By Jon Miller | Post Date: May 26, 2006 6:14 AM | Comments: 1
Larry Davis, president of Daman Products Co. Inc. of Mishawaka, Indiana wants schools to teach the fundamentals of Lean management and kaizen-style problem solving from kindergarteners to high school students. Daman Products has been pursuing Lean manufacturing since 1997. Today they struggle to hire people who fit into their Lean culture and bring the soft skills needed to function on the team, according to the interview in the June 1, 2006 issue of IndustryWeek online article. Quoting Mr. Davis:
We also found our people learn best when they had a tangible, real problem they had to solve. Bring them together and teach those soft skills around that tangible problem so that as they're learning these new skills they're not even aware they're learning them. If you can get schools to that level where everybody is engaged in what's going on, and learning is almost an afterthought, that would be pretty powerful.
What if 5S was taught to every freshman, whether they are going into the job force after they graduate or they're going onto college? It's useful in the garage, it's useful in the kitchen and it's useful in our tool crib. It's a universally applicable job skill and life skill.
It would be awesome to teach process improvement. Process improvement is everything we do around here in this company [and] at home. But we as a society don't think in terms of process. And in the lean environment, that's all you're doing is thinking about processes: what the little pieces of the processes are, what can be taken out, what's waste, what's not, what's redundant. And putting them back together in a way that makes more sense.
Bored people don't learn. That makes a lot of sense. I can remember thinking in high school chemistry class "When am I ever going to need to titrate carbon tetrachloride again?" and not giving my teacher or our assignment my full attention. We had an excellent chemistry teacher, but no part of the class was designed to teach us practical problem solving aspects of what knowledge of chemistry had to offer. You could argue that the chemistry class was laying the groundwork for the students who would later pursue a career in chemistry, but for the rest of us there was no "everyday chemistry" or "all you need to know for daily chemistry". Most of us memorized the periodic table, did our labs, crammed for tests, and took away from class "never play with mercury" as a life lesson.
Mr. Davis wrote and posted a 3-page white paper which you can read on the Daman Products website in which he outlines the reasons that Lean management principles should be taught in school. I would be an enthusiastic supporter of adding the "fourth R", problem solving, to the "three Rs" of reading, writing and arithmetic. If only I had not read a book on the chilling underground history of American education a few years ago.
According to the book titled Underground History of American Education, the last time industrialists in the United States redesigned the education system to serve the needs of employers what we ended up with was… the arguably dysfunctional education system we have today. You can now read the book online. I recommend that you do.
The Underground History of American Education was written by John Taylor Gatto, a 30-year veteran New York City public school teacher who won many awards for his teaching. His analysis of the history of the “forced schooling” system as serving the needs of early industrialists to generate a class of laborers and consumers may seem like a mad conspiracy theory until you read the book full of quotes, facts and figures, and his personal testimony from 30 years inside the system.
Reading and reflecting on the IndustryWeek article today, I made the connection between the original design intent of the U.S. public school system, the history of industrial development in the U.S. and the reason Lean manufacturing did not take root until very recently in the U.S. I won’t go into detail here about this, as you should read the book and come to your own conclusions, if you are interested. Or you can Google the author or book title and skim the many articles and discussions online about the subject.
I would be the first in line to add problem solving to reading, writing and arithmetic as a fundamental of the public education system. But first, we need to ask about the design intent of the education system. What problems do we want our education system to solve? The education system we have today was designed to solve the problems of how to guarantee ongoing demand for consumer products and the problem of young minds not wanting to work in menial factory and service jobs, if you accept the central tenet of Mr. Gatto's book.
Albert Einstein was a problem solver who did not let a failed education system stop him. Einstein said "The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them."
While I am prepared to believe that Mr. Davis' motivations are more pure than those of the 20th century captains of industry credited in Mr. Gatto's book with giving us the U.S. public education system of today, in the decades ahead we will have far more pressing problems for the next generation of problem solvers than how to turn a wrench or solve process problems in a factory. If we build in Lean thinking, kaizen and problem solving into our education system it should not be for the purpose of providing a steady stream of employees to follow the Lean management philosophies of the Daman Products of the world.
Whether it is enlightened leadership in government, the needs of employers, or citizens who demand a better education system for their children, we need to use kaizen principles to design it. First, define the problems that will need fixing by the young people we are educating, then identify the thinking skills skills we need to teach them for problem solving, and then build an education process that serves this purpose. Then step back, look at the problems in the new education system, and kaizen it again and again.Comments are moderated to filter spam and inappropriate content. There may be a delay before your comment is published.