To make the system work, education is increasingly standardized. In a standardized system, education is mainly seen as a means to an end - it has the goal to transmit those skills, facts, and standards of moral and social conduct to the next generation that are considered necessary for the next generation’s material and social success (Dewey, 1938). Skills and knowledge are provided to prepare workers for vocational roles, to become a productive member of society supporting an ever-expanding industrial development. According to the specialization theory developed by Adam Smith in 1776, using a hypothetical pin factory, he showed how the division of labor and specialization lead to an increase in productivity. This is an idea that can be readily seen in the structure of the current education system. However, Smith's pin factory is also used as an example of how the specialization and rigors of specialized factory life produce disastrous effects upon the workers' intellects and psyches. To put this into perspective – the education system as we know it now was established in the 1850s – more than 70 years after Smith’s writing.
The current standards are born in a bureaucratic fashion based on a miscommunication having its roots in the fundamentally different worldviews of politicians, educators, and researchers (Van Geert & Steenbeck, 2014). Policy makers work with what are usually outdated research average statistics while teachers have to figure out how to implement that on a personal level in their classes.
Standardization in education is pervasive – we have standardized cohorts, programs, subject curriculum, tests, and my personal favorite - standardized self-reflection assignments. Most of this is done in the name of objectivity and equality while making the whole process simpler to execute. The results of this, however, are not the intended ones, but what Gatto describes as the seven lessons of the hidden curriculum of industrialized education (2017), some of which are presented below:
Predetermined, content-based curricula are supposed to prepare individuals for their future careers by providing them with all the necessary knowledge and skills they need to excel. These curricula, however, do not take into account the ever-changing increasingly complex social and ecological environment. This type of environment requires flexibility to be successfully navigated which is something that cannot be achieved by a curriculum that is focused on teaching us what to think instead of how to think, producing “educated fools”. Furthermore, quality of education entails depth of learning. Currently, more factual knowledge is equated with creating more functional human beings. As previously mentioned, the quantity of information is not above the level of what any individual can effectively process and use, and is often times presented in an incoherent and disconnected way preventing understanding and integration of the material. Human beings innately strive to create meaning from the information they are presented with, and this way of presenting information is detrimental to the creation of meaning.
2. Indifference and conformity.
We teach children not to care too much about anything through the use of bells. When the bell rings, the child should drop what they do and move on to the next thing. This teaches them that nothing really is worth caring about. Instead of equality, the system produces conformity due to the simple and inherently biased fact that the system favors the people who can conform to it, while slowly filtering away anyone who does not. Conscientiousness, staying inside the box, and following the rules without questioning are rewarded, while creativity, deviant thinking, and curiosity are punished.
3. Emotional and intellectual dependency.
The top-down approach makes students emotionally and intellectually dependent on authority figures. Students are taught that only authority figures can provide them with the correct answer leading them to rely on facts and statements given by others while diminishing the trust in their own thoughts. This idea is echoed in the works of Freire (1972, 1973) for whom this is one of the fundamental problems in education. Furthermore, students are made emotionally dependent on the rewards that are granted and the feedback given by the authority figures. However, this feedback is mostly given through a grade on a standardized test and anything that falls out of the scope of the tests, such as personal characteristics, is not taken into account leading to an evaluation independent of the students’ personality from which individuals still draw important conclusions about themselves and their possible future.
In conclusion, it could be said that public education has the primary goal to achieve cultural uniformity, not diversity, and to educate dutiful, not critical citizens introducing artificial perpetuation of an unhealthy status quo in the social order.