Economic Goals of Schooling

Chapter 4

Human Capital Theory

Human capital is the idea that investment in education will improve the quality of workers and, accordingly, increase the wealth of the community. In other words, the primary purpose of schooling is to prepare good workers and to make America more globally competitive.

After reading information about globalization in your text, how well do you believe schools prepare students for the workforce?

In your experiences, to what extent have the economic goals of schooling overwhelmed other goals?

Adam Smith and the Division of Labor

The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, sought to reveal the nature and cause of a nation’s prosperity. Smith saw the main cause of prosperity as increasing division of labor. Using the famous example of pins, Smith asserted that ten workers could produce 48,000 pins per day if each of eighteen specialized tasks was assigned to particular workers. But absent the division of labor, a worker would be lucky to produce even one pin per day.


Interestingly, Adam Smith preferred public primary and secondary education over private education , and he also opposed applying economic theories of self-interest to social and familial relationships (those relationships that exist outside the market). How does contemporary schooling resemble the division of labor, specialization, and standardization?

Social Efficiency and Public Education

Not only have public schools focused on preparing good workers, school organization, routines, centralization, consolidation, and standardization are a result of school reformers' adoption of business models during the early twentieth century. The social efficiency model was expected to help schools respond to and Americanize mass student populations, including waves of immigrants.


Does the social efficiency ethos continue to exist in public schools today based on your experiences?

Responding to the Factory Model of Schooling

After watching the video linked below, what is your opinion of Ken Robinson's analysis of public schooling? What are your thoughts on divergent thinking? In what ways would you reform schools today to remedy the problems discussed by Robinson?
RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms