After high school, the first jobs I held were in factories. Most of that time was spent in a chain saw factory in Gastonia, North Carolina. I worked as a machine shop operator, materials handler (driving a forklift), and setup man. The last job that I held at that factory was quality control engineer, or inspector. I got this job because I had taken drafting when I was in high school and was very good at reading blueprints.
It was a cushy job, by the standards of working in a machine shop. You didn’t spend hours at night picking slivers of steel and magnesium out of your hands and there was little risk of getting mangled by the machinery. You simply waited at the end of the line with blueprints and precision instruments, measuring the chain saw components at the end of their processing.
That’s the way that work was done in the industrial age. Men and women stood at their tables and machines, applying processes, and machining steel and plastic, installing their portion of the manufacturing. The inspector, at the end of the line, looked at each part, measuring their size and shape, making sure that they all met specifications — that they were all exactly alike.
That’s still the way that we educate our children. Teachers stand in their classrooms installing math, installing reading, installing science, on our children who move down the assembly line of the school year. And at the end of the line are the inspectors, with their tests to measure each child, making sure that they meet the standards, that they all know the same things, think the same way, solve problems with the same processes.
In the industrial age, this made sense. You wanted people who could work in straight rows, performing repetitive tasks, under close supervision. You wanted workers who knew the same things, thought the same way, and followed instructions.
Not today! It is not how much you are like everyone else that will bring value to your endeavors. It’s what you know that is different, how you think that is different, the ways that you solve problems inventively that will bring value to your endeavors. Yet, this week, our children will continue to the end of the assembly line and be measured. And if they pass, it will be because they are just like everyone else in their class.