48. Replacing the Dominance of Standardization and Assembly Lines

A systems model for curriculum development is indeed a hard sell. Like criticizing Henry Ford for producing cheap and poorly made automobiles, after he created the automated assembly line to produce the Model T.

Ford’s argument was that standardization of parts and repetitive work were efficient. Turning out millions of adequate machines that would inexpensively transport the masses.

He was right.

While standardization of parts was not new, a large-scale assembly line was. Ford transformed America. Our ability to create adequate products quickly and inexpensively became the hallmark of American success. Including the winning of World War 2.

Twenty first century technology is changing the look of manufacturing. Standardization is replaced with variability based on individual needs. Robotic uniqueness is essential to meeting demands of a diverse marketplace.

Ford’s standardization and assembly line techniques were not lost on those responsible for creating public schools. Using that model, communities less expensively and more efficiently educated the masses to meet the needs of an industrial society.

But standardization of academic content can paralyze creative learning. And the assembly line mentality reflected in grade level configurations is archaic.

Rebecca’s Justification for the Teaching and Learning Contract

I knew the reaction to developing and using a teaching/learning contract system would get pushback. It is complex, time consuming and expensive. Enough reasons to stop the effort in its tracks.

But there is another reason.

Americans are still enamored with the industrial processes created in the 20th Century. That belief has entered our political discourse. The reason is simple. Standardization and the assembly line mentality made us the greatest nation on earth. We are competitive in economic and military dominance.

In the latter part of the 20th Century we were forced to examine our nation’s beliefs and actions. Product quality and service was slipping. Too many people were falling through the prosperity cracks.

Our nation has so far survived that slippage. Now, we are going through a slow transformation. Partially because of the COVID pandemic.

Our schools must work differently. The pandemic and technological advancements are causing us to recognize the need for quality intellectual engagement and an innovative mindset. Patterning schools on 20th Century standardization and assembly line techniques no longer makes sense.

We need to replace the old ways with the new learning infrastructure, incorporating the teaching/learning contract.

Two shortcomings in the current ways of improving schools are:

  1. tinkering with a fundamentally flawed system
  2. basing school district organization on a standardization and assembly line mentality.

Tinkering and quick fixes don’t work. And imposed uniformity results in mediocrity.

Some teachers, parents and patrons will not be convinced that past practices are bad. They fear change and the unknown. We need to prove the efficacy of the new learning infrastructure.

Back to Bridges and Schools

The most frequently used analogy for the new learning infrastructure is the importance of bridges. In the physical infrastructure, bridges play an important role. New bridges provide more secure and safe connections.

A twist on that analogy is the need for better bridges between schools and the communities they serve. Current educational “bridges” are inadequate and falling apart. New bridges are necessary, built with upgraded technology that fits their unique uses, demographic applications, and geographic configurations.

The symbolic bridge in this case is the teaching/learning contract system that I will ask Ken, Bryon, and Barbara to consider and critique. Before moving the idea further up the line.

The teaching/learning contract can be saved, completed, and used electronically by each student for every subject. General information is located on a cover page shown below in light blue. Subsequent sections include the unit, the teaching and learning element that focuses on the component, the component’s assessment element, and the component’s achievement element.

Teaching and Learning Contract


MASTERY PROFILE: (Teacher inserts a sentence or more to convey the level of student mastery.)         

This portion focuses only on components. Pages that summarize student achievement for units and the course/grade level are added later.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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