Here’s What’s Wrong With Treating Schooling Like A Factory Or Garden

The Federalist | 8/22/2019 | Auguste Meyrat
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For the past 200 years, educators have typically used two analogies to describe their work: manufacturing and gardening. Each year, depending on test scores and the cultural climate, the pendulum will swing towards one or the other.

Those who are more pragmatic tend to see education as a manufacturing process. For them, a school takes something raw (a child) and makes it something useful (worker, citizen, responsible adult, etc.). These pragmatists insist on “data-driven practices,” maximizing efficiency and predictability in learning, and mimicking the professional behavior seen in large corporations. In their imaginations, administrators are managers and data analysts, teachers are technicians who specialize in a certain task, and classrooms are stations on an assembly line.

Humanity - Students - View - Success - Education

Those who appreciate the humanity of their students take a broader view of success in education. They usually advocate a more “natural” and “hands-off” approach to instruction, preferring students to find their own path. Instead of seeing students as raw materials to be refined and assembled, they see each student as a unique plant that must be specially cultivated by a patient gardener-teacher. Teachers with this philosophy tend to despise standardized tests since—in their eyes—tests make education more a matter of performing tricks and winning awards and less that of realizing one’s talents and personality.

Both analogies have their merits but are inadequate for truly capturing all the dynamics involved in education. In truth, schools are communities where teachers teach groups of human beings. The analogies of a factory or garden recognize only one part of this. Treating school like a factory addresses the group component, but not the humanity of that group. Treating school like a garden acknowledges the humanity of students, but only in an individual capacity.

Capture - Learning - School - Environment - Analogy

To best capture how learning works in a school environment, a more deft analogy would be to compare education...
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