I would wager it is probably the most ceaselessly advised story about ed-tech — one advised with extra gusto and extra frequency even than “computer systems will revolutionize instructing” and “you may study something on YouTube.” Certainly, somebody invoked this story simply the opposite day when chatting with me in regards to the present form and standing of our training system: the college bell was applied to acclimate college students for all times as manufacturing unit staff, to coach them to maneuver and reply on command, their day damaged into segments of time dictated by the machine fairly than the rhythms of pre-industrial, rural life.

It is a story that appears believable. The bell is a know-how related to behavioral conditioning, in any case — Pavlov and his salivating canine. It’s a know-how that organizes the college, controlling each area and time. The bell sounds out the logic of the day: it is time for math. It is time for recess. It is time for studying. Lastly, thank god, round Three o’clock or so, it is time to go residence. And on the finish of the college 12 months, when “colleges out fully,” as Alice Cooper sings, the kids cheer with pleasure as the ultimate bell rings, the bell and their voices warping because the traditional track fades out — free of, as John Taylor Gatto put it, “the barren experiences of college bells in a jail of measured time.” (1)

It ought to come as no shock to shut observers of invented histories of training that Gatto would have one thing to say (in nearly all his books, actually) in regards to the tyranny of the bell. He was, in any case, some of the influential promoters of the “school-as-factory” narrative: that the origins of mass education are inextricably certain to the necessity to reshape a rebellious farming nation’s little children right into a docile, industrial workforce. It is a highly effective, influential story, certain, nevertheless it’s a reasonably inaccurate historical past.

The bell additionally invokes one other well-liked story, typically repeated by the identical people: the one through which colleges have not modified in a whole bunch of years. Some metallic contraption nonetheless bangs within the hallways whereas the remainder of the world has moved on to — gesturing broadly — the digital. Want proof? Why, one can level to the truth that Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit stays a well-liked, end-of-the-school-year anthem (as does “One other Brick within the Wall” which was additionally produced by Bob Erin who urged Pink Floyd so as to add a youngsters’s refrain because it was so profitable within the Alice Cooper observe. However I digress.) Certainly this demonstrates how despicably moribund colleges are, proper?

Or at the very least, it reveals how a lot we like tales about training that really feel true — or perhaps songs about training that make us really feel like anti-establishment rebels.

Many establishments — not solely colleges and never solely factories — have lengthy used bells to mark beginnings and endings and essential occasions. One can hardly level to the event of the mechanical clock and its connection to the strict observance of prayer occasions at monasteries and look at the bell as a know-how of liberation, little doubt. However one can maybe rethink citing John Taylor Gatto as your sole supply of training historical past. (The man known as the individuals enslaved by Thomas Jefferson his “workers,” for crying out loud.)

Bells, primarily handbells, have been a know-how of college since their outset, effectively earlier than “the manufacturing unit” they had been purportedly modeled on. They had been used, as had been the bells in church buildings, to summon college students to ye outdated one room schoolhouse for the start of the day.

Structure and Ed-Tech

The Widespread College motion that nineteenth century training reformer Horace Mann spearheaded (from roughly 1840-1880), advocating for the muse of a public faculty system, didn’t simply promote a typical curriculum — an overt curriculum, that’s, of studying, writing, and arithmetic or a covert curriculum of punctuality and obedience. It additionally advocated for the development of standardized faculty buildings, changing the one-room schoolhouses in city areas. (It is value noting that, even into the 1910s, half of the scholars within the US remained enrolled within the nation’s 212,000 one-room colleges.) (2) Mann really useful that communities put money into a bell for these buildings. “The place the expense might be afforded, each schoolhouse must be supplied with a bell. If not the one mode, it’s in all probability the very best one for insuring punctuality; and the significance of punctuality can hardly be overstated.” (3)

The structure of the college constructing informs the pedagogy that takes place therein — the identical goes for the applied sciences which might be applied inside them. And that features the college bell.

However bells weren’t merely — and even primarily — a know-how of pedagogy as a lot as one for bulletins and alarms. Though firms just like the Normal Electrical Time Firm (based in Massachusetts in 1884) bought synchronized clock and bell techniques to colleges (and sure, factories), an early perform of the latter was to not mimic the rhythm of the office however fairly to warn occupants about hearth.

(Insurance coverage Engineering issued a widely-cited report in 1913, decrying the situation of some 250,000 colleges within the US as “constructed to burn.” “In 1911,” the Moline, Illinois Dispatch worriedly detailed, “the worth of college and school buildings destroyed by hearth approximated $3,000,000. Estimates of the frequency of fires are as excessive as ten per week.”(4) The story, by the way, blames the introduction of a brand new piece of ed-tech for most of the blazes: the movie projector.)

Bells and Platoons

The ringing of the bell to sign the start and finish of a category interval, fairly than only the start and finish of the college day is usually traced to William Wirt, who grew to become superintendent of faculties in Gary, Indiana in 1908. Wirt, a scholar of progressive educator John Dewey, devised a system through which, when the bell rang, college students would transfer from room to room for instruction, not solely in studying, writing, and arithmetic, however in music and store, in addition to time outside on a playground.

Typically, youngsters had two ninety-minute intervals or three hours a day within the fundamental topics, and 6 thirty minute intervals in particular topics the opposite three hours of the college day. Clearly to perform successfully this scheme required a excessive diploma of administrative planning and precision timing within the transferring of youngsters. This was significantly true if the faculties had been giant, as they had been at Gary, the place a few of them included all twelve grades and finally had as many as 3,000 college students.” (5)

Wirt known as this the “work-study-play faculty,” and Dewey praised the mannequin in his 1915 e book (co-written with daughter Evelyn) Colleges of Tomorrow:

The query [Wirt] tried to reply was this: What did the Gary youngsters must make them good residents and pleased and affluent human beings, and the way might the cash out there for academic functions provide all these wants? The economic options of his colleges can be taken up later, however it could be effectively to level out in passing that they weren’t instituted to end up good staff for the metal firm, nor to save lots of the factories the expense of coaching their very own staff, however for the tutorial worth of the work they concerned. In the identical method it might be a mistake to think about the Gary colleges merely as an try and take the unpromising immi- grant little one and switch him right into a self-supporting immigrant, or as an try to satisfy the demand of an industrial class for a sure form of coaching. (6)

That John Dewey insisted what grew to become often known as the Gary Plan wasn’t designed to situation college students to turn into manufacturing unit staff ought to perhaps depend for one thing. Perhaps? It doesn’t suggest, after all, that the system did not have unbelievable enchantment to these reformers within the early twentieth century who had been decided to reshape public training right into a extra environment friendly endeavor. Certainly as Callahan argues in his traditional Schooling and the Cult of Effectivity, the Gary Plan was typically showcased for instance of scientific administration utilized to education. However be aware: this was not as a result of it skilled youngsters as staff however as a result of it enabled a extra environment friendly utilization of the college constructing. That colleges had been empty at nights and on weekends and sure school rooms unused throughout the day was such a waste of cash to these reformers, who argued that colleges wanted to be run extra like companies, certainly extra like factories. (“Hold the scholars within the buildings 12 months spherical, dammit!”)

Whereas this push for reform was largely administrative — a monetary endeavor — there have been issues amongst dad and mom and educators on the time that this method would have pedagogical, if not broader cultural implications. In a 1924 article within the New Republic titled “The Manufacturing unit System,” Chicago trainer Margaret Haley decried the Gary Plan, often known as the “platoon faculty.” (College bells as a know-how coaching college students for the navy — that is a Douglas Noble argument proper there.) Clearly, she argued, the Gary Plan was merely an effort to decrease the price of training by enrolling extra college students than school rooms might maintain, “dumping” the surplus onto the playground or into auditorium or cafeteria areas, and rotating them quickly by way of school rooms in order that, consequently, academics would have a whole bunch of pupils per day. The platoon faculty was “the manufacturing unit system carried into the general public faculty, which wants solely the closing-time whistle to make full its identification with the good industrial vegetation!” (7)

Though the “platoon faculty” fell out of favor after 1930, with academics and even some directors decrying the Taylorization of training, the affect of efficiency-based reforms remained. Furthermore, the adoption of the Carnegie Unit and the standardization of curricular necessities and academics’ workloads within the early twentieth century ha led to the adoption of a college schedule that seems, at the very least in a roundabout way, platoon-school-like: the day divided into 45-minute class intervals.

This can be a Public Service Announcement

However by and huge, by way of a lot of the 20th century, colleges did not ring bells to maneuver college students from class to class, from room to room. Automated faculty bells, together with public announcement techniques, had been out there however weren’t broadly adopted till after World Warfare II. Certainly, it was effectively into the 1960s that many faculties lastly wired each classroom as much as an automatic PA system in order that the bell, fairly than the trainer with an eye fixed on the clock, dismissed class. (And in lots of communities, it was the PTA that led the fundraising for this bell tools. You recognize the PTA, that bastion of bourgeois values so very dedicated to their youngsters being skilled by bells to turn into manufacturing unit staff.)


That the ringing of the college bell was not a part of some unique and sinister technique to habituate college students for a lifetime of labor doesn’t suggest the bell — like all applied sciences in or out of faculties — did not include and be born from sure ideologies. However the faculty bell has a special, extra difficult historical past than the “manufacturing unit mannequin colleges” story tells it. It is value understanding that historical past as a result of to take action helps us perceive the current and design the long run. Colleges have not all the time or in all places been modeled on factories, regardless of the efforts of business-minded reformers (nonetheless) to reshape them to that finish for over a century. The bell hasn’t all the time symbolized drudgery, and when it did sign compliance — and to make certain, it did — we want to consider what that expectation meant traditionally, not simply rhetorically as we describe or decry training immediately. And do not even get me began on the phrase I’ve heard in some ed-tech circles, “cells and bells.”

The historical past of training know-how — and my rationale for penning this sequence of essays on the subject — ought to assist us see the likelihood for options. Those that need us to neglect (or mis-remember) the previous are very a lot dedicated to our quit hope. Issues weren’t all the time this fashion; resistance is feasible. That is all there’s ever been, actually — change — even with one thing as seemingly outdated and unchanging as the college bell.

(1) John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction, 2009. p. 130.

(2) Jeffrey Lackney, “New Approaches for College Design.” The Sage Handbook of Academic Management, 2011. p. 356.

(3) Horace Mann, “Supplementary Report on the Topic of Schoolhouses.” (1838). Life and Works of Horace Mann, 1891. p. 486.

(4) “Native Colleges in Record of Harmful.” The Dispatch, Moline, Illinois, 16 April 1913.

(5) Raymond Callahan. Schooling and the Cult of Effectivity, 1962. p. 129.

(6) John and Evelyn Dewey. Colleges of Tomorrow, 1915. p. 176.

(7) Callahan, p. 146.

(8) Archie, February 17, 1960.