Thursday, October 15, 2009

Schools, Tools and Other Such Things

Tyack (1974) shows that the one, best system, as founded by the social engineers for education in the mid to late 1800s was the factory model, in which education became a function, not a cause. The function was to create modern workers for an industrialized society. The self-sufficient household and village was becoming an interdependent, specialized municipality. The larger, more crowded cities demanded regulatory institutions, such as police, health service, and education. Educational leaders used data (such as standardized tests) to promote the creation of bureaucracies to regulate and assess schools, based on efficiency references from the military, factory, and railroad. This lead to the creation and use of textbooks, grade levels, and multiple forms of data collection, including attendance and test scores. The purpose of education became only marginally about knowledge acquisition. Instead, it was used to teach the control of body, promote competition, enforce order/discipline, train workers, and impose a common culture in a diverse population.

In general, teachers are slow adopters of new technology, unless the technology improves a specific, teacher identified problem and the technology is flexible, versatile and portable and supports teacher authority. However,Cuban (1986) states, there are many other reasons given for the slow adoption of technology (specifically of radio, TV and film) such as: the lack of accessibility and reliability of the technology: authoritative mandates to use the technology, often by non-educators; the conflicting demands of the teaching environment; and a traditional culture of teaching that is reinforced by experience. Teachers who willingly adopt new technologies tend to do it not because of the technology itself, but because they may have non-traditional philosophies of education, use the technology to solve a specific problem, or have different expectations of the educational process. After looking at the failure to adopt radio, TV, and film technologies, Cuban moves on to questioning the implementation of computers in schools. He posits that more fundamental questions need to be asked when implementing a technology into schools such as: What is the nature of teaching and learning? What is the purpose of teaching and learning? How do people learn and teachers teach? Without asking these questions, the question of how or why a technology is or is not adopted in schools is very one-dimensional. As, Latour seems to indicate, we can not study people without studying the interactions of humans and non-humans.

Although schools tends to be an individual task, we need to take a broader view of how the school impacts and reflects the larger society. Dewey (1900)`confirms Tyack's later conclusion that schools at the turn of the century had reflected the industrialization of America. Dewey traces the education of the home/farm/village, which tended to be cooperative, necessary, and intrinsically motivating to the urban schools of competition, inauthentic subjects, and extrinsic motivation. Even the introduction of manual training in schools, which mimics home education, according to Dewey, shows that the “real” education has been supplanted by schooling. Dewey then describes his ideal school based on the study and investigation of occupations, which supports an integration of history, science and social understanding in an authentic and constructivist manner.

Since the theme of these readings is “School as a Tool” I read each of the authors with that in mind. Since no single tool can do everything for everyone, and is dependent on context and purpose, these authors try to define or explain how school can be a tool to achieve certain purposes. The purpose of the tool influences the design of the tool, but the design of the tool also influences the use of the tool. Since the tool is in constant use, it would be difficult to radically change it (as in, a moving part is hard to fix). Therefore, the current (traditional) forms of schooling tend to be the dominant method, rather than a radical transformation like Dewey envisioned or the adoption of new technology (and resultant revolution), as Cuban describes.

Cuban, L. (1986). Teachers and machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dewey, J. (1900). The school and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tyack, DB (1974). The one best system. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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