Education Reform is Re-establishing, Redefining and Retooling

While I was still in undergraduate school I took a year off.  There were lots of reasons, but chief among them was a perceived need for learning that could not be defined in a syllabus or described in a textbook or by an instructor.  I’d had enough book-learning for a while.

I spent much of that year in factory work and much of that time was spent making Homelite Chainsaws.

Advancement was fairly quick at the Gastonia plant, mostly owing to the drafting class I took in high school — resulting in my being able to read a blueprint.  During my time there I was a machine operator, materials handler (driving a forklift and hand pallet jack).  I was also a setup man, set up equipment to machine parts for different models of chainsaws — owing again to some fluency with blueprints and moderate skill with tools.

Various tools used by quality assurance workers ((Production. (n.d.). Retrieved from

But the last job I held at Homelite was in quality control.  I do not remember the whole title, but the word “tester” was in there.  I wore a white lab jacket and carried a variety of precision instruments (calipers and micrometers) for measuring the dimensions of finished parts and comparing those measurements with the blueprints. (see left)

My job was to make sure that every part was exactly the same and that they all matched, within prescribed tolerances, the engineer’s design.

Is this what we’re doing in our schools? I can’t help but feel that those experiences matched, way too closely, an education system that treats children as raw material and graduates as finished products.  Sadly, this model of schooling continues, as various high-profile individuals (mostly amateurs) have come to dominate the ed reform conversation and call for higher standards and more testing, for the sake of globally competitive performers.

As a result, we continue to run our children through assembly lines, installing math, installing reading, and installing science on them, under the theme of a “Race to the Top.”

To be fair, this systematic industrial model of education had its place in the industrial environment that I grew up in, where you needed workers who knew the same things, thought the same way, could work in straight rows, and follow instructions.  The columns and rows of compliant children all reading the same books and answering the same questions with the same answers matched the way that factories and even offices operated in those days.

But today, it is not so much what we know that is the same as everyone else that brings new value to business and even personal endeavors.  It is what we know that’s different, how we think that is different, the new answers and solutions we can invent and express that are different.  In this unique time of rapid change, we need employees, employers, and neighbors who are in the habit of resourcefully learning what they need to know, to do what they need to do.  We need learners who can critically access information, resourcefully work the information, and compellingly express the knowledge that results and these are not merely skills that should be taught, but habits that our children should acquire.

Real education reform is not about forcing teachers to work harder.  It’s about re-establishing the goals of education, redefining our roles as learners and master learners, questioning what it is that we need our children to learn, and retooling the learning landscape to truly address the needs and opportunities of…

A new generation of learners
In a new information landscape
For an unpredictable future

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.