I don’t actually have time to write a complete account of “How the Endless Process of Division of Labor and the Entrepreneurial Identification of New Niches Would Transform Education If We Allowed it To Do So” this morning, but I continue to be endlessly frustrated by the narrowness of vision in the field of education among academics, educators, business leaders, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, and pretty much everyone else.
This weekend I met someone who is a headhunter specializing in recruiting talent for FDA compliance officers for pharmaceutical companies. He was a very decent person, but just the fact that our economy has specialized to the point at which there are full-time positions focused on recruiting FDA compliance officers for pharmaceutical companies reminded me of how limited specialization is in education.
Economists (good ones, at least) understand that all the prosperity of the modern world can basically be attributed to some combination of Smithian gains (division of labor) or Schumpeterian gains (creative destruction and the entrepreneurial identification and exploitation of ever more granular niches). A major reason why modern society is a mess is because we do not allow this process to work in the fields of education, human development, and community formation. (Conversely our technology is amazing and fantastic precisely because we DO allow this process to work in many, albeit not all, technological domains).
Through a series of unique circumstances, I started my full-time educational career as a full-time Socratic Seminar teacher trainer. This itself is a specialized position that does not normally exist in the standard universe of educational occupations (which does include specialization as a math teacher, a hearing specialist, special education teachers, Assistant Superintendents of Curriculum and Instruction, reading specialists, etc.) Over the course of my years as a Socratic Seminar teacher trainer, sometimes I would work with pre-school teachers, elementary teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers, each of which could be a Socratic Seminar teacher training speciality in itself. Beyond the age/grade level distinctions, there could be Socratic Seminar teacher trainers specializing in mathematics, science, history, Spanish, literature, etc. Beyond that there could be Socratic Seminar teacher trainers specializing in Catholic versions, Buddhist versions, Mormon versions, Secular Humanist versions, etc. And each of these niches would have their own administrator trainings, their own curriculum developers, etc.
In the Montessori world there are distinctive trainings for infant, pre-school, elementary, upper elementary, and middle school. I was at one point deeply involved in the world of Montessori middle school education, which was really in the process of being developed. There again endless specialization would result in endless refinement and ever more sophisticated expertise.
When I created The Winston Academy in Plantation, Florida, our mathematics and computer science programs were developed by the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science (IMACS). Burt Kaufman, the leading spirit behind IMACS, was by any standard an amazing mathematics educator. The programs that he and his team created over the decades provide young people with a uniquely powerful form of mathematics training. But when IMACS attempted to franchise itself, they found that they could not ensure that the franchisee locations had adequately trained staff, so they pulled back. I’ve tried to implement some of their programs at some of the schools I’ve created, but it is difficult because an IMACS instructor needs extensive training, ideally a year-long internship, in each domain of IMACS instruction: The CSMP program, the Elements of Mathematics program, and their version of Scheme programming.
Skeptics can say that I don’t need to create my own Socratic training, I could just work as an education professor or superintendent of curriculum of instruction somewhere. Or that Montessori middle schools are just fine as they are. Or that there are plenty of great math programs available without the ridiculously idiosyncratic and obscure IMACS program.
Yeah, right, and Steve Jobs should have gotten a degree in electrical engineering and gone to work at Xerox.