I’m an educator, not a businessperson, but these two professions have much in common. In both education and business, an emphasis on short-term gains often inhibits long-term results. Businesses cater to impatient shareholders and schools cater to impatient politicians. Highly regimented, calcified organizations can stifle creativity and risk-taking in business and education. In both realms we need more chaos and less order.
The roots are common. In the early 20th century, Henry Ford’s approach to automobile manufacturing inspired the orderly routines of “factory-style” education. While assembly lines were clearly effective for building the Model T, children were never a sum of identical mechanical parts.
For more than 100 years schools have operated on the false assumption that children can be processed and finished for future use by some set of common expectations and practices. We now pay a heavy price, as millions of children never reach the end of the conveyer belt. Our regimented, orderly polices – first No Child Left Behind, then Race to the Top and Common Core, now the Every Student Succeeds Act – have left increasing numbers of kids to fall off the production line, hopes and dreams dashed on the factory floor. It has been an utter debacle.
The rhetoric of education reform is deeply ironic.
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Steve Nelson has been Head of the Calhoun School on Manhattan’s Upper Westside since 1998. Calhoun, founded in 1896 and proudly progressive since the 1970’s, serves 755 children, pre-K through 12th grade. Prior to assuming his current position, Steve served as the president of a performing arts school in Detroit and as an administrator at Vermont Law School and Landmark College.