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Should we still be training kids for factory work? June 1, 2006

Posted by Tom in Education, Workforce.

Fascinating post on Tech Futures from a visit to Youngstown, Ohio.  The author, Chirs Varley, reports on his attendance at talks given by Youngstown State professor Allen Hunter and Congressman Tim Ryan.  Hunter spoke of an advanced manufacturing initiative which is apparently underway in eastern Ohio, and Ryan shared his thoughts on the future of business, workforce and the education system that prepares them (Varley thinks that Ryan's comments were inspired by Alvin Toffler's latest book).

Congressman Ryan then made a statement about the education system and how it may not be best aligned toward meeting the needs of a knowlege (or information-based) economy:

We are all familiar with the fact that our current school calendar is a legacy from the days when we were principally an agricultural economy, and children were needed in the fields during the summer. Ryan—via Toffler—pointed out another intriguing legacy from that system, one that was indeed introduced as an “innovation” around the time we moved to a more factory-based industrial work: the moving of pupils from specialized class (i.e., “task”) to specialized class on a fixed schedule by the use of bells to indicate the end of one period and the beginning of the next. “The educational system was essentially training these students for factory work,” Ryan said, “getting them used to the way they would be working in the factories once they graduated.”

It's hard to disagree with this claim.  But why do we keep educating kids this way?   Even innovative, experiental learning models like Indiana's Career Majors Academy concept only tinker at the edges of the basic education model.   And what of alternative education models that align more tightly with where we want our economy to go?  

I'm no expert in education policy and would welcome comments and insight on why we operate as we do, and what options are being explored today.



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