A common narrative is that America’s primary and secondary education system (the so-called Prussian model) is designed to create/mold obedient workers suitable for the demands of industrialized society. The theory goes, in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, tycoons such as Rockefeller and Ford needed a supply of obedient workers, and hence the modern education system was born to meet this demand.
This narrative is popular because it lends comfort to underachievers, who can attribute their poor grades to rebellion than not being smart enough. No, you didn’t get low marks because you are slow–no, you found the school system stiffing and oppressive. Yes, in some instances this is true. On Reddit, for example, one can readily find examples of smart people who slacked off in school, getting low grades because they found the work boring or because they refused to complete the assignment in the way teacher wanted, but by virtue of the rarity of high IQ scores, not everyone who get low grades is an undiscovered genius. Everyone wants to believe they are special, that it’s someone else’s fault for their failure, not their own fault.
Contrary the popular belief that US education system is designed to mold workers, this is possibly wrong for many reasons. Schools and the typical workplace environment couldn’t be more distinct, so I dunno how the former is supposed to be a facsimile or preparation for the latter [at least this is how it was when I went to school and the schools I attended; things may have changed, and your experience may be different]:
Schools are purely meritocratic in which one’s success is dependent on producing correct answers on tests and assignments, but in the workplace the link between talent/skill and one’s rank is not as direct. However, teacher bias can play a role in writing assignments, which can be subjective, as opposed to multiple choice tests, which are less so.
The intellectual and obedience demands placed on students, such as tests, punctuality, and homework, even at the lower grades, is more demanding than most work environments. Think about all the employees who show up late to work, do their job half-assed, or are just generally incompetent yet remain employed. Bosses complain that their employees are unable to write or perform simple instructions. Most jobs don’t have homework, or it’s treated as overtime. There is no equivalent of ‘overtime’ for school, because homework is expected. There were assignments from 6th grade that I recall were harder than some of the early jobs I had.
Many school assignments require repetition and memorization of facts and figures, but most low and medium-skilled jobs involve taking orders and following printed or verbal instruction than rote memorization. Many of the subjects taught in school– history, geography, algebra, geometry, and literature–scarcely, if at all, have any applicability for ‘real world’ jobs. If the purpose of school is to create better workers, rather than having students memorize historical names and dates, would instead have them learn tasks that they may encounter at work, such as sorting papers, creating PowerPoint presentations, following instructions printed on a placard, operating a cash register, or entering data into a spreadsheet.
The Pareto distribution dominates in business: 20% of the products produce 80% of the sales. Failure is an unavoidable part of business. A successful company may have many products and only a few of them are very successful or become iconic: for example, Nike’s Air Jordan shoes or McDonald’s Big Mac. The goal of a business, whether a hedge fund, venture capital firm, or a consumer goods company, is not to prevent failure from ever happening, but rather ensure that the successes are big enough to overcomes multiple failures. In school, failure is punished and accuracy is paramount. To goal is to get everything right. Now one can argue that low-skilled jobs, as opposed creative jobs, necessitate accuracy and precision (such as keeping track of orders at a restaurant or giving exact change to a customer), but then that leads to the point discussed above: why have students memorize historical facts and do book reports, when those are skills that 99.999% of jobs don’t require (unless you aspire to be a historian or a museum guide, I suppose). Also, one can argue that these subjects are intended to endow people with a baseline amount of knowledge so as to not be completely ignorant of history, geography, social studies, or literature, but then that still counters the argument about creating obedient workers.
Social skills are much more important in the workplace than at school, and social skills can be used to not only curry the favor of bosses, for possible promotion, but also to mask incompetence. Employees who mess up can sometimes smooth-talk their way out of trouble, but that does not work in school. Because work assignments tend to be much less objective than school assignments (something as vague such as ‘project management’, vs. multiple choice tests), this strategy can be effective.
In the workplace, delegating and outsourcing boosts productivity and saves costs and time. Schools consider it cheating, such as college students outsourcing time-consuming or difficult writing assignments to a ghostwriter.
Many jobs, especially certain tech jobs, encourage or require collaboration (for example, many coders will work on a single project), but school typically discourages collaboration.
Overall, if the purpose of school is to create obedient workers, they are not doing it in the most efficient manner. Students with IQs less than, say, 90, are never going to excel in school, and those with only average IQs are probably don’t stand to benefit from 12 years of schooling when maybe only 9 are enough to gain the skills to be sufficiently proficient in reading, writing, and math, but even then, schools sometimes fail in that regard–yet everyone regardless of IQ (except for extreme outliers) is shuffled through the same, time-consuming k-12 system. I suspect much of these superfluous courses and unnecessary years of school are intended to screen for high-IQ conscientiousness students (who tend to get good grades; less conscientiousness students who are smart may test well but do poorly on homework). Overall, the modern education system is designed not to create obedient workers, but rather as a watered-down version of the civil service exam system of Imperial China, in order to identify promising talent for possible employment in the highest echelons of society in areas such as law, politics, business, research, government, or technology, that require a combination of intellect, conscientiousness , and obedience.