Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sometimes threads collide and you don't even know it

Over the past few years I written quite a bit about Taylorism, that early and largely discredited school of scientific management that has managed a sustained presence thanks to management consultants and MBA programs and which became the guiding principle of the education reform movement. I've also been working for a long time on a series of long-form pieces on the way that the huge spike in technological progress around the late 19th and early 20th centuries affected and continue to affect our perception of innovation and the future.

I don't know, however, that I ever really made the connection between the two before now. We tend to think of the era in quaint terms, a simpler, slower-moving time, but it was in reality a period of explosive change. Contemporary accounts tell us that people were not only aware that they were living in a revolutionary age; they were fascinated by the process. The promise of Taylorism  – – that scientific and engineering principles could revolutionize the human aspect of work the same way they had revolutionized virtually every other aspect of the world – – was immensely appealing and eminently sensible to the audience of the 1890s and early 1900s. It is hardly surprising that people even attempted to apply the approach to child rearing.

From  Uncovering The Secret History Of Myers-Briggs by Merve Emre

Although Barb invokes Jung's name with pride and a touch of awe, Jung would likely be greatly displeased, if not embarrassed, by his long-standing association with the indicator. The history of his involvement with Myers begins not with Isabel, but with her mother Katharine Cook Briggs, whom Barb mentions only in passing. After the photograph of Jung, Barb projects onto the screen a photograph of Katharine, unsmiling and broad necked and severely coiffed. "I usually don't get into this," she says, gesturing at Katharine's solemn face. "People have already bought into the instrument."

Yet Katharine is an interesting woman, a woman who might have interested Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem or any second-wave feminist eager to dismantle the opposition between "the happy modern housewife" and the "unhappy careerist." A stay-at-home mother and wife who had once studied horticulture at Michigan Agricultural College, Katharine was determined to approach motherhood like an elaborate plant growth experiment: a controlled study in which she could trace how a series of environmental conditions would affect the personality traits her children expressed. In 1897, Isabel emerged — her mother's first subject. From the day of her birth until the child's thirteenth birthday, Katharine kept a leather-bound diary of Isabel's developments, which she pseudonymously titled The Life of Suzanne. In it, she painstakingly recorded the influence that different levels of feeding, cuddling, cooing, playing, reading, and spanking had on Isabel's "life and character."

Today we might think of Katharine as the original helicopter parent: hawkish and over-present in her maternal ministrations. But in 1909, Katharine's objectification of her daughter answered feminist Ellen Key's resounding call for a new and more scientific approach to "the vocation of motherhood." More progressive still was how Katharine marshaled the data she had collected on Isabel to write a series of thirty-three articles in The Ladies Home Journal on the science of childrearing. These articles, which were intended to help other mothers systematize their childcare routines, boasted such single-minded titles as "Why I Believe the Home Is the Best School" and "Why I Find Children Slow in Their School Work." Each appeared under the genteel nom de plume "Elizabeth Childe."

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