In the last post we looked at Professor Cabrera’s DSRP template. I laid out its connections to current curriculum practices that get euphemized as ‘rigor’ or ‘high-quality instructional materials’, but left out a curious quote about targeting the human conceptual system via learning standards so that DSRP “provides a mechanism for the memetic behavior that must exist in order for evolutionary epistemology to be a viable proposal. For these reasons, DSRP should be considered a more robust alternative to logic where complex cognitive systems are concerned.” I am rather fond of logic myself, but apparently that’s no way to get a theory of how things might be different in the future into practice. Recognizing that the mouthful term obscures the reality that seeks to change prevailing culture by systematically prescribing new values and beliefs via poorly understood ‘standards’ in K-12 and higher ed, I looked up the term.
It turned up this 2018 Abstract https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29199093 from the same US government agency funding Science of Virtues and the BRAIN Initiative to create a Research Programme for Distributed Biological Intelligence. No wonder logic needs to be jettisoned. Suddenly the reading, math, and science wars and the focus on ‘close reading’ and ‘conceptual frameworks’ click into the appropriate context when we read:
The concept of ‘information’ acquires a new meaning because information processing is at the heart of biological intelligence. All biological systems, from bacteria to Gaia, are intelligent, open thermodynamic systems that exchange information, matter and energy with the environment. (v) The organism-environment interaction is cybernetic. As much as the organism changes due to the influence of the environment, the organism’s responses to induced changes affect the environment and subsequent organism-environment interactions. Based on the above principles a new research agenda can be formulated to explore different forms of biological intelligence.
I bolded those references to changes because they too get euphemized as student learning, even though the desired changes are not really about passing on a body of knowledge as in the historic conception of education. EE, as I am going to abbreviate it, “aims at understanding the complex relations between biological evolution, especially the biological evolution of human cognition, and the cultural evolution of scientific knowledge.” Because federal laws, mandated learning standards, accreditation criteria, and curricular materials and online activities are all aiming to change the nature of that cognition and then prescribe it for the masses, this is not a matter of speculation. Let me read a passage from a Norbert Wiener biography called Dark Hero of the Information Age that should make what is being stealthily targeted and why more clear:
As he made clear from the outset, the universal processes and principles of cybernetics–information, communication, feedback, ‘circular causality’ or reciprocal influence, and ‘teleology’ or purposeful, goal-directed action–apply equally to technology, biology, and all the complex systems of society. The biological and social dimensions of cybernetics were widely overlooked in Wiener’s day and in the decades since his death, as technology loomed ever larger. Yet those neglected aspects of Wiener’s science hold some of the most powerful insights cybernetics has to offer, and they are as important as any technical tool for understanding the complex forces that shape and influence all our lives.
The conceptual tools of cybernetics can help people think in more effective and productive ways, to create, innovate, and perhaps even begin to envision at the levels to which Wiener raised his most talented disciples to ‘see over the fence,‘ as he did, and down the road to the end result of any effort. Cybernetics, its sister sciences of information theory and systems theory, and their descendants in the new sciences of complexity and human communication offer scientists and nonscientists alike new ways to think systematically and strategically, to solve problems, paint scenarios, and identify potential trouble spots before disaster strikes…[It is] the next step on the learning curve of the global society.
Wiener and his colleagues could ‘see over the fence’ because they had huge stores of factual knowledge that allowed their brilliant minds to make connections that could then be proved in experiments. Prescribing the methods of seeing over the fence to evaluate the future for all without any ‘vast stores of knowledge,’ or even much in the pantry beyond the prescribed conceptual frameworks, means there is no safety catch between what is factual and what is a politically useful fiction. Now before I get to the curriculum I mentioned from Developing Minds in the Digital Age, I want to mention one more book, from 2015, called The Cybernetics Moment or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age that was funded by the National Science Foundation. That matters because that Developing Minds comes from the NSF Science of Learning Centers, as have so many of the curricula involved with the reading, math, and science wars (covered in my book Credentialed to Destroy).
The book’s author, Ronald R. Kline, who is a Professor of History and Ethics of Engineering at Cornell, where Derek Cabrera and his DSRP work is also based, has the Cybernetics Moment as ending in the 1970s despite its promise. I maintain that is not true since it migrated to education ‘reforms’. It thoroughly saturates the actual Common Core implementation and now what is known as competency-based education, correctly construed (which so few do these days). See if this sounds familiar from the discussion above.The NSF/OECD conception of a “Science of Learning for 21st Century Education…encompasses complex changes in the learner from his/her dynamic engagement with an equally ever-changing environment.”
Now I promised last time we could recognize the DiaMat/cybernetic intentions in the OECD/NSF DJEM–Designed Joint Engagement with Media. Since I initially read that report I also learned that some of the cited researchers are involved with the now 20-year old Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition that is a joint project of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. That matters because Carnegie Mellon gets NSF funding to create a great deal of immersive online learning curricula. U-Pittsburgh was involved with the New Standards Project, which is the forebear of the Common Core from back in the 90s. Both are in a position then to implement DJEM as:
purposefully created, shared experiences where individuals interact with one another while simultaneously attending to a media. DJEM can take many forms, including viewing a video, playing a game on a mobile device or reading a digital book together. DJEM grows out of the idea that joint attention or the coordinated focus of all interacting individuals on the same phenomena, is a necessary condition for joint engagement and is fundamental to human learning from an early age.
Now, if you have a goal of fundamental transformation in social, economic, and political systems, which the OECD and its affiliates in the UN make no bones about as in Leave No One Behind by 2030 and Equity for All, the Number One prerequisite is to get people to “common forms of sensemaking”. Precisely, what DJEM is designed to do so that:
Both the speaker and the listener play an important role in establishing, monitoring and sustaining joint attention during interactions, drawing both on non-verbal communication (e.g.-pointing, moving to share visual perspective, etc) and on meta-communicative verbal comments. The use of such strategies helps create a ‘between-person state of engagement‘ that draws on both the cognitive and the social dimensions of communication and helps partners develop a shared conceptual structure in which they collaborate and learn as they engage in media together…These shared conversations-joint social engagements–serve as sites for knowledge construction and meaning making.
So the purpose of these prescribed learning experiences is not to learn math, science, history, or to become a better reader. It is to instill a common internalized conceptual structure about some real-life phenomena in each of the interacting students. And the NSF is simultaneously financing books saying the Cybernetic Moment is over, while funding online curricula and activities that use cyberneticist Gordon Pask’s conversation theory. No, they didn’t cite him in their Science of Learning push, but they did describe and use his Conversation Theory. We do get to recognize by function, not assigned labels, since I am still driven by logic and a vast storehouse of facts instead of an assigned conceptual framework. Anyway, the Center for Curriculum Reform’s recent book on Artificial Intelligence in Education happened to mention that the desired AI platforms to be used with students were based on Pask’s theories.
Cybernetics is not dead as all these links show. The new Science of Learning wants us to accept that “Expertise lies not so much in the number of facts an individual can state but in the way in which that knowledge is organized and the ability to apply it flexibly and appropriately in new situations.” My book and this blog exist because I have a highly organized understanding of where education is going, how it intends to get there, what the likely impacts are, and how the theories of cybernetics matter to all these efforts. It does not represent an Approved Conceptual Framework though, which sometimes makes me a persona non grata to discussions. Imagine instead that your child is in this Sid the Science Kid animated programme for preschool children from the Jim Henson Company that “explores everyday phenomena and provides models of science practices and science talks…to deepen and reenforce target concepts.” Tell me this doesn’t sound to you like Code the Kid at the Level of the Mind and Start Early to create Binding Habits of Mind.
To test the feasibility and promise of the DJEM theory, we developed and refined a curriculum supplement…[that] comprised an eight-week experience on change and transformation, foundational concepts across science content areas. Modules were two weeks long and included two to three days of instruction each week that integrated video episodes, classroom discussions, teacher guided book readings, and hands-on investigations. The curriculum supplements four modules targeted types of change that children likely observed in their daily lives: decay, growth, reversible change, and irreversible change.
Learning as creating common conceptual frameworks tied into emotion and the visual to guide perception and the interpretation of experiences in predictable ways at the level of a preschoolers mind. That is a vastly different realm to be standardizing than measuring weight or distance. Cybernetics requires common goals and learning standards are a means of dictating goals without that shift being readily apparent to the typical parent or student. It is up to those of us with Unapproved Conceptual Frameworks to grasp where these learning standards really seek to go. This is not a discussion on the metric system vs miles. There the chosen standard has no impact on the distance being described. Here, the purpose of the learning standard is to reimagine the mind and then turn it from the open system it can be to the closed system that will behave predictably. Which will change the environment, which will impact the mind and personality, which will then change the now altered Environment. Etc. Etc. Etc.
We need to wake up to how many of our young people are to be in this EE Research Programme. Anyone think it is coincidental preschoolers are being instructed on transformation and change? Me neither.