The Real Problem with Education as Taught by W. Edwards Deming


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Edward Deming (1982) is one of the most respected experts in the area of continuous improvement. His philosophy is the reason for the success of the Japanese car manufacturers, including Toyota, Nissan, and Honda. It is from his work that Six Sigma and Lean were developed. Deming advised that slogans, standards, and management had no influence over an individual’s performance. He enforced the idea that the alignment of people with the correct functions in the system would govern the productivity of the group. Therefore, the role of the leader was not to focus on influencing and changing the individuals, but to focus on the system and the placement of individuals. Deming explains, “The leader also has responsibility to improve the system – i.e., to make it possible, on a continuing basis, for everybody to do a better job with greater satisfaction.”


Everyone is Different

Deming also proposed that a stable system assumed that all individuals were different, some were faster and some were slower, and this would never change. This means that individuals have limited capabilities to change to the expectations of others. Deming taught that not only do people have limited capabilities, but it is the organization’s responsibility to maximize a person’s capability by aligning them in the correct function. He states, “The company hired him for this job; hence has a moral obligation to put him into the right job.”


Deming vs. Traditional Education

When looking at the education system we find that society has ignored the ideas that Edward Deming used to make the Japanese auto manufacturers successful. The education system has gone against best practices in the industry and focused its efforts on trying to influence children to be better by setting strict standards and high expectations that all students are required to meet. The system is focused on creating an education system that is based on telling the student what they need to learn instead of placing them in the right place and letting them learn on their own. The education system has spent its resources on trying to develop teachers and the system to change the students instead of changing the system and hiring teachers to assist the students’ needs and constraints.


Misalignment in the Classroom

The resources of education go towards trying to improve the classroom, instead of going towards placing the children into classes that will benefit them more.

This is similar to putting a fish in a horse training class; no matter how much money you spend on getting the best instructor, the best resources, and the best curriculum, the fish will not benefit from the class. You might encourage the fish to jump like the horse, you might explain to it why being a horse is better, but the fish will never be a horse. The more you feed it like a horse the worse the fish will get. You might evaluate it poorly, and you might punish it for not meeting the standards of the other horses.  You might even single it out and require to get additional help and train for more time each day; however, this will only make the fish worse, decrease its quality of life, and make it feel worthless.

Teaching for the Individual

The education system does not realize they have caused their own issue. By focusing on changing the students they have caused them to fail. As Deming identified, it is the school’s moral responsibility to place the child in the right classes. That is why a child goes to school. Children go to school to succeed in life and in learning, not to be told they are not good enough and to fail. If we were to follow the best practices of Deming, we would focus more on creating the right classes and the right system to ensure everyone succeeds. A system to ensure that if someone is not good at Math or English, that they learn something that enables them to be successful in life.


The Result of Alignment

How do we know if we are aligning students correctly and creating the right structure for children?

We will see more children:

  1. Wanting to go to school.
  2. Graduating from school.
  3. Adding value to society after their schooling,
  4. Who are not depressed, stressed, or angry.

With alignment in education, we will see more people happy!


Deming, W. E. (2000). Out of the Crisis. MIT press.

2 thoughts on “The Real Problem with Education as Taught by W. Edwards Deming”

  1. I find myself asking how I put my kids in the right “class” during summer break, when options are limited due to COVID-19 closures. The only think they want to do involves games on a tv or computer screen, which doctors say is not good for them.


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