Last week, we had yet another monumental school tragedy and, as always, one of my first reactions besides grief was to look at which of the poisonous behavioral science theories and models were being pushed in those schools. Transformational Outcomes-Based Education was a phrase used more in the 90s version of these same change-the-child reforms that I covered thoroughly in my book Credentialed to Destroy: How and Why Education Became a Weapon. Tranzi OBE is simply my shorthand nickname because it really is ubiquitous in its use even though the names used to describe it change. Having attended Restorative Justice programs here in Atlanta that would supposedly cure the School to Prison Pipeline, I did a search involving Broward County Schools.
This post’s title comes from the motto used by Broward’s exemplar (which got Superintendent Runcie invited to the White House in 2015) PROMISE Program. PROMISE is an acronym for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support & Education. According to a February 18 Washington Post “Teacher’s say Florida suspect’s problems started in middle school, and the system tried to help him,” Nikolas Cruz “was entrenched in the [PROMISE] process for getting students help rather than referring them to law enforcement.” In the previous two posts, I have been warning that the focus hiding behind phrases like Evidence-Based Policymaking needs to be on the model or theory being implemented–What is the desired change being sought?
That’s how I can recognize that motto as grounded in Tranzi OBE because it assumes the key to controlling future behavior is to get at students’ underlying beliefs and values and to ground future decision making in emotion. Get at what drives attention and intention and then provide new experiences until the desired assumptions become Habits of Mind. It is what the PROMISE Model will call “more effective coping skills and pro-social behaviors”. The e-book Eliminating the School-to-Prison Pipeline published by BCPS can be found here https://www.browardprevention.org/behavior/promise/ and I especially want to call attention to an assumption of the PROMISE model that seems tragically mistaken after Parkland. Let’s bold for emphasis– This approach focuses on the situation being the problem rather than the individual being the problem.
Translated that is a theory of human nature that assumes that people are not evil, circumstances are and that if environments can be changed and people can practice new behaviors grounded in new beliefs and values (Broward also uses Singleton’s Courageous Conversations on Race), people can change. After 17 murders and an intention to commit many more, does it make any sense to be using an education model that asserts that the individual is not the problem? I am going to quote from the beginning of that book because I truly believe there is a reason that school mass shootings always seem to occur in districts pushing Tranzi OBE as the new template of education. It is a manipulative, flawed view of human nature that fits a society where too many people want to steer people and institutions through the political process. These italics and bolding are in the original.
“Broward County Public Schools is committed to keeping students engaged in school and
out of the Juvenile Justice System. We take great responsibility towards achieving our
mission – to educating all students to reach their highest potential. We believe the
potential of each of our students is worth developing, including our youth who are at
risk of engaging in delinquent or criminal behaviors, and those already involved in the
juvenile justice system. It is for this reason that we have invested heavily, in
partnership with a number of community organizations, to provide prevention and
intervention programs and wraparound services for identified youth.
Additionally, Broward County Public Schools is a learning organization that values and
considers emerging research and is driven by the analysis of a body of data to inform
our practices. The national research and data on school discipline is clear on a number
Exclusionary practices such as out-of-school suspension, expulsion and school
related arrests are detrimental to student success in school and in life.
School districts have a legal, and more importantly, a moral responsibility to
eliminating disproportional representation of minorities, student with
disabilities, and LGBT students in discipline.
Adults, in and out of school buildings – school leaders, teachers and support
personnel, law enforcement, court and juvenile justice leaders, behavior
health professionals, advocacy groups, policymakers, parents and students,
all play an important role in addressing this issue.”
So despite all the incidents we now know about, Nikolas Cruz could buy an AR-15 gun because no one wanted to be detrimental to his life chances? Because his school district believed that the situation was the problem, not the individual, right up until its former students like Nikolas Cruz or Trayvon Martin suddenly become notorious for their behavior? Because “punitive measures such as suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests” are viewed as “harsh policies [that] disproportionately target students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities and related behavioral problems.”
This link from the BCPS area http://www.lauderdalelakes.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2130
is called “Building Sustainable Communities through Restorative Justice” . It lays out the decision to use Civil Citations and Diversion alternatives to those ‘punitive measures” so that “Individualized, culturally competent delivery of restorative justice services addresses harmful incidents while allowing juveniles to make amends to their victims, communities, and families–in ways that do not sabotage their futures.”
If the Restorative Justice or Tranzi OBE models for education are harmful and push social theories with deadly results, adhering to them is still evidence-based policymaking. That’s why appreciating the errors in the underlying theory or model is so important. There are 17 fine people who have had their futures more than sabotaged by Nikolas Cruz’s intentional behavior and the flawed template being used to supposedly obtain Equity in education results cannot be ignored amid cries of gun control. I believe that’s also why we have seen so much conflation in the last week as if gun violence at schools and intentional mass murder in schools to kill students and teachers are equivalent and synonymous.
That second link states that in February 2014, Broward County, Florida became the “first county government in the US to earn certification as a “4 Star Sustainable Community.” It achieved this recognition that other school districts and counties are now supposed to emulate for its “violence prevention programs and strategies and best practice human service delivery.” In particular Broward “deserved this certification” because of its “Using Restorative Justice and other best practices to: ~Disrupt the ‘Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Pipeline,’ ~Address minority disproportionality, and ~provide alternatives to juvenile arrest and court involvement.”
Shouldn’t these practices grounded in behavioral science and flawed assumptions that people can be treated as ‘systems’ be reexamined instead of blindly calling for gun control? The same Behavioral Scientist
publication that wanted to force Charlottesville Conversations that were all some how created before the August tragedy on all K-12 schools and classrooms insisted yesterday that we remember that mass shootings are NOT a product of mental illness. http://behavioralscientist.org/myth-mental-illness-causes-mass-shootings/
That’s reality getting in the way of a useful theory for social change, isn’t it?
Parkland and the media manipulation of this tragedy to support an existing agenda means that the existing agenda should be the focus of our attention. Why must the Tranzi OBE template always be protected as the new focus of K-12 schools? Why is no amount of innocent blood ever enough to force a reexamination? The same learning models that created Tranzi OBE, PROMISE, and Restorative Justice practices have been quietly embedded in every state plan I have looked at under ESSA, the new federal education law. We must be able to address what is wrong with these theories of behavioral and social science in a society with genuine aspirations of freedom for each individual.
Contrary to what too many professors in higher ed are teaching too many students, the 21st century should not be an experiment in social transformation if only the correct public policies can be enacted. If education to implement “a new, transformational theory of change” keeps coinciding with mass school shootings, why on earth are we refusing to take a hard look at that underlying theory of change and the techniques it is using?