Standardized Education


Industrial Age Education
Traditional Education


Standardized Education includes those approaches to schooling that emphasize common programs of study, age-based grade levels, and uniform performance outcomes. The movement drew much of its inspiration and content from ancient traditions and religion, but its main influences have been industry and the physical sciences. Associated discourses include:
  • Intellectual Traditionalism (Academic Rationalism) (defined by William Schubert, 1980s) – an orientation to curriculum design that focuses on a small set of disciplines or classic insights, based on the paired convictions that there are universal, culturally independent truths and human nature is fixed.


The phenomenon of Standardized Education began to appear in the 1700s, but only came to its full form in the late 1800s. Triggered by a cluster of entangled events – including the rise of modern science, industrialization, urbanization, and European expansionism – the need arose for a school system that could keep youth occupied and prepare them for the workforce by ensuring basic literacy and numeracy skills.


A unidirectional arrow, which is perhaps the most ubiquitous of icons associated with popular understandings of learning. Usually pointed rightward and/or upward, the unidirectional arrow is implicit in references to progress through a subject matter, assumed in a cause–effect models of instruction, rendered literal in teachers’ acts of pointing, and enacted in teachers’ efforts to direct, deliver, and transmit.


Prominent Metaphors of Learning

Prominent Metaphors of Knowledge

Notions of acquiring, reaching, and building objects prevail in discussions of Standardized Education.The metaphor of knowledge as object is ancient and may have emerged thousands of years ago with the emergence of literacy, as the technology of writing enabled the separation of knowings from knowers while making it possible to convey knowledge over distance and time. It was not until the 1600s that it became a dominant metaphor, owing in large from to the influences of the physical sciences (with its ideal of objective knowledge) and industry (with its influences of standardization and commodification).

Prominent Metaphors of Teaching

Within Standardized Education, Teaching came to be understood in terms of delivery (of knowledge-objects) and instructing (i.e., giving instructions on what to do). Industry-influenced concerns with standards, value, measurement, quality control, efficiency, and so on were imposed on both the expectations of students and the work of teachers


  • Intellectual Traditionalism (Academic Rationalism)

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Standardized Education” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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