From Despair to Hope

In one of my current doctoral courses, Social and Political Perspectives on Education, we have been reading, The McDonaldization of Society by George Ritzer.  If you have not read it, I would recommend that you get a copy.  As I reflect on my reading of this book, my eyes have definitely been opened.  McDonaldization values efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control in a system.  There have been moments of depression for me as I realize how much my family and I have bought into the principles of McDonaldization.  I felt especially attacked when Ritzer talked about vacations.   My favorite family vacation is a cruise because, as a dad, I do not have to see money leaving my wallet each time we choose to participate in an activity or eat a meal.   Also, you set your own schedule.  You can be involved with the ship activities or you can just go read a book on the deck and fall asleep.  We have a family campground membership as well but it is not really roughing it.  We do sleep in a tent trailer but we have many luxuries such as a clubhouse, nice showers, planned activities, etc.   Along with this, we have busy lives that necessitate the use of microwaves for simple cooking, the eating of fast food, and driving through Starbucks on the way to work.

On the other hand, I feel that Ritzer does give very little credit to the American consumer.  When we do travel, we try not to eat in the chain restaurants.   We search out the unique and local flavor of the community.  We choose to go to farmer markets to buy fruits and vegetables instead of Walmart when we have the opportunity.   We do try to cook more at home and spend less eating out.   We fight consumerism and materialism by serving others and giving to charity.  Consequently, Ritzer, at times, does overstate his case.  American consumers are not complete robots.  We can make good decisions and I think that he should explore these virtues to bring balance to his book.

Over the last 10+ years, I feel that the principles of McDonaldization have been applied to K-12 education.  No Child Left Behind brought about the national movement toward standards, accountability, and standardized testing.  As a result, NCLB was based completely on the implementation of efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control of the American school system from the federal level.  For more than a decade, I feel that we have had scripted education that is focused on student achievement measured by standardized tests.   We have taken away creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, project based learning, and the ability of teachers to be in control of their own classrooms.   I know that I am overgeneralizing and that there are schools and teachers out there that have found ways to resist these trends.  Yet, when I talk to K-12 educators, you can’t help but see the impact of the “caging of the human spirit” and its effects on students, teachers, and administrators who have been fighting the good fight.

Yet … I see hope on the horizon with the advent of the Common Core standards.   There will still be testing and accountability, but hopefully, the teaching strategies that I listed above will be allowed so creativity and critical thinking can flourish again.   The scripts and pacing charts will be gone and teachers will again be able to be the masters of their classroom.  We will have to see if this swing back helps break the chains of McDonaldization and frees the American classroom again to meet the needs of the whole child.  What do you think?   Does McDonaldization have a grip on your life?