The fast school system
In education, McDonaldization attempts to wipe out any of the messiness or inefficiencies of learning. Instead, it attempts to reduce it to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold. Rather than cultivating a deep, holistic love of learning that touches every aspect of a student’s life, learning is reduced to an assembly line. As we allow this to happen, we impose a mechanistic view of learning (which, in nature, is largely an organic process) and at a great cost.
Our education systems continue to rapidly adopt short-cuts that reflect the dimensions of McDonaldization. Essentially, this imposition seeks the most efficient (read: easiest and cheapest) way to get a student from kindergarten to grade 12. In an assembly line, things are homogenized as much as possible. In education, we tend to see this in the assumption that the most important thing a group of kids have in common is the year they are born.
Efficiency has also the birthed the idea that educators can be better utilized by coupling them with online services like Khan Academy, somehow justifying the ridiculous class sizes that many teachers now have to deal with. I don’t doubt that the Khan Academy can transmit information, but can it help to develop our children into thoughtful , ethical citizens, who can critically evaluate, rather than being swayed by the flavor of the day?
Does this cut-to-the-chase strategy create better citizens or compliant consumers? When learning is treated as one more product to be consumed, a horrible disconnect occurs in our students. It becomes about the mark or grade point average. It becomes about the diploma. It becomes about the end justifying a lot of terrible means.
And if a student is not quite ready to read when reading is “introduced,” if they mess with the efficiency and control of the system, then they often pay the price for being “too slow” throughout rest of their lives. Kids are labelled as being not “academic,” as if being academic is the most important quality a child can possess. Creativity is quashed. Curiosity is quelled. Disengagement is rampant.
The desire for predictability produces the one-size-fits-all curriculum and the one-way-works-for-everybody instructional model. Every student will display the same skill (or regurgitation of content knowledge) at the same time. To calculate if any of this is making a difference, a system of high stakes testing is introduced. If students fail, the system is seldom questioned – it’s the fault of poor implementation, inadequate teaching or impaired learners.
In some schools, of course, test scores are up (whatever that means). But at what price? Our students are increasingly stressed and disengaged from their learning. They can jump through the hoops, but most have little idea what they’re passionate about, beyond mindless distractions. How would they know?
It’s not clear what the long term costs of all of these methods will be, but many teachers would agree that they will be dire. What does it do to a child to spend 12 years stressed out by tests or not measuring up to an arbitrary standard that’s largely unrelated to the way the human mind functions?
If educators and parents sense that something is wrong, why do they continue to support such a system? Fear. Fear of losing one’s job. Fear of losing funding. Fear of embarrassing test results being published. Fear of one’s child not being able to get into college and land a “good” job.
There’s an awful lot of fear in education today, and the truth is, we have no idea what the long term cost of this fearful environment will be. We know in the short term, we lose a lot of new teachers in the first five years. We know that others quit early or need stress leave. We know that many are dispirited and cannot hide this from their students.
So how do we change all of this insanity?