more socol

Andrew Carnegie
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Looking at another great Ira Socol post, The Carnegie Unit,  the Carnegie unit being an effort to create a unit of quantity (seat-time) to correlate with the quality measurement of grades, which form a transcript.  From the post:
Back at the turn of the last century The Carnegie Foundation took standardization seriously. America's education system was already an oddly configured one, funded and operated locally - usually very locally - in often tiny school districts operating according to the cultural norms of wildly disparate population groups: America never quite embracing "nation" status within (a "single people") no matter how much "America" looked like an "idea" from abroad. As vast the differences which might lie between educational aspirations in Cornwall, Newcastle, and London (in England - which remained America's cultural model), or Bonn, Konigsberg, and Berlin (in Prussia - which was perceived as the model of modernity and efficiency), they paled beside the differences separating Salt Lake, Montgomery, and Boston - much less the thousands of miniscule towns hosting one-room schoolhouses across the vast North American continent.
Socol has a wonderful map of the one-room schoolhouses that covered counties in the US circa 1900. These schools, truly local, are a far cry from the highly centralized school structure that moves authority up and away from the schools.  Socol moves on in a great capsule history:
At Harvard the issues began to be raised to a new level. Charles W. Eliot, Harvard's President for 40 years (1869-1909), didn't think much of his institution's oral comprehensive admissions examinations. He also thought that education, like manufacturing, would benefit from standardization. Why might Student A, studying with Professor X, read twice as much as Student B, studying with Professor Y? How could either the newly appearing post-graduate schools, or employers, judge that?

So Eliot pioneered both the "contact hour" and the idea of "credit distribution." The former was seen as a way of proving work - work in America (outside of agricultural labor and women's piecework) was now routinely judged in hourly terms rather than accomplishment. The latter meant that students would be exposed to both the "classics" (which had dominated universities) and the contemporary mechanics and sciences (which had risen in importance since the appearance of the Land Grant College).
And Socol can then show that we have the same underlying structure now and the crux of real education change is understanding and changing these basic design flaws and errors:
The Carnegie Unit lives with us today - truly, nothing structural has changed in US education since 1910. We still measure academics via seat time. We count our credits - both at the secondary and post-secondary level - by hours spent "in instruction" on specified subjects. Does it cripple us? Does it truly block reform? Does it prevent interdisciplinary instruction or open schooling? 
In other words, Carnegie Units are a bad idea in practice, but they are not the real problem. Our problem is our lack of imagination - and our unwillingness to take real risks in changing a broken system. 
Kill NCLB, kill the standardized test, kill the Carnegian/Bushian/Obamaesque belief in all children learning at the same rate, and you will break the essential chains holding back education.
Socol also shares a brief look at a progressive school he attended that does not work on this industrial model.

I would add that compulsory attendance laws are also a fundamental form of coercion and control and these laws restrict the provision of education to professionals instead of evolving from communities and families and so having a base in the real lives of human beings. Like economics that is tied to communities and Main Street, so schooling needs to be grounded in communities.  Only a system that allows citizen access and input can avoid the social violence and waste of human capital that happen when children and families are coerced without relief into authoritarian structures they cannot influence.
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