Teacher as craftsman, the central dysfunction in the educational system

Posted at 11:34 am on 02/14/2018 by Rahul Razdan

The term "craftsman" engenders an image of a highly-skilled individual who is at the top of their art. Thus, it may be a surprise to learn that modern capitalism actively works to minimize the role of craftsmen. Why?

A large collection of craftsmen deliver variable quality product/service at a high cost and very little retained intellectual property. Thus, almost every industry known to man starts out with a craftsman model and then capitalism drives a process where quality of delivery is increased while cost is reduced. This is achieved by building intellectual capital which is predictably reusable. Typically, the model produces various value/price points which can be consumed by the customer based on their needs. A simple example to consider is food preparation where one can consume services ranging from a private chef to McDonald's. The intellectual capital contained in the McDonald's process is considerable and leads to predictable delivery with low costs.

As we have discussed in previous articles (HERE) or the TED Talk (HERE), the current educational system largely views students as commodities into which knowledge is poured -- similar to an industrial manufacturing process. The fundamental structure of the current model is driven by an economic imperative from the last century, based on the scarcity of the instructor and classroom, which is no longer true today. Most importantly, central to the current model is the teacher as craftsman.

In today’s system, teachers (K-12 or university) are asked to perform all aspects of their job with very little help beyond a textbook (virtual textbooks are the same.) These duties include performance in the classroom, engagement with students, motivation and assessment for a class of students with variable learning styles. This is clearly an impossible job because very few teachers (or humans) can do all of these jobs well. The consequences of the craftsman model include:

  1. Variable Quality: Given the range of activities, some teachers are better at some jobs than others. The result is highly variable quality -- completely dependent on the luck of the draw -- in terms of teacher.
  2. Enormous System Level Waste: With little retained and ongoing intellectual property, vast legions of teachers are recreating instruction delivery and assessment of subjects which have been unchanged for hundreds of years.
  3. Highly Inflexible: Most modern students have 24/7 access to enormous capabilities on the internet, except for their lessons and assessments. 

Fundamentally, teaching needs to be viewed as an active process which evolves in the same manner as every other profession. This would involve a process of automating large aspects of the current job and optimizing the teacher's time for truly meaningful one-on-one interaction with students.

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