against training

2 09 2007

Every once in a while I bump into an article or piece of research that I’ve read before, but have allowed to drift into the dark recesses of my long-term memory. fortunately, such an occasion is always an opportunity to revisit the ideas presented in the article – usually with a new mind set. today it happened with john taylor gatto’s against school – a powerful and damning condemnation of modern american schooling that was published in harper’s magazine in september 2003. if you haven’t ever read against school, click on the link above and do so.

in the article, gatto discusses the historical ties of modern education to the social control policies of the Prussian empire which desired to create a semi-illiterate, docile populous which would not question authority and would efficiently be swayed by governmentally driven propaganda. this dominant approach to education in germanic culture fit very snuggly with the emergence of Ford’s assembly line production model and corporate america’s need for workers who could function more as replaceable cogs in the machinery of the industrial revolution than independent thinkers who might not follow orders willingly.

his article and subsequently published book, The underground history of american education, were clearly focused on public education and have been key support for home schooling initiatives and school voucher programs. even supporters of public education are now using a similar argument that the system is totally wrong rather than broken. hillary clinton is making great use of mentioning that today’s classrooms are identical to the classrooms where she was schooled as a child.

but the new twist on gatto’s article for me is that, while not mentioned, it clearly has a similar call to alarm regarding workplace learning. apathy runs rampant. facilitators “just try to cover everything in the materials.” butts-in-seats is still a major metric out muscling actual learning or transfer of knowledge to the job. senior management views training as a “fix-it” for problems rather than a means to develop and educated and creative workforce. to paraphrase gatto, “clearly people learn what they need to know about doing their jobs. but knowledgeable is an entirely separate issue from ‘well trained.'”

his last statement could easily become a meme for supporters of informal learning and the free-range learner:

After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

gatto finishes his article by saying that children can still be educated to become knowledgeable, productive adults – but don’t count on schools to do it. is it too late to avoid the same being said of workplace learning?

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Related News:
Schools boss Joel Klein talks education reform with News – New York Daily News
Edwards describes stands on health care, energy, Iraq – San Jose Mercury News
Presidential Candidates Challenged to Rock Education by New Hampshire – Associated Content
Cargill says merit pay for teaches will improve state’s education … – Norman Transcript

Some of my related posts:
del.icio.us and my folksonomy
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exemplary elearning solutions
embedding learning into the workflow

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