Welcome to the 2020s! This is the Decade where Governments all over the world intend “to act as an instrument of the common good” and use the schools to rewire students’ brains so that they are more amenable to the plans political leaders have for us in the 21st century. I wish this was fiction or just a theory of mine, but it is not. I certainly was not going to write about this during the holidays, but there were quite a lot of white papers put out in December on this point, and being the careful researcher I am, I then followed up on the books and papers cited in the footnote and here we are. This is not a one shot post, but the beginning of what has become a well-documented armada of coordinated initiatives to use schools to cultivate “positive attitudes and activities” so that students can “develop the inner means to handle distress themselves when it arises. In other words, we should aim at a society in which people have the inner resources to flourish.”
About the same time those words were published in the inaugural 2018 World Happiness Policy Report presented at the World Government Summit in Dubai, a retired MIT professor, John Ehrenfeld, submitted his vision of “Flourishing: Designing a Brave New World” to she ji, a journal of design and innovation, asserting that “Flourishing is possible only when the right brain hemisphere is the master, but balanced with the left. The ultimate goal of every designer should be to foster flourishing…For humans, flourishing requires (1) restoring the supremacy of the right brain through direct practices, for example, mindfulness training, and (2) re-designing institutions and artifacts to enhance presencing: the perception of being connected to the contextually rich surrounding world.”
Well, that got my attention since the actual classroom practices now tied to learning standards all over the world fit with what Ehrenfeld wrote would be needed to make the right-brain dominant. I have school mandates under Positive School Climate prescribed materials that turn out to be renamed cognitive behavioral therapy practices. I poke familiar names and find books like Super Better: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver, and More Resilient that plan to use digital learning virtual reality and videogames to Hardwire the Brain via “repeated activation of specific neurological circuits that train the brain to be motivated by challenge, rewarded by feedback, and more resilient in the face of temporary failure.” Use the fact that “neurons that fire together, wire together” to create digital learning experiences to hardwire “cognitive habits that lead to lifelong success and psychological well-being.”
If “Schools are the primary place where the values of a culture get instilled in young people” and the materials quoted above and conferences like Learning and the Brain repeatedly declare that the ‘instilling’ is to be neural, we need to think about the implications of poems like the following created as part of the Search Inside Yourself e-book “Practice Kindness” created for students in honor of World Kindness Day.
Kind hearts are the gardens,
Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the blossoms,
Kind deeds are the fruits.
The new way for governments, political leaders, and their cronies to control behavior in the 21st century is not overt coercion, but by controlling the inner psychology and the practices and experiences known to instill desired neural and cognitive structures. Let’s get back to how Ehrenfeld laid out the how and why, but never believe his is a voice in the wilderness. Instead, it is entirely an accident that I came across his article while following up on something else and, using my experience from writing what is detailed in my book Credentialed to Destroy, recognized how his prescriptions for right-brain dominance were already enshrined in what has been misleadingly labelled as the Reading and Math Wars. Right Brain Dominance “can create a pull towards a different kind of future.” A future where the focus is no longer on the individual as those of us located in the West have always believed, but on the collective and its supposed needs. That shift needs to get at “the way we hold reality” itself and shift it to focus more on empathy or caring.
Think about all the changes in the nature of education and the new purposes of schools and higher education as you read this Ehrenfeld quote:
With new understanding of how the brain functions, the root causes can be traced to an imbalance between the two cerebral hemispheres. Modern culture is the product of the left-brain dominance, but flourishing can arise only from the opposite: the mastery of the right over the left. The challenge ahead is to reverse this through design and practice…Only the right connects to the [world as it is, with its rich context] , and can produce empathy and enable authentic caring…A key to increasing authenticity is the ability to delay or stop the left brain from taking over–that is, to remain in the present moment…Mindfulness offers a possible way to maintain the attentional stance of the right.
Now all the hype about bullying, where mindfulness practices are held out as the remedy and we happen to also notice that the trainer for the teachers does New Age Buddhist retreats on other days of the week, make far more sense. In fact, in Super Better, McGonnigal notes that “mindfulness meditation, for example, has been measured to have quite similar physiological benefits as casual game play…game play is a way to learn to control our attention–which is one of the primary aims of Buddhist practice!” Neuroscientists have shown that attention is a necessary component for neural rewiring and certain kinds of practices make the emotional side of the brain dominant. Here’s the sought practice beyond mindfulness training under “Reflective Practice”:
Reflective practice is a general label for the interruptive process by which experience can be embedded to the brain as part of learning. Reflective practice in design is driven by direct experience (right-brain) [virtual reality counts as direct!], rather than the mere application of abstract, general rules (left-brain). In terms of the divided brain model, reflection is the process that new experiences, under the control of the right brain, are passed over to the left hemisphere.
How often now are we hearing hype about students needing Whole Child instruction in controlling emotions to “develop five skills: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. All correspond to right brain activities.” Those of us who have ever had a child in an IB Program who were paying attention know we got almost as tired from hearing hype about “Inquiry Learning” as we did from the “Are you an IB Learner?” question. Now we discover that Inquiry is a right brain activity and Lecture is a Left:
Science is the paradigm of the left brain at work. Conversely, pragmatism is based on paying persistent, broad attention to the whole system and creating new understanding; it depends on holding the left at bay. Meaningfulness, or pragmatic truth, is not to be found in the abstract, left-brain, self-consistent, world of science. It is to be found in the real, right brain, phenomenal world…Pragmatic inquiry is a method that keeps the right brain engaged over extended periods in order to capture the dynamic, context-dependent character of complex systems…Presencing is a form of attention, which exploits the right brain’s attributes of breadth, persistence, and exploration/creativity. Presencing restores context to the external world that has been lost while the left-brain was dominant. Such context is necessary for flourishing.
Presencing looks at the world as a domain for acting and transforming. The focus becomes on what could be, instead of what is. Now that we have covered this desired rewiring, in the next post we will cover how this new right-brain vision of what it is to Understand in the 21st century is “not about cognizing a pre-given world, it is about becoming aware of and consciously choosing the aspects of the world we decide to cope with.” That quote was from a paper featured last week in a newsletter I receive and was written by a member of the American Society of Cybernetics. It fits with what the Father of Positive Psychology and Positive Neuroscience who presented at that World Government Summit says should be the new focus of Models of the Human Mind.
Are we going to be Driven by the Past and the dominance of the left brain or shall we make the focus of education “Navigating into the Future”? No, we are actually not the ones who get to design that future. It gets selected for us and then hardwired into our brains neurologically so we can “draw on experience to update” our choices and then act accordingly based on our “needs and goals” that have also been the aim of Right-Brain focused education.
It truly is a Brave New World once we read certain influential journals and look at the programs being put on at the certain well-attended conferences. No need to theorize about this coordinated effort at all. Just review the documentation. At least that is still possible for those of us for whom the left brain remains dominant.
Here’s to the Axemaker Minds who are not yet left to accepting an offered narrative of where education is really going and why it must be changed.
Greetings for a _____ New Year! Or is it? According to the Happiness Magistrate I must cycle through my Reflective Practice before i can comment lest I not Flourish for the next 12 months. My Deep Learning is failing me so i better Critically Think after i practice my Mindfulness or my Cognitive Habits will not allow me a Transformational year for the Future. GAK! Is there still Hope for Change for Lifelong Learning for me?
HAPPY NEW YEAR ! May we continue to unravel the weak thread of this crazy bonnet!
Thought you would appreciate this. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/13/new-zealand-schools-to-teach-students-about-climate-crisis-activism-and-eco-anxiety
Apropos of this, my new intern, a Kiwi investigating urban planning trends in Japan, tells me that her ‘field’ is now so politicized that practitioners are not really paying attention to the core function. To quote, “…the city of Aukland is being planned and developed by people who don’t care about Aukland.”
I am wondering if the faculty by which humans ‘care’ has been completely exhausted in young people by a social imperative to ‘care’ about everything, and nothing at the same time.
Good point. This is Peter Senge’s baby for K-12 that I have covered before. https://waterscenterst.org/systems-think-blog/the-snowball-is-rolling/
Notice all the references to ‘mental models’. You also do NOT make “12 hour learning experiences” the norm because this is an Axemaker Mind emphasis.
In sifting through the boxes and drawers of gathered research papers and books in anticipation of converting storage to usable space in our basement, I have been re-encountering papers and books from the ‘80s and ‘90s that dealt with the very topic about which you are writing in this post. That reinforces my belief that the powers that be are attempting for the third or fourth time to accomplish the task of locking us into our right brains. It’s alarming how successful “they” have been over time. Cultural influences have so contributed to the progression. Neurologically, we are looking at Limited Learning for Lifelong Labor and Laziness.
I just read ” Amusing Ourselves To Death” by Neil Postman and I fear that the smart phone and right brain capturing visual media/ technology in general has sealed our fate. As Postman argues; in our formerly typographic society people used their left , logical, rational brains to create coherent thoughts. Now? Not so much. We are living Marshall McLuhan’s auditory/visual immediate and incoherant medium, aka Environment. . It’s terrifying. None of what “they” have planned would be as effective without our current technology.
Happy New Year anyway.;)
Fighting off a cold since I wrote this, but this came out today on Search Inside Yourself training for all teachers and government employees in Bhutan, which the Global Happiness report hypes.
Enter Brockman and Epstein. These tech leaders had to be 100% onboard.
Edge Billionaire dinners and trips with Jeffrey for philanthropy. Aren’t they all so selfless and generous!
Love the spin….. jeffrey bad guy infiltrated big science! Ted talks are lookin more shady than ever!
In attempting to construct a development program for international student interns I shifted through ‘research’ and best practices related to this form of “experiential learning”.
And, mind you, I am not averse to experiential learning. My own international internship of decades ago completely blew my mind…changed how I thought about just about everything.
But, from what I could see from my research, these programs are now designed to produce more virtuous people, who are ‘mindful’, and work tirelessly for social justice and a sustainable world.
That is a heavy mantle to place on a 20 year old’s shoulders, and one that is so poorly defined that, thank god, it is not really actionable.
Our CyberSyn friend Fernando Flores has popped back up connected to all this and something called ‘enactive cognitive science’. The book The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience was footnoted in a number of these papers I have been reading and when I looked it up I saw it had been re-released in a new edition in 2017, always a sign of relevance. The idea, which would explain why all this is being masked as student learning that builds empathy and resilience, is to “build a bridge between mind in science and mind in experience by articulating a dialogue between these two traditions of Western cognitive science and Buddhist meditative psychology.”
I am still reading it, but obviously the Equity mandates that enshrine Csik’s Excellence and requisite performance standards coupled to Positive Psychology and Positive School Climate mandates do just that. It appears to me that the Search Inside Yourself program that the Garrison Institute wants educators to use is designed to see what “the mindful, open-ended approach to experience has to contribute to the transformation of that [individuals and groups] egotism.” I also get told that “planetary building requires the embodiment of concern for the other with whom we enact a world”, which sounds dramatically like the Pope’s new Humanity 2.0 initiative that has a global summit planned for educators in 2020. What I termed the Axemaker Mind in this post going back to my 2012 post about Arationality and what Paul Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein called for in the late 80s is called by ‘enactive cognitive science’ to be the ‘grasping mind’. I note that the book also cites Herbert and Stuart Dreyfus a lot. They also called for a turn away from the Western conception of the rational mind and penned the Arationalty concept.
I feel a bit like the A-Team. It’s all coming together now.
Don’t know if you’ve noticed but Gabor Mate has been drilling ‘mindfulness’ in many of his lectures and linking this to physical health, and resilience…which means ‘flourishing’ is just a heartbeat away.
Flores is, for sure, a key ‘actor’ in all of this. Recall that he and Erhard owned some kind of patent together. Also, there is documentation that they were financing each other’s respective intrigues. Flores used to be famous for beating up executive teams…basically doing Gestalt ‘attack’ therapy on grown men and getting very well-paid for his trouble.
You know, most fields move FORWARD, but much of this stuff dates back to the 70’s/80’s. It is like being caught in a hippie time warp.
I am so bored with it all.
This from chapter 2 of The Embodied Mindmay mean more to you as I was not familiar with a Japanese philosopher by the name of Yasuo Yuasa
And so we get back into pushing habits that “interrupts the flow of discursive thought” and rewires the brain so that even concepts are viewed through emotions. One more quote for illustration: “It is our contention that the rediscovery of Asian philosophy, particularly of the Buddhist tradition, is a second renaissance in the cultural history of the West, with the potential to be equally important as the rediscovery of Greek thought in the European renaissance.”
Small personal anecdote: the night before I relocated from California to Japan, I told a friend that one of my objectives in experiencing Japanese culture was to compare the concepts of Christian mercy, and Buddhist compassion.
Decades later, I can tell you that Christian mercy is my hands-down preference, and primarily because it feels active and volitional as opposed to passive/vegetative…but, that is just me.
I defer to your superior familiarity with Buddhism, but as a Christian I would suggest that the Christian exalts life as a positive good, despite suffering; indeed, he puts suffering to a supernatural purpose. The supreme example, of course, being the Cross. The Buddha, having been crushed by the spectacle of human suffering, desires to flee it by cocooning himself in a dream. Christians decry a culture of death; Buddhists, I would submit, embrace it as an escape and a release.
I would welcome your comment on what is a not very informed take on Buddhism.
It is a bit hard to comment based on my experience in Japan, which is home to Buddhism and Shinto (an animistic religion). I might tend to add to this neo-Confucianism as a social ordering principle. While I quite appreciate the aesthetic of Zen, there is most definitely a nihilistic element contained therein. I would not call it a Death Cult, by any means, but I find it lacking in energy, purpose and drive. I find it ‘static’. In terms of the social behaviors I see, there is politeness w/o warmth and affection. Altruism is not really in the behavioral deck of cards. I might say awful things rarely happen, but neither does one see extraordinary acts of kindness. ‘Flat’ is a word I might use.
With Martin Seligman (who created positive psych and positive neuroscience and is behind the UN reports on the related ed template), a Buddhist scholar who heads the Santa Barbara School for Consciousness Studies, and the then head of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at Harvard. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/dialogue-with-the-dalai-lama—part-3-of-3/3088336
Definitely on the right track here.
Additionally, somebody ought to ask these ‘geniuses’ WHY ostensibly Buddhist Japan score so low on the global Happiness Index. Hmmmm???
Righteeooo, if his holiness, the Dalai Lama is in the mix, we know it has the imprimatur of intelligence agencies. Let us not forget that he even blessed NXIVM. I will share some industry gossip about Seligman’s Positive Psych program. I am informed that the doctoral studies program attached to this department is a “rock star” affair, which means that it is heavy on celebrity lecturers and low on content, as it would be.
On the flourishing bit, a friend in mental health anticipates that sector will flourish in the coming years owing to the mental health crisis among students who have matriculated from programs focused on flourishing.