Weekend Reading

Here it is, folks! The last weekend reading of the year!

In lean production, however, the goal isn’t to continuously develop workers’ skills or even improve the quality of their products. What’s continuously improved is the production process itself, and the metric for measuring improvement is efficiency.

Of course, as labor educator Charley Richardson has pointed out, efficiency is not an absolute concept, but is socially defined. Richardson notes, “Coffee breaks, production limits and staffing levels are all designed to improve the production process from a worker perspective and are all inefficiencies from a management perspective.” In a lean workplace, continuous improvement means the elimination of whatever makes the work process humane and tolerable in order to increase production numbers.

Ultimately, both the worker and the product are of minimal importance. Perfecting the labor process by maximizing efficiency, regardless of the collateral damage to worker or product, is the goal. In lean schools, teaching, learning, and student growth become secondary.

Silicon Valley’s countercultural vibe has long masked its Wall Street-style labor discipline: a heavy emphasis on smartness, flexibility, and willingness to work more grueling hours than the guy next to you. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has even confessed to “sneaking” out of the office to have dinner with her family so as not to run afoul of overwrought office cultures. So intense is the work expectation that the biography of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs has become a sort of Bible for the aspiringly sleep-deprived…

…this is an impressive absorption of female biology into a reinforcement of the work ethic. Everyone knows that men can work all the time by ignoring their families. But women give birth. They’re natural nurturers. What if they can perform both roles and somehow center motherhood and CEOship? She becomes a superworker, “balancing” two loads too heavy to be borne in any proportion. Women insist that they can “do it all” so as not to appear disadvantaged in comparison to their male colleagues; this scrabbling not to be left behind merely legitimizes the insane work ethic. Women’s desire to break the glass ceiling right under Jobs’s feet — Mayer has referred to him as one of her heroes on Twitter — reinforces the importance of a brutal, dehumanizing schedule. Women can do that too. Only more.

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