Classrooms and Congregations: the Bullseye Once Culture Becomes Seen as History’s Driver

When I came up with the title “Everybody In!” I had hoped to cover more of the groups who had come up with a similar vision, but time grew short and the last post grew long. With Irma gone, power back on, and the Internet back working, let’s get back to the story that helps explain why faith-based institutions appear to be an integral part of where education wants to go. Last week the Convergence Center’s Pioneering publication mentioned a  book called Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by Parker J Palmer. That same issue had stressed that Alamo Heights ISD in Texas was engaged in an education vision called “Transformation of the Heart” that complained that:

“As a nation, we are addicted to high-stakes testing, grade point averages, and class rank. This makes it easy to forget our real purpose: to help young people grow and develop into honest, kind, and compassionate citizens…Resting on the laurels of our district’s academic accomplishments was no longer enough…the Strategic Plan called for us to aggressively confront the social and emotional issues of our community.”

When I ordered the Palmer book I thought I would find another political transformation vision tied to an education vision. It was that, but the book also laid out why “Classrooms and Congregations Converge” if a Transformation grounded in new morals and values is desired. They converge because in “both settings, there is power to form us inwardly in ways that can undermine or enhance our capacity to play a creative role in a democratic society.” Palmer used the term “democratic society” as a euphemism for what I shorthand as the MH Society. The Marxist Humanist Society, where all human needs are to be met out of the collective wealth of society empowered by technology, simply takes too long to write. So the MH Society, in order to finally arrive as a historical reality, needs to alter and guide each person’s so-called “inner search.”

It needs a view where “Educational institutions have at least as much impact [as religion], and arguably more on our basic assumptions about what is real, possible, and meaningful.” Any group with aspirations of going from “Inner Liberation to Outer Transformation,” as Palmer called it, needs some kind of “community of congruence” that will provide the “dispositions, knowledge, and skills that will allow them to enter the political fray and make their voices heard. So communities of congruence [schools, workplaces, or churches as examples] help people develop the habits of the heart that agents of social change and all engaged citizens must possess. They help people master the information, theories, and strategies that will allow them to advance their cause. And they offer people small-scale opportunities to become the kind of leaders that a large-scale movement demands.”

In my last post, I mentioned that Davidson College had issued an MH-oriented vision that they attributed to the ‘Reformed Tradition’. I related my experience that a comparable vision had been justified under many other names and faiths. Months ago I also noticed the Pioneer Institute’s recommending that the new Catholic Curriculum Frameworks would also work in Jewish schools. Since I found that compatibility to be rather curious, this footnote in Palmer’s introduction was rather telling:

“‘Congregations and the Human Heart’ [explores] what congregations can do to help create ‘a politics of the human spirit’. For an example of how an interfaith group of congregations  has put those ideas into action, see our ‘Season of Civility’ project…this 2013 project [in Wisconsin] trained more than four hundred people of faith across the state to facilitate civil discourse in their communities. Leaders of six traditions–Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and Unitarian Universalist–translated the five habits of the heart …into their own theological language, supported by texts from their traditions, creating study guides for their members.”

Fascinating admission, isn’t it? It shows how an overarching political and social transformation vision can be translated into an article of faith and what it means to adhere to a particular tradition. Both universal and personalized. It gets at that level of inner transformation that could become an invisible serf’s collar. Now let’s shift to an even more revealing book from 2000 called The Ambiguous Embrace that is dedicated to “those in faith-based schools, social agencies, and other organizations who provide loving care with high expectations, in the name of a loving and righteous God.” The book was financed by the same Bradley Foundation that financed so much of the faith-based agenda in the 90s, the New Citizenship Project, the Council on Civil Society,  Hardwired to Connect and so much else we have covered in 2017. Bradley is also the chief funder of the School Choice agenda and, in my personal experience, invariably tied to people misleading the public about the Common Core, social and emotional learning, and competency-based education.

The Ambiguous Embrace provided insights into why all those potential tools in education for inner transformation work more effectively if no one much accurately understands their true function. The Foreword laid out that “throughout the Western world it has become clear that the modern welfare state…must be modified if it is to continue being affordable. A very plausible formula for such a modification has suggested that functions of the welfare state (including education) should be devolved onto institutions of civil society.” When I read this morning in a weekly newsletter from a state public policy think tank that more than 80% of the relief aid that had already reached hurricane victims was delivered via faith-based organizations that is cheerleading for this vision. After this past week I am all for that aid. Here’s the part that gets left out and may be the reason for all the deceit.

Apparently in November 1996 an international conference was held at Boston University that “explored the possibility of a ‘remoralizing’ of society through institutions with the authority and integrity to overcome excessive individualism and inadequate socialization.” The interest was in creating institutions, especially schools, that would “nourish opportunities for children–and adults as well–to develop the sense of moral obligation and the settled disposition to act virtuously.” The vision is to have “publicly guaranteed benefits” so that all human needs are to be met, but to use non-governmental entities like faith-based organizations to “deliver education and social services because they are better than government at generating the sense of moral obligation that is essential to both.”

Hopefully the vision being instilled will be a good driver of future behavior because Habits of Mind and complained about personality manipulation can barely hold a candle to an expressed aim that “intends to inform and form the very being of their students, to mold their identity and agency–who they are and how they live.” That passage was talking about a Catholic high school, but the goals of education are not really different than what public schools are doing now in the name of personalized or competency learning according to this recent post http://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/08/creating-change-agents-the-intersection-of-critical-thinking-and-student-agency/ That book passage also wanted to make students into “responsible decision-makers” so maybe the point is that all types of education these days are devoted to the formation of students, not just faith-based schools wanting access to taxpayer money.

Maybe it’s the breadth of the vision of what now constitutes “religious understandings” per The Ambiguous Embrace–” a set of beliefs, values, and sentiments that order social life and create purpose for human activity.” Sounds like an internalized common core, doesn’t it, of the type I found and covered in Chapter 7 of my book Credentialed to Destroy. Sounds just like what the MH vision needs to target for transformation and the area where the Battle for Human Nature is being waged. It’s the area that will be targeted now with required Charlottesville Conversations. “Civil society institutions are able to have a more powerful effect in changing character and giving direction to lives than can institutions that must comply with bureaucratic rationality”

It turns out then that the phrase ‘limited government’ is government being the planner, financer, and steerer of people, society, and economies to see to the “human care of human beings…with government playing a watchdog role on behalf of the vulnerable.” There apparently will be no discussion that we must transition to the MH vision as a matter of indisputable public policy. Transformational education and a new vision of the role of faith is to get at the desired inner transformation without hardly anyone apparently being the wiser.

I will close with a quote from yet another book tied to a faith-based vision and transformation via education. It is called Building a Healthy Culture: Strategies for an American Renaissance and came out in 2001. Edited by Don Eberly, who joined Bush 43’s faith-based agenda, it opened with the Moral and Intellectual Framework that hopes for educational programming of “hopeful images of a society filled with meaning and opportunity, where everyone was committed to service to humanity.” No wonder Marx himself described the MH vision as little ‘c’ communism. Think maybe I am quoting out of context? Well, our title came partly from this book because its “thesis…that it is increasingly the culture that is the preeminent force of history, helping to shape the attitudes and the choices of the young, the overall ethical tone of society, and even America’s role in the world.”

The book went on to state that “the debate now is about what kind of society we intend to build as we move into the future, and we believe that this should be one which embraces important principles from the past, but which is nevertheless geared towards advancing individual and collective health in the context of today’s economically dynamic and technologically advanced world.”

The latter context just happens to be the preconditions for the MH vision. Its 21st century open advocates are all dedicated to what can drive historical change. But we cannot have that debate as we ought to be entitled to as long as everyone pretends that this new vision of education in the 21st Century is about math or how to best teach reading.

Let’s debate away now that we have collected a few more pertinent confessions of intent.

Everybody In! Instilling the Proper Mode of Human Conduct to Capture Hearts

In the last post, the cited Behavioral Scientist article justifying the need for #Charlottesville Conversations in all schools nationally, in turn cited a 1987 book The Battle for Human Nature by Barry Schwartz. Try not to be too shocked that I have now read that book and took today’s post title from its goals. See if anyone else thinks these aspirations were a good reason to try to create mayhem that tragically escalated, instead of simply serving as a rationale for a certain emphasis for the new school year. Since I have a hard copy I can tell everyone that the Acknowledgments page thanks a “Marty Seigman” who we all know as the Penn Prof behind Positive Education, Prospective Psychology, and Positive Neuroscience that feature so prominently in the actual new ESSA state plans and required Social Emotional Learning Standards now.

Just in case anyone thinks the following quotes cannot actually be anything more than a nerdy discussion, this is was what outcomes-based education was really about. It is what standards-based reforms such as the Common Core or even supposed alternatives like the Catholic Curriculum Frameworks are really about. It’s why we keep running into the phrase ‘human flourishing’ around every corner in education. I also suspect it is what the outcry over the DACA rollback is really about.

“How should society be organized? How should the resources of society be distributed among its members? How much should individual freedom be restricted, and in what ways? What is the extent of our responsibility to other human beings, and to the society to which we belong? What is the proper mode of human conduct, and how should it be instilled in people?”

That instilling in people is what the Tranzi OBE laid out in my book Credentialed to Destroy was all about and it is what its new rename as Graduate Profiles and Portraits of a Graduate gets at. My alma mater just put out its “Reflections on the Reformed Tradition  at Davidson College” where it describes the Marxist Humanist vision without using the M word but attributes the necessity for economic and social justice to the Presbyterian view of the world. Funny how it gets to the same place as what we saw with the Special Rome Edition of the 2016 World Happiness Report Vatican laid out for Catholicism or Islam’s Tarbiyah Project for schools. In case your alma mater has not yet added a new “Justice, Equality and Community” distribution requirement to mandate all “students’ intellectual engagement with social issues,” let’s quote the rationale everyone seems to be using to get at the internalized basis of future behavior:

“Educating the whole person involves more than training the intellect; it also involves training the knower’s interests and commitments. This inevitably influences his or her values, character, and behavior. Again, because Reformed believing envisions an expansive human calling (love of God and neighbor, or attention to the broadest ‘public good’), preparation for responsible living [College, Career, and Citizenship Ready?] does not reduce to intellectual training but involves the person’s other capacities as well. Indeed, when people pursue more particular callings or vocations, say as physicians, lawyers, parents, or teachers, the Reformed Tradition construes these lines of responsibility through which they serve others with their minds, hearts, and wills.”

I write books and this blog to do that, but somehow I doubt Davidson would see it that way. Notice you could substitute virtually every religious faith for what they are using the “Reformed tradition” to rationalize. For secular progressives, the word Democracy will substitute nicely as well. Virtually everyone seems intent now on insisting that education “cultivates humane instincts, and creative and disciplined minds for lives of leadership and service.” Again, this is not a new thing as we can see in a book from 1955 that Schwartz cited called Utopia 1976. It spoke openly about a desired “coming revolution of the spirit of man,” which is certainly a good reason for ubiquitous SEL, isn’t it?

The current Davidson statement complained about “those in our society, both conservative and progressive, who would separate faith and reason.” Utopia 1976 wanted that same combination to fuel its “desired revolution of the spirit”. It even provided the reason for all this Mind Arson and Dumbing Down I and others have documented through the years. Notice the use of the word “apperceive” to describe what Davidson called “disciplined minds” and “Marty Seligman” thanked above now calls Prospective Psychology. With Templeton Foundation funding just like the Jubilee Centre that has created the Knightly Virtues curriculum and the Moral Development Framework. If only we had some continuity in these initiatives across the decades, institutions, and countries. Oh, wait.

“We will avoid some of man’s great prior losses that occurred because discoveries came before man had knowledge enough to recognize the novel. We will apperceive what is in front of our eyes, and not only what is behind them. Every human, to lesser or greater degree, has the capacity of hypothesis, imagination, comparison, and reason. And this capacity, affected by environment, can be taught. [Can anyone say ‘inquiry learning’?] Even the art of intuition is not exclusively a matter of genes.

In fact, for some purposes the less informed are often the best equipped to grasp new principles. They are less thwarted by traditional acceptance of formerly held ideas.”

Oh, wow. Let that sink in. Utopia 1976 put this same aspiration even more succinctly by stating that “Dreams are a form of ideas and hence are powerful makers of history.” As a history major, that approach, cultivated deliberately and deceitfully by education, strikes me as quite dangerous. Davidson’s statement called it a desire to “cultivate creativity to affect change” in students. Schwartz in 1987, laying the cited foundation for the Charlottesville Conversations now, said it was all about a vision of human nature that sees it as mutable instead of fixed. If the type of education implemented and social conditions “in which people are at risk” can be changed, then, perhaps, people can be changed so that they operate under “a life of commitment to producing social change.”

The shifts we have all noticed in the curriculum make far more sense once we read Schwartz complain about “Knowing what forces are responsible for keeping the planets moving about the sun does not give people any particular power to control or change them.” No need then for a transmission of knowledge curriculum. Better to focus on creating a new guided moral compass to motivate a change in behavior and a desire to transform the world as it is.That would be “current social conditions” to Schwartz. I guess that would be the world behind us so we can concentrate on the world that might be. Prospective Psychology again or just competency-based education when accurately understood.

So “Knowledge” now is really only worth knowing when “it identifies aspects of the world over which people can exercise some control.” No wonder we keep hearing requirements for relevant, authentic learning. I am going to end this post with another Schwartz quote from his Epilogue as I believe it lays out perfectly why we keep hearing about Outcomes, Objectives, Standards-based Reforms, and Competency Frameworks. Remember how we just keep encountering a desire to use education to force an evolution of prevailing culture? Think about this when we falsely assume that the schools or colleges of today have the same purpose of the ones we attended.

“As culture develops, the paths are changed. Some stop being used and are allowed to fall into disrepair, slowly reclaimed by the wilderness. Others become popular and are lengthened and expanded to make room for all travelers. Culture’s paths are not accidental. They are meant to constrain people to move in some directions and not others; to make some destinations easy to reach and others impossible. These paths are meant to help travelers find their way.”

The paths of desired transformations via education are probably the least accidental of all. It’s why we keep coming across the same vision of the future, but with a variety of justifying rationales depending on the expected audience and what is plausible.

The true desired transformation may not be pleasant to see, but neither is there any doubt what education’s new role is and why it must be ‘student-centered’.

The whole student–head, heart, hands, and will.