Why Do We Send Our Children to School?

The Cases For and Against Standardization in Education


posted by Baker Galloway

This is the first post in a series on different educational models. A school's vision for the purpose of education will inform the structure of the learning model, and every decision large or small that teachers and administrators make on a day-to-day basis. The scope of these decisions will include design of the school itself; and so it's critical that we as architects understand the educational paradigm of our school clients if we are to effectively deliver facilities that support their purposes. 

“If you don't understand a school’s vision of a successfully educated student how do you design facilities to support their educational process?”

The intent of this series is not to champion any particular educational model over another, but to present each on its own terms. Hopefully the reader will find real differences in each model that will engender a better understanding of the educational landscape. [Author's Disclosure: At the outset I should personally disclose that my son currently attends a publicly funded Montessori charter school in Texas, and that I attended a public elementary school and private Christian middle school in Massachusetts, as well as a public high school and state university in Texas.]

To kick off this discussion let's look at a fundamental and divisive issue in conventional public and private education with the help of two videos made in much the same style but making opposing arguments for and against standardized testing. This particular debate is important because it touches on the heart of what is the purpose of education. Without a common purpose and shared goals, it will be difficult for any designer to deliver satisfactory solutions to a client's challenges. If you don't understand a school's vision of a successfully educated student how do you design facilities to support their educational process?

Without further ado, let's dive into this controversial topic.


A Case for Standardization:

Brief: Make sure everybody gets equal access to good education; improve overall achievement.

  • universal standardized testing to track & evaluate success
  • achievement-driven
  • emphasis on english language arts, and math
  • aims to prepare students for the workforce
  • classroom-centric, with emerging emphasis on technology


A Case for Reforming the Paradigm of Standardization:

Brief: The standardization model is based on industrialism and will not equip students for the economies of the 21st century.

  • the global economy is changing too quickly for education to simply be job training. The job training model will not survive shifts in the economy.
  • nurturing creativity and adaptability are higher values than achievement.
  • aesthetic experience is essential to education.
  • conventional teaching (classroom-centric, achievement-driven, academics focused) education does not fit every child.


A Case for Alternative Education (e.g. Montessori Schools):

Brief: Fan each child's inner flame to learn and to develop; nurture a life-long love of learning.

  • no grades given; learning is its own reward.
  • mixed-age classrooms
  • self-paced
  • grab student interest in a subject while it's hot; don't pressure when it's cold. 
  • emphasis on curiosity, creativity
  • hands-on, tactile learning


Is It Fair to Compare?

Two major challenges that any dominant educational paradigm will face are the need to balance universality with flexibility, and the need to pay for every child's educational with tax dollars. It is therefore understandable that individuated small schools will always have a leg up to decry the homogenization of large public schools, and likewise understandable that proponents of public education may dismiss the merits of private education as elitist, based on the fact that few families can afford to send their children to private school. 

What do you think? If you have preliminary thoughts, feel free to add them to the comments section below. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at a few different educational models in forthcoming posts:

» What's Different About Classical Education?

» What's Different About Montessori Education

» What's Different About Waldorf Education