Schools as Factories: Metaphors That Stick

Once, this was a comforting image. Now, it's a criticism.

Once, this was a comforting image. Now, it’s a criticism.

This connects with my own exploration of the Schools as Factories Metaphors on LinkedIn in this article “Work Transformed in the Knowledge Era” ( and in this article “What’s the School Biz?” ( However, this article has more important information around the origins of the metaphor–tracking it back to Professor Ellwood P. Cubberly, and how it was widely accepted and promoted “by champions of uniformity, productivity, and more more bang for each dollar spent in every aspect of schooling”. It makes me wonder if the War Effort and returning GIs were a factor.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

You have seen images like these time and again:



The idea of the school as an efficient factory assembly line has a long but surprising history. A century ago, the notion of schools delivering finished products to a democratic society was both new and admired. Here is what Professor Ellwood P. Cubberley, of Stanford University said in the early 20th century:

Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of twentieth-century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.

In the midst of the progressive-inspired school efficiency movement, sparked by “scientific management,” Cubberley captured the prevailing beliefs of most school reformers then. Critics of the day, such as John Dewey, did

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How America Became Exceptional – Forbes


“The truth is that America as an exceptional nation is not a birthright to gloat upon, but a legacy to be lived up to—and lately we’ve been failing miserably.”