For the past week, I've been reading Mark Federman's McLuhan for Managers and rereading some of McLuhan's books. I first read Understanding Media when I was eighteen years old and have been thinking about the effects of technologies ever since. This morning I realized how the persistence of factory schooling makes sense in spite of all the advances in Web 2.0 technologies.
The introduction of any new technology creates a painful displacement of people wedded to the old economic order. Feudalism established a class of peasants who lost out on having land, dignity and freedom. The printing press resulted in a million deaths over the century that followed as warring factions were torn between the authority of the church and the new printed page. Each new way to win creates losers who become more of a problem and catalyst to yet another change.
The introduction of any new technology also brings about a resurgence of an old mode of operation. The automobile brought back chivalry, jousting with other knights on their charging steeds, and showing up in shining armor to rescue swooning damsels . Television brought back sexual seduction, baiting, and teases that radio had no business conveying. Each new way to extend our capabilities brings back an obsolete way of interacting.
The digital economy has created a new displacement and resurgence. There are those who are online and those who are not (the digital divide). The building of the huge digital infrastructure brought back factory organizations. The vast amount of work to code the software involved long days of slave labor inside factory organizations. The shopping online reverted to more menial labor inside distribution warehouses and trucking firms.
When systems go down, the IT department does their magic to debug and restore the infrastructure while the peasants feel powerless and vulnerable. The smokestacks are now on SUV's while the coders commute to their cubicles to crank out more infrastructure for the back and front end systems. The digital economy has created a class of losers and throwbacks to the Industrial Revolution.
In this context, factory schooling makes perfect sense. The perceptions about "the best way to educate" react to the existing economy. Administrators look in the rear view mirror for best practices. Courses prepare students for the kinds of employment that will be obsolete when they graduate. Factories are the way to go backwards and school systems maintain social order by going there.