It’s the End of the World, If We Don’t Get Education Right

Our only hope for surviving the current wave of crises (and others we can’t yet imagine but will certainly be coming) is to replace the factory school model.


Kevin Miller

2 years ago | 7 min read

Climate change, racism, violence, war, poverty, disease, economic disparity, dysfunctional government; the crisis list goes on and on. While progress on some has been made, others continue to worsen.

How long can our country and planet last before we reach the point of no return? Many see hope in our youngest generations, but our education model prevents them from achieving their individual or collective potential. Now is the time to reinvent education and unleash the potential of every child.

Several years ago, I came to the clear realization that the current model of education used in the U.S. and most of the world needs to be replaced. Most of you are probably thinking, “No duh!” In fact, through interactions with thousands of people since beginning my crusade to reinvent education, I have not encountered a single person pushing back on this notion.

There seems universal agreement this needs to be done. However, nearly everyone also thinks replacing the factory model is nearly impossible. If agreement is so strong on the need for change, why are we so convinced it can’t happen?

The answer lies in what I now believe is the most important reason it has to happen and has to happen now.

There are countless reasons we have to replace the factory school model. In my book I expand on a full 26 of these, and I will cover several in this essay; but there is one that has now proven to be most critical for our current national and world situation.

The factory model of school has been the single biggest contributor to our current social discord and our inability to collaborate in solving large social problems.

I don’t believe this was intentional when the factory model was implemented, but it turned out to be the case and is now leveraged by those who maintain power and influence by keeping society divided.

The factory model was premised, of course, on efficiency. To “educate” all children in the country and ensure education was equitable, a model was created that delivers the same basic curriculum to every child. Of course, just like actual factory work of the early 20th Century, participating in such a school model was not very compelling.

In a factory, to attract and keep workers, owners had to provide sufficient incentives. Schools were no different; to keep children attending school and behaving once they were there, schools created numerous incentives, both positive (rewards) and negative (punishments).

Between the one-size-fits-all curriculum and the compliance-based environment, the factory school instills in students a social model in which power is reserved for a select few while most have no direct say in the most important things in their world. Further, they are instilled with the understanding that those in power determine what is worth knowing.

Throughout their formal schooling, then, children learn how to attain a sense of power, if not actual power. Of course, some children will figure out how to get actual power, though they are likely from families with power and influence already and may see it as their right, to a degree. The rest, though, will find they can attain a sense of power by aligning themselves with groups (and occasionally individuals) who have power and influence.

With group allegiance providing a sense of power, individuals become dependent on the group and may compromise their personal values to defend and strengthen their bond to the group.

They condone actions of the group that are counter to their values because condemning those actions would threaten their bond. And they accept as truth whatever the group says.

Unfortunately, the factory model of school has been in place over a century, so we have come to accept the same power divide throughout society. Thus, we align ourselves with political parties, religions, ideologies, organizations, and individuals who promise to further “our” causes and look out for “our” best interests, and then we accept whatever tactics they use as well as decisions and actions we find disturbing.

We will on occasion rebel. We’ll protest and call for boycotts and make demands for change — and that is happening right now — but throughout all of this, we are ceding the power of change to others. We are demanding the political parties, corporations, organizations, powerful individuals, and our government change; and many changes are occurring.

Yet, in the end, if the same people are in power and we accept that we have no direct control over important aspects of our lives, we have gained little.

Prior to the industrial revolution, which largely coincided with the birth of the factory school model, nearly every significant thing that occurred in our country happened at the community level. Small groups of strong individuals bonded together to explore, settle, and create the foundations of our country. Even the American Revolution depended on a network of communities who trusted and believed in themselves and each other and who collectively supported freedom from the monarchy.

Since the industrial revolution, wealth, influence, and power became centralized in the hands of a small number of people. Even so, they only hold that power if enough of us allow it. Consequently, it is in their best interest to placate us by paying some attention to our wants and demands, but also to keep us divided.

If we realize the power available in our communities when we break down barriers, and if we recognize our shared values and dreams for the future, those hoarding power over our states and country would be threatened.

Yet that is exactly what we need to do. And the first step is to replace the factory school model with one that fosters self-confidence, critical thinking, and independence while demonstrating the power of diversity and collaboration.

As noted above, there are countless other reasons to reinvent our school model beyond the way it trains us to accept a division of power in society. Here are a few of the most important:

  • It is not cost-effective and is already unsustainable. We are literally using a school model from the 19th Century and trying to make it effective in the 21st Century. That means every time we try to make an improvement it is ridiculously expensive. Imagine trying to make Henry Ford’s Model T meet all our current safety and emission requirements and all our current driving and comfort expectations. That’s what’s happening with schools.
  • The current school model is premised on teaching, not learning. The first priority is delivering curriculum. We know students don’t actually retain most of what is taught, but with curriculum delivery as the first priority, we can never achieve significant gains in actual learning.
  • While we’re good at delivering the curriculum, we do try to ensure some learning takes place. That is done through standardized tests and thousands of different standards. These, in turn, are all based on averages. The standards, tests, and subsequent instruction is aimed at an “average” of what a child should know at a given age. However, there are no average children anywhere ( just like in Lake Wobegon). Which is to say, no child is at the “average” level of readiness for more than one or two areas of one or two academic subjects at the same time. They will be advanced and not challenged or behind and stressed. Across multiple subjects, each with multiple sub-areas of instruction, not a single student is even close to average. See Todd Rose’s book The End of Average for excellent insights on this.
  • With a focus on delivering curriculum as efficiently as possible, the current model relies on compliance to function. That means taking all power away from students and using rewards and punishments to drive everything they do. They cannot be responsible for themselves or their learning because they have no power over it, so they respond to the offered rewards and punishments (or don’t). Unfortunately, a lack of power and control causes stress. Stress interferes with the ability to learn. Consequently, the current school model is actually counter to helping students learn.
  • Daniel Pink’s work has shown how people are motivated, whether to learn, perform, or work at a job. Motivation requires three things: autonomy, a challenge capable of being mastered, and being a part of something bigger than one’s self. Schools often try to create an illusion of these things, but they lack integrity because each of these is unique to each person. Our current model can’t accommodate any of the three motivation requirements.

That’s the tip of the iceberg. The really ugly aspect of all these is we have the ability, right now, to address every single reason by designing new school models for each community. If a small group of people in a community are intrigued by this possibility, they can begin the design process.


Created by

Kevin Miller

A Boomer who joined the Army during the Cold War and continues to serve. Kevin spent 30-plus years working in K-12 education as a teacher, administrator, and consultant. His book, Know Power, Know Responsibility, provides the imperatives for a complete redesign of schools and the way to get there.







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