to how these ideas have been woven into our school discourse. Let’s focus on efficiency.
Hoover fellows Eric Hanushek on Teacher Salaries and Efficiency in Schools
Really? Where on earth did you get these ideas? Does this thinking have anything to do with rationalization?
The action of attempting to explain or justify behavior or an attitude with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate.
The action of making a company, process, or industry more efficient, especially by dispensing with superfluous personnel or equipment.
The action of reorganizing a process or system so as to make it more logical and consistent.
“A big part of scientific management was the breaking down of work into its component tasks which could then be spread out among the many workers. . . . We often associate this concept with the assembly lines where each worker performs a simple repetitive task before the commodity passes to the next worker. But actually, most work in a capitalist workplace is divided up like this. We ourselves rarely see a product through from start to finish. This allows work to be reduced to just a few simple repetitive motions requiring little skill. the worker need not know anything about the labor process as a whole or even know what he or she is making. This process is known as the rationalization of work.” (I got this quote from a youtube video I can no longer find. It was good, too!)
McDonaldization Theory of George Ritzer
Can we connect these ideas of industry and efficiency to schooling?
If we had time I would have selected a book called The Cult of Educational Efficiency for our class reading–something worth reading if you have an interest in deepening your understanding of how the concept of efficiency has shaped our schooling practices. Even though we aren’t reading that text for class, let me at least point to some aspects of how efficiency has historically impacted our thinking.
Let me share with you a part of a paper written by Howard Lee. This is from his paper called Outcomes-based Education and the Cult of Educational Efficiency: Using curriculum and assessment reforms to drive educational policy and practice.
The social efficiency movement
Recent attempts to reform state education systems alone the lines of identifying and describing in considerable detail the expected outcomes of schooling, and then holding teachers and administrators accountable for the quality of students’ work, mirror closely the efficiency movement ideals of the early twentieth century. The brainchild of Frederick Winslow Taylor, these ideals originated in the United States of America in 1911 and flourished until the early 1930s, only to be reborn in the United Kingdom and Australia in the late 1980s, and in New Zealand in the early 1990s.
Outlining his views on industrial efficiency in his seminal work, Principles of Scientific Management (1911), Taylor immediately became a highly sought after management consultant to numerous American industrialists who were struggling to find ways in which to extract maximum efficiency (profit) from their factories and workers. The key to understanding scientific management, he concluded, lay in adopting a rigorous time-and-motion analysis of every movement of expert workers, breaking complex tasks down into their most elementary components, describing the exact specifications of each task to be performed, and then ordering the precise elements of those tasks so as to bring all employers’ levels of performance up to the required standard by eliminating wasted motion (Taylor, 1911).
Not surprisingly, educators were quick to recognize parallels between Taylor’s industrial management principles and their application to the governance of American public schools. Moreover, Taylor’s fondness of certainty, high-level specificity, precision, sequence and regulation in American industrial reform provided school administrators with an ostensibly scientific method for introducing much needed efficiencies into schools. Political and educational conservatives soon embraced the metaphors, procedures, and performance standards drawn from the scientific management movement as the principal means by which to bureaucratese American education (Tyack, 1974).
Educational efficiency and the ‘scientific’ curriculum
At the forefront of the doctrine of educational efficiency in America were three leading figures: Joseph Rice, Franklin Bobbitt, and Ellwood Cubberly. Rice, formerly a medical doctor, became highly regarded for his pioneering survey-based research into students’ reading and arithmetic achievements throughout the 1890s (Engelhart & Thomas, 1966). Having become increasingly disillusioned with the lack of rigor and the absence of standards and efficiency in the school curriculum Rice published a scathing critique of American education in 1912 entitled, significantly, Scientific Management in Education, in which he claimed that young people need only to know what was immediately useful in order to prepare them specifically and directly for their future occupational roles in society.
you can see Rice’s book here: Scientific Management in Education
Turning his attention to the education system, Rice claimed that American schooling was in an abysmal state because administrators knew little about what was happening in the nations’ classrooms and because the quality and performance of its teachers was poor. Rice’s solution was simple and unequivocal: introduce a ‘scientific system of pedagogical management’ (Rice, 1912, p. xiv) wherein classroom achievement standards were specified in advance and teacher competence (efficiency) measured in relation to the number of students who met those clearly defined standards (pp. xiv, xvi). The results of one school could then be compared with others in order to establish an index of relative school efficiency.
It is interesting to think that some guy who was particularly concerned about waste and efficiency had such an impact on how we think of things now.
Writing at about the same time as Rice, Franklin Bobbitt, from the Department of Education at the University of Chicago, was similarly attracted to the newly emerging educational efficiency movement and its concomitant goal of settling social turmoil, cementing social division, and promoting greater cohesion and stability in America. Bobbitt soon came to be recognized at the key spokesperson for the new breed of efficiency-minded educator when he identified curricular reform as the most potent instrument for achieving the requisite social (and economic) efficiency. Outlining his factory-school metaphor in “The Elimination of Waste in Education,” published in 1912, Bobbitt declared that the schools’ task was to ‘work up the raw material into that finished product . . . [by] educating the individual according to his capabilities’ (Bobbitt, 1912, p. 269). Educational inefficiency and wastage, he concluded, would be eliminated through a carefully selected and differentiated curriculum . . . .
Again, someone in a position to make judgements on others, a man with an eye to efficiency, shapes our thinking. Of course it helps when you can get the industrial elite to buy into the idea.
The attractiveness of Bobbitt’s utilitarian curriculum was not lost on leading American industrialists who believed that it would better prepare school leavers to enter the workforce while at the same time addressing the serious shortage of skilled labour caused by the onset of involvement in World War 1 and the halting of immigration between 1915 and 1920 (Callahan, 1962, Cremin, 1962, Katz, 1968). From this point on, American schools were inextricably positioned as the incubators for major economic, industrial occupational and social transformation.
Incubators for economic, industrial and social transformation?
Yes, Incubators for economic, industrial and social transformation.
Now, right before our eyes, let’s see how curriculum was broken down into discrete bits and pieces. Don’t forget some of Gatto’s comments when you read this.
Capitalizing upon America’s infatuation with curriculum theory as the guarantor of social efficiency, Bobbitt published his state-of-the-art text, The Curriculum, in 1918. The appeal of Bobbitt’s theory lay in its simplicity for it likened curriculum planning to a series of discrete steps, each of which entailed specifying ‘numerous, definite, and particularised’ curricular objectives and outcomes (Bobbitt, 1918, p. 42). In keeping with Taylor’s scientific description of the efficient factory worker, Bobbitt was adamant that scientific analysis alone would reveal what society required of its schools. Such analysis would allow schools to abandon useless (symbolic0 curriculum activities in favour of what was directly relevant to the needs of modern American industry.
You can see Bobbitt’s “The Curriculum” here.
Now, it always helps if you can find an ally in a university. How about a dean of education? Perhaps one who has been doing cost-benefit analyses. Especially one who has really adopted the factory metaphor when thinking about educating children.
Rice and Bobbitt found a strong ally in Elwood Cubberly, Stanford University’s Foundation Dean of Education. Having been hired by numerous school boards to undertake cost-benefit analyses to ascertain the overall quality of education, Cubberly was unswerving in his view that American Schools were:
factories in which raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet various demands in life. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of the twentieth century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down. This demands good tools, specialized machinery, continuous measurement of production to see if it is according to specifications, the elimination of waste in manufacture, and a large variety of outputs (Cubberly, 1916, pp. 337 – 338, quoted in Callahan, 1962, p. 97)
Embedded in Cubberly’s summary of social efficiency theory was the central cannon of the scientific curriculum-makers — specificity and predictability in curriculum construction and delivery. By specifying precise and definitive curricular objectives in advance of actual classroom instruction, and then requiring the nation’s teachers to deliver that curriculum to all children, a standardized teacher-proof curriculum was born.
We should repeat that last sentence, just so that we can high-light some of the key language elements that shape thinking: “By specifying precise and definitive curricular objectives in advance of actual classroom instruction, and then requiring the nation’s teachers to deliver that curriculum to all children, a standardized teacher-proof curriculum was born.”
This mechanization, I am sure, would be appealing to some. But why?
Such mechanized and regulated teaching and learning had obvious appeal to school administrators who had long sought unequivocal evidence of the efficiency of American teachers.
Ah, yes, evidence of efficiency. What else?
The great advantage of scientific curriculum reform, Bobbitt had body claimed in 1913, was that by insisting upon definitive outputs (standards) for teachers, administrators could then ‘tell at a glance which teachers are strong and which ones are weak . . . (and) enable the management to instantly overcome one of its most troublesome problems in schools — that of getting rid of inefficient teachers’ (Callahan, 1962, p. 79).
What does this do to teachers?
Teachers were now cast in the mold of being rule-bound, results-driven technicians. With scientific curriculum making so hegemonically embedded in contemporary educational theory, no thought had been given to inviting teachers as co-participants to assist in framing and revising the very curriculum that they were charged with implementing. Administrators, it seems, were not yet willing to concede that the classroom experiences of professional teachers needed to be factored into ongoing curriculum planning and reform.
If we had the time in this class we could read Franklin Bobbit’s book Making Curriculum. It would give you some great insight into the first efforts at curriculum development that emerged in the early 1900s. Interestingly, though the content has changed somewhat over time, the way of thinking about knowable experience has changed little.
There are ways to think and talk about experience. But what are they?
You see, to turn worldly experiences into information that can then be organized and shared with (or transmitted to) students requires a way of thinking about the world. It requires a way of thinking about experience. It requires a way of turning ideas into self contained objects that can then be manipulated. It also means we have to believe in this idea of transmitting. We can see/hear some of this thinking in Bobbitt’s work.
Given that we don’t have time to read his book, I have provided you with the best article I could find that does a wonderful job of explaining early curriculum development.
Bobbitt sought to create something practical. He deliberately applied scientific principles to the development of curriculum. Of course, as Eisner points out, the American context was primed for such thinking: “The ideas of social efficiency, scientific management, experimentalist theory, and psychological measurement were a part of the educational context of the day.” It was Bobbitt who applied this thinking to curricular development.
Bobbitt identifies what he deems to be significant areas of human life, identify an array of tasks for students to perform, design objectives to ensure task completion. Once this was complete, evaluation procedures could be implemented so that those in positions of power could evaluate how well schools, teachers, and students were performing.
Just think, before the early 1900s, people didn’t have curriculum like this. This was a new (and for some an exciting) undertaking.
So, how do we have to think to make a curriculum? Or, AKA, what context do we have to adopt to design a curriculum?
What is the type of thinking that one uses to design a curriculum? Winograd and Flores (p. 15) depict this sort of thinking like this:
- Characterize the situation in terms of identifiable objects with well defined properties.
- Find general rules that apply to situations in terms of those objects and properties.
- Apply the rules logically to the situation of concern, drawing conclusions about what should be done.
When we read this, one of the things that might stand out for us is the idea of making representations of experience or reality. We call this the correspondence theory. The belief is that representations of reality can be made and then shared with others. In many cases this has become a natural way of thinking. We think of ‘the world’ in terms of identifiable objects and properties, systems and rules, all that can be represented and shared.
Let us consider scientific thinking. Maturana does this in his book Biology of Language: The Epistemology of Reality.
In terms of the scientific method we have, “(a) observation of a phenomenon that , henceforth, is taken as a problem to be explained; (b) proposition of an explanatory hypothesis in the form of a deterministic system that can generate a phenomenon isomorphic with the one observed; (c) proposition of a computed state or process in the system specified by the hypothesis as a predicted phenomenon to be observed; and (d) observation of the predicted phenomenon.
What does this mean? Winograd and Flores explain: “The scientist first notes some regularity in the phenomena of interest–some recurring pattern of observations. He or she proposes a conceptual or concrete system that can be set into correspondence with the observations and that can be manipulated to make predictions about other potential observations. Conditions are created in which these observations can be expected and the results used to modify the theory. Scientific research consists of setting up situations in which observable activity will be determined in a clear way by a small number of variables that can by systematically manipulated. This simplicity is necessary if the modeling system is to make predictions that can be checked. p. 16
So what does all of this mean for us?
So what does all of this mean for us? Well, let’s look at that first item above listed by Winnograd and Flores:
- Characterize the situation in terms of identifiable objects with well defined properties.
How do we do that? Or, what perspective do we need to take to even perceive those identifiable objects with well defined properties?
It means that much of what we believe about teaching, learning and schooling is based on the idea that we can observe reality as if our observations were independent of us, objectifying it in such a way that we can then manipulate it, share it, and make predictions about it.
Have you ever heard of the spectator view?
Did you ever make a camera obscura as a child?
You make a box with a pinhole in it, and then you can see the reflection of an inverted image of the outside world on a screen that you place on the inside of the box.
Well I think you will find this interesting. Here is John Locke, nineteenth century philosopher.
He spent a lot of time thinking about things. If fact, you can see that he is thinking right there in the picture. He is thinking to himself: “I wonder if I should have had that second bowl of clam chowder?”
In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” John Locke (1836) uses the metaphor of the camera obscura to help explain the idea of understanding. He wrote:
[E]xternal and internal sensations are the only passages, that I can find, of knowledge to the understanding. These alone, as far as I can discover, are the windows by which light is let into this dark room: for, methinks, the understanding is not much unlike a closet wholly shut from light, with only some little opening left, to let in external visible resemblances, or ideas of things without; would the pictures coming into such a dark room but stay there, and lie so orderly as to be found upon occasion, it would very much resemble the understanding of a man, in reference to all objects of sight, and the ideas of them.
Now, camera obscuras were big business, so to speak, back then.
They were used for work and entertainment. But, more interesting than the camera obscura itself is that that the metaphor of the camera obscura enflamed philosophers’ thinking. The idea of the spectator was enhanced. The idea of ‘images’ in our minds, our mind containing reflections of reality, etc., etc..
Of course Locke was not the only one who was influenced by the spectator view of understanding.
I think Stephen Mulhall gives a great indication of the spectator view in regards to some of the philosophers who have influenced our thinking:
The question of the human relationship with the external world has been central to Western philosophy since Descartes; and the standard answers to it have shared one vital feature. Descartes dramatizes the issue by depicting himself seated before a fire contemplating a ball of wax; when searching for the experiential roots of causation. Hume imagines himself as a spectator of a billiards game; and Kant’s disagreement with Hume’s analysis leads hims to portray himself watching a ship move downriver. In other words, all three explore the nature of human contact with the world from the viewpoint of a detached observer of that world, rather than as an actor within it. Descartes does talk of moving his ball of wax nearer to the fire, but his practical engagement with it goes no further; Hume does not imagine himself playing billiards; and Kant never thinks to occupy the focus of the epistemological tradition away from this conception of the human being as an unmoving point of view upon the world.
So, as we might come to think, our philosophers were spectators in the development of their philosophical understandings. The result? “[T]hat exclusive reliance upon the image of the spectator has seriously distorted philosophers’ characterizations of human existence in the world.” Mulhall continues to point out:
of course, no traditional philosopher would deny that human life is lived within a world of physical objects. If, however, these objects are imagined primarily as objects of vision, then that world is imagined primarily as a spectacle — a series of tableaux or a play staged before us; and the world of a play is one from which its audience is essentially excluded — they may look in on the world of the characters, but they do not participate in or inhabit it. Such a picture has deep attractions. A world that one does not inhabit is a world in which one is not essentially implicated and by which one is not essentially constrained; . . . But there are also drawbacks: for the model also makes it seem that the basic human relation with objects is one of mere spatial contiguity, that persons and objects are juxtaposed with one another.
What’s your point Dana?
I am trying to make a couple of points here: one, that we have become accustomed to talking and thinking about the world from a spectator perspective (especially in schools); two, we have broken up the world into small self-contained objects that can then be thought to have effects on one another in very narrow ways (simple cause and effect); three, we talk as if we can make meaningful mathematical relationships between the variables; and four, we talk as if we can somehow transfer, or input, these representations into our students.
Franklin Bobbitt had to look at the world as a spectator, turning worldly experiences into objects, manipulating them and ordering them to his own specifications.
These objectifications, this visual perspective, predominate.
Can we get a sense of the objective versus the lived experience?
Embodiment Versus Disembodiment
We are familiar with somewhat disembodied experience of the spectator view.
RedBud 450 Moto 2: Ken Roczen vs. Trey Canard
If you watch the first minute or so you will get the idea:
But embodied experiences are different.
GoPro: Ryan Villopoto – Monster Energy Cup Win 2012
Again, a short viewing will give you the idea:
In schools we talk as if experiences are disembodied and that we experience the world from the spectator perspective. We talk of objectified objects that we can manipulate. We even talk about students as being objects that we can manipulate.
One last example to make this point:
The Cult of Information
We haven’t ‘really’ talked about information, or the cult of information.
Did you ever read Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Power of Myth’? Here is a small section:
Joseph Campbell: Now, in a culture that has been homogeneous for some time, there are a number of understood, unwritten rules by which people live. There is an ethos there, there is a mode, an understanding that, “we don’t do it that way.”
Bill Moyers: A mythology.
Campbell: An unstated mythology, you might say. This is the way we use a fork and knife, this is the way we deal with people, and so forth. It’s not all written down in books, But in America we have people from all kinds of backgrounds, all in a cluster, together, and consequently law has become very important in this country. Lawyers and law are what hold us together. There is no ethos. Do you see what I mean?
Moyers: Yes. It’s what De Tocqueville described when he first arrived here a hundred and sixty years ago to discover “a tumult of anarchy.”
Campbell: What we have today is a demythologized world. And, as a result, the students I meet are very much interested in mythology because myths bring them messages. Now, I can’t tell you what the messages are that the study of mythology is bringing to young people today. I know what it did for me. But it is doing something for them. When I go to a lecture at my college, the room is bursting with students who have come to hear what I have to say. The faculty very often assigns me to a room that’s a little small–smaller than it should have been because they didn’t know how much excitement there was going to be in the student body.
Moyers: Take a guess. What do you think the mythology, the stories they’re going to hear from you, do for them?
Campbell: They’re stories about the wisdom of life, they really are. What we’re learning in our schools is not the wisdom of life. We’re learning technologies, we’re getting information. There’s a reluctance on the part of faculties to indicate the life values of their subjects. In our sciences today–and this includes anthropology, linguistics, the study of religions, and so forth–there is a tendency to specialization.
That’s interesting–the wisdom of life. Sounds a bit like Schwartz.
Our procedures 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.
Save us Frank, save us!
The word education was once largely synonymous with experience. A trip abroad, or a weekend at camp, was supposed to make you a more educated person. Learning was what happened as a consequence of rich and varied experience, and the worst way to learn was to isolate yourself from the world and other people. According to Frank Smith, this is the classic view of learning.
But today, learning and education don’t mean gaining experience, they mean acquiring, storing, and retrieving information (which is what computers do).
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.
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.
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.
And don’t forget what Eric Hanusheck from the Hoover Institution said about cutting teachers’ salaries to save money and improve efficiency.
Now it is coming clear to me. Why didn’t I get this before?
For every one of these:
we end up saving money. And we don’t even have to put our trust in real teachers. Thank you Eric for pointing this out to us. You obviously have a vision of a better world than the rest of us.
Remember Barry Schwartz: Using Our Practical Wisdom
There are two kinds of responses that we make to this sort of general dissatisfaction. If things aren’t going right, the first response is: let’s make more rules, let’s set up a set of detailed procedures to make sure that people will do the right thing. Give teachers scripts to follow in the classroom, so even if they don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care about the welfare of our kids, as long as they follow the scripts, our kids will get educated.
Or — or maybe and — in addition to rules, let’s see if we can come up with some really clever incentives so that, even if the people we deal with don’t particularly want to serve our interests, it is in their interest to serve our interest — the magic incentives that will get people to do the right thing even out of pure selfishness. So we offer teachers bonuses if the kids they teach score passing grades on these big test scores that are used to evaluate the quality of school systems.
Rules and incentives — “sticks” and “carrots.”
What we desperately need, beyond, or along with, better rules and reasonably smart incentives, is we need virtue. We need character. We need people who want to do the right thing. And in particular, the virtue that we need most of all is the virtue that Aristotle called “practical wisdom.” Practical wisdom is the moral will to do the right thing and the moral skill to figure out what the right thing is.
Dealing with other people demands a kind of flexibility that no set of rules can encompass. Wise people know when and how to bend the rules. Wise people know how to improvise. The way my co-author, Ken, and I talk about it, they are kind of like jazz musicians. The rules are like the notes on the page, and that gets you started, but then you dance around the notes on the page, coming up with just the right combination for this particular moment with this particular set of fellow players. So for Aristotle, the kind of rule-bending, rule exception-finding and improvisation that you see in skilled craftsmen is exactly what you need to be a skilled moral craftsman.
Now consider Ms. Dewey. Ms. Dewey’s a teacher in a Texas elementary school. She found herself listening to a consultant one day who was trying to help teachers boost the test scores of the kids, so that the school would reach the elite category in percentage of kids passing big tests. All these schools in Texas compete with one another to achieve these milestones, and there are bonuses and various other treats that come if you beat the other schools. So here was the consultant’s advice: first, don’t waste your time on kids who are going to pass the test no matter what you do. Second, don’t waste your time on kids who can’t pass the test no matter what you do. Third, don’t waste your time on kids who moved into the district too late for their scores to be counted. Focus all of your time and attention on the kids who are on the bubble, the so-called “bubble kids” — kids where your intervention can get them just maybe over the line from failing to passing. So Ms. Dewey heard this, and she shook her head in despair while fellow teachers were sort of cheering each other on and nodding approvingly. It’s like they were about to go play a football game. For Ms. Dewey, this isn’t why she became a teacher.
I will leave it here for today.
Hopefully you are feeling as though the historical underpinnings, and the philosophical ramifications of scientific management are becoming clearer. Hopefully are are seeing the perspectives Gatto and Smith are taking. And hopefully you are starting to get a feel of what can, and what can’t be measured in terms of what we do in schools.
This Week’s Response Question
So let me ask you this for this week’s response question.
First, please state, if you can, 5 to 10 things that we are trying to treat objectively in schools that we probably shouldn’t? Think of this in terms of what we can and can’t do mathematically or quantitatively. The challenge here is overcoming the perspective that everything can and should be dealt with quantitatively.
Second, for each example you provide, can you say what some of the ramifications are of treating these aspects of education quantitatively?
That’s all for today. I would like to share something that is historically significant for you to look at if you have time. If, by chance, you are interested in exploring the idea of information a bit more, I would highly recommend you view Theodor Roszak’s interview below. If you happen to be in the Information Technology program Roszak’s book Cult of Information is an important book.
late 14c., “act of informing,” from Old French informacion, enformacion “information, advice, instruction,” from Latin informationem (nominative informatio) “outline, concept, idea,” noun of action from past participle stem of informare (see inform). Meaning “knowledge communicated” is from mid-15c. Information technology attested from 1958. Information revolution from 1969.
early 14c., “to train or instruct in some specific subject,” from Old French informer “instruct, inform, teach,” and directly from Latin informare “to shape, form,” figuratively “train, instruct, educate,” from in- “into” (see in- (2)) + formare “to form, shape,” from forma “form” (see form (n.)). Varied with enform until c. 1600. Sense of “report facts or news” first recorded late 14c. Related: Informed; informing.
What happens when we start to reduce everything to information?
Now, I know, many of you will be inclined to say this talk is old. But it still applies. That might, in itself, make us pause.
Roszak was instrumental in the way we started questioning the rise of ‘information.’ Here we see some of his early recognition of the problems with this shift of thinking.
Theodore Roszak, 1933-2011 – Cult of Information (complete) – Thinking Allowed w/ Jeffrey Mishlove
It makes me wonder, are we so used to the term information, and the idea of information, that we have lost our ability to even question the very notion of information? I know I didn’t even give the term information a thought until I read Roszak’s book The Cult of Information. When I think of many alternative school settings, they don’t seem to have a focus on ‘information’ in the same way we seem to in public schools. And yet it seems that so much our our life experience doesn’t rely on the concept of information. When you watch a good movie are you thinking in terms of ‘information’ or something else? How about when you read a good book?–not a text book. Do we spend too much time asking our students to find information? Does ‘information’ just become stuff to be collected? Does it obscure that which might be important in life? Does a focus on ‘information’ obscure the more meaningful encounters we have with our world and with others?
If we give priority to the need to measure, then do teach what is easily measurable? Do we naturally break action and knowledge up into information?
Until next time.