Home > Uncategorized > A Skeptical Blogger Looks at Horace Mann’s Factory School and Proposed a Heretical Fix

A Skeptical Blogger Looks at Horace Mann’s Factory School and Proposed a Heretical Fix

The Medium feeds me articles of interest in a wide array of topics ranging from sports to public education, and one of their posts introduced me to a skeptical analyst of history named William Treseder. In a July 4 post titled “One Man Created the Education System Holding You Back “, Mr. Treseder provides an overview of the history of public education that rings true, emphasizing that the system created by Horace Mann was designed to help with the transition from an agrarian economy to a industrial one. But, Mr. Treseder asserts that the values Horace Mann’s ideal school system inculcated are no longer relevant:

Education isn’t really about learning! More specifically, it isn’t about learning how to learn. It’s about learning how to conform. Predictability is the ultimate goal.

This idea should scare you. And even if it is only partially true, the idea explains a lot. We are struggling in the 21st century because conformity is no longer that valuable to companies. Software and hardware increasingly shoulder those burdens. Now the economy wants something else. Something unique, and creative. Something our education didn’t cover.

Later in the article Mr. Treseder provides this synopsis of how the Horace Mann’s “job factory” worked:

It’s worth reminding ourselves now about the key characteristics of the industrial era, and how we can see them manifested in the education system that continues to operate across America to this day:

– Schools focus on respecting authority
– Schools focus on punctuality
– Schools focus on measurement
– Schools focus on basic literacy
– Schools focus on basic arithmetic

Notice how these reinforce each other. You enter the system one way, and are crammed through an extended molding process. The result? A “good enough” cog to jam into an industrial machine.

Mr. Treseder believes that the “good enough” attitude was baked into the factory model espoused by Horace Mann in several ways, but that “good enough” attitude contradicts the needs we have today and results in schools inculcating habits that are counterproductive to success in today’s world. He offers five examples of practices that he believes need to be eliminated and five habits that could replace them. Here are the five that need to be eliminated, a list that resonates with me:

  1. Filling up the day with time-bound activities
  2. Accepting whatever you’re assigned
  3. Completing projects at the last minute
  4. Obsessing over quantified ranks and scores
  5. Sitting still for 8+ hours per day

And in their place, Mr. Treseder suggests we emphasize the following principles and practices:

  1. Replace time-bound activities with outcome-based activities. Focus on meetings — the worst culprit — and the decisions you want out of them. If you can’t think of a decision, don’t have the meeting.
  2. Summarize the goals of a new project to the person who asked for it, making sure you know exactly what is supposed to be accomplished, and why.
  3. Plan to complete a v1.0 of each project by the 50% mark. This is a chance to get valuable corrective feedback from other people, despite how uneasy you may feel with your “ugly” project.
  4. Focus on the “Why?” of each project and knocking it out of the park. Take time at the beginning of the project to get inspired by the work of others, then shut out the rest of the world.
  5. Get off your ass.
 As #5 indicates, Mr. Treseder’s essay is written in a smart-aleck tone, but as the list indicates he is definitely insightful as to the deficiencies of public education today…. and the tone may reflect his abiding belief that making the kinds of changes he advocates will be daunting.
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