The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Support Learning with an Understanding of Psychology and Systems Thinking

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From The Essential Deming, What Ought a School of Business Teach? by Dr. Deming

I carried out a study at New York University School of Business. The Dean of the school, at that time, came to me about 1972 and suggested we carry out a study of students that had been here and graduated ten or more years ago. How are they doing? How might we have helped them more? A wonderful idea. I kicked myself that I had not thought of it myself. Right in my line.

Deming criticized attempts to ask students what to teach, how could the student know? But asking those that were meant to be prepared for their careers what helped and what could be improved after they went on with their careers and applied what they had been taught can be useful.

We carried out the study and found only six teachers were mentioned as the “great teacher of my life.” Only six of the scores of teachers that had been in that school all those years. Only six were mentioned. At the time when the students were there, they did not know it, they did not know that these were great teachers. Not one of the six teachers had received an award from the students “Teacher of the Year.” Not one! The Dean made no special effort to keep any of the six. Nobody knew that they were great. Not till years later. Then the students knew.

This is a very telling anecdote. We so often focus on the short term we forget to see that the short term focus can blind us to what has the largest impact over the long term.

Our schools must preserve and nurture the yearning for learning that everyone is born with.

This is key, but it is so easy to ignore when you are focused on short term measures (standardized test score results, etc.). Nurturing curiosity and the ability to experiment and seek new knowledge is much more important than what facts someone remembers.


In his role as a teacher Dr. Deming’s echoed the principles voiced in How Did We Do on the Test? in another quote from the article in the book:

I read the papers that my students turn in. A whole stack of them. That’s 435 students at Columbia University last semester and 150 at NYU. A lot of papers to read. But I read them. Not to grade them. No, I read them to see how I am doing. Where am I failing? What don’t they understand? Why do they give wrong answers? Why do they have some point of view that I don’t think is right? Where am I failing? Where do I need to build up. And I’m looking for somebody, anybody, who is special, in need of special help. I’ll try to see that he gets it. And who, if anybody is extra-well prepared. Would relish some extra work. There was one such woman in my class. Extra well prepared. I gave her extra work to do.

This is the thinking when you view education as a system where the professor’s job is to aid the students in learning. The typical model seems to be the professor does what they want without regard to the outcome (their “performance appraisal” likely is highly focus on publications not education). And students are tasked with learning given a system that has little or no customer or process or continual improvement focus.

Related: Deming Scholars MBA Program at Fordham University in New York CityDr. Deming Video: A Theory of a System for Educators and ManagersGiven Tablets but No Teachers, Kids Teach Themselves, Having Never Seen Advanced Technology BeforeDeming’s Ideas Applied in High School Education


Categorised as: Dr. Deming, education, psychology


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