Destroy the Factory

The Factory

Henry Ford is one of the most influential people in the history of the world, primarily because of the mass production techniques he introduced to modern industrialization.

In order to make his automobile affordable, Ford knew he had to keep productions costs low and efficient. He did this primarily through three concepts: (1) make parts interchangeable; (2) employ extreme division of labor; and (3) incorporate the assembly line. I understand that none of these ideas were original to Ford; however, he mastered them and applied them in his factories.

Ford was a tremendous success and soon factories all over the world adopted his industry techniques.

In fact, Ford was such a success that his principals started showing up in all areas of economics. Farmers in Iowa, food processors in California, and service industries in New York all started the factory style of doing business.

photo links to original source

(photo links to original source —

Today, 70% of the American work force works in the service sector of our economy (what we in Geography circles refer to as tertiary economics.) And until recently, most service industries still practiced this factory style efficiency. Is this really what works in 2014?

Assembly line work, with extreme division of labor, doesn’t seem to develop new ideas and new innovations. When I read about companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google, I don’t see factory worker mentalities. I don’t see Office Space.

But when I go in the classroom this is exactly what I see. And it is not really the teacher’s fault. Factory style teaching (teaching-to-the-test) works! The easiest way to do great at your teaching job in 2014 is to scare your students into attention, teach to the test, and repeat. I will be honest, I certainly incorporate much of this in my own classroom. And my test scores have been outstanding.


So what is wrong with a well-behaved classroom? What is wrong with great test scores? Answer: Critical Thinking skills are dramatically decreasing in our students.

Sure, we all add the occasional “critical thinking” question interspersed through our curriculum (normally to the sound of student moans). But are we producing thinkers?

I hear a teacher at least once a week complaining about his or her student’s inability to problem solve or unwillingness to THINK.

The Test

A number of years back, American schools were attacked for falling way below other countries in “test scores.” And the politicians, media, and other influencers began to say words like accountability, standards, student data

Our solution was to turn our classrooms in to factories. And it works. We can produce some pretty amazing test results. Over the last 10-15 years, I have become so much better at producing awesome test scores and so have my colleagues throughout the country.standarized-test-

But Why?

Back when we were comparing ourselves to other countries’ test scores, who were we falling behind? Finland? Taiwan?

Name some great Finnish entrepreneurs (seriously, please do in the comments section.) Why were we even concerned with test scores? We are America. The most entrepreneurial spirited country in the world. Why would we digress to factory thinkers?

How many Henry Fords, Wright Brothers, and Alexander Graham Bells are we stifling with our current model of teaching?

Ironically, one of our greatest innovators, Henry Ford, developed techniques that we use today to destroy innovation.

How do we change?

This might sound heretical, but just stop factory-style teaching.

But Erik, 40% of our evaluation is based on student test scores.

Honestly, I think our kids would perform just fine, maybe better.

In Virginia, our test has worked really hard to incorporate more thinking-style questions, and this is a great advancement. However, the psychometricians haven’t really come up with a fair way to assess thinking. Moreover, the questions kind of suck. I would love to share some of these awesome questions with you, but of course I am sworn to secrecy. And I like my job.

In keeping with this new trend, I started putting more and more thinking into my courses. And not surprisingly, students really really struggled with thinking. Even simple deductive reasoning was missing from a lot of students’ skill sets. But I pushed on.


Strangely, I found that students started to actually like to think. Slowly I began to hear a few expressions of joy when I assigned more thinking-style tasks in the classroom. The moans began to lessen. Might this actually work? I know this might be hard to believe, but yes, even these kids today don’t mind thinking.MAD-Magazine-Thinker-Texting-Smaller

Test Results

I really haven’t seen a drop off in test results. Now I would love to exclaim that I only use thinking-style lessons, and I employ all these ivory tower constructionist methods in my classroom, but that really isn’t the case. Forty percent of my evaluation is student data too.

But I have increased my thinking-based lessons by at least 20% in each of the last two years. I would say every lesson I do now has at least some thinking task and several lessons throughout a unit are entirely thinking based.

Easy Transition

How can this be accomplished? Start small with your incorporation of more thinking related activities or lessons in your teaching. One of the best ways to make changes to your instruction methods is to change your review lessons and not your initial instruction lessons. The advantage with this strategy is the teacher still feels comfortable with using what has worked in the past. As the teacher then becomes more comfortable with the critical thinking lessons then he or she can include them in regular direct instruction.

One of the best ways to make changes to your instruction methods is to change your review lessons and not your initial instruction lessons.

How does this look? Remember start simple.

Here is an example of a review lesson on Urbanization:

Subject: World Geography

Objective: To review the various problems associated with rapid urbanization

Old way: Have students list the 7 problems of urbanization, show them examples of the problems and have them identify the specific problem from those examples. Note: I still do this method but it is included in the initial direct instruction and the students generate the problems through Socratic methods.

New way: Students design a city free of these 7 problems. They draw the plans for their cities and then explain in writing how their designed city minimizes the various problems of urbanization, such as traffic congestion, air pollution, and urban sprawl.

Advantages: With the new way, the student is not only being creative and using his or her thinking skills, but the new method actually has been showing more long term retention with the understandings.

It really is a simple transition if you start with only the review style lessons. Eventually, it is easy to start incorporating more thinking-based lessons throughout instruction. What methods do you use to get your students using their THINKING skills?






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