THE PROBLEM OF INSTITUTIONS

The history of schooling in America is the story of the transformation of the one-room schoolhouse into the comprehensive high school. The steady march towards more efficiency and greater capacity has gradually eroded the discussion of the goals of schooling from “what is an educated person” to the institutional functions of certification, preparation, and custodial care. The pedagogy of schools dominated by the” mechanics of school organization and administration” (Dewey, 1906/1966) reduces classroom teaching to an “assign and assess” (Tharp, 1993) delivery model of instruction — the premise of which is that knowledge is acquired through some of form of correspondence between facts in textbooks with what is in (Plato) or not in a child’s mind (Locke). The “machinery of school-work” (Dewey, 1906/1969) places teachers in schools where the goals of schooling —jobs, high test scores, and admission to college —and the means of schooling — large class sizes, standardized curriculum, and large amounts of testing —are antithetical to a practice that requires creativity, flexibility, and sensitivity to uniqueness. Children find themselves in classrooms where the goals of schooling—promotion, good grades, and following rules—and the routines of schooling—sitting quietly, listening, waiting to be called on, completing worksheets—are hostile to the social need to be known, the emotional need to be interested, and the intellectual need to make sense out of their experiences.

 Dewey largely blamed the failure of schools to educate on the bureaucratic organization of schools more concerned with rules, procedures, and documentation than with creating environments where children could explore individual interests in socially constructive ways. Studies which have documented the sameness of classroom teaching (Goodlad, 1984; Lortie, 1975; Jackson, 1990) confirm Dewey’s belief that institutional requirements of efficiency and conformity to rules induce school administrators to pay more attention to daily diversions of schooling rather than what is happening in classrooms and teachers paying more attention to routines and techniques than the interest and curiosity of the children seated in front of them.

The table below summarizes the characteristics of Bureaucratic Organizations and Knowledge Organizations. Contemporary organizational theorists (e.g. Deming, Senge,) and business leaders (e.g. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett) look for employees who are better at breaking the rules than following rules. Flexibility, creativity, and innovativeness are essential attributes of organizations that will prosper in a “flat world” (Friedman) of no borders, no rules, and no life-long careers. The call-in school mission statements for “life-long learners,” “critical-thinkers,” and “knowledge workers for the 21st century” become mockeries in schools designed for taking orders and recalling information. Strong Instructional Leaders recognize that the schools they lead are preparing students for the 19th century, not the 21st century. A strong component of their philosophy of education would be devoted to developing curricular offerings, pedagogical practices, and organizational configurations promoting the goals and methods of knowledge organizations.

TABLE:     Bureaucratic Organizations versus Knowledge Organizations

BUREAUCRATIC ORGANIZATIONSKNOWLEDGE ORGANIZATIONS
  GOAL: Efficiency, Certainty, & Conformity  

CULTURE
Hierarchy: Top-Down Decision-Making  
  GOAL: Creativity, Innovation, Flexibility  

CULTURE
Flat Structure & Egalitarian Culture
OCCUPATIONAL ROLES
Based on placement in the hierarchy and prescribed responsibilities for specific functions (Job Descriptions)  
OCCUPATIONAL ROLES
Based on expertise and particular requirements to complete a task (Task Specifications)  
ORGANIZATIONAL ENVIRONMENT Impersonal environment based on role, status, communication up and down the chain of command    ORGANIZATIONAL ENVIRONMENT
Interpersonal environment based on professionalism, autonomy, and discourse communities focused on projects.
PERSONNEL EVALUATION

Performance on prescribed criteria listed in job descriptions
PERSONNEL EVALUATION
Performance based on completion of tasks and contribution to furthering knowledge in particular sector of an industry  
DOCUMENTATION
Codification of rules, procedures, and institutional decision making      
DOCUMENTATION
Should not get in the way of innovation: “ We should probably write-down what we invented.”  
ACCOUNTABILITY
Data Analysis; Sanctions for Non-Compliance, Benchmarks; Alignment with Rules & Procedures, Achievement on Standardized Measure of Achievement)  
ACCOUNTABILITY
Observations of intentional states (Beliefs, Desires, Goals, Satisfactions, Feelings, Judgment, Thoughts) and performance on real world tasks

     

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