Education Category Explained:

Learning is inefficient.

It requires comparing opposing thoughts, pondering, dialogue, research and self-discipline.

Education can ruin learning with efficiency.

In other words, we learn to feed the parking meter after we park our car.

Education is the parking ticket we get if we don’t.

Knowledge is remembering to feed the meter in the future..

I have chosen articles for this section from writers who agree with me, such as:

“When we define efficiency as an end, divorced from its larger purpose, it becomes nothing less than a cult.”



Janice Gross Stein, The Cult of Efficiency
Toronto: House of Anansi Press Limited, 2001
ISBN 0887846688
Pages 3-4

When we define efficiency as an end, divorced from its larger purpose, it becomes nothing less than a cult.

A cult is a system of religious worship that engenders almost blind loyalty in its members. Its mystical rites and ceremonies foster in its devotees a sense of belonging and a reverence for core beliefs. Cult members reinforce these beliefs through the incantation of central dogmas. And as the ad for the wired kitchen demonstrates, the invocation of efficiency has approached cult status in our post-industrial age.

Pages 67-8

The concept of efficiency has had widely different meanings in different historical periods. It has often been used in explicitly pursuit of political purposes: a technical discussion of efficiency and public goods – allegedly the concern of professional economists – is almost always embedded in a larger political agenda. Whether it was the pursuit of virtue in ancient times, or the creation of a merit-based administration at the turn of the past century, or a frontal attack on the bureaucratic state and a turn to markets, as it frequently is today, efficiency has served as a rallying cry for larger political purposes. The allegedly technical concept of efficiency has been politically charged in every age. Our age is no exception.

WNCS and The Point
Monday March 8, 2004

George E. Longenecker, Assistant Professor
Vermont Techncial College
217 Conant, Randolph Center, Vermont 05061

Recently everyone at our college was asked how our departments have become more efficient. At the same time we were asked how we have become more effective. The questions are well intentioned, for nobody wants to waste time and money. Yet the juxtaposition of efficiency and effectiveness made me think. Does efficiency necessarily lead to effectiveness?

In her 2001 book, The Cult of Efficiency, Janice Gross Stein looks at how efficiency has become an end rather than a means. If we are efficient in cranking out the end product, then we have done a great job, especially if we have produced at the lowest possible cost. However, in education and in medicine we are working with human minds and human bodies, where solutions are not always amenable to the lowest possible cost.

Energy efficiency pays off for school
The Associated Press, October 12, 2003
The Lafayette Daily Advertiser

HOUMA (AP) - Consistently closing blinds, changing lights and lowering thermostats have saved Terrebonne Parish schools even more than promised, says the contractor hired to cut energy costs.

Siemens Building Technologies, hired in 2000 to cut $388,400 a year from utility bills, says that the three-year savings add up to about $1.7 million.

Nearly every public school in the parish has reduced its monthly utility bill, according to new figures from the company.

During the 2002-03 school year, it said, Terrebonne saved $454,318 by following Siemens’ energy-saving strategies, such as unplugging machines and switching off lights when they’re not needed.

JOHN SCHWARTZ  “The Level of Discourse Continues to Slide
September 28, 2003 New York Times

Is there anything so deadening to the soul as a PowerPoint presentation?

Critics have complained about the computerized slide shows, produced with the ubiquitous software from Microsoft, since the technology was first introduced 10 years ago. Last week, The New Yorker magazine included a cartoon showing a job interview in hell: "I need someone well versed in the art of torture," the interviewer says. "Do you know PowerPoint?"

Once upon a time, a party host could send dread through the room by saying, "Let me show you the slides from our trip!" Now, that dread has spread to every corner of the culture, with schoolchildren using the program to write book reports, and corporate managers blinking mindlessly at PowerPoint charts and bullet lists projected onto giant screens as a disembodied voice reads

• every
• word
• on
• every
• slide.

When the bullets are flying, no one is safe.

But there is a new crescendo of criticism that goes beyond the objection to PowerPoint's tendency to turn any information into a dull recitation of look-alike factoids. Based on nearly a decade of experience with the software and its effects, detractors argue that PowerPoint-muffled messages have real consequences, perhaps even of life or death.

Brandy Centolanza  Schools to undergo efficiency study 
The Virginia Gazette, July 28 2004,0,227342.story?coll=va-news

JAMES CITY—Just how well does WJC spend tax dollars” The question is timely, given the third high school referendum this fall.

School officials have agreed to undergo a voluntary efficiency review by the state. It will start this fall but won’t be done in time for the referendum. Insiders nonetheless view the study as a good-faith effort to promote the credibility of the third high. Gov. Mark Warner launched a pilot study last year as part of his “Education for a Lifetime” platform. He offered the efficiency studies free to participating school divisions.

Management specialists from the best management practices division of the Virginia Department of Planning & Budget are working with a handful of school divisions to determine how they can stretch tens of millions. Among the areas probed:

  • Organization.

  • Service delivery.

  • Human resources.

  • Facilities.

  • Finance.

  • Transportation.

  • Technology.

All seven sectors are intertwined in the $44.2 million third high, almost $40 million of it covered by the referendum. Some critics complain that the school is too pricey and the epitome of chronic overspending by WJC.

TOM VOGT Proposals target more efficiency in schools
Friday, May 21, 2004 

Columbian staff writer
The Columbian Publishing Co. P.O. Box 180, Vancouver, WA 98666

The secret for getting into college: Pick rich parents. That approach might not work for everybody, so Washington’s higher-ed leaders are thinking about other ways to get more students into the state’s colleges. They met Thursday morning at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus in the first public hearing for the state’s new master plan for higher education.

The state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board is looking to turn around the way Washington funds higher education: The funding proposal would not be based on the number of students who enter, but on the number who leave with diplomas. Other proposals would create three-year options for baccalaureate degrees, and improve the process through which students transfer from two-year colleges to four-year universities.

Malcolm Gladwell, “Making the Grade
on the Comment Page of The New Yorker
September 15, 2003
Pages 31-32

The most striking thing about the sweeping federal educational reforms debuting this fall is how much they resemble, in language and philosophy, the industrial-efficiency movement of the early twentieth century. In those years, engineers argued that efficiency and productivity were things that could be measured and managed, and, if you had the right inventory and manufacturing controls in place, no widget would be left behind. Now we have "No Child Left Behind," in which Congress has set up a complex apparatus of sanctions and standards designed to compel individual schools toward steady annual improvement, with the goal of making a hundred per cent of American schoolchildren proficient in math and reading by 2014. It is hard to look at the new legislation and not share in its Fordist vision of the classroom as a brightly lit assembly line, in which curriculum standards sail down from Washington through a chute, and fresh-scrubbed, defect-free students come bouncing out the other end. It is an extraordinary vision, particularly at a time when lawmakers seem mostly preoccupied with pointing out all the things that government cannot do. The only problem, of course-and it's not a trivial one-is that children aren't widgets.

From the introduction in the Announcement of Common Boundary’s 17th Annual Conference
November 6-7, Washington DC.

In his February 1997 letter to members, Sierra Club president Adam Werbach related “a cautionary tale for our times.” Researchers, he reported, went to a preschool and asked the youngsters, “Who knows how to sing?” Everyone’s hand shot up. “who knows how to dance?” They all waved their hands enthusiastically.

“Who knows how to draw?’ Again all hands went up. The next week, the researchers posed the same questions to a class of college students. “Who knows how to sing?” A few hands were raised. “Who knows how to dance?” Two hands shyly went up. “Draw?” No response.

Hughes, Thomas P.  American Genesis
New York: 1989. ISBN 0140097414
Page 4

The tendency of popular histories and of museum exhibits of technology uncritically to unfold a story of problem-free achievement unfortunately leaves readers and viewers naive about the nature of technological change. When more histories of technology that take the critical stance of the best histories of politics are written, Americans will realize that not only their remarkable achievements but many of their deep and persistent problems arise, in the name of order, system, and control, from the mechanization and systematization of life and from the sacrifice of the organic and the spontaneous.

Stephen L. Talbott,  The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending The Machines In Our Midst
Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly and Associates; 1995
ISBN 1565920856
Page 278

Like the telescope, our instruments of communication only increase the distance. Our real need is to rediscover what it means to participate in each other’s lives and worlds. This requires attention to precisely those potentialities of human exchange our efficient technology is teaching us to ignore.

Garson, Barbara. The Electronic Sweatshop
New York: 1988.
ISBN 0671530496
Page 125

What if I could learn geometry or a foreign language, than take the disk out of my brain and drop it into your brain? I wonder why humans don’t have slots in their heads for disks. As it stands now, each of us learns everything the slow, painful way. Little children practice hours a day for years before they can speak their native tongue. Why are we such inefficient learning machines?

In order to learn, each human being goes through an active process that makes the material his own. Each person who learns a language changes it.

Robert Bly,  “Where Have All The Grown-Ups Gone?”
The Sibling Society, 1996
Page 9

People don’t bother to grow up, and we are all fish swimming in a tank of half-adults. The rule is: Where repression was before fantasy will now be; we human beings limp along, running after our own fantasy. We can never catch up, and so we defeat ourselves by the simplest possible means: speed. Everywhere we go there’s a crown, and the people all look alike.

We begin to live a lateral life, catch glimpses out of the corners of our eyes, keep the TV set at eye level, watch the scores move horizontally across the screen. We see what’s coming out of the side-view mirror. It seems like intimacy; maybe not intimacy as much as proximity; maybe not proximity as much as sameness. Americans who are 20 years old see others who look like them in Czechoslovakia, Greece, China, France, Brazil, Germany, and Russia, wearing the same jeans, listening to the same music, speaking a universal language that computer literacy demands. Sometimes they feel more vitally connected to siblings elsewhere than to family members in the next room.

Science & Society -- Science News, VOL. 149
June 8, 1996

In the 12th issue of NSF’S biennial SCIENCE & ENGINEERING INDICATORS published last week, Jon D. Miller and Linda Pifer of the Chicago Academy of Sciences unveil their updated survey on science literacy in the United States. Fewer than 10 percent of adults can describe a molecule beyond noting that it’s small. Only 20 percent can even minimally define DNA, and slightly fewer than half know that Earth rotates around the sun once a year.

Although almost one-quarter could explain correctly how chlorofluorocarbons were believed to contribute to the thinning of stratospheric ozone, only about half of these adults could describe reasonably well where in the atmosphere this thinning is taking place. Moreover, two-thirds were unable to explain the potential health risks of ozone thinning. Even fewer knew how acid rain forms (5 percent) and why it is of concern (2 percent), although most adults said they “oppose” acid rain.

Column by Crispin Sartwell , November 20, 1997
Philadelphia Inquirer

These concepts—excellence, productivity, global economy of the 21st century -- are the guidelines by which I raise my children. We used to talk about nurturing, love, discipline. But these are quaint, outdated concepts from the 20th century. We need to get our kids up and running in the global economy of the 21st century. Every child, whether or not she can read or write, should have Internet access. Whenever my son Sam, who’s in kindergarten, wants to do something, whether it is watch Looney Tunes or ride his bike, I ask him: “How will this impact vis-a-vis the global economy?”

Sam needs to realize that he is competing with kindergartners in Burundi, Qatar and Kazakhstan to see who is the most excellent kindergartner in the global economy of the 21st century. Kindergartners want to play, and yet play, like drugs and poverty and crime, reduces a kindergartner’s competitiveness. What we need is more standardized tests for kindergartners. In fact, kindergartners should themselves be standardized so that they can take their place among the reliable electronic components i n the competitive climate of the global economy of the 21st century.

Oppenheimer, Todd. “The Computer Delusion.”
Atlantic Monthly July 1997: 3

The Kittridge Street Elementary School, in Los Angeles, killed its music program last year to hire a technology coordinator; in Mansfield, Massachusetts, administrators dropped proposed teaching positions in art, music, and physical education, and then spent $333,000 on computers; in one Virginia school the art room was turned into a computer laboratory.

(Ironically, a half dozen preliminary studies recently suggested that music and art classes may build the physical size of a child’s brain, and its powers for subjects such as language, math, science, and engineering—in one case far more than computer work did.)

Conger, Jay A. “How ‘Gen X’ Managers Manage.”
Pages 22 and 24

When the University of California at Los Angeles asked freshmen in 1993 whether “to be very well off financially” was an objective they considered essential or very important, 74.5 percent responded in the affirmative. The figure in 1971 was just 40.1 percent. When asked why it was very important to go to college, 75.1 percent of freshmen in 1993 said “to make more money.” Only 49.9 percent said so in 1971....

In 1890, for example, only 16 percent of parents believed that independence was an important quality; but by the end of the 1970’s, approximately 75 percent felt that independence was the most important character trait.

Raymond F. Callahan,  Education And The Cult Of Efficiency
New York: 1990 ISBN080772985X
Pages 18, 19, 113,114, 116,120

That business’s influence was more likely to be pernicious to schools than beneficial was actually framed within rather narrow chronological limits.

Callahan’s claim is based upon events in business development between 1910 and 1930 and not in the era before or since. It was within that specific time frame that Taylorism, the cost accounting mentality, and “efficiency before all else” reached their zenith. Education and the Cult of Efficiency makes, I believe, a persuasive case that these ideas penetrated the fabric of American education and extracted a toll upon operations by reducing children to widgets and by converting the superintendent from an educational leader to a resource manager.

Hewlett, Sylvia Ann, When The Bough Breaks
U.S.A., 1991: ISBN 0465091652
Page 85

The hard-edged personality traits cultivated by many successful professionals -- control, decisiveness, aggression, efficiency—can be directly at odds with the passive, patient, selfless elements of good nurturing. The last thing a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old needs at eight o’clock in the evening is a mother or father who marches into the house in his or her power suit, barking orders, looking and sounding like a Prussian general. Consider the contrasts in the following list:

Qualities Needed to Succeed in Chosen Career

1. Long hours and one's best energy
2. Mobility
3. A prime commitment to oneself4. Efficiency
5. A controlling attitude
6. A drive for high performance
7. Orientation toward the moment
8. A goal-oriented, time-pressured approach to the task at hand.


Qualities Needed to Meet Needs of Child

Mezzacappa, Dale. “Giving A’s to Students Who Just Aren’t Making the Grade.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer August 31, 1997
Page A16

When the College Board released the most recent SAT scores this week, it contended that grade inflation has taken hold in high schools. As evidence, it pointed out that a decade ago, 28 percent of students taking the SATs reported they were A students. Today it’s 37 percent. Yet, the SAT scores of these students have declined a total of 14 points.

While questioning whether the Scholastic Assessment Test should be held up a reliable gauge of student achievement, many educators do agree on one thing. They see growing evidence that the pursuit of grades has become more important in many high schools than the pursuit of learning. It’s education as a consumer good, say one expert.