The Procustean Bed (…or “one-size-fits-all”)

Recently there has been much talk about the need to question/challenge/change the current “factory model” of education.  I’ve personally mentioned Frederick Winslow Taylor’s theory of Scientific Management, Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA video and TED Talk, and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” on dozens of formal and informal occasions.  Most understand that “factory model” is synonymous with “one-size-fits-all”.

I recently came across a fresh (at least to me) story that illustrates the down side of “one-size fits-all”.  It goes like this…

Poseidon, Greek mythology’s God of the Sea, had a son named Procrustes.  Procrustes occupied a home along the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis where he offered hospitality to passing strangers.  He would invite them in for a night’s rest in his iron bed.  He bragged that his unique bed would be a perfect fit for anyone who slept upon it. What Procrustes didn’t tell his guests was that if they were too short for the bed he would stretch them on the rack (“Procrustes” means “the stretcher”) or, if they were too tall, he would use his sword to modify their leg length.

The story may be a tad gruesome, but it reminds me of how often our system works to modify students to fit our “iron bed” rather than make the required adjustments to the bed itself.  I hope that the great conversations, collaborations, and systemic change efforts that are taking place throughout our district and across the province continue and expand.  I have every faith that we can make the necessary adaptations to the “Procrustean Bed” that has been stifling student and teacher creativity for long enough.

About Larry Espe

Superintendent of Schools
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