An Innovative Practice of Its Day That Is Now in the Rear View Mirror

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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In 1909, Frederick Winslow Taylor revolutionized the manufacturing of goods through the release of his innovative Principles of Scientific Management.

He proclaimed, “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.”

The four principles described a way to organize workers in a way that created a standardized practice to increase productivity. As the industrialized revolution took off (1880-1920), public schooling became a compulsory reality in many states as well as the development of the American high school as a tool to improve citizenship and prepare students for employment to support economic growth.

The rise of the American high school and the rise of the industrialized economy fed one another — public schooling began to focus on the most efficient ways to perform tasks and sort teachers and students in groups to simplify instruction. The ripple effect was a system based on a set of assumptions that clarified the role of the teacher and the student.

  • Knowledge is just a collection of facts about the world and procedures for how to solve problems.
  • The goal of schooling is to get these facts and procedures into the student’s head.
  • Teachers know these facts and procedures and their job is to transmit them to students.
  • Simpler facts and procedures should be learned first.
  • The way to determine the success of schooling is to test the students to see how many facts and procedures they have acquired.

And this is the rub: many educators believe that the industrialized “one size fits all” model does not work any more. But they have not imagined a set of assumptions to carry through to this next chapter of teaching and learning.

Sir Ken Robinson implores us to shift what school is designed to do in his Ted Talk (2012) “Do schools kill creativity?”

Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us.

We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.

That may be one powerful way to lead personalized learning in your community: collaborate to examine the assumptions above and then begin to articulate a new set of assumptions that honors the contemporary world full of unpredictability, complex problems, and dizzying amounts of information.

So what are the new set of assumptions to honor that? Would love to hear from you!

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