Compliance within our Current Educational Reality

What does it take to be successful working on an assembly line?


Up to this point, we have spent some time exploring the history of schooling in America and the impact of the factory model/system. The influence of the industrial revolution on the early high school model is quite clear. Let’s further unpack the factory process of compliance and the way it has influenced our educational system.

What is your initial reaction when you hear the word standardization?

Some see it as a positive term that ensures a minimum threshold of quality. It draws a line in regards to quality or performance. When we standardize, we commit to nothing “below that line.” For example, consider a grocery store that standardizes a process. The store ensures all employees perform a task in the same way to meet the standard they established.

For others, the word standardization feels stifling and controlling. It means that we have to follow some set of guidelines that may or may not be the best way to do something. There is little choice in the process. But, if you work in a factory, you need to be comfortable with standardization. When every process is clearly articulated, it increases productivity and ensures the safety of all employees.

On an assembly line, you really don’t want people thinking for themselves.

If they do that, they mess up the “established process,” creating all sorts of problems. The most efficient assembly lines actually take human thought out of the equation. Employees are more like machines. Thus, the factory creates a consistent experience that creates consistent results.

The same philosophy applies to standardized testing. Both the factory and the test intend to minimize errors in the final product. Some schools, districts, and states use the results of the test to punish staff, determine pay, and limit options for students that don’t perform. Testing reveals perceived flaws and errors.

Many schools build entire systems focused on compliance just to remediate those flaws.

However, exams are never discussed again. As an adult, when is the last time you talked about your SAT or ACT score in a social or work setting? Many of the most creative and successful adults I know did not have outstanding results on these tests.

I am not against standardized testing in some instances, such as college entrance exams, professional certifications, and some other uses. However, I believe that it falls short in looking at individuals and their potential strengths. In many ways, they measure compliance as much as they measure aptitude or learning. 

This issue of compliance keeps coming up.

You never see “Don’t think for yourself and do what you are told” in any school mission statement or on a school t-shirt. Yet, it is the backbone of many of the educational systems we have developed. The greatest indicator of school success is the students’ ability to follow directions. I believe this directly ties back to the factory system that viewed independent thought as a flaw in the system.

If we are no longer training factory workers in our educational system, for what are we preparing them?

Up Next: Student Skills for Success the Modern Workplace

By Nathan Gorsch | September 3, 2021 | 07:58 PM PT

Meet the Writer

Nathan Gorsch is the Principal of Village High School in Colorado’s Academy 20 School District. There, he supervises the online high school program for over 400 students in both primary and supplemental online/blended enrollments. His role encompasses curriculum selection/development, teacher evaluations, student scheduling, marketing, and enrollment.

His degrees include a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from Colorado Christian University, a Bachelor of Science from Illinois State University, and a Certificate in Education Administration from the University of Denver.

Currently, Nathan also serves on the AASA Personalized Learning Cohort, the ASD20 Envisioned Future Taskforce and the Academy School District 20 Research and Design Team. He develops strategic plans and shares learned best practices for e-learning and improves personalized learning implementations across the United States.