Dispensing with the Presumption that Education is About Improving Individual Minds

Say what? Did that title make you want to clean your glasses or bop yourself gently to make sure you are reading correctly? Yup, welcome to the world of communications among powerful decision makers that you don’t see but that are designed to both affect  what is coming to classrooms. And to redesign the future. All of ours. Without consent. All based on the disputable idea that is not being shared with you–the idea that “human beings and their institutions could be changed for the better.” Can they?

History tells us that a wholesale restructuring of a social system that evolved over time is a terrible idea and that incremental change is the way to go because effects of changes can then be seen and evaluated. But then those systems never had the opportunity to hire as a consultant someone who is a thought leader in Appreciative Inquiry or a research associate for the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit. Much less the Co-chair of the 2009 World Appreciative Inquiry Conference held in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Did they do any climbing do you think or just embrace the joys of human potential while traveling at someone else’s expense? Do Not Know but I pulled that description off a presentation the Taos Institute did for the Houston Schools in 2009 called “Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools: Leveraging the Power of Our Community.” It was to be a national model and brought together a broad range of city stakeholders to chart a new course. I am thinking this AI Whole System approach that puts “future scenarios” into HISTORICAL and GLOBAL perspective (their bolding and caps) so students and adults have “shared understanding and great commitment to act” is going to come in so handy with the Green Urban Economy and Regionalism commitment of a redesigned future from our last two posts.

So good to know GCI will be coming to Houston in May where leaders, employees, and students have had AI training to engage in a “collaborative search to identify and understand the organization’s strengths, the greatest opportunities, and people’s aspirations and hopes for the future.” All reimagining paid for with contributions and Stimulus dollars and lots of public debt and now new visions for federal revenue sharing. Free to use the AI 4D Model of Dream, Design, Deployment, and Discover which is not a model anyone would use on their own dime or intentionally with their own kids.

As I have said before, with 40% of all federal spending currently being borrowed, what happens to all these Pie in the Sky Schemes to reimagine a Future by targeting kids consciousness when they become adults who firmly believe just as cultivated and monitored? But no one actually knows much or can do much but collaborate and want someone to provide for them what they have been led to expect is their due?

Can you really Create “Promising Futures through Social Construction” as associates of the Taos Institute are leading educators (and UN officials apparently) to believe? Let’s back up to how I got here because I do not go perusing school districts’ websites unless I have a reason. No, in yet another one of those troubling reports produced recently by the influential Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in American Education called “Social Epistemology and the Pragmatics of Assessment” I read many things I knew were factually untrue.

Note to future schemers: Using Legal Theory to Create a Barrier to Criticism just comes across to me as proof of playing games. I also have a real problem with the idea that a professor whose psychological views of knowledge and social constructivist perspectives might be over the heads of those bright Swarthmore students (according to a debate in a newsletter online from about 10 years ago) are now being taught as fact to K-12 teachers for implementation on students as part of the Common Core reforms.

As Kenneth Gergen said himself in his 2009 book Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community (that the title of this post came from), his views come from “an enormously important line of scholarship stemming from sociological and political theory” and that it is “especially important in its critique of liberal individualism.” Now elsewhere in his book Gergen mentioned advancing Marxian thought and the Frankfurt School (by name. Look up Lukacs, Adorno, Herbert Marcuse if you are not familiar. Need to move on). Which again raises the question. Why on earth would any free society with any aspirations for remaining free in the future be grounding their future educational practices and philosophies in what I would honestly describe as Individual Subjugation Theories?

Gergen wrote that communitarian works like Habits of the Heart that we have already discussed reveal “in touching detail the insidious implications of individualist ideology for human relationships.” A viewpoint that is his privilege to hold. But if it guides his pedagogy and that pedagogy is coming to a classroom or assessment near you under the Common Core mandate, then it has ceased to be JUST his personal viewpoint. He was on the Gordon Commission for a reason. And it seems to be these views and his desire, citing James Paul Gee from the last post, of making:

“Learning and knowledge not so much understood as inside the head of the learner as embodied in the relational actions and practices taking place in the learning environment.. . [These alternative ways of thinking and practicing evaluation then] create pushes for “more egualitarian (new word I suppose), reflective, dialogic, collaborative, and context sensitive practices of enhancing human performance.”

Again those views are his and Professor Ezekial J Dixon-Roman’s right to hold. But we get to understand those practices and beliefs for what they are. Designed to gain political, social, and economic transformation through the classroom by changing what students believe, value, and feel and drastically restricting what they actually know. Without our permission as a country or community or as parents. Without a vote. Under an invisibility cloak as I have called it.

In his book Gergen said these educational practices that his Taos Institute calls Appreciative Inquiry are to “reflect, sustain, and advance productive forms of relational being.” We have talked about how the actual Common Core implementation teaching standards require a “student-centered classroom.” That shift from a “curriculum-centered education (drawing from the teacher’s knowledge base)” is necessary for a relational classroom. Where the focus is to be on “student capabilities,” not the transmission of knowledge to an individual.

What Gergen described as the relational classroom is precisely what we are seeing as required by standards for “teaching and learning” or “relevance” or “engagement”.  The “focus” is “directed to relations between teachers and students, and among students.” Then:

“Relations between the classroom and its environment should also be extended from the local to the global context. The classroom would ideally be a meeting ground for the concerns of the world. [making good use of the AI 4D Cycle I am sure to pretend all problems can be solved with good faith and collective will. Tell that to North Korea] And finally, there are the relationships of the future. With what skills are students prepared to enter the relationships on which global life will depend?”

And who decides what the future will be like? We have already encountered another systems thinker and Organizational Learning specialist, Peter Senge, lay out his Regenerative Society and the related Capitalism 3.0. Professor Shoshana Zuboff has laid out her Distributed Capitalism within a Support Economy. We have profiled Harry Boyte’s vision of the cooperative commonwealth in a different post.

All of these visions seem to fit with Professor Gergen’s views and preferences for our collective social future. But no one is asking us. They simply want us to provide our tax money and our children. Those without children will be getting employees in the future who expect the workplace to be reformed to fit their interests and capabilities. They have been told they will be consulted and collaboration is the key. At a living wage too.

What if all this is  wrong? Where will we be then with the expectations being baked in (or embedded as the ed profs love to say knowing it will be hard to detect what is going on) to education reform? To business school degrees? To public policy and urban study and psychology degrees? Under the new Lumina Diploma Qualifications Profile to all college degrees?

I may not be able to stop the journey at this point. But I will describe the pathway and the real destinations. Since thankfully I somehow have managed to get my hands on the maps and blueprints while we have just begun.


16 thoughts on “Dispensing with the Presumption that Education is About Improving Individual Minds

  1. The Lumina stuff really wants to get us firmly away from the master-apprentice model of teaching that characterizes our great universities even at the undergraduate level. They want to replace it with a consumer focus, showing the student exactly what he or she will be getting out of the degree program. If the student can understand that at the start, it means not much of significance is learned during the program to come. It’s training at best, not education.

    My undergraduate training in engineering would have been considered low-quality and probably not rigorous enough under these Lumina standards. And all the real training I received there, cracking my head on hard problem sets for year after year until I understood things and had good habits of objective problem solving, isn’t what it’s really about after all. It’s a much higher standard to make me produce a bunch of stuff, probably following detailed directions. Obviously, right?

    They’ll take the overly specific standards apparently used elsewhere, and make them even more applied for us escaped peasants who ran away to the other side of the pond. We’re energetic but not too bright after all.

    I think the purveyors of mediocrity will have a harder time with the universities than with the K-12 schools though, because good university faculties are filled with good, arrogant people. Hope so, anyway! And does anyone really care if, say, Stanford is accredited? Their contempt for this Lumina stuff, if it comes out in the open, will be amusing to watch.

    The remainder of my comment is all an extended quote from http://www.luminafoundation.org/publications/The_Degree_Qualifications_Profile.pdf . Sorry about the formatting if it comes out messed up.

    “Contexts for a Degree Profile
    This Degree Profile was prompted and informed by similar exercises in other countries, usually called
    qualifications frameworks. However, it focuses on the issues, strengths and potential that are distinctive to
    higher education in the United States. American higher education is marked by a commitment to wide
    access, to rich diversity, to academic freedom and its responsibilities, to broad liberal education as well
    as specialized learning, to civic education for a democracy, and to innovative, integrative, inquiry-focused
    and collaborative pedagogies.
    American higher education also emphasizes application of skills and knowledge. Most students enrolled
    at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels in our nation today are pursuing degrees in occupationally
    related fields, from medical technology to engineering to accounting. This Degree Profile embraces both
    applied fields such as these and the traditional arts and sciences by establishing learning outcomes that are
    common and critical to all fields. Looking to the future, because current and prospective students will face
    changing workplace demands, new technologies, civic challenges, and expanded parameters of knowledge, the Degree Profile emphasizes analysis, adaptation and application within both occupational fields
    and the arts and sciences.
    The emphasis on application also acknowledges the importance of an educational experience rich in fieldrelated projects, performances, investigative essays, demonstrations and other learning-intensive activities. And it points to the many ways in which students now demonstrate their growth in knowledge and
    competence. While conventional testing may still be useful, students often provide more persuasive evidence of their learning through assigned tasks and major projects both within and beyond the classroom.
    Any useful Degree Profile must be sensitive to these experiences and able to accommodate an increasing
    diversity of evidence from a variety of valid assessment techniques.”

    • David-Employers hate the QF’s in Europe, South Africa, and Australia because the degree becomes the presumption of requisite knowledge. BBC and the British military went along without complaint though.

      The universities are actually further along because the accreditation agencies are driving them as is the AACU.

      http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/constructing-an-alternative-vision-of-either-the-natural-or-human-world-as-the-basis-for-a-college-degree/ is the post I did on the Lumina DQP. I first learned about it in the little heralded The Crucible Moment on remaking American higher ed. http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/college-ready-as-a-goal-of-k-12-is-not-helpful-if-first-you-gut-the-historic-purpose-of-college/ describes that interpersonal interaction vision that fits with Gergen’s relational view of education.

      Stanford is where the Chief Behavioral Scientist at Rand when it ran the Five Year Change Agent Study in the 70s ended up. There is a great deal of work being done there to prevent adaptation at the classroom and school and district level this time. As happened with the first try at national radical ed reform tied into the ESEA passage in 1965.

      It is a fine school and my kids have good friends there now but there is a part of Stanford fully on board with all these changes. It is also where the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences is located. Started by Ralph Tyler of the 8 year study. When I went through the members of the Gordon Commission, CASBS stints kept showing up in the CVs.

      Never disparage the School of Hard Knocks knowledge either. No matter what academic honors I got in college or law school, my dad kept reminding me book sense does you no good without horse sense.

      • I would never disparage the real School of Hard Knocks that properly comes after graduation. I would just not put much value on school projects, achievable by All Students, as being equivalent in any sense.

        There’s a job category for the people who do practical technical work without all the theoretical training. They are very useful people, in good demand in the job market when I was paying attention to it, called Technicians. We don’t need to call them Engineers when they are really Technicians, or not even that if instead of real work accomplishment they have only school projects designed to be doable by All Students.

        I know of Stanford’s connection to Rand. Probably the Operations Research people from Rand, like the head of my old doctoral department, are the sort of practical people who would fight this idea of changing standards and removing “flunk-out” courses and other critical requirements to assure that all college degrees are attainable by All Students, which is pretty much the stated purpose of Lumina.

        And then, the QF’s are assumed to be adequate job qualifications? Does that mean if I am hiring an entry level engineer and one comes to me with the QF for an engineer, I cannot prefer a different individual based on better qualification? Or I have to go thru a lot of rigmarole to do so?

        • That is the problem with QF’s. They allow regulation of the workplace and treat its purpose as providing jobs and training, not desired products and services. Less of a shock now that I have pieced together this accompanying economic vision. But the bottom line is it won’t work. It’s just a matter of when that gets recognized and how much of our treasure and mental wealth is wasted in the meantime.

          You can search for different country’s QF’s. I find the presumptions chilling.

          I think part of the problem with calling technicians engineers comes from wanting to polytech all of high school. To be both equitable and prevent the likelihood of threatening inventions.

          It’s good to have someone with a science tech background commenting. I run some of this by my Yellow Jacket grad spouse and he says “You can’t be serious. That would be a stupid thing to be pushing.” Yeah. It’s ed world. Looking for grants and political transformation. Never had to really worry about what makes an economy tick or making payroll.

  2. Just wondering what you think about this, Robin:


    I’ve long noticed a creeping squishyness, in some respects, at NR (especially on the DAGW issue, and particularly from Lowry and Jim Manzi) since Lowry took over editorship there, and perhaps this is yet another indication of a bit of intellectual drift at National Review.

    Conservatives crying “All is well!” within the context of things like Common Core, given what a bit of homework will dredge up about its philosophical and ideological origins, is to me somewhat disconcerting.

    • A reader sent me that over the weekend. Thankfully as I was still in spring break parenting mode.

      Much of what is creating a required classroom implementation for the Common Core is coming in from accreditors or language in a waiver or Race to the Top agreement or teacher evals or how the assessments actually work. I could go on but you get that there are all sorts of elements legally binding the classroom. Malkin and Beck are running with official documents as with Grit and Perseverance and troubling classroom practices or actual curriculum.

      To respond at this point in terms of the idea of the Common Core is sloppy or obtuse.

      I think a lot of powerful Republicans have gotten poor advice from their staff on this. My experience with one or two is you can send them hard proof and they do not want to hear it.

      You of course have noticed I intertwine the economic aspects. That is a matter of consequences and related elements of course. But beyond the federal revenue story the states and local areas do not want to give up the idea they get to pick winners and losers economically. Hard to blame them. That is the instinct but politicians and bureaucrats lack the proper signalling info so it rarely goes well. And all our money goes poof. More our downside than theirs which is always the problem with Industrial Policy economies.

    • Loran, I agree with you about NR drift; it’s been a long time coming. However, to the point: the article in question was written by someone from the Fordham Institute. We at our charter school have been baffled about the Fordham’s stubborn support of Common Core when they have been pretty reliable on education issues in the past. I just dug up this nugget which explains everything: “’It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education,’” said Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C. The Fordham institute itself has received nearly $3 million in Gates Foundation grants.” The date on this dispatch is 2009. How much would the cash pile be by now? He who pays the piper.


      • Deborah,

        Glenn Beck wrote a response to that NRO article and mentioned more than $5 million since 2003. Plus http://edfunders.org/about-our-community/member-organizations is another connection to all the other foundations donating to education. http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/site/print/briefly_noted48 is interesting as I know this is where much of the pitching for foundation dollars also goes on at. As you can see in 2002 Finn was very critical on MS’s billion dollar “donation” to schools serving low income students. It would be interesting to know if the giving picked up in 2003 in anticipation of the Common Core rolling out in 2005 if Bush had lost. It was sitting on the sidelines waiting for a Democrat to win the White House. And this time fund the alternative assessments up front. Which is precisely what the Stimulus Bill did.

        In Georgia we had the Fordham ratings used to try to shut down any criticism of the integrated math. Until we were able to prove that Georgia had withheld its Frameworks from the reviewers increasing its rating. Much the same technique is being used with CCSSI “fordham says …” When what is coming to the classroom has little connection to what Fordham reviewed.

  3. Thank you David, got that. Robin I can not wait for your book. I would love to do a short documentary video just explaining the time line, the players and basics of the ideologies and deceptions. The freedom loving American people can handle the knowledge, but the attacks are so intense right now from the left it’s difficult to balance the emotional, spiritual challenges must be processed in order to get the message. I can still think about other creative ways to get this urgent message across. They must be stopped.

  4. If Fordham is taking bribes from the Gates Foundation (which I do not consider “liberal” but leftist) then this begins to smell something like the whole DAGW cesspool. Here comes the money — endless streams of it, at least enough to keep the skids greased — and fundamental matters of principle seem to dissipate like dew in the morning sun.

    I’m sure that there are many at NR who still know how to do their homework, but what that magazine is doing supporting a throughly etatist educational initiative (they decry the plethora of varying standards from state to state in America’s past as if that was somehow a bad thing, and as if a standardized national educational policy is remotely the answer to what problems may have existed) that, when traced to its ideological fondations, unearths people like William Ayers, is quite beyond me.

    • Loran,

      I think one of the problems is that most of the “conservative” think tanks do not seem to have conservative advisors when you take a hard look at their credentials. Or they do understand that if individuals can be selfish than individuals with unaccountable power via government’s ability to coerce makes it far worse. Which is the recognition that ought to prompt a recognition that this is not a good idea. But few even then think in terms of what drives implementation.

      I had a conversation last year when a well known ed speaker came to town. I asked him if he had ever looked at the accreditation standards because they basically prevented how he thought everything should work. He said no. He had never thought about the accreditation agencies. And he has being doing this for many years.

      It becomes a matter of “I like this person. They are well-intentioned. It sounds like a good idea and what we have now is not working. Therefore this remedy should make it better.” And that’s the extent of the analysis and one side to this policy debate knew that was going to be the extent of the analysis and is counting on it. I can tell that not only from what is said in the documents I have but how the parts have been broken up and renamed to appear innocuous by themselves.

      There really is no ambiguity whatsoever further down in the onion on what the intentions are. But the think tanks do not appear to have my fondness for tiptoeing through the footnotes. At that level there is no dispute on what the Common Core is about. And as I always say education is the vehicle and CAGW is the excuse for fundamental change. Which is why facts are inconvenient to the gravy train.

  5. Here’s Beck’s response:


    I’ve read through Robin’s entire archive of posts here, and I’ve been following it almost since it began. I’ve followed a great many of her links and done a good deal of my own homework bouncing off many of the names, movements, and programs mentioned here. I’ve got a great deal of reading cut out for me so far, and I’ve had a good start. Beck and others are right. I don’t know how many of these programs, initiatives, and utopianesque pedagogical theories I’ve run across thus far (and acronym after acronym (modern public education seems obsessed with acronyms) denoting program after program after theory after theory that all have a similar structure: they are all composed of broad and many times nebulous cognitive/attitudinal attributes or “skill sets” that are claimed to be necessary for “success and global citizenship in the 21st century” of some such repetitive cant, but to not ever specify what on earth it is that children are supposed to actually know, and why it is important to know it (“Job ready,” “college ready,” “citizenship in a rapidly changing, complex 21st century democracy,” blah, blah, blah. What does all of this actually mean?)

    I’ve been substitute teaching at a local high school here in SC for awhile now, and I read the textbooks lying around in the classrooms, especially the social studies textbooks. That alone, (both the content and structure of these books) is an education in and of itself. The other day, a teacher had left some cookies for the class, but there weren’t enough for everybody, so I held an impromptu history/social studies 20 questions game. Whoever got the right answers, got a cookie (one per right answer).

    You would not believe (well, you doubtless would) many of the answers I received from a majority of these kids about fundamental aspects of U.S. history and government. This is beyond scary already.

  6. Robin,

    I don’t know when you find time to rest, but I do appreciate the ‘tiptoeing around in the footnotes’ of the many documents you cite. There’s no one that comes close to your level of analysis. Your hard work is appreciated very much.

    I try and look up some of your sources that you site to get a better grasp on the future that these folks are attempting to design. Somewhere along the line you mentioned the policy briefs that came out of the 2012 Planet Under Pressure Conference. The type of thinking reflected in those briefs is being pushed in the STEM unit designs in my local school system. And the EIE (Engineering is Elementary) training that teachers receive. It’s purely environmental stuff.

    Oil is simply a pollutant. That it put men on the moon, satellites into space, enables air trave,l permits trade, and a thousands of other wonderful things – in terms of the curriculum, it is a pollutant.

    It’s the STEM content that disturbs me most as I see it as the biggest threat to the American economy – or at least the one that foremost in my mind at this time.

    • I did not know it when those PUP policy briefs so upset me but it was actually the 3rd in Human Dimensions conferences of the UN. It was aimed to cause major changes off the radar screen.They started about 2001.

      You can see why this disrupted me from finalizing the manuscript of book. I am the lady who always has a book in the carpool line.

      STEM does not just disrupt the economy. It chills technology and leaves most of the population at the level of believing it is the sun moving in the sky each day.

      I was reading an analysis this morning that was making a different point but they pointed out that framing a problem affected how it could be solved and legitimized who could solve it. I immediately jumped to the emphasis on real life relevant complex problem solving as the focus of classroom. It makes students take for granted that problems can be solved with sufficient will and attention and that it is govt’s job.

      And then they practice that assumption daily with software that treats that as a given.

      • In the Maryland State STEM Standards of Practice Framework Grades K-5 – Draft the phrase “investigate global issues” was mentioned 109 times in the 48 page document. The ‘global’ rhetoric and indoctrination is in full swing starting in Kindergarten.

        • Well if you have seen this post all the mentions of global issues is no surprise http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/mandating-global-citizenship-mindsets-by-assessing-whether-students-adopt-social-altruism/

          A disingenuous book less than a year old I was reading yesterday put the global language push in the Partnership for 21st century skills. Not so defunct after all. As you may have seen I put it in ATC21S headquartered in Melbourne, Australia so we don’t keep pointing out that having our classroom curriculum sponsored by MS, Intel, and Cisco coupled to the OECD, the World Bank, and UNESCO. With Pearson in the mix and at one point when I first started looking at it maybe 18 months ago, Linda Darling-Hammond was in charge of both the SBAC assessment under CCSSI and assessments for ATC21S.

          The idea is to prime the students for the need for transformative change globally so they will “Think globally. Act locally” Always taking on problems they actually do not understand well in terms of facts and real causes and effects and influences. I have not written about it yet but the source of what is to be “conceptual understanding” under CCSSI is yet another import from Soviet psychology. Supposedly ultimately grounded in how Uncle Karl made use value the source of so much meaning. I would insert that is why most historians would say his economic insights are nonsense. It is his theory of history and inevitable movement that continues to cause such turmoil from schemers wanting us to get back on the track of progress. I don’t happen to think history is teleological but lots of people do.

          Anyway one of the docs I read over the weeked coming out of that Global Cities Education Network gave an example of what is contemplated of encouraging students to apply their “understanding” of the ecosystem to financial systems. Where we are likely to have a false but influential belief being applied to situations where it is inapt.

          But with very few having actual knowledge instead of modelling experience on a computer playing with scenarios and variables, who will say “that doesn’t fit. It’s not true. Regardless of the inevitable unforeseen consequences, the foreseeable consequences of what is intended are darn bad.” Once we quit having students think in terms of cause and effect in favor of more systemic, relational thinking because we want political and social change, we don’t suspend cause and effect. The students and then adults just won’t be prepared when it rears its ugly head. They will likely continue to support more State interventions of “planning and designing” of the very sort creating the problems in the first place.

          Creating a death spiral effect for a society and an economy. Sometimes a solid knowledge of history and economics and consequences in the past from comparable actions and the consistency of human nature from great literature is as close to a crystal ball as we can get. The intentions I have read and have copies of scare the hell out of me. Which is why I have been so tenacious on this. Whatever happens, I will have tried my best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.