Industry & Production Models

David Wiles, Eaps 760


The meaning of modern (i.e., 20th century) school organization and management has been based upon the "factory assembly line" meaning of production and the "bureaucracy as hierarchy of control." The images you think of are the arrow and the py ramid. The "engine" of industry contributes to the mechanistic impression. Similarly, the idea of "scientific" implies the classic set of assumptions about a controlled environment dominated by experimental design. In this sense, the modern system of educational organization began with the ideas of impartial institutional structures (rules, regulations, standing operating procedures), impersonal role relationships and "by the book" procedures as ideals to strive for.

Perhaps the most important person to influence the origins of modern school management was Frederick Taylor. Even though some of the "nation at risk" reformers used the term Taylorism as an epitaph, you should pay close attention to his ef forts to promote "scientific management." At its worst, we think of the measuring of people through "time-to-motion" studies so that the production of "pig iron per worker" can be calculated. At its best, we think of the systematic involvement of the manager or the overseer in a "team" arrangement with workers "on the line."

Frederick Taylor promoted some very contemporary ideas, such as extracting the "best practices" of workers and distilling the best features into a common set of expectations and language about the work to be done. Once the expectations were set , the manager joined with the assembly line workers to work as a team in producing a product. Today, "production function" is discussed as the way of identifying the outcomes or outputs we want, then "backward mapping" through the organization and resourc es available to spell out the most "value maximizing" or "optimum" method of operating.

Of course, educators have been quick to point out that the school "product" is hard to specify in a standardized way. The "assembly line" of processing through twelve or more years to reach a leaving school outcome is even more complex and hard t o specify. Certainly, the custody and control features of children as part of the school organization are different from thinking of industry processes to make "widgets." Certainly, the public service and the "domesticated" compulsory attendance feature s of operating the school organization demands concessions when thinking about how to "scientifically" manage the production process. Some might say that the arrow of production is more analogous to two parallel brackets of a very wide and fuzzy set tha n the classic, straight and narrow deterministic line.

Lets be honest about Max Weber and his influence on American educational management. Weber was a sociologist that was deeply concerned with the 1870's implications of wrapping Protestant religious fervor with the rugged capitalism spirit o f the industrial age in German society. The bureaucracy organization he designed was an ideal authority arrangement that he hoped would act as an intellectual benchmark to document sociological excesses.

Max Weber was certainly one of the German, French and British thinkers that influenced Americans and their engine of industry borrowing as the 20th century began. Yet, Weber's discussion of bureaucracy was published posthumously in 1892 and it wa s not translated from German into English until 1956. We have to wonder at those that cite his widespread influence on American educational management thinking before the end of world war two. Certainly, characteristics of the "Weber" bureaucractic idea l such as span of control, chain of command and technical specialization were widely discussed without his particular reference.

Max Weber's bureaucracy specified the pyramid structure of institutional arrangements that would "house" industry or government operations. The bureaucratic ideal was impersonal, with its basic objective to remove any and all sources of human var iability that might challenge or convolute the structural stipulations. Later writers would discuss the functions of managing that reference the institutional structure. This modification might be seen as the first effort to "people" the bureaucracy but people were not to be trusted to provide a normative or ethical premise to organizational governance. The rationality of organizational operations was the "ethic" of impersonality and neutrality.

One other feature that contributed to the evolved meaning of modern organizational operations was the standardized testing of people as part of the induction during World War One. Although the primary concern was basic literacy and raw intelligen ce, the measurement "industry" was also used to reinforce the selection of "smart" and "other" people that correlated (roughly) to officers and enlisted personnel.


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