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The story of the car on the conveyor belt

Have you watched a car being manufactured? It's a fascinating process. Especially if you can watch it done at a plant where there is little to no human intervention. Where there is complete automation and robots do the fitting and the welding perfectly on cue like clockwork and churn out over a thousand cars a day. At six sigma precision. Meaning that only about three and a half cars in a million come out with any defect that leads to it being rejected. The cars that come out are all strikingly similar with minor differences like their colours and interior features.

Even before they turn out to be the end product that is the car, they all go through the same cycle while they are getting built. They have their doors fitted to the frame at the same time on the conveyor belt. They have the engines fitted at the same time on the conveyor belt. They have the colour sprayed on them at the same time. And so on.

This is a fascinating process for the owner of the manufacturing plant because she can ensure timely and predictable production of cars that are very similar to each other. It is not as fascinating to the people working the assembly line (if there are any). And it is definitely not as fascinating to the spare parts themselves that are turned into the car by the time they reach the end of the conveyor belt.

Our schools (and a lot of bigger companies too) are designed a lot like these manufacturing plants. Those passing through on the respective conveyor belts don't have to manoeuvre around a lot. They have to make the right pit stops, get the right fittings at the right times, not be stubborn and keep moving along with the conveyor belt. And in the end of it, they will be churned out of the conveyor belt, an end product that is strikingly similar to those that came out before it and those that will come out after it through that very conveyor belt.

An attempt at deviation on the conveyor belt is not good for the six sigma output statistics and hence will be pruned out at the earliest sign of trouble. Why waste precious space on the conveyor belt when the end product may be different from the standard design?

Driving on the conveyor belt is like Maggie (the little baby) from The Simpsons having her own little steering wheel in the car that is being driven by Marge (her mother). Many kids are happy enough with the illusion of driving on the conveyor belt because they truly believe that they are driving the car all on their own.

But try getting a ten year old to do the same and she will not have as much fun. Try getting a fifteen year old to do that and she will ask you for the keys to the real car. As we grow up, we want to be in control and want to drive our on car and get off the conveyor belt and start life in the real world.

But are we really off the conveyor belt? Are you really? 

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