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Let’s Build Factories

I thought I’d toss in some over-the-top satire regarding education reform:
Back then, kids could learn valuable job skills – and in their bare feet, nonetheless!

Let’s not spend too much time trying to analyze the data.  True, Shanghai is a magnet with China’s top students and the U.S. tested students from all walks of life, but such arguments simply miss the point.  We were literally slaughtered by China in the standardized tests.  Okay, not literally, but figuratively.  They beat us in just about every subject.

This is scary for a few reasons.  First, China outnumbers us.  With a massive population, they’ll be popping out engineers and doctors like nobody’s business.  In a globalized, New Economy, this doesn’t bid well for the United States.  Second, China might take over as the most dominant superpower.  With the second largest economy in the world, they can pretty much manipulate the situation with sovereign wealth funds, currency market manipulation and sheer charm (as they did with the World Cup).  We can’t beat that.  We’re in both a financial and a charm deficit.

So, what’s the solution?  How do we win the global pissing contest? We copy their system.

I know it might sound strange that we would want to emulate a public education system based upon a government with human rights violations.  I know it seems bizarre that conservatives who hate socialized health care would want to copy a Communist country, but sometimes even the bad guys have good ideas.

I realize that the original goal of public education was a well-informed citizenry, able to make democratic decisions with wisdom.  But let’s be honest, that system simply doesn’t help us make money.  Out with Jefferson and in with post-Maoist Chinese education.

We need and education system focussed on:

  • Helping kids gain job skills
  • Preparing students for the high-stakes global economy of the future
  • Accountability
  • Higher levels of transparency
  • More rigor
  • A back-to-basics approach

So, taking from China’s lead, I’d like to propose that we create industrial centers for students.  After all, many children in China already work.  Why not give it a whirl?  Our kids are lazy and could use more rigorous activity.  This will help solve the obesity epidemic while also transforming our schools from budget-draining debt-ridden liabilities to high-yielding investments.  Besides, who better to do the monotonous, detailed work than the dull-minded and nimble-fingered little ones?  If a kid can construct a pair of shoes, he can construct a sentence.  We’ll call it kinesthetic learning.

We’ve gotten spoiled.  We need a back-to-basics approach and what can possibly be more back-to-basics than child labor?  It’s how we originally built this great industrial economy.  Why not bring it back?

I realize critics might suggest that I am advocating for child labor sweat shops.  No, no, don’t consider these sweat shops. Rather, they’ll be sweet shops.  Huge industrial centers where our children help improve U.S. exports so that we become the world’s confectionary leaders.  Kids will read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the morning, perhaps do some drill-and-kill test prep to prepare them for factory work (Think of this as mental calisthenics) and then spend their day learning practical job skills that will help them in an industrial economy.

There’s one final benefit to this proposal. We all know that teacher’s unions are the reason for our current educational crisis.  Our whole economic downturn might seem like the fault of greedy bankers or Wall Street tycoons.  Yet, who taught them to be greedy?  Who encouraged them to cheat?  Public school teachers.  This system does away with the teaching profession entirely and replaces them with middle-management workers.

I urge you to write to your congressional representatives.   Talk to Bill Gates.  Visit with Oprah.  Convince the wealthiest reformers that this is the type of back-to-basics reform that our children need.  If you don’t support the industrial centers, you don’t support children.  There is no nuance in this debate.  Child labor or child hater. Which side are you on?

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


3 thoughts on “Let’s Build Factories

  1. Hey John, There’s an education writer who’s way out in front of you man! Check out Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion (Jossey Bass 2010), slatheringly written up in the New York Times and praised all around the achievement network ed world!

    “There’s one suitable percentage of students following a direction given in your classroom: 100 percent. If you don’t achieve this, you make your authority subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation. Students have cause to ask themselves: ‘Did she mean that? For everyone? Do I feel like going along with her today?'” (pp. 167-68).

    Seriously dude. KIPP Schools and UnCommon Schools and TFA schools are all over this. 100 percent. Got it?

    Posted by Kirsten | January 9, 2011, 4:17 pm
    • I’d like to see a principal-training KIPPnotizing session end with a directive like, “You can only get up from the floor when you know what’s wrong with you telling your students when they can get up from the floor.”

      And dare we ask, champion of what?


      Posted by Chad Sansing | January 10, 2011, 7:16 am
  2. John, I appreciate your satire –

    Somehow, I think we need to do a better job helping all of our stake-holders understand the difference between the kinds of work school prepares kids for and the kinds of work required by information-age jobs, for which I do want to prepare kids.

    How, also, do we popularize project-based approaches like your students’ design tasks, and help more teachers take responsibility for accepting the costs of teaching thusly?

    Best regards,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 10, 2011, 7:13 am

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