Digital Promise and 21st Century Skills as the Long-Sought Rapid Change of Minds for the Future

When I was looking for a way to explain what the effects would be from seeking new kinds of minds and personalities through ICT and tracking affective responses, I remembered the 1989 book New World New Mind: Moving Towards Conscious Evolution. Now I do occasionally pull books off the shelf to help illustrate a point vividly but the link of that book to the Digital Promise and 21st Century Skills initiatives is actually quite direct. is a July 31, 2013 story on the meeting of League of Innovative Schools Supers and Admins with reps from the federal DoEd, the White House Domestic Policy Council (this push is a high priority for this Administration), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. John Holdren heads OSTP and his long-time mentor and associate Paul Ehrlich of hyping various global catastrophes fame (with his own tag) co-wrote the New World New Mind book. Ehrlich mentioned and thanked Holdren for his help on the Acknowledgments page.

Chapter 8, “The Beginnings of Real Change,” makes it clear this is a global program to use education to change “the nature of our minds and the training we give them.” According to Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein: “although the problems that humanity now faces are immense, at least they are of our own making. The mismatch of our brains with our environments has been produced by millenia of effort, by the skill, ingenuity, and drive of our species–by the very minds that are now out of step with the world they live in.”

Ornstein and Ehrlich wanted to extinguish that independent ingenuity and drive some people have through “a revolution in the way we bring up children and in the way we teach and what we teach.” They recognized, as all of us now need to, that traditional “schooling also changes the structures of children’s minds significantly [they mean at a physiological level]. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, so commonly taught, are not [emphasis in original] natural acts of the mind, but are radical transformations of the way the nervous system operates. The mind’s default positions are for talking and listening…”

Which is precisely why talking and listening as the purpose of the Discourse classroom, and required projects and group collaboration and communities of learners, is such a huge focus of the actual Common Core implementation. It is why print literacy is minimized and media and digital literacy are held to be just as important. It’s not a better way to learn. It’s an active pursuit using ICT of these New Kinds of Minds. After all Joel Klein, head of Rupert Murdoch’s tech-focused ed subsidiary, Amplify, actually said that was the goal to my face at a luncheon last fall.

So New Kinds of Minds remains the pursuit almost 25 years later and the other Ehrlich/Ornstein goal then becomes changing prevailing attitudes on politically useful topics. Cultural-historical activity theory or CHAT is a learning theory imported from the USSR created to change  the course of the future by changing the dominant culture itself. Through school specifically but also education generally. I’ll put it this way CHAT theorists also care about what stories get pitched on the nightly news and what the headlines read. What themes will the typical person come to believe are an issue as they go through busy lives? One of the CHAT theorists, a Finnish prof who also works in the US. Yrgo Engestrom (also tagged), kindly put his Learning by Expansion’s theory’s purpose into explicit published words in 2010.

The article acknowledges a reality that the Supers and ed profs and principals do not bother to tell parents, politicians, and taxpayers so I will: “there are two basic metaphors competing for dominance today: the acquisition metaphor and the participation metaphor.” Now I will stop quoting Yrjo for a minute to point out that the entire actual Common Core classroom implementation this blog has been describing is dedicated to requiring the participation vision. Using misleading terms like equity and excellence and Quality Learning to get there. As I have been explaining, every entity that has a legal ability to regulate or mandate what goes on in the classroom is insisting that participation now win this competition. And it gets hidden in the insistence on group projects and collaboration. But Yrjo was even more graphic about what his and other CHAT learning theories are designed to do and change.

The key dimension underlying the acquisition vs participation “dichotomy is derived from the question: Is the learner to be understood primarily as an individual or as a community?” The participation purpose comes down on the community side of that question in direct contradiction to the West’s historic belief in the primacy of the individual. That is the question at stake in all these ed reforms. Pushing for this new answer behind our backs and without our consent is precisely what Digital Promise and 21st Century Skills are really about.

Yrgo again kindly says there are three more dimensions at stake with all these learning theories like his that are designed to push participation as the new radical vision of education to create “new activity structures for society.” Think workplace, neighborhoods, political processes. These ed profs and administrators have great ambitions while they are living at taxpayer expense. In each of these questions, it is the part I bolded after the “or” that is what is stealthily coming at us like a high-speed freight train whatever our state says it is doing on the Common Core. And in other countries too. Oh, and the ICT focus is a huge tool for gaining this shift.

*Is learning primarily a process that transmits and preserves culture or a process that transforms and creates culture?

*Is learning primarily a process of vertical improvement along some uniform scales of competence or horizontal movement, exchange and hybridization between different cultural contexts and standards of competence? [Think of this as hip hop being as valid a means of communication as a well-written insightful factual paper]

*Is learning primarily a process for acquiring and creating empirical knowledge and concepts [reflects reality in other words] or a process that leads to the formation of theoretical knowledge and concepts?

Now theoretical knowledge and concepts is of course another term for ideology but what do you expect from a theory designed to achieve massive social change as a direct successor to Uncle Karl’s now infamous theorizing? Yrjo leaves no doubt where we are all going with this quote: “While traditional schooling is essentially a subject-producing activity and traditional science is essentially an instrument-producing activity, [expansive] learning is an activity producing activity.” [his italics]

Now that kind of graphic lay out of intent to create transformative action in students is what is coming to our classrooms but the graphic warning is nowhere in sight. Instead we get far more innocuous sounding initiatives being paid for by the National Science Foundation such as Janet Kolodner’s “Learning by Design’s Framework for Promoting Learning of 21st Century Skills.” Janet is also the listed PI for the troubling and related NSF Cyberlearning push that I described here Now Janet’s CV is simply too solid for me to believe that she really thinks that a case-based method that is suitable for adult med students, who have a well-stocked brain of knowledge and analytical skills to be where they are, is somehow suitable for middle schoolers who generally have neither.

The truth is the whole Next Generation Science and Learning By Design and Case-Based Learning is just a rejection of science as an “instrument-producing activity” as in sharp ingenious minds or new unapproved technology without saying so. What Ehrlich and Ornstein sought in their book so long ago. It’s the excuse for a classroom centered around social interaction and designed to limit the cultural transmission of knowledge built up over generations that makes humans a very special species and some people downright extraordinary in their impact on all of us and the direction of civilization.

Kolodner sees people as “goal processors who make our way through the world trying to achieve our goals” which strikes me as a horrifically hobbling vision for the future. Like so many other reformers she wants to shift our daily perceptions going forward and limit us to our previous experiences coupled to theoretical framing school will provide. Yrjo would approve. The end result of these classroom activities are students who are adaptable to uncertain, new, and rapidly changing conditions. Which of course the ed reforms intend to drive. Students who are capable of complex communication and social interaction. The world trembles at the thought of a superpower preparing ALL students to be in the habit of listening and asking questions of each other and making presentations. We also get students capable of non-routine problem solving and self-management which is starting to sound a great deal like David Conley’s definition of College and Career Ready  created for the Gates Foundation.

Finally, students learn to be good systems thinkers and to see themselves as embedded in systems. Even if it is not true in reality, it is such a useful metaphor to get students to see themselves as part of a community instead of an independent individual.

No wonder Paul Ehrlich is running around giving UN presentations that humanity is more than 5 years into a global program to radically change human behavior.

Yes indeed, driven by education reforms that are poorly understood and collectivist political theories masquerading as learning theories.


19 thoughts on “Digital Promise and 21st Century Skills as the Long-Sought Rapid Change of Minds for the Future

  1. They’re nothing if not consistent. Consider this document of the NEA:

    From the Foreward: “In the last hundred years, science and technology have radically changed the conditions of life and the relationships of peoples. We have introduced mass production and specialization and rendered obsolete the old handicraft economy. Nation-states must adapt themselves to the change which have taken place through some such machinery as the United Nations….Development of international collaboration is going on at a remarkable pace….All of these and many other activities are limited and inhibited to the extent that citizens of the member state cling to obsolete ideas and attitudes contrary to the facts of the 20th century. Therefore, the United Nations relies upon education to develop the understandings essential to its successful operation. The modern rate of change is so rapid that we cannot content ourselves with passing on the old skills and beliefs generation to generation. In carrying forward this task of enlightenment for adaptation to the requirements of a changing world, teachers have a vast new reservoir of vital information in the documentation of the United Nations….The facts are on the side of international collaboration. It is the high mission of education to teach these facts…As a first step in this process (establishment of a world order), the United Nations has been created….It is…imperative that they (our youth) be equipped to understand the nature and complexity of problems that surround them and that they be trained in the art of judgment that will be ultimately reflected in the public decisions that constitute the foundation of official governmental policies. Since it seems evident that the firm establishment of a world organization and the achievement of a world order will be a slow and gradual process, the children in our schools will be called upon to sustain, and strengthen, this movement and lend their efforts to its advancement.”

    In the section called The Marks of the World-Minded American, it says, “Education for international understanding involves the use of education as a force for conditioning the will of a people, and it comprises the home, the church, the school, and the community. It utilizes old techniques and mass media such as the printed word, the cinema, the radio, and now television.”

    And finally, “To involve all citizens, a program in the field of international understanding must move beyond the conventional school-community relationships and organizations. In many communities economic and social groups are already at work on programs designed to increase understanding of international problems. The school, as a public agent, should seek to coordinate such efforts in order that the total impact of community thinking may be brought to bear on major issues. Such a role brings the school into working contact with those agencies in the community which are keyed to action, thus helping youth to function directly with adults and community agencies. By such procedure, too, the danger is lessened that the schools may remain ideological islands in a culture in which decisions are based on values remote from those taught in the school.”

    This 1948 document was inserted into the record of the Reece Committee hearings on tax-exempt organizations held in 1953. Note the continuity of push words, amended only slightly given the passage of time: “20th century changes,”
    “(new) world order,” “collaboration” and “international” and “world,” which have morphed into “global.” We even have the disarmingly direct reference to conditioning the wills of the public. The only thing that has really changed is the technological ability to impose what they have dreamed of for so many, many years. Even the corporatist element, so dominant now, was present then, although not referenced in the quoted material. Bella Dodd, former high CPA official who left the Party and testified to a number of Congressional committees at about the same time as the Reece Committee, was told by her Party superiors that in the event of an emergency, she should call a pair of wealthy non-Russian businessmen at their number at the Waldorf Astoria, and be guided by whatever they told her. She said she always had the sense that communism was only a subsidiary of a broader scheme.


    • Deborah,

      Great find. Julian Huxley, who helped create UNESCO, was one of the first to perceive the debilitating effect of cultural evolution. Especially if largely out of sight. I worked on this some more after writing this post to nail down the last part of what I guess has ended up being another one of my trilogies. The digital learning/learning sciences but actually the Vygotskyian sociocultural transition was supposed to be going into place quietly and creating that Newminedness and new values and attitudes while anyone who was even aware a change was being made remained focused on the CCSSI initiative. Which really is both a Trojan Horse and a feinting ruse at the same time.

      Interestingly enough a speaker who I listened to in person about 2 months ago at a breakfast this time (I do go for a reason) has turned up as an advisor to the feds on what becomes Digital Promise. Which would sure give the explanation for the level of deceit I picked up on in his presentation. Unfortunately the State School Super was in the audience and he was going to speak to the Governor and State Board after the breakfast and they would have no way of knowing what was really going on.

      Quite a web of relationships out there if you go to the end of documents and read who the advisors are and who met with whom. Speaking of the Reece Commission a bunch were foundations including Pearson, MacArthur, Gates, and Hewlett. I guess the Model T foundation was busy that day. Probably funding the Regionalism component.

      If you really look at communism as it was implemented in the USSR, China, and Cuba it ends up being a shakedown by a politically connected elite of everyone else. This time in the West the predators are using ed, regionalism, public/private partnerships, and the ballot box. Plus a complicit media who understands their role in education.


        Write 68 in the page search box (“of 586”). That’s where the NEA material starts. (It doesn’t correspond exactly to p. 68 of the pdf’d copy itself.)

        Loran, if the subject interests you, check out this link:

        to read the account of Norman Dodd, director of research for the Reece Committee, about his experiences investigating the non-profits. His research assistant, Kathryn Casey, who submitted the NEA report into the Committee record, whence I copied parts of it, apparently had some kind of mental breakdown as a result of what she discovered in the minutes of the Rockefeller meetings over the years.

        Caveat lector.

        • If you start with a lie, you can logically prove anything from it. If I assume that 1 = 0 , I can prove any other mathematical statement.

          This report, on pdf page 66 near the top has the US representative to the UN saying what we’ve often heard: “They (students) must understand why it is impossible for any group of people to survive long in modern society isolated from others.”

          It’s a dangerous job they’ve undertaken, to mobilize students for social change. Because there’s a big elephant standing in the room of social change, and that elephant is a concept I have come to like very much: isolationism. The more they refuse to talk about it, the more I like it. That’s just the way I am. The USA does indeed have the resources and human capabilities to close off the borders and get along just fine with no imports and no exports. To avoid the subject is one thing, to dance around it another, and to lie outright is a third. This argument takes the third approach: tel a lie boldly and repeat it often enough, and people start to believe it.

          It’s SOS (same old …) but they’re better organized this time. On the other hand, thanks to help from Robin and others, so are we.

    • “We have introduced mass production and specialization and rendered obsolete the old handicraft economy.”

      Do you think that they are as completely without any self-awareness as they appear to be?

      As a software developer, and now as a tech support person, everything I do is painstakingly handcrafted.

      Robin, I’m sure that you can tell us that pretty much everything lawyering is painstakingly handcrafted.

      But you know what else is obviously handcrafted? Political ideologue and community organizer…

      • Good lawyers painstakingly organize which is why opening up all these close to open admissions law schools has sent the regulatory state into overdrive. You have way too many people with law degrees but not logical minds or persuasive skills. Traditionally good lawyers think nothing of gaining expertise in a new area if needed. Too many lawyers these days do not seem to have much expertise and want to know where the upper middle class salary they thought came with the degree is.

        I find it fascinating how frustrating my work is to people who cannot fathom knowing something despite no one ever teaching it to them or telling them directly. “How does she know that?”

        I always feel like the Robert Redford character in Three Days of the Condor. It’s like reading for information and scrawling not true in the margin is an alien act. Spouse is in software etc and you do have to figure out things no one has ever told you.

        But then we are all people who do not behave like the closed loop systems created by feedback who become incapable of genuine innovation because the foundation is simply not there. Just not enough time reading or doing math as sequential, systematic problem-solving and too much time coming on graphic visuals and gaming. First time I wrote on Ehrlich last summer a German reader said I was describing cybernetics double-loop feedback that has the effect of second order change. The action changes the actor.

    • Indivisible I believe is what he meant. Remember john a powell wanting to destroy the concept of the unitary self?

      But I did doublecheck that line to make sure I was not omitting a word.

  2. That’s for explaining all the emphasis on talking in the classroom. I heard on the radio today that Walmart, some temp. agency, McDonalds, and Taco Bell were the leading employers in the US. Perhaps education should stop attempting to prepare students for the 21st Century workforce and focus on teaching some old fashioned content.

  3. (sorry, second post. I didn’t sign the first one).

    “The inner contradictions of capitalist production and organization of work have remained at the center of research on
    expansive learning.”

    Natan Sharanksy made a very interesting comment years ago in a roundtable discussion in which he pointed out that when National Socialism was defeated militarily and America occupied Germany, a project of denazification took place in which the philosophy of Nazism was ideologically delegitimated and stigmatized among both Germans and the rest of the world and Nazis were removed from any positions of power and influence within the institutions of German society, not the least of which was government.

    When America won the Cold War (or perhaps when the Soviets just lost it), there was no similar decommunization. There were no trials, no communist hunters (like the Nazi hunters searching Latin America for former war criminals), no apologies, no memorials to the some 130 million victims of communism, no wringing of hands and cries of “Never again!” and no call to accountability for its still living ideological and political leadership. Life went on, the world went on, and socialism went on, but there were no ticker tape parades, no since of triumph in the West, and no overt intellectual or moral facing of the music. In many cases, the same people who ran the Soviet Union and other East European communist states are still running them with different name titles on their desks and with different names for the same bureaucracies. Some of the old Soviet Empire are attempting successful transitions to representative democratic states, but about half have not. What is the FSB? The old KGB, staffed by many of the same people. Who is running the Russian Federation? Putin, an old KGB officer and committed totalitarian.

    This, and much of what is out and about in Washington and in the educational world is the result. The Thing lives on in various forms in the environmental movement, bioregionalism, “smart growth,” Common Core, “systems” thinking, OBE, the diversity and multiculturalism movement, in the numerous “studies” departments and programs within modern academia, and even in pretty much its old, traditional garb (the Occupy Movement, the IAC, International Answer, the “peace” movement etc.).

    The myth of internationalist class-war socialism and Nazism as fundamentally different, opposed systems is the greatest existential fraud and grand myth ever perpetrated on the world by “the intellectuals” (in Sowell’s or Paul Johnson’s pejorative meaning of the term) in modern times, if not the great propaganda ploy of the ages. We are living through the consequences and the ed wars are one of the key fronts in that war.

  4. “…the great uniqueness of the will consists of man having no power over his own behavior other than the power that things have over his behavior.”

    I can see why the modern educational establishment is so enamored of Vygotsky, et al, this stuff is like sweet nectar to these people.

    Slouching towards our brave new world we go. I think I’d rather try the Krell brain boost then any of the present pedagogical fads. l always was partial to instant gratification.

  5. @Desuetude

    And THIS is what passes for Industrial Age ‘manufacturing’ today – on America’s fast track to genocide. First you prepare their minds for ‘learning helplessness’ by affixing their trusting eyes to a monitor. While directing their fingers to a keyboard.

    And then you move in for the [soft] kill… by way of some [mis-] directed response…

    … In this expanded new milieu… of ‘our’ Information Age. Thus, are our little darlin’s made grist for the gristmill… or made ‘moving products’… hey… all by themselves!

    • Deeper learning is emotional and a habituated response from integrating the desired supplied concepts, theories, and Big Ideas into personal experiences. Basically the student has a ready perceptual lens in place that will interpret everyday reality in predictable ways. Behavioral scientists know it is perceptions of reality that guide future behavior and provoke it in the first place.

      Unfortunately reality itself still matters which is why governments cannot decree prosperity and good jobs for all while at the same time wiping out all the incentives that have ever mattered and enacting as many perverse ones as possible. I just finished reading a new book All-In Nation that came out in July from the Center for American Progress and it is economically illiterate in its pronouncements. Yet it is clearly intended to guide official policies.

      The Great Recession is certainly not caused by not enough governmental intervention. Yet we are hitting the accelerator on wretched policies while I get the joy of tracking them. Luckily I lack the requisite deep understanding and can still see the high speed freight train coming out us. And we still have a little time to all holler together before we will have to jump.

  6. Robin,

    I was trying to think about how to get people to understand some of the problems with education your writing highlights. I think that most people would not believe it without seeing it in action. Do you have any videos of actual classroom teaching? I’ve gone through all of the videos on Edutopia; I’m looking for something that goes into greater depth with less editing.

    • Dan, this one is a beaut. It does not show classsroom implementation, but the exposure of the textbooks alone is powerful:

    • Dan,

      I am looking for something but most of the trainers are proprietary as they get like $4000 a day. Like Willard Daggett or Spence Rogers.

      Beyond reading what is to be required, I have also talked to a lot of teachers on what they have been told, including elementary teachers in 2nd grade being told to stick to script. Also the previous high school principal before proving that my term Gypsy Principal was most apt said in principals coffees he would write up teachers who insisted on lecturing, even in AP history classes. He proudly proclaimed himself to be a constructivist but honestly he never showed any signs of having much of a mind to start with. I think feeling instead of thinking was a mode that fit him better and he had no idea why it was not suitable for everyone.

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