Is efficiency all that it is cracked up to be?

I just heard a rant on the car radio about how it is okay that Amazon and big box booksellers are running the local booksellers out of town because small local businesses are inefficient, so we would be better off without them. This is not a post about books, that is another story – this is a post about efficiency.

I started thinking about what this mindset towards efficiency has gained. We have cheap food, cheap clothes, cheap books, and cheap public education. In an effort to have a one size fits all model to food, we have huge companies delivering mediocre grade produce at any time of year in any climate. We can go online and buy a book or a pair of pants for $10.99. But what have we lost?

I have a closet full of cheap clothes, a shirt in every color and they all look drab or pill after a few washings. Even in August our local markets seem to have lost the brilliance and bursting sweetness of a juicy red tomato. And I only really enjoy one out of three or four books that I purchase “because it looks good” online. But more and more, these big industry choices are whittling away at the few good choices I have for food, clothes, and nearly everything else in life.

Just as our learners have little choice in schooling these days. The standardization of the public school system has created a one-size-fits-all, conglomerated mess of education. The student who wants to delve into a passion, a skill that could lead them to becoming an innovator – a Steve Jobs or Albert Einsten – is squelched and stifled. Even the kid who wants to start a small business in the entertainment or green technologies or community service sector has little preparation from the step-by-step model of learning we have laid out for them. This is apparent in my son’s generation graduating college with no idea what to do with the “real world” they are entering.

I want a teacher to be like the seller in that small bookstore who sees me walk through the door and comes to see what I am looking for, then goes through her small but well-selected collection to find something just for me. That is when I find a book that really helps me expand my horizons. And I want my learning to be treated like the tomato on a sunny hillside in Provence, I want it nurtured, fed and given plenty of room to grow. I want an educational system that gives me the opportunities to become the best I can be, not a system that turns me into the best product that we can replicate in mass quantities.

Only then I will have an education that fits like that beautifully hand-stitched vest I found at a vintage shop from the 1930’s that fits like a glove and will last a lifetime….JAC


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