What is school for? – The Answer (Part 3 of 4)

Stop Stealing Dreams
Before answering the question what is school for, we need to go back to the revolution in the previous blog: The self-sufficiency age, the agricultural age, the industrial age and the connection age. We moved from the self-sufficiency age to the connection economy over a period of 100 years.

When we moved from zero unemployment (and zero employment) in the self-sufficiency and agricultural age to the industrial age that created employment and consequently created unemployment, we needed to teach people how to work in the factory.

The people who ran factories had one huge problem: how do we get people who are trained and obedient enough to work in the factory? The answer was universal public education whose sole intent was not to train scholars of tomorrow, we have plenty of scholars, it was to train people to be willing to work in a factory. To train people to behave, to comply, to fit in.

We process you for a year at a school, if you are defective (fail a grade), we hold you back and process you again until you pass. The textbook has now replaced the manufacturing manual and the machine manual. We sit you in straight rows just like they organise things in the factory. We build a system all about interchangeable people, because factories are based on interchangeable parts, if this piece is not good, put another piece in. We can fit Bob in here because Rachel didn’t pitch for work today.

We build schools to supply the industrialists with workers.

A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labor. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults.

Sure, there was some moral outrage about seven-year-olds losing fingers and being abused at work, but the economic rationale was paramount. Factory owners insisted that losing child workers would be catastrophic to their industries and fought hard to keep the kids at work—they said they couldn’t afford to hire adults. It wasn’t until 1918 that nationwide compulsory education was in place.

Part of the rationale used to sell this major transformation to industrialists was the idea that educated kids would actually become more compliant and productive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence—it was an investment in our economic future.

The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists.

Of course, it worked. Several generations of productive, fully employed workers followed. But now, our schools need to move with the changing world.

The factory conveyor belt is based on processes that are inter-linked, what an employee does at the beginning of the belt has an impact on the second employee, the third, fourth employee and so forth. The process has to be standard because all the employees on the belt have to be able to know what to do with a part that comes from the previous employee. This then means the process has to be predictable. This process does not encourage innovation. Can you imagine if the first employee decides to be innovative about a part, how will the second employee respond to a part that does not fit in to the manufacturing process, she will be thrown off because she wouldn’t know what first employee did. Therefore it is important to teach obedience, to teach compliance at school so that you can have compliant and obedient employees.

Good morning boys and girls (teacher greeting his class)
Good morning Mr. Mamabolo (learners greeting the teacher)

Have you ever thought about what all this above is all about? It was about obedience and compliance. Everyday we send our kids to school and where they get taught: do not ask too many questions we don’t know the answers to, do not vary from the curriculum, comply, fit in, like your peers, do what you are told, because as a teacher I must process you because my evaluation as a teacher is based on whether or not I processed you properly.

So, since school was designed to supply the industrialist with workers, what happens now that the industrialist cannot employ more workers anymore due to the emergence of the connection economy? Shouldn’t the school also change?

If the factory is no longer employing anymore and the school continues to churn out employees that are meant to work at the factory, then surely school is responsible for creating unemployment.

I am by no means saying school is irrelevant, that is not the purpose of this article, but I am saying the school needs to be relevant in that it needs churn out learners who are willing to pick themselves up instead of learners who are going to look for a factory job.

Part 4 of what is school for will look at how school should do to be more relevant to the connection economy.

What is school for? – The Question (Part 1 of 4): https://rochemamabolo.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/what-is-school-for-part-1/

What is school for? The Revolution (Part 2 of 4): https://rochemamabolo.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/what-is-school-for-the-revolution-part-2/


3 thoughts on “What is school for? – The Answer (Part 3 of 4)

  1. Am I the only one who has been reading great great stuff from Mr Roche daily? Men, I am being educated every day by Africa’s response to Seth Godin. Wow! Wow! Wow!

    Your blog is one of the few I follow and I look forward to reading from you daily. Please keep it up.

    Your analysis on schools and how they evolved is spot-on. I have actually been very careful in choosing a school for my son because I know the game has changed.

    Yes, Africa is catching on but rather slowly. Once again, keep up the good work, Mr Roche.

    1. Thanks a lot Arise, really appreciate the feedback. Yeah it is high time we start to ask questions about important things and not just accept the status quo. I do talk to Seth occasionally, he is a cool dude 🙂

  2. Pingback: What is School for? – Reinventing school (Part 4 of 4) | rochemamabolo

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