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:
  • Educational Essentialism (Back-to-Basics) (Michael John Demiashkevich, 1930s) – a conservative, society-focused, and teacher-centered educational philosophy that is exemplified in back-to-basics curriculum content and expository teaching approaches. That is, adherents of Educational Essentialism assert that formal education should focus on core knowledge – that is, “essentials”  that are drawn from the accumulated knowledge of western civilization, that enable the development of sound character, and that are vocationally oriented.
  • 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.
  • Perennialism (Educational Perennialism; Universal Curriculum) (Allan Bloom, 1970s) – a liberal, humanity-focused, and teacher-centered educational philosophy that is conceived in terms of universal human relevance – that is, around principles that matter to all people, everywhere. Advocates of Perennialism typically emphasize great works, as opposed to core knowledge. Compared to Educational Essentialism (see above), curricula associated with Perennialism tend to be more principle-based than fact-based and its associated pedagogies tend to involve more critical engagement and less exposition.
  • Social Behaviorism (William Schubert, 1980s) – an orientation to curriculum design that focuses on situational needs and the knowledge-and-skill sets seen as necessary to success. Social Behaviorism asserts that empirical science should serve as the bases of formal education, both for determining necessary knowledge and the most effective means of instilling behaviors associated with that knowledge.
Sensibilities, structures, and practices associated with Standardized Education are frequently aligned with Modernism:
  • Modernism (Modern Era; Modernity) – roughly, since the 1600s, marked by changes in conceptions of and attitudes toward knowledge wrought by the Scientific Revolution, and subsequent shifts in one’s mode of engaging with the world brought on by the Industrial and Capitalist Revolutions – all of which presented the need for a new a distinct type of public school. Many descriptors – sometimes conflicting – have been applied to the era, with the most common ones tending to focus on emergent dichotomies such as human-from-world, individual-from-collective, and fact-from-fiction. Variations on the theme include:
    • High Modernism (High Modernity) – a pronounced of Modernism, distinguished by extreme confidence in Empiricismand its associated technologies


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.


Paradigmatically – that is. in terms of a fitting model or symbol – we offer that a unidirectional arrow might be used to signal some of the era’s defining sensibilities. For us, this ubiquitous icon might serve as a visual metaphor that calls to mind popular assumption about learning. Usually pointed rightward and/or upward, this directional guide 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


  • Educational Essentialism (Back-to-Basics)
  • High Modernism (High Modernity)
  • Intellectual Traditionalism (Academic Rationalism)
  • Modernism (Modern Era; Modernity)
  • Perennialism (Educational Perennialism; Universal Curriculum)
  • Social Behaviorism

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Standardized Education” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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