Making Widgets

Unlike manufacturing, schools are not making 'widgets'. We have no incoming quality control, no supply chain management. We take in whomever walks in the door and work with them.

My second wife worked as a supply chain engineer for Nissan at their North American Design Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan (suburban Detroit) and currently, as far as I know, for Harley Davidson at their headquarters on Juneau. Her job was concerned with controlling the quality of the suppliers' materials used in Nissan cars and Harleys, from leather tanneries in Pennsylvania to paint and decals in Racine to mirrors in Holland, Michigan and many items in between.  (Remember a company called Color Arts here?)  I credit her with the title of this, my first blog for Patch.

The manufacturing industry has control over the raw materials used in the building of their product, or "widget".  If the leather being used for the seats on your new Harley isn't up to the H-D standards, entire lots of it can be rejected before it leaves the tannery.  If this happens enough, that tannery can lose the contract.  If the seat supplier for your new Chevy messes up, either in quality or timely and accurate delivery, entire production lines can be shut down at huge expense to General Motors and the seat company.  Again, it can ultimately cost that supplier their contract.  Every manufacturer depends on the quality of the supplies coming off the truck and into their product, from eColi to bad steel.  How about public schools? To use a new slang phrase, "not so much".

First of all, this blog is not an excuse for teachers.  It's reality.  

In my 37+ years in the education profession, I have seen many changes in cultures and expectations.  (Read my profile for some details.)  From rural Michigan to Detroit to Racine Unified over those many years, the "supply quality" of students has varied widely.  In 1973, I had a very few challenging students in the small farm town of Leslie, Michigan, about ten miles from the family farm where I grew up.  In 1999, I had half a class of challenging students in Detroit, and the other half was just needy. In Racine at McKinley and Case, most of my students were challenged simply because of the nature of my class, a targeted group of students who needed help in reading.  They were not identified as special ed.

My Racine students had many challenges in their lives that led to their reading difficulties.  Some were dyslexic to varying degrees and had great family support. Some had just never applied themselves to the challenge of school.  A few came from families that had never seen the importance of education and passed that legacy to their children.  A very small number saw their future in a local gang. Some were ambitious, some were not.  They came in all colors.  But overall, with some compassion, encouragement, and a motivating environment, our program showed gains in reading ability.  Many of my freshmen at Case came in reading at an elementary level and left nine months later at or near a ninth grade level.  Many also barely gained a year.  But all of them had to take the WKCE test the following year.  THOSE results get published in the Journal-Times, the Journal-Sentinel and on the Wisconsin Department of Education website.

Public school educators are not making widgets.  We have no control over who walks in the door nor what they bring with them.  We have the children of doctors, lawyers, executives, and teachers.  We also have the children of single moms and dads who were parents before they left high school and have struggled their entire life.  Funny things is, that doesn't always serve as an indicator of student success. As we all know, doctors' kids can be dropouts and kids of single parents can graduate at the top of their class.  Again, I am not being judgmental, just realistic.

I hope you see my analogy.  Public shools take in all varieties of students.  The national expectation is that they, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, will all graduate good-looking and above average.  Until we are all "clones" (pun intended), that just isn't going to happen!

I could, and probably will in a future entry, continue. All of this could lead to a discusiion of private schools, parochial schools, merit pay for teachers, "No Child Left Behind", and a myriad of other topics.  

Food for thought.  Your thoughts?  I welcome all comments and will, of course, respect all viewpoints.


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Kellen Lewis September 06, 2011 at 09:54 PM
Ron, I appreciate this insight into your field. People are not inherently good. Some are stubborn and have their intentions set on evil such as being a part of a gang or whatever. Others have no higher meaning in life or reason to "succeed" or just "get by." The present education system seems designed along these premises: go to school and get good grades so you can go to college and get a degree so that you can get a good job and make lots of money. If that's the highest purpose, it is easier to deal drugs and make a lot of money and be "happy." It's even easier to not try, fail at everything, have the government give you sufficient money to get by. If that's what your parents did and you learned to deal with it, what reason would you have for something more? It is good that you recognize that education is not necessarily the solution. I agree. I suspect that public schools are hamstrung by an inability to motivate children. I am a pastor at a local church. We have an Awana program that has children from all sorts of backgrounds. The Awana program has a Bible story time, Bible verse memorization time, and game time. There is structure/discipline and a reward system. There are winners and losers. What is interesting to me is seeing the transformation that occurs in many of the kids. They strive to memorize their Bible verses, and as they do so, the verses begin to change them. They are better at school and for parents and with friends.
Kellen Lewis September 06, 2011 at 09:56 PM
I would love to talk with you more about this. But I believe God will use His word to turn bad kids into good kids... and for that matter bad adults into good adults. I will give you a tour of our clubs on a Wednesday night so you can see what we do. my e-mail is: p k l e w i s @ n o r t h s i d e c a l v a r y . c o m without the spaces of course (to avoid spam.)
Kellen Lewis September 06, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Also, believing in God gives us a perspective that we have a higher purpose than fame or fortune. We have a God who has given us everything that we have and given us so many abilities and will judge us based on what we have done with those resources. We are supposed to live our lives for God's glory and pleasure, and that is a much higher purpose than anything a public school is even allowed to teach about for motivation.


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