October 28, 2013

The Hierarchy of Education

singleroomschoolIt’s my belief we are conditioned as children—through the hierarchy of a centuries-old schooling system—to believe the oldest person in the room (the teacher) is the smartest. That works only for so long. We are further conditioned to believe that when we’re extremely smart we’ll be recognized by the highest authority—the school principal—through commendations and “bravos” on our report cards. Conversely, when things go awry, the teacher (or perhaps the manager in a corporate comparison)—and/or the principal (the vice president or CEO in a corporate comparison) may sternly call us out for unruliness, poor grades, or anything in between.

Do you remember the absolute fear of being called into the principal’s office? Particularly so if you hadn’t a clue as to why you were being summoned to the office via the PA system, an office administrator or a student runner. Now that was stressful—and it was not unlike an archaic, antiquated and classically hierarchical annual performance review is in today’s organization.

We are conditioned at a very young age, through the kindergarten-to-higher-education continuum, to believe that it is our individual accomplishments that allow us the chance to achieve great things in life.

But success in today’s world is not merely about academic prowess or individual accomplishments alone. Success is not about power, greed and stockpiling knowledge in a vault. Success can’t be found by proficiently ruling in a silo. Nor is success found through a hierarchical, command and control philosophy.

emersonIf we’re trained as children and teenagers to believe that it is the school system of master and apprentice that breeds success, is there any hope for a more collaborative work experience after high school or higher education? Is there any hope for a more creative, innovative and open thinking organization? As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

“You send your child to the schoolmaster, but ’tis the schoolboys who educate him.”

<Adapted from Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization>

3 Replies to “The Hierarchy of Education”

  1. Dear Dan
    Thank you for a really interesting and thought provoking piece. It certainly made me consider not only my own education but my children’s and where it has left them as they embark on their journey in to the world of work.
    Are children really trained that “it is the school system of master and apprentice that breeds success”? Children understand all too early that success depends on the collaborative support of home, family, friends, neighbourhood – and last of all the school they happen to attend (assuming you are referring to state funded schools) by default of the catchment they live in.
    Do Schools not work at hierarchy in order to provide a sense of order– as opposed to “anarchy” -where children increasingly push boundaries that adults may find unthinkable?.
    Do Teachers assume they are smarter than their pupils? Or do they assume they have the advantage of “experience” which allows them some sense of authority to keep order, so that those who want to learn can benefit from doing so – “command and control” being something associated with computer programmes.
    You are absolutely right that academic prowess does not guarantee success – but it is in part a ticket to better places – a demonstration of what your intellect might provide – a measure of kinds (especially favoured by universities). But by no means the only measure – “experience” being the ultimate measure required for that promised ticket to the work place.
    If we want a more creative, innovative and open thinking organisation we need a school system (and I speak for the UK) that is less divisive in terms of economic and social status from “kindergarten to university”. We need to provide children with different more creative learning paths to suit all abilities and disabilities (whatever the school’s hierarchy) .
    More creative, innovative and open thinking organisations will need to make changes in their recruitment processes.
    Thank you for an inspiring piece.

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