Northern Montana College
These days hardly anyone would question whether computers in the classroom give teachers opportunities for integrating interdisciplinary critical thinking skills into instruction. However, many teachers are dismayed to discover how unenthusiastically students respond when they are asked to use the computer for something other than information retrieval--for example, to manipulate ideas. But many of these intellectual skills can be realized only with much more student exposure to the computer equipment and to the knowledge which critical thinking draws upon. Under the power hierarchy now current in American education, neither increased motivation to learn nor extended practice on the equipment is likely to occur, mainly because the system provides few incentives, to students or teachers.
Teaching composition with computers affords a common example. When teachers have the opportunity to teach writing with computers, new vistas open. Suddenly the choices available to writers for information access and document design increase, sometimes exponentially. In an ideal setting students could search remote library databases, read or obtain materials before unavailable, conference with students or teachers in other countries, and manipulate this information in different graphic formats--all to the end of a current, coherent written argument. Students can learn, for example, how to track their own grades in a database or spreadsheet program, and can determine what scores they must achieve on remaining work to earn a particular grade. Or they might record growth of an organism against hours of daylight, and turn the results into a line graph. In each case these data can be incorporated graphically into the student's paper, providing opportunities to learn about document design with graphic elements created from data collected and shaped by the student. In this respect, the computerized composition class can indeed be a blessing for all involved. But that scenario is as likely not to approach its potential. The present administrative-faculty power hierarchy often frustrates the curriculum reform necessary to provide students the mixture of ideas that will expand the ways they use the computational power of a computer. Much of the problem results from these systemic difficulties with our educational paradigm, some of which are here described.
To employ a graphics program, a page-layout program, a database, or a spreadsheet toward a specific purpose presupposes basic knowledge of and experience with art, composition, arithmetic and algebra, and reading--the basic skills that high school graduates should have. Not only do graduates often lack these skills, they also have had little experience with computers. Reasons range from lack of money and lack of expertise to lack of a coherent national plan. Most American students, from gradeschool on, have little opportunity to learn much about computer use. Most students have little familiarity with databases even though, as many articles have pointed pout, in the business world the database is the program that employees and managers most often work with./1/ In fact by 1983, database pioneer C.J. Date was recommending that everyone from home computer owners to corporation managers become familiar with constructing and manipulating database records./2/ Even in the academic world where resistance to computer use among many faculty has been surprisingly strong, most of us regularly use a library database for information searches. But upon graduating from high school, many students have experienced little more than an introduction to computer use. Last summer, a spokesman for the National Academy of Sciences estimated that even if every classroom in every school in America had one computer, each student would have less than two minutes per one-hour class period to work on it. This hardly equals meaningful exposure./3/
Students are generally underprepared to use computers as tools for knowledge expansion, seeing them as document enhancers only, fancy typewriters that make student output legible. In this role the computer doesn't improve student writing even in an area where the technology should make a difference, such as lowering the incidence of misspelled words because of the software's spelling checker. Ironically, what the computer does do, for those students who can use it, is deliver on its promise as a labor-saving device: students who compose at the terminal typically spend less time on their papers than those who write longhand and transfer the draft to a typewriter. Rather than spend more time organizing or revising, however, many students spend less time on the whole enterprise of thinking and writing. They don't seem tempted to learn what else the computer might help them accomplish, even with document design such as headers & footers, boldface & italics, typeface & point size.
In fact, the average student applies very little of the computer's power, even in the ubiquitous arena of wordprocessing. And the above-average students often become entrepreneurs on the black market, pedalling electronic papers to students who evidently fail to see the value of practicing on the very machine that makes such a market profitable and who, in bypassing this practice, miss a valuable chance to escape America's technological underclass of computer illiterate citizens. One measure of this disinterest in computing power, at least in my composition classes, is the number of papers submitted that have the student's name handwritten atop Whiteout fluid on the cover page (and in headers, when the student remembers to check the rest of the paper). Another measure is the number of papers submitted that bear little or no resemblance to the assigned topic. Interestingly enough, while students admit that such a practice thrives on campus, few regard it as anomalous, and even rarer is the student who regards the sale of electronic files as technology misapplied.
Teachers have reasonable ideas for amending gaps in education for their students, but implementing an interdisciplinary curriculum requires faculty development and often release time from full-load teaching to design collaborative classes. This worker-to-worker interaction--the collection and use of data at its source--imitates W.E. Deming's model of process examination and reevaluation rather than the line-management mode followed by so many schools and colleges in the United States. In short, the control of the curriculum that such integration requires must reside with faculty. But historically administrators, like their manager counterparts in American businesses, have been loathe to relinquish power. In fact, in difficult economic times such as those most colleges now face, administration/management has increased while faculty/labor has decreased. Our school, for example, with the regents' blessing has added another administrative layer, deans, in the past five years, and intends to pay for it by cutting academic programs and eliminating faculty.
Northern Montana College is not atypical in this trend. Yale, Washington University in St. Louis, Columbia, Stanford, and San Diego State University among others have cut or announced cuts in academic programs and faculty, even though the average costs to students have increased between 7% at private colleges and 10% at public colleges over the past decade./4/ Simultaneously administrations--composed primarily of people who have little or no contact at all with students--have swelled, sometimes astronomically: a 61% growth between 1975 and 1985./5/ In the meantime, the average faculty salary for a college professor, after figuring inflation, dropped $200 from 1973 to 1990./6/
Arthur Wirth, professor emeritus in Education at Washington University in St. Louis, points out American industry in the 1980s discovered that to stay competitive, it needed to become more productive, and after some false starts involving labor cutbacks, it discovered that the European model of a broadly-trained and highly skilled worker pays more dividends than the short-term solution of a narrowly-trained worker who can perform only one task. Wirth notes that more than any other technology, the computer has revised the methods of business and production, and can be used to upgrade jobs as well as to eliminate them./7/
In the typical American business hierarchy as in the typical American college or high school, management organizes the system to protect and further its power./8/ Computers have found their way into virtually every school in America, but into the administration offices first. Rarely do administrators or their support staff lack computers; teachers, if they have computers at all, usually buy their own. Operators of computer systems, in business as well as in education, must learn how to construct meaning from information symbolically presented, such as that on an oscilloscope screen, or must learn how to present data graphically, as in a pie or bar chart. As Robert Reich describes in The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism, the old business hierarchy of mass production which is "linear, atomistic, hierarchical, manipulative, and dualistic" must change to allow restructuring jobs (and in the case of colleges, curricula) around a model based on "symbolic analysis, which is interactive, decentralized, contextual/intellective, nonhierarchical, and participative."/9/
The thinking skills required of all workers and management, as described by Reich and Shashanna Zuboff in her 1988 book In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, require a shift in the power hierarchy of the workplace if American industry and business expect to regain a competitive position vis-a-vis other industrialized countries./10/ The flexible machining cells that made possible the manufacture of the B1 bomber for $25 million per plane less than conventional methods represent part of the new order in which workers receive, interpret, and act on information from the electronic instruments at their worksites./11/ This flexible work plan shifts a considerable amount of power to the workers from the managers, who typically control the amount of data workers see and the start/stop times of workers' tasks. Industry analysts like Reich and Thomas Bailey say that today's global marketplace requires quick responses by manufacturing, which business can accomplish most easily by employing skilled workers who incorporate management decision-making into their jobs./12/ Under this model, workers become much more like Medieval guildsmen, who knew a job from start to finish.
To support his claim that skills of "symbolic analysis" determine survival in a global market, Reich points to statistics which show how people have prospered who have these skills of abstraction, system thinking, experimental inquiry, and collaboration. Between 1973 and 1987 income for high school graduates slipped 12%; during the 1980s the number of full-time workers falling below the poverty line increased 43%./13/ Although a combination of factors produced these figures, it is increasingly clear that workers whose cognitive skills are weak have had much more trouble finding and holding work in a marketplace that must demand more flexibility from workers than the old assembly-line model of employment. In fact, the new workplace probably will demand broader knowledge skills from all workers, including college educated ones whose degrees will not necessarily protect them from declining wages. The Economic Policy Institute of Washington, D.C., reported in May 1992 that between 1987 and 1991, wages of male college graduates fell 4.9% and those of female college graduates fell 1.9%./14/
Much of the talk about "participative problem solving" and "personal initiative" used by Wirth and others comes from the success of W.E. Deming's theories as applied in Japan and other post-World War II countries. Of all the results produced by Deming's process, two hold great promise for education reform in America: a common purpose, and shared power. These results have not evolved under the traditional hierarchical power structure present in American industry and education since 1895, when Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced his ideas about scientific management in his Shop Management (he developed these ideas in his 1911 book, The Principles of Scientific Management).
The ways Taylor's ideas have been interpreted and applied have effected many of the ills in America's business hierarchy. And since in America the model of education tends to mirror the model of production,/15/ the education power hierarchy suffers many of the same ills. Taylorism has come to mean the belief that capitalism is the preordained economic order, that the most capable should manage the enterprise, and the rest should work. Managers, like rulers, should give orders, and workers should follow them without questions (which might undermine the authority of the managers). Taylor actually pointed out that despotic management methods were inefficient and that close cooperation between bosses and workers would lead to greater profit and less labor conflict. But later management ideology ignored this part of Taylor's message, emphasizing instead the belief that the manager class must perform "all burden of gathering the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen and then classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, and formulas."/16/ This repeated emphasis led to the current power hierarchy in American business and education and the widespread myth of its essentiality: management is a complex science that requires high intellect and decisive action, while labor requires only enough intellect to follow the dictates of management. The resulting division of labor became the paradigm followed by most American business and education to this day, to the detriment of both.
Taylorism in schools continues to have pernicious effects. One researcher investigating inequality in public schools found that teachers, consciously or unconsciously, treated brighter students as future management material and less bright students as future workers. Teachers expected the bright students to develop critical thinking skills, and the less bright to develop good worker habits, such as punctuality, docility, and obedience./17/ Indeed, these are the same faults uncovered by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis in their 1977 study of American education, Schooling in Capitalist America. Bowles and Gintis showed that the Taylorist power hierarchy in the workplace was replicated in schools./18/ The shame is that hardly anything has changed since. Taylorism is entrenched in school policies, procedures, administration, and even faculties, because the American public (including educators) believe that the present system--which teaches Taylorist values--is fair because it rewards merit. As Kenneth Gray, professor of industrial education at Pennsylvania State University, points out, these values are skewed, and conflict with the cooperative and flexible attitudes needed in the modern global workplace. Like Bowles and Gintis before him, Gray notes that Taylorism's division of labor values give students false notions of their worth: some, inflated; most, underrated./19/ The consequence for most students is alienation; for America's economic system, a reinforcing of the class system based on the division of labor./20/
Many educators now tout the precepts of W. Edwards Deming, the creator of the Total Quality Management concept which has worked so well in Japanese industries like Nissan and Toyota, and has gained a small but growing following among American businesses. Deming was a Stanford man who was sent to Japan by the U.S. government in 1946 to help with General MacArthur's reconstruction plan./21/ His special field was quality control; his special talent with people came from treating them as equals. The Japanese regarded him as a genius, adopted (almost codifying) his ideas, and immediately began building industries that would challenge for world dominance within a decade. Ironically, Deming was snubbed by American manufacturers, especially in the automotive arena; not until 1984--nearly 40 years after the Japanese implemented his ideas--did the Society of Automotive Engineers invite him to address their annual Detroit convention. The results of this delay have been disastrous: in the past two years GM alone has closed eleven American plants and cut 75,000 jobs, largely because GM's productivity could not match Japanese productivity.
Deming's doctrines may be summarized as follows. Pursuing quality, workers must have a constancy of purpose; they must feel that their work is meaningful. Collective goals motivate people more than individual ones. Continuing interest in and effort toward a task depends on continuous learning and a sense of improvement, measured by constant feedback. These data are never to be used to identify and blame workers, but only to improve the overall system through collaborative workgroups. And these collaborative workgroups collectively determine all improvement plans. Most important, Deming's methods require a redistribution of power between management and workers, and unprecedented levels of trust (for American systems, anyway) in employees./22/ This last is a salient point. That Deming's philosophy should be discovered by current psychologists to fill people's needs, as delineated by Abraham Maslow in 1954, is not surprising since Deming viewed the pursuit of quality in all endeavors as a goal for living, not just for the workplace./23/ Thus, the findings of Professor Csikszentmihalyi, late of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, identify as a necessary condition for optimum productivity--among workers or students--pleasure in the job./24/
Clearly, in higher education Deming's model is generally not followed. However, a number of pilot programs in secondary schools indicate that Deming's precepts work equally well in education as in industry. From the Central Park East schools of East Harlem, the poorest neighborhood in New York City, to a joint effort between Yale University and the New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut, from Northview Elementary School in Manhattan, Kansas, to superintendent John Champlin's experiments in the public schools of Johnson City, New York, and from Henry Levin's "accelerated schools," such as Daniel Webster in urban San Francisco or Hollibrook Elementary in Houston, to teacher David Langford's innovations at Mt. Edgecumbe High School on the island of Sitka, Alaska, the essential precepts of Deming's model have changed the educational power hierarchy.
This power change consequently improved the work atmosphere for teachers and the educational experience for students--according to numerous indicators such as job satisfaction ratings from teachers, and among students, attendance and retention rates, test scores, graduation numbers, successful college applicants and graduates, and general enthusiasm./25/ In every case participants attribute the reasons for improvement to a democratic atmosphere with shared power, supportive leaders, collaborative effort, unified and constant purpose, and regular analysis of feedback data by teachers--without fear of reprisal./26/ Positive results accrued so long as the workplace followed these main precepts, whether or not implementers knew of Deming's model. This outcome should not surprise anyone who has a cursory acquaintance with literature of the workplace. Robert Levering examined many businesses to determine "what makes some employers so good (and most so bad)" in 1988, and his conclusions sound Demingesque--collaborative work, the workplace as a means to enhance employees' lives, trust and shared power--even though Deming is not mentioned, either in the text or in the extensive bibliography./27/
The connections between reform in education and the inadequate preparation of students for using computers in the classroom should now be much clearer. College educators continue to be faced with students who need an inordinate amount of coaching to accomplish even the most rudimentary of wordprocessing tasks, such as running a spelling checker. Additionally, students know that their performance in high school or college really has little effect on their employment chances./28/ Despite Aristotle's observation that to be learning is the greatest of pleasures for mankind (Poetics 4.4), students evidently need motivation to learn. One proposal ties job opportunities directly to performance in school, patterned after systems in Japan, Belgium, and other European countries./29/ But for this change, another is necessary: the reorganization of power hierarchies in American business and education. Demingism, by whatever name, provides a tested model.
Hopeful people, in the face of such evidence, would expect that change for the better is imminent. In fact, Deming's control loop for continuous evaluation suggests a strategy: plan, do, study, act./30/ However, the changes recommended recently, by politically powerful groups, are based on a continuation of the "scientific" management codes of Taylorism, not on enlightened workplace policies. In 1992 the National Council on Education Standards and Testing endorsed outcome assessment standards which would "measure and hold students, schools, school districts, states, and the nation accountable for educational performance."/31/ The Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce in 1990 asked for new educational performance standards against which to measure all 16-year-old students by "a series of performance-based assessments."/32/ Another report from the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills calls for all high school students to "develop a new set of competencies and foundation skills" for a productive life./33/ This formula is the familiar one that Ralph Tyler worked up from Taylorism in his 1950 text, Basic Priciples of Curriculum and Instruction: specifying instructional objectives and then using them not only to determine the educational experience but also to evaluate it./34/ The identical pre- and post-tests ubiquitous in textbooks come to mind.
Such outcome assessment mirrors the management by objectives (MBO) made sacrosanct by Peter Drucker's standard business school text; in this model the final product is examined to determine whether changes need to be made in the processes which led to it./35/ In many businesses and colleges, the products examined are cost and revenue figures or test scores, neither of which can tell anything about the processes involved, manufacturing or curricular. Since A Nation at Risk appeared in 1983, the notion of outcome-based education has been popular, but now as then no workable means exists to reach higher standards. Attempts to institute higher standards invariably meet with resistance everywhere, so new standards are often rescinded or diluted "in the name of practicality."/36/
Our competitor nations, however, have succeeded in reshaping school curricula in efforts to better prepare their next generation of citizen-workers for the global village. Following the developmental psychology of Piaget and his belief that only about half of any population develops a facility with abstract formal reasoning,/37/ European countries generally emulate Germany's programs for dual-track education in high school and post-secondary education. Monika K. Aring, director of the Institute for Education and Employment at the Education Development Center (Newton, MA), explains that all education in Germany is considered "inherently vocational" since the desired result of any degree is a place in the workforce. Accordingly German youths in the dual-track system learn by means of an integrated and interconnected curriculum, part in high school and part in the workplace as modern-day apprentices./38/ Students are judged by their success in meeting standards that are developed jointly by business, education, labor, and government; and as a sort of final exam students must demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a two- or three-day examination period. Again, the standards for these exams are set cooperatively by industry, labor unions, and the ministry of education.
This vocational track system, while not as prestigious as one leading straight to university study, appeals to students. Aring reports that about 70% of German students between ages 16 and 19 choose the dual system of apprenticeship, believing they will more readily find employment even if they later decide to attend a college./39/ In fact, at least one-third of Germany's college-trained engineers first graduated from this dual-track system./40/ The academic standards for these dual-track apprenticeships deserve noting as a background against which we might see the adequacy of our college freshmen's knowledge base. "Young Germans completing an apprenticeship in metalworking, for example, must demonstrate through written, oral, and actual production work that they have mastered advanced algebra, calculus, probability, statistics, inorganic chemistry, metallurgy, written and spoken communications, business law and regulations governing the industry, and at least one foreign language."/41/
These students must demonstrate a degree of mastery in many academic disciplines, a task that must involve constant work with ideas as well as information. Many of our American college freshmen need more exposure to both. The first task of education is to teach students how to evaluate ideas, then how to apply them to different contexts and so discover new uses for them. And as professor of history Theodore Roszak notes in The Cult of Information, this task requires no data processing machinery./42/ But until students achieve some mastery over ideas, they will have a difficult time making use of a computer, which after all is a machine designed to shape data, which it stores, according to ideas which a human operator brings to it. By providing structures within which to understand data, ideas create information, not vice-versa./43/
A main question for American education, then, becomes how to motivate students to learn more about ideas and information generally. Deming's model is not the only model, and may not be the best model;/44/ but it certainly seems superior to outcome-based education, which has yet to accomplish anything other than a means to exclude students from programs or fire faculty for low outcome scores. Maurice Holt, chair of the Division of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Colorado-Denver, notes that "behind the high-stepping OBE jargon of transformational outcomes, learning paradigms, and empowerment lurk behavioristic methods that are totally at odds with the Deming quest for quality."/45/ Holt discovers what most teachers experience early in their careers: strong resistance to curricular change--especially the part about surrendering decision-making power--pervades the entrenched, overstable administrative systems in American education. Until this inertia is broken, curricula is not likely to change enough to motivate students or teachers toward higher achievement.
Charles Seiter, "A Full House," MacWorld, October 1988, 140.[Back]
C.J. Date, Database: A Primer (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1983), vii-x.[Back]
Jerry Borrell, "America's Shame: How We've Abandoned Our Children's Future," MacWorld, September 1992, 25. The entire issue is devoted to a series of investigative reports on "the creation of the technological underclass in America's public schools."[Back]
Betsy Wagner and David Bowermaster, "B.S. Economics," On Campus, March 1993, 14.[Back]
Wagner and Bowermaster, 15.[Back]
Arthur G. Wirth, "Education and Work: The Choices We Face," Phi Delta Kappan (January 1993): 361.[Back]
Shoshanna Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 63; cited in Wirth, 362.[Back]
Robert B. Reich, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism (New York: Knopf, 1991); quoted in Wirth, 363.[Back]
Zuboff, 64; cited in Wirth, 362.[Back]
David L. Goetsch, Fundamentals of CIM Technology (Albany, NY: Delmar, 1988), 234.[Back]
Thomas Bailey, Jobs of the Future and the Skills They Will Require (Berkeley: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, U of CA, 1991).[Back]
Bennet Harrison and Barry Bluestone, The Great U Turn (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 164; quoted in Wirth, 365.[Back]
Jared Bernstein and Lawrence Mishel, Declining Wages for High School and College Graduates (Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute, May 1992), 13; quoted in Jonathan Weisman, "Skills in the Schools: Now It's Business' Turn," Phi Delta Kappan (January 1993): 368.[Back]
Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Schooling in Capitalist America (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 12.[Back]
Frederick Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Harper & Row, 1911); quoted in Kenneth Gray, "Why We Will Lose: Taylorism in America's High Schools," Phi Delta Kappan (January 1993): 371.[Back]
Jeannie Oakes, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality (New Haven: Yale UP, 1985); quoted in Gray, 372.[Back]
Bowles and Gintis, 131.[Back]
Bowles and Gintis, 147.[Back]
David Halberstam, The Reckoning (Boston: William Morrow, 1986), 311-17, 714. All information in this paragraph comes from these pages.[Back]
Mike Schmoker and Richard B. Wilson, "Transforming Schools Through Total Quality Education," Phi Delta Kappan (January 1993): 390.[Back]
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper & Row, 1990); cited in Schmoker and Wilson, 390.[Back]
David Bensman, Quality Education in the Inner City: The Story of the Central Park East Schools (New York: Central Park East Schools, 1987); For Children's Sake: The Comer School Development Program (New Haven: Yale Child Study Center, 1991) [brochure]; "Learning in America: Schools That Work," PBS television special narrated by Roger Mudd, 1992; William Glasser, M.D., The Quality School (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 153-54.[Back]
Schmoker and Wilson, 391.[Back]
Robert Levering, A Great Place to Work (New York: Random House, 1988), esp. preface and chapters 13, 16, 18. Similarly many principles that mirror Deming's appear in Levering and Milton Moskowitz's The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America (1984) and the updated version by the same title (Doubleday, 1993).[Back]
Albert Shanker, "Do Private Schools Outperform Public Schools?" American Educator (Fall 1991): 11.[Back]
W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986), 53.[Back]
National Council on Education Standards and Testing, Raising Standards for American Education (Washington, DC: Office of Technology Assessment, 1992), 2, 6.[Back]
Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages? (Rochester, NY: National Center on Education and the Economy, 1990), 3.[Back]
Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000 (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Labor, 1991), vi.[Back]
Tyler's book published by Chicago UP. Compare the rebuttal offered by Herbert Kliebard, "Reappraisal: The Tyler Rationale," School Review (February 1970): 259-72.[Back]
Peter Drucker, Management (New York: Harper's College Press, 1977), 336.[Back]
David Seeley, "Educational Partnership and the Dilemmas of School Reform," Phi Delta Kappan (February 1984): 383-88.[Back]
Monika Kosmahl Aring, "What the 'V' Word Is Costing America's Economy," Phi Delta Kappan (January 1993): 398.[Back]
Ray Marshall and Marc Tucker, "The Best Imports from Japan and Germany," Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 9-15 November 1992, 24; cited in Aring, 398.[Back]
Theodore Roszak, The Cult of Information (New York: Pantheon, 1986), 88.[Back]
For pro and con summary arguments by AFT union leaders concerning Deming's TQM applied to education, see On Campus, February 1993, 4.[Back]
Maurice Holt, "The Educational Consequences of W.Edwards Deming," Phi Delta Kappan (January 1993): 384.[Back]