Comment of the Day: “we view education not in terms of developing intellect, but of producing graduates”

From this post over at Diane Ravitch’s blog: The Secret Strategy of Corporate School Reform?

Commenter David Lentini writes:

I think there is some truth to this, but when I reflect on the history of school “reform” I also think these reform efforts reflect a sincere (and insane) mindset. Unfortunately, especially in Anglo-American cultures, business has become the standard by which the values of all activities are measured. We view all activities, economic or not, in terms of production and consumption, and profit. Our culture exalts business leaders who extract the greatest profits from tightly controlled organizations, and whom we view like great military or political leaders. We relentlessly seek “efficiency” in terms of highest return for least investment, often looking at every activity in terms of dollars and cents. We are in every way the embodiment of R.H. Tawney’s “acquisitive society”. We no longer seek joy or mastery (or even competence) in our actions; we only care about cost, not value, Oscar Wilde’s definition of “cynic”.

And so we view education not in terms of developing intellect, but of producing graduates. And if we are in the business of production, then we also have to maximize the efficiency of that production.Efficiency requires tracking quantities using statistical measures, and tight operational controls on the process of production. So, the process of education requires tests to measure “quality”, and operational controls require close oversight of teachers–the means of production–who will must adhere to highly standardized procedures and practices in order to make the statistical measurements useful. Thus, teachers can’t be creative or spontaneous, because that will undermine the standardized operations needed to enable comparisons of teacher performance. Curriculums have to be standardized and designed to facilitate testing in order to gauge student performance. All of this is needed to maximize efficiency, i.e., the production of graduates at the lowest cost.

As I’ve written elsewhere on this ‘blog, none of this is new: This was the agenda of the original reformers at the turn of the 20th Century. Back then the goal was to “Taylorize” public education by adopting standardized textbooks and replacing the liberal arts curriculum with a synthesized and heavily scripted one that was designed to produce graduates who knew what they needed to know in order to function in society. The goal was to abandon intellectual development–that was needed only for the scions of the wealthy, who would attend the best private schools–in favor of a passive, programmed, and productive general population to work in the factories.

The only difference with our current situation is the use of computer technology to deliver the same stultifying content and replace as many teachers as possible. I always laugh at those who claim that some how we’re in a new world of technology that requires completely rebuilding our educational system. It’s the same old story told with bright new costumes.

The reformers don’t want the public to think; they want them to obey their betters, who are the Gateses, and Bushes, and Bloombergs, and Rhees, etc., as demonstrated by their wealth. They truly believe they are doing God’s work.

La plus ca change, la plus c’est le meme chose.

Remember this whenever you hear our “leaders” talk about how we must prepare our students for the “challenges” of our new technology.  This sentiment is so accepted that we don’t even notice it any more.

“And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” – President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013

Do you hear any of them speak any more of the joy of learning? No.  They only speak of preparing our students to be  “workers for the 21st century.”

9 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “we view education not in terms of developing intellect, but of producing graduates”

  1. This was an aspect of my earlier discussion on education. But I’ll add it’s not just training people for jobs, but also for “functioning” in today’s society.

    In part why I’m not big on education as it’s being sold today. I mentioned in my other comments we (parents and kids) are being sold the idea a degree is all that is needed as a doorway to a better life. To me, it’s obvious that is not the case. As an ex-business owner I was much more interested int the person I was hiring as opposed to what degree they held. And a big part of that was screening for the ability to think.

    My problem has never been with education . . . it’s with throwing more money into a system that , in my opinion, does a terrible job of teaching people to think.


    1. And none of the reformers want to teach kids to think either. And therein lies the rub.

      We give lip-service to “critical thinking skills” but the bureaucrats don’t really want that. And I’m not so sure most business people do either. Critical thinking means asking questions, and most employers don’t really want that – all their braying about finding “problems solvers” notwithstanding.


  2. The fact is schools do teach it. Let’s stop peddling the fiction they don’t. Understand critical thinking is not a matter of agreeing with somebody politically.


    1. I do understand that, but what I mean is teaching kids to actually take apart an argument, learning logical fallacies, things like that. From what I can tell, if it is taught, the lessons aren’t being learned. Very few have any idea on how to critically evaluate an argument. If you were to ask anyone on the street what is meant by “the argument from authority” or “the argument from ignorance” I doubt they could tell you. Do they know what confirmation bias is? Or moving the goal posts? Do they understand what an unstated premise is and how to recognize when it’s being invoked? Do they know what a red herring is? Or that correlation does not equal causation. This is what I mean by critical thinking.

      This has nothing to do with whether or not someone agrees with me or anyone else.


      1. You are talking college-level stuff. Let’s quit making stuff up about “critical thinking.” Kids are taught about what is opinion and what is fact. They are also encouraged to answer questions in higher-level thinking. You are not an educator and you really don’t know of what you speak. You are bringing in college-level analyzing, and kids are NOT ready for that kind of abstract thinking until adulthood.


        1. And you really show you don’t know anything about child development and what they are able to handle. Most of what you are talking about are things that are taught in college-level philosophy and logic courses. Kids cannot grasp abstract concepts like this until adulthood.


          1. And I do think kids could be taught the concept of confirmation bias, maybe without using those words but you could teach them about how sometimes, just because we want it to be so, that we ignore contradictory evidence. Surely that is teachable to children. Or the concept that, just because someone is an expert in one field, doesn’t make them an expert in another one (argument from authority). Why couldn’t this be taught to at least older-age school children?

            Why can’t they be taught that their own mind can play tricks on them?

            How do they learn the difference between opinion and fact? Many people express opinions as if they are facts, so how are kids taught to tell the difference?


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