A Manufacturing Process

Let’s compare two factories:

The first factory produces a car, specifically a midsize sedan with four doors that only comes in one color: blue. Every tool in the entire factory is made to produce specifically this one make and model, from door to dashboard. The vehicle only comes in one color because it would be much more expensive to offer multiple paint options. Sometimes defective parts are produced: quality control finds them and then they are simply thrown away. This factory produces cars in large batches, and its goal is to produce as many cars as possible.

The second factory is less of a factory and more of a custom shop. This shop meets with and works for all sorts of car owners who want an awesome car. Each owner brings the shop a project that presents unique problems, features, characteristics, and goals. There is no standardized process for building a vehicle, because it would be impossible to throw all of the projects into one process under the assumption that they should all meet the same standards and achieve the same results. This shop, since it pays so much attention to each individual car, produces cars in small batches, and its goal is to produce the best, highest quality cars that it possibly can, regardless of the number produced.

Which factory sounds more like the schools you’ve attended?

Scarily similar to manufacturing plants, schools are large organized institutions meant to process as many kids as possible in the most efficient manner possible. It reduces people to mere numbers in a grade book and in an annual report on academic performance.” Whether or not the institution intends to do so is irrelevant: every student who has ever spent time in the average public school knows exactly how it feels to go through standardized processes and procedures that feel like human quality control. Just like a manufacturing plant, if each product can be made to the exact same specification, then the process can be repeated to produce a large number of students each year.

What if the school system looked a little more like a custom shop? Each and every student would walk in the door to develop a relationship and become a better individual through real education. Time would be taken to establish context with the students and diagnose problems before prescribing a solution—not the other way around. There would be no standardized process or mold to fit each of the students into. Success wouldn’t be measured by mere numbers anymore, but on validated learning and later career success. Kids would leave the institution not only with information, but unique knowledge sets and problem solving ability. They would not only learn, but learn how and why to learn, practicing the art of self-education, not just compliance.

Unfortunately, effectively educating today’s students would take a lot more effort. It’s not efficient, it’s not particularly easy, and it sure as hell isn’t happening currently. It’s still the right thing to do.

At the end of the day, what does a diploma represent? Considering how remarkably easy it is to graduate high school in the United States, does a diploma represent a distinguished level of education? Intelligence? Creativity? Or just compliance?