An Ignorant View of a Factory Worker

Seth Godin, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote a piece this month called “Back to (the Wrong) School,” in which he argued that the U.S. education system is designed to churn out conformist, obedient factory workers. He claims the system is an an anachronism based on 1920s industrial revolution thinking. He says schools need to be emphasizing initiative, creativity, and risk taking because countries with cheap labor are going to beat us at the commodity producing race. Godin is right that our schools need to encourage more critical thinking and less standardized testing, but sadly he like so many people in the U.S. doesn’t understand that modern machinists require exactly the qualities that he is preaching schools need to teach.

I talked about the blog with my friend Miles Free, Director of Technology and Industry Research for the PMPA and also a fan of Seth Godin. He summarized Godin’s naivety nicely. Miles wrote this back to me on Facebook, “A worker bee wants to do a repetitive task–actually those are better done by automated equipment. Or, they want to be told what to do and not be ‘responsible.’ In our shops, we need responsible people who are self-starters and able to understand what they are trying to do, not just obey orders. Seth correctly points out there is no value in either of those behaviors. But a skilled machinist gets handed a piece of paper with lines and numbers on it and sets up a machine, and creates tooling and then produces parts by the score. That’s value! That’s responsibility. That’s risk.”

Question: Do you feel that U.S. schools are inferior to those of other countries?

Read Seth Godin’s blog here.

Early 20th century factory in Germany

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5 thoughts on “An Ignorant View of a Factory Worker

  1. Dave Dibble

    The schools here in upstate NY are doing a good job (ask my wife, a second grade teacher).
    But, the schools and society have developed a “no risk of failure” attitude. The kids are not allowed, much less encouraged to take risks. Risk taking can be dangerous, but many times failing is a better teacher than success. And more importantly, it builds confidence. Confidence in ones abilities to succeed, confidence that a failure is not the end of the world and confidence that starting over is OK sometimes. Don’t forget the simple lesson of “lets not do that again”.

  2. Larry A

    I’m somewhat in agreement with Seth Godin. I believe that most of our school system is designed to stamp out uniform conformists just like we do on the screw machine. Everything in our schools is designed for the average student, being about 90 percent…see the bell curve. The 5 percent who have trouble keeping up with the majority have special ed. The 5 percent that excel well beyond the rest have very little to help them continue to go further….unless they have parents who are able to drive them to excellence.

    I think that a substantial amount of creativity and risk instruction lies with the parents, not the teachers. Unfortunately, there are many parents in this world who have very bright children and the parents have no idea what to do for them if they wanted to. Thus, many of these bright children become bored with regular schooling and end up in trouble.

    I’d love to write more on the matter, but time doesn’t permit.

    As for Miles Free’s response, his statement seems to little to do with the topic at hand.

  3. Jim Whitney

    The problem with our school system is that it attempts to homogenize humans rather than encourage and develop their individual aptitudes. They think they have succeeded if all students march lockstep out the other end with the identical educaiton and equipped identically for life. The only way to come close to that incorrect goal is to aim low at the lowest common denominator of capabilities. Sadly, they are for the most part, not even achieving that. The simplest example would be to poll 100 high school graduates as to exactly how to balance a check book at the end of a month. I guarantee the results of that would be dismal at best even though the skills needed are just simple addition and subtraction. And of course, I did not even include the 30% who do not graduate! But take heart, at least they may remember something about the Missouri Compromise or have a vague idea what a dangling participle is. How is a system like that supposed to produce tomorrow’s engineers, doctors, scientists, or for that matter machinists, welders, repair technicians? We need a system that seperates the wheat from the chaff. There needs to be a fork in the road of every education around age 15 where based on aptitude and interest students can choose to pursue either tradeskills or sciences or academics or whatever thing interests them and then the knowledge, tools, and skills needed for that are provided so that when they get out of high school they are prepared and employable right out of the shoot.

  4. DRB

    The dumbing of America. We just had a change take place today that is helping maintain that status.The attitude of the school system and the government that is leading it by the rope is broken. There are a lot of things that need to be changed and starting now is not soon enough.

  5. Jerry Johnson

    The United States is WAY behind many countries is educating our children.

    For the most part, the teaching is inferior, and much of the history junk they “teach” has been altered or eliminated to advance the progressive movement in the USA. Remember, “If the students fail to learn, the instructor has failed to teach.”

    Eliminate the unionization of Teachers, shutter the Department of Education, and pay the Teachers for performance. Of course, our Country is imploding all around us. Why do something sane ?


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