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.
http://www.digitalpromise.org/how-practitioners-and-policymakers-can-work-together-to-innovate/ 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. http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/ridiculing-the-1860s-mind-as-unsuitable-for-the-21st-century-cui-bono/
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. http://www.helsinki.fi/cradle/documents/Engestrom%20Publ/Studies%20on%20expansive%20learning.pdf
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 http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/the-need-to-know-as-we-understand-it-today-may-be-a-lethal-cultural-sport/ 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.