Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Are We Creating Warehouse Wage Slaves?

Raise your hand if you prefer doing your Christmas shopping online rather than in brick and mortar stores.  My wife works retail, selling clothes and gear at our local Eddie Bauer store. Like all stores, Holiday is their busiest time of year.  Personally, I try to avoid all stores between Thanksgiving and New Years.  I don't enjoy the traffic or the grumpy crowds as we all spread "Christmas cheer" with our friends and family.  Enter online shopping, and all that grumpiness goes away! I can hit up Amazon in my jammies on the couch and never get grouchy, but there is a dark side.

Not long ago, an article came across my Twitter feed that intrigued me.  It has nothing to do with education, but it's so applicable to education nonetheless. The writer went undercover working in an online store warehouse as a picker. The job was horrible! Reaching high to grab some items, crouching low to snag others.  The book section had such intense static electricity that every time she reached for a book she got a painful jolt.

Each picker is given a scanner which tells her the next assignment.  It tells the picker what to get, what section to find it in, which shelf, and other information...including how many seconds it should take to get there.  This required speed walking or running across the warehouse to get to the next item.

Within days her body was screaming in pain from these ten hour work days with no concern from her bosses about work conditions.  In fact, she got in trouble with her supervisors when she was behind on her quota.  The supervisors were constantly pushing pickers to move faster, faster, faster.  Nothing they did was good enough!  At roughly 60% of her quota she was still getting reminders to speed up, while other pickers admired her for how fast she moved.

One man she met somehow was working at 120% of his quota.  She asked him if there was any incentive to working that fast. Not really, once in a while he'd get a $15 gift card or something like that.

The writer didn't last long, just a few days really.  The work conditions were so terrible, her pain was so intense, and the setting was so depressing that she walked off after being shocked 500 times in one morning.

And, now I'm thinking I need to get into my car and drive to stores to buy Christmas presents for my family.
How on earth does this apply to our schools?

Would your students relate to the pickers at these massive warehouses?  They sit at desks that are not ergonomically designed, and we expect them to stay seated all day.  They do mindless work that is meaningless to the them.  We expect them to work, work, work, and they get in trouble if their product is not up to snuff.  How many of our students would walk out the door if they had the choice?

What's the solution? I'm not convinced there is a silver bullet that will make everything better.  At some point we need to realize that school means kids need to sit quietly and listen to learn essential concepts and skills -- even if they seem pointless at the time.  However, there are some things we can fix.

I like the Genius Hour model.  Students have a chance to get up and move around. They work on something meaningful to them... and we trick them into learning something too.

Students can be encouraged to do better while showing them we care, and we can give them incentives when they do better.

How would you solve the "Warehouse Wage Slave" problem? 

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