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Education is not an assembly line

May 3, 2011
By Richard Clark , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Henry Ford brought the assembly line to the manufacture of cars. Assembly lines use standard parts. Each Ford Model T started with the same raw materials that were molded, bent, pressed and cut exactly the same way to produce exactly the same product, a black Model T. Assembly lines enabled Ford to minimize labor expenses and get a good return on his investment. Creativity was not part of the line worker's day.

In contrast to Ford's assembly line, Discovery Channel's "American Chopper" makes customized motorcycles, part by part, into a work of art. The process is labor intensive. A purchaser presents American Chopper with an idea and Chopper's designers create a concept from the idea. Constructing a unique chopper with its own design is the antithesis of Ford's assembly line.

The raw materials used in cars have standard properties. U.P. iron possesses standard properties. It always melts at the same temperature and combined with carbon it becomes steel. Every time.

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Richard Clark

Governor Snyder announce his education proposal last week. It treats educating Michigan's children much the same as Ford used making cars, no creativity, no critical thinking. A one model product. The late Senator Kennedy, President "W" Bush, President Obama, and former Governor Granholm pushed to standardize education through No Child Left Behind (Kennedy/Bush), Race To the Top (Obama) and the Michigan Merit Curriculum (Granholm), but children are not standardized.

Brain science tells us that human brain formation starts in the womb and is molded by the child's environment. Before a child enters school the brain has formed thinking patterns. That unique brain was forged by family, community and cultural experiences. It will continue to be influenced by those same forces during the child's education.

Unlike the parts to Ford's Model "T" the mind of a child entering into school is not like the minds of other children. Mom's prenatal care and familial nurturing or neglect produces one of a kind child. The child's emotional makeup will assist or inhibit learning. Henry Ford would not have been able to assemble his Model "T" with parts as variable as the personalities of children that teachers face each day.

The underlying premise of Governor Snyder's education policy was that children are gadgets to be assembled. The governor's proposal was all about "metrics," "dashboards" and "return on investment." The governor's stated purpose of the policy was "(t)o prepare and train the next generation of workers."

The governor wants to concentrate on courses of study that lead directly to jobs.

The governor's view is not shared by Apple's Steve Jobs who said "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough - it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices."

Mr. Jobs' description of Apple's DNA sounds a lot like a traditional liberal arts education. The Romans thought a liberal (derived from the Latin "liber," meaning free) arts education was necessary to empower its free citizens. In Roman times and the Middle ages liberal arts covered grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Liberal arts was the center piece of the education by Holy Cross nuns where I attended school in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Critical thinking" and "creativity" were missing from the governor's address. One wonders what his metrics would have done for Einstein or Mother Teresa. A few years ago China found that it was doing well with educational metrics but was missing the creative force in American education. It moved to close its creativity gap.

Governor Snyder's policy wants more measurement in schools, but schools must work with less money. Breaking trust with Michiganders the governor transferred money from the School Aid Fund for K-12 education into the general fund and our legislators are his conspirators.

Educating children is more like "American Chopper" than Ford's Model T and Steve Jobs, Einstein and Mother Teresa show us that human development is not measured in metrics. Education should make our hearts sing.



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