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.