Monday, November 28, 2011

Let’s Flip That

A current argument in the education policy world is between those who argue that the quality of inputs to system matter (i.e. resources, poverty in communities, etc.) and those who argue that we need to emphasize the quality of outputs (i.e. reformers).  Here is my tongue-in-cheek argument that this discussion is itself specious.  I am not attacking religion, just trying to demonstrate the absurdity of applying a factory model in an inappropriate context.  It gets ugly fast. 

All this input/output business just underscores the paradigm that organizes our schools: the factory.  In a factory, the quality of the inputs matter, as do the quality of the outputs.  I worked in a factory.  We manufactured architectural millwork.  Now if I sent #2 pine to the door shop as opposed to FAS mahogany or rift and quartered white oak, I'd get a different outcome (I won't mention the injury factor this would entail.)  They'd probably muddle through and call me an idiot, but they'd get some sort of decent door done.  Do this for enough years and it would degrade the craftsmanship, as workers become demoralized.  I could go "make better doors or you're fired."  Workers could organize a union and push back.  Yadda yadda yadda.

Let's apply the factory paradigm to a different context, say church.  So the inputs are the babies that we baptize, batch process in Sunday school, confirm, marry - the whole 7 sacraments thing.  We send the finished product out the other end feet first in a pine box.  Then we quantify - how many souls went to heaven, how many went to hell?  As our statistical methods become more sophisticated, we could calculate how many years souls spent in purgatory with, say, their eyelids sewn shut with barbed wire (see Dante.) 

This would enable us to calculate value added scores for priests and nuns, who we could then hire, fire, promote to bishop or otherwise "differentially compensate" as we deem fit.

But wait - some of the priests object, "our churches are filled with alcoholics, prostitutes, beggars, and criminals.  That's why our numbers are down!"  Too bad!  Improve your technique - demographics is not destiny!  We should close failing churches, fire the priest and half the nuns, or turn the church over to the management of televangelists.  We could even have a nun's union run by bad nuns (and excommunicate the nuns who dared to strike.)

What if instead of applying the factory paradigm to churches (amusing, but getting tiresome) we applied a church paradigm to schools?  Schools as temples of learning.  Just as churches (at their best) can be incubators of human spirituality, schools could be incubators of the human intellect.

Of course if we transfer the Roman military/ecclesiastical hierarchy along with the paradigm (schools are already organized along these lines), we'll end up right where we are now with no changes.  And I'll personally skip the celibacy thing thank you very much!

Or maybe there's a better paradigm for the organization of schools - but it sure ain't the factory!

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