Taylorism in Education

Frederick W. Taylor’s “scientific” and managerial approach to the workplace maximized efficiency and productivity through the standardization of labor. One of the primary principles of his system of management was to eliminate opportunities of chance or accident through the scientific investigation of every detail of labor (171). Through motion and time study, Taylor vigorously studied body movements and assigned exact approximations of the time necessary to complete the labor.

Scientific management eliminated the need of skilled labor by delegating each employee one simple task to repeat over and over. Although this method increased the productivity of factories, it stripped employees not only their freedom to choose their work, but also how it would be done. Humans became breathing machines under the expectation that they would complete each task under a “predetermined work time. ” The itemization of each basic motion dehumanized the labor process by alienating the worker from the object produced and the action of production.

Taylorism did not reach the same level of adoption as its managerial cousin, Fordism. Worker resistance—a topic Braverman demoted to an extended footnote—posed a hindrance to Taylorism. Despite the implementation of incentive-systems, the monotony of the task cannot escape the resistance of workers who may not complete the task under the allotted TMU, whether purposefully in an act of rebellion or uncontrollably due to sickness.

Under capitalism Taylorism flourished because it increased productivity and the accumulation of capital for the employer. Outside of the factory, other institutions have applied ideas of Taylorism in the name of science. When reading about Taylor’s proposal of standardized tasks to increase efficiency and output, I drew parallels to the recent adoption of high stakes standardized testing with the introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001).

High-stakes standardized tests have a significant impact on school funding and student learning. Standardized testing in public K-12 education forces the employee, in this case the teacher, to follow scripted curricula and “teach to the test,” or teaching test-taking strategies versus content that would better prepare them for the world. The standardization of education in our nation eliminates teacher creativity and punishes them instead should they fail to meet state standards.

With the national push for performance-pay, teachers are incentivized to dehumanize their teaching to ensure that their students will reach “proficiency” benchmarks in math and language arts. Standardized testing requires teachers to cover the same material and removes the possibility for teachers to share with their students their passion of a particular topic, or else their class will fall too far behind. With high-stakes standardized testing, both teacher and student creativity and development is stifled. Education is not like factory work.

It cannot be boxed into a standard commodity due to the endless list of variables involved in education: teaching methods, learning styles, environmental factors, etc. No matter the setting, the principles of scientific management inherently dehumanize the worker in the production process. The incorporation of Taylorism in any institution sets a tone on the priorities of our nation and its value of the citizens.

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