On Education: Division of Labor: Divide and Conquer
Gatto Fuller Rousseau Dewey
Dreikurs Whitehead Weisel
R. Buckminister Fuller (1895-1983) attributed much of his inventive
genius to the fact that he was a generalist, striving to synergetically
integrate ideas from many diverse disciplines into a harmonious whole that
was not only novel, but efficient, beautiful, and environmentally friendly.
He often wrote and lectured about the limitations of our present educational
system. From his essay: "Education Automation," I learned that
our present educational system is geared towards specialization,
which often leaves the solution of society's most pressing problems to those
least able to solve them. How this came to be is explored below.
The famed mathematician and philosopher Alfred
North Whitehead (1861-1947) joined Harvard University at age 63, after
teaching at the most elite institutions in England, such as Trinity, Cambridge,
University College, Imperial College of Science and Technology, among others.
He noticed that as Harvard University expanded, it was being organized on
a pattern different from the schools in Europe. Americans "apparently"
liked the idea of "specialization" and thus the higher centers
of learning were organizing their graduate schools into different specialties.
Whitehead observed that the best and brightest students were being deliberately
selected for further training in these new specialized graduate schools.
But, as these students/professionals became more and more highly skilled
in their particular specialty, he pointed out that they became less and
less effective in communicating with students/professionals in other fields.
For example, have you ever noticed the difficulty in discussing a problem,
say an illness, with a doctor, the expert specialist? One reason is the
language, because each specialty develops its own language, or "jargon."
Another reason is behavioral. Probably the first word a child learns from
a parent is "No!"
In school, you most likely were trained to be obedient
and to "respectfully" listen, and not to question the "expert."
Because of this method of child rearing, you learned to suppress some of
the many questions you may have. Even the experts fall for this one, and
they learn also not to question work outside their own field. How many times
have you gone to a public lecture, and after the expert finishes and asks
if there are any questions, and no one asks any? I mean, this is your opportunity
to question the expert! Well, this inability to communicate between disciplines
can lead to serious problems.
Whitehead realized that many of society's most important problems are multidisciplinary
in nature. For example, such problems include preserving the environment,
population control, or the allocation of scarce resources. He felt that
individuals having the generalist style of education, who had a broad knowledge
of the basic concepts of every field, as favored on the European continent,
would be better prepared to solve these kinds of problems, rather than the
specialist, with all the accompanying communication problems and whose views
outside their discipline in any case would be necessarily subjective, and
therefore more prone to error. .
However, Whitehead carried his reasoning one step further, and what he said
next came as a surprise: he said that in the partitioning process, by default,
you have inadvertently created two classes of people, "bright"
ones and "dull" ones, to use Fuller's terminology. And since the
prime intellects have been culled and guided into the specialties, it is
left to the "dull" ones to solve the problems that are multidisciplinary
in nature. It "appears" that we have created an educational system
that fails to provide the proper training to solve a civilization's most
critical problems. Fuller termed this "Whitehead's dilemma,"
Fuller expanded upon Whitehead's observation, by giving this particular
example. He classified business owners in this second tier of people. While
in school, they were not selected to be among the intellectual elite. But
they are good people, and they see all these different innovations being
made by the scientists, and figure that there is money to be made here.
So they are the ones to assemble a team of specialists, scientists and engineers,
to build and manufacture something new, such as the automobile. But they
notice that automobiles don't run very well over open fields. They need
highways to run on. The automobile is just half of the solution to the problem
of "high-speed highway transportation." But being specialized
in making automobiles, and not knowing much about other fields outside of
making automobiles, they find themselves facing the same obstacles as the
specialists they employ. They know they need highways for the cars to run
on, but they cannot possibly afford to build them. If they had to include
the cost of building these highways into their business model, the cost
of a car would be astronomical. So how come we ended up with this costly
Fuller said what happened is that the business owners turned to yet a third
tier of people, even duller than themselves, for an answer to the highway
construction problem! These are the politicians, who know little about science,
engineering, truth or costs, but who have the gift of gab, who tell the
Populus, if you vote for me, I will have the government build the highways
for you! No one in this group of people had even the slightest appreciation
of the possible hidden costs in such a decision. It never crossed their
mind. And the general public was just as ignorant. But, did you know that
even as expensive as highways may be, in the grand scheme of things, it's
just a drop in the bucket? Consider the hidden costs of how much we spend
militarily to defend our access to oil supplies in the Middle East! Or the
hidden costs of health care due to breathing foul air? Or even the loss
of beauty of not being able to see a blue sky? Some people don't even know
the sky is supposed to be mostly blue, and that red sunsets are something
ominous. You have to read the accounts of early explorers to know what sunsets
were like a hundred years ago.
Shouldn't a generalist, competent in many fields, be asked to evaluate the
total proposed solution? Actually, we all need a more generalist type of
education, so we can better evaluate the possible solutions. This is what
alarmed Whitehead about our educational system. No generalists were being
trained for this role. The best and brightest were being trained for the
specialist role. In Fuller's words: "One of the great mistakes that
society has been demonstrating in our last century has been that of leaving
the most important problems to the men who are bankrupt in creative thinking
ability." Its a massive case of "the
blind men and the elephant," each completely convinced that they
know what the solution is, but none really having it, and it is also a "tragedy
of the commons," where costs are not apportioned appropriately.
Even the partitioning process, which actually starts in grade school, has
hidden costs! (just read the short story: "I
am not a turtle"and one commentary on Gifted
and Talented programs). Indeed, creating dull people is just an artifact
of the selection process! A matter of discouragement,
helplessness. Evidence of a lack of care. A result of the hierarchical
structure of present day organizations, not only educational, but of the
military, business, industrial, and religious.
So where did this idea of specialized training originate? It originates
with the concept of "division of labor." We attribute the idea
to Adam Smith, because he explored its ramifications in great deal in his
well known classic, "Wealth
of Nations." Unfortunately, no one really reads his book, and his
intentions to inform have been subverted. After the first couple of pages,
everyone puts the heavy tome down. I dare say, most put the text down after
reading just the first sentence! Here it is:
Of the Division of Labour
The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater
part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed,
or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour."
Now, one of the reasons why we put the book down, is because we are so familiar
with the production process. It starts with our schooling, and almost everyone
has had experience with factory style work. Our entire manufacturing enterprise
is predicated on the myth that Adam Smith advocated "division of labor."
Noam Chomsky read the
entire book, and states "Adam Smith is very well know for his advocacy
of division of labor. Take a look at "division of labor" in the
index and there are lots and lots of things listed. But there's one missing,
namely his denunciation of division of labor." So Adam Smith denounces
division of labor! Where is it, then? In my edition, I found it begins in
Five, Chapter 1, on page 340. It appears most of the experts fell asleep
before getting this far. Here is what Adam Smith says:
"In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far
greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of
people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently
to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily
formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent
in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps
always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding
or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties
which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion,
and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible to become
for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not
only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation,
but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently
of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties
of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he
is altogether incapable of judging,......"
Aha! This is the key! And this bit of information is being used very effectively
against you. Manufacturers don't want you to know too many steps in the
process of making something. Why? Well, here are a few reasons: You can
be trained to do the task in a few hours, or a matter of days, so its cheaper.
This also makes it easy to replace you, like an interchangeable part. And
so, if you are not obedient, then they just fire you! The threat of unemployment
is just another way for the boss to control
you. And, if you knew all the steps, then you could just go out and start
your own competing business. What manufacturer wants that?
So, how did the educational system get set up this way? Well, part of the
reason is to copy the factory production model. But, what about Harvard
University? As Fuller explains:
"At Harvard just before World War I-and this was the time when I was
having my little troubles there-the dilemma Whitehead was talking about
was developing in a very interesting way. What Whitehead didn't ask was
how Harvard could afford those graduate schools. The fact is that neither
Harvard nor any other university has ever operated at a profit. Certainly,
schools, colleges, and universities don't have surplus earnings accruing
which they can reinvest. Establishing graduate schools wasn't something
private colleges could do on their own. The explanation is that the graduate
schools were given to Harvard and the other leading private universities.
The next interesting question is, who gave
them the graduate specialty schools? Well, the people who gave Harvard
the schools were primarily the partners of J. P. Morgan and Company or they
were men who were the founders or presidents of companies whose boards were
run by J. P. Morgan. J. P. Morgan or his partners were at the time on the
boards of nearly every important, powerful company in America. Morgan or
his associates were also partners in the great unseen syndicate of world
commerce mastery up to World War I. "
"Now, if you were world master, you would not be at all worried about
being displaced by a dull one. You would only be apprehensive of
and on guard against the bright ones. There is the old strategy of "divide
and conquer." Anticipatory "divide and conquer" is more powerful
than tardy "divide and conquer." The old masters, then, in order
to prevent themselves from being displaced from their great ocean mastery
deliberately went to work taking the young, bright ones as they came along,
and divided them up anticipatorily into non-self-integratable specializations,
which made them completely innocuous as challengers to comprehensive grand-strategy
thinking and practical-affairs integration. The bright ones thus became
subject to integration of their high potential only at the masters' command......"
"....The local politician was a man ( a king, or whatever) put into
a position of strength by the great masters who themselves remained scrupulously
invisible. They preferred to remain invisible. The more invisible they were
the longer they could stay master. No challenges would arise, because there
was nothing visible to challenge. Secrecy was one of the greatest of the
tools of the old masters...."
Gatto has also investigated how the public school system was set up.
He found that not only was J. P. Morgan involved, but also Andrew Carnegie
and John Rockefeller! Indeed, by the turn of the 20th century, these three
owned nearly everything, and so capitalism was essentially dead, a victim
of its own success. To keep things going, Carnegie proposed and helped implement
a new system of pseudo free enterprise, which was based on schooling and
education, those excelling at their specializations being given licenses
to lead comfortable lives.
So now you know some of the forces working behind the scenes in politics,
in war, in any large enterprise. It all makes sense. But such closed hierarchical
systems are inherently unfair.
We could be much happier in an nonhierarchically
organized open system. One thing we need to do is examine and formulate
a new system of beliefs, and then teach them to our children. I'm trying
to do this via my Malama
Chomsky, Noam (1996), "Class
Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian,"
Monroe, Me: Common Courage Press, pp. 19-21, 27-31. 185 p.
Fuller, Richard Buckminister (1979), "Education Automation," in
"R. Buckminister Fuller on Education, edited by Peter H. Wagschal and
Robert D. Kahn," Amherst: U. Mass. Press, pp. 56-63. This book is a
collection of all of Fuller's explicit statements on education spanning
the period between 1963-1979. His essay "Education Automation"
was first published in 1962.
John Taylor (1991). "Dumbing Us Down, the hidden curriculum of
compulsory schooling," :New Society Pub. 104 pages. A paperback collection
of many of his essays.
Adam (1776), "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of
Nations," reprinted in Great Books of the Western World, vol 39,
Chicago:Encyclopedia Britannica, pp. 3, 340
Last updated 1 June 1999
1998-9 by Duen
Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.
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