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In the beginning...

In early 1975, Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock,” posed an interesting question to me.

“Tell me about our education system,” he said.

I stammered, then said something about the Greeks, Romans, and an Irish priest who had all contributed to what I considered the archetype of the modern educational institution.

He stopped me in my moment of incoherence, and gently asked me what the following scenario suggested:

“A group of people hear a bell and proceed to a structure in a central location. They hear another bell and enter that structure, proceeding to their workstations. They then hear another bell and begin to work at rote tasks until they hear another bell. At that point they leave their workstations for a meal, then return to those workstations when they hear another bell and continue their rote work. They hear another bell sometime later and leave their workstations for the day. The same pattern is repeated day after day.”

I said it sounded like a factory.

He said that was correct, but then asked me what else it described.

I said it sounded like a school.

He said I was correct again and added that the European Industrial Revolution barons needed a trained, conditioned workforce for their factories. Realizing that most of their workforce would be coming from an agrarian society, their pool of workers would need to be conditioned, and what better way to start them early in their conditioning than by modeling the school system on the factory environment. It was one of my more perspicacious moments.

I subsequently reasoned that the model went further, that it became even more pernicious. A teacher stood in front of the class, acting as the fount of all knowledge, instructing the pupils in various ways. If the pupil had a question, he or she asked the teacher what the answer might be. The teacher, situated as he or she was in front of the class, dutifully answered the question. The student learned that if there was a question, the teacher had the answer. It was easy enough to substitute a manager or supervisor for the teacher and the worker for the pupil. The manager or supervisor would have all the answers to any worker’s questions. The worker did not have to think nor was the worker encouraged to do so. Just ask the manager or supervisor; they would know the answer. The model was now complete.

Well over 200 years old, it was apparent that our system of education was a system being used to condition people. As a society, we used a model generated some two centuries prior to teach students of the day in 1975. The vast majority of those students would be working at something other than rote manual tasks during their careers. Even at that time, the very dawn of the computer and information age, most people realized that college students entering the workforce would not be hammering iron into horseshoes as lifetime employment. (excerpt from Just Tell Me What To Do! Why Some Managers Can't Manage and What To Do About It. (Copyright 2017 John R. Grover)

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