Intrapsychic: When the Key to Neural Change Lies in Manipulating a Student’s Purpose

If, like me, you have seen all the references to Student Autonomy in the context of stipulating what their internalized Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions should be and wondered what kind of independence that kind of intentional anchoring could be, I have a new definition for us. “Autonomy is the opposite of control, but not [italics in original] the absence of expectations. It is important to recognize that autonomy is not the same thing as independence. Autonomy means to act volitionally, with a sense of choice, whereas independence means to function alone and not rely on others.” Now let’s play synonyms for a minute with that quote and see why getting at purpose is so useful. I bolded the word ‘expectations’ because another synonym would be ‘goals’. Another synonym for ‘goals’ would be ‘standards’. So the phrase, ‘high standards for all students’ could be translated as ‘high performance and behavioral expectations for all students”.

If a student is acting in pursuit of what they believe to be their purpose, then they are acting volitionally, even though we can look at their actions objectively, once we understand how learning standards really work, and see that the free volition is a mirage. The following quote gives us a flavor for what is to be controlled (my bolding):

Meaningful learning involves deep changes in learner’s behaviour, beliefs, and attitudes. While these changes are energised by a personally chosen and meaningful purpose, it is the active learning power dimensions of sensemaking, creativity, curiosity, and hope that regulate the flow of energy in the learning process, enabling it to empower the journey from purpose to achieve a particular performance outcome.

Another synonym for that rather stilted sounding ‘particular performance outcome’ would be ‘desired behaviors’ so getting at purpose lets us manipulate the motivations for desired behaviors. We know that Motivation is heavily targeted by transformative educational reform because the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard issued this graphic recently showing how Learning Experiences Create Pathways Between Brain Regions. Here’s another sampling from a paper on Building Resilient Agency in Learning, using the phrase ‘Learning Journey’: which “valorises the identification of a personally chosen purpose, that is integrated and internalised by the learner as a prerequisite for meaningful learning.”

We now know what ‘meaningful learning’ means from the block quote above and our post title used the word ‘Intrapsychic’ to shorthand how important it is that the desired purpose have been “integrated and internalised” by the student at a neural level. Another source I lifted that explained how Neural-Linguistic Programming of the Mind and How It Can Be Made to Work with a different kind of learning and new expectations of schools said the needed Characteristics of the Inner Processes would involve “changes in the [student’s] inner landscape or mental map of the situation.” The Way We Think called the same internalized realm–‘mental spaces’–and pointed out that:

mental spaces are connected to long-term schematic knowledge called ‘frames’…Mental spaces are interconnected, and can be modified as thought and discourse unfold. Mental spaces can be used generally to model dynamic mappings in thought and language…In the neural interpretation of these cognitive processes, mental spaces are sets of activated neuronal assemblies, and the lines between elements correspond to co-activation bindings of a certain kind.

Just like in that Neural Circuit graphic Harvard created to explain the role of Motivation and Purpose. I mentioned above that we were looking at a different type of learning and new expectations for schools. According to a Sydney, Australia international meeting in 2018 and a presentation I found on “Learning Analytics in Schools” and “Self-Directed Student Learning,” we are transitioning to Education 3.0 where:

The most important unit of change is the story and identity of the learner–not the teacher, the curriculum or the measurement model. Legacy systems tend to privilege the content of the curriculum, a reductionist measurement model and the teacher as agent of change. The challenge for learning analytics is to build a digital infrastructure based on a data architecture which provides a ‘single view of the learner’, where data belongs to the learner and can be used, one student at a time, in real-time, for better decision-making as they navigate their way through complex problems to solutions that matter to them. This is sometimes described as a call to move to Education 3.0– a challenging worldview shift from a top down, individualist and dualistic worldview towards an integral, participatory and wholistic one.

Then the quote references a Chapter 25 for further information on the desired Layers, Loops, and Processes in a Virtual Learning Infrastructure, which caught my eye as my home state announced last week.  I may be alone in recognizing as a parent and taxpayer that this is not, in fact, a means of measuring math, history, or science knowledge. I found that cited Chapter at and learned once again that this new vision of education can

empower individuals to adapt profitably to new learning opportunities. This is particularly important in authentic contexts where the outcome is rarely known in advance. The metaphor of a ‘learning journey’ was adopted to reflect the complex dynamics of a learning process that begins with forming a purpose and moves iteratively towards an outcome or a performance of some sort. Learning power enables the individual or team to convert the energy of purpose into the power to navigate the journey, to identify and select the information, knowledge, and data they need to work with to achieve that purpose.

I am tempted to joke about my Purpose in writing this post, but, as always, I am simply trying to bridge the disconnect with how these changes in education are being sold to us vs the way they are portrayed in insider presentations we only have access to if we recognize there is a discrepancy. It’s why I wrote Credentialed to Destroy and it’s why we continue the journey to the truth on this blog. We can better understand though why math as an algorithmic process, or science as a body of demonstrable facts, gets deemphasized if education reforms are really grounded in A Transition in Thinking as Chapter 25 laid out:

The idea of a learning journey is simple and intuitive. The metaphor facilitates an understanding of learning as a dynamic process; however, it does represent a fundamental transition in how we understand knowledge, learning, identity, and value. Knowledge is no longer a ‘stock’ that we protect and deliver through relatively fixed canons and genres; it is now a ‘flow’ in which we participate and generate new knowledge, drawing on intuition and experience. Its genres are fluid and institutional warrants are less valuable (Seeley Brown, 2015) Learning power is the way we regulate that flow of energy and information over time in the service of a purpose of value–rather than a way of receiving and remembering ‘fixed’ knowledge from experts. Millennial identity is found not in ownership and control, but in creating, sharing, and ‘remixing’–in agency, impact, and engagement. Value is generated in the movement between purpose and performance.

That would also explain why history now seems to be about role-playing in different contexts, why Project-Based Learning using an Inquiry approach is suddenly ubiquitous, and why student achievement involves desired behaviors, wouldn’t it?

Did you notice how I left in the reference in the above quote, which I normally remove? There is a reason and it once again goes to the Intrapsychic process of controlling the Internalized mental maps we saw in the last post and then today in the quote from The Way We Think. The authors of that book with the subtitle Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities are tied to the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) in Palo Alto. The cited reference above on the new vision of Knowledge and thus education is to John Seeley Brown who is listed as a Board member.

The National Student Growth Network is currently based at CASBS and Student Growth is another synonym for the process of internalized change we saw repeatedly referred to in this post as the Learning Journey.

Does anyone reading this still question that this new vision of education is grounded in the Behavioral Sciences, which sees the mind as a ‘system’ that can be manipulated via education to create what appears to be volitional behavior when it is actually quite scripted and tied to sought political, economic, and social transformations?

Have I mentioned that General Systems Theory was created in CASBS in the mid-50s by the same Kenneth Boulding, among others, we quoted in the last post?

Should I mention that Boulding defined a system in terms of purpose and goal achievement? Just like all these new visions of Intrapsychic education cited in this post?

Maybe what is being billed as 21CC–21st century Competencies–aren’t new after all. Just long sought goals with a new sales pitch and new tools.

We will explore those new tools more in the next post.



17 thoughts on “Intrapsychic: When the Key to Neural Change Lies in Manipulating a Student’s Purpose


    Dies the BS he is selling sound psycho? Who would buy this nonsense?

    “Several years ago I became interested in what it might mean to be an entrepreneurial learner. This does not mean how to become an entrepreneur. The entrepreneurial learner is constantly looking for new ways, new resources, new peers and potential mentors to learn new things. That’s the sense of entrepreneur I’m talking about.
    How do we prepare students for the 21st century workscape? I’d like to suggest that we need to build learning environments that foster entrepreneurial learners. We need to teach students to want to constantly learn new types
    of things, because that is the world that we are moving into – a world of constant and rapid change. The key for me is getting students
    to play with knowledge…”

  2. Here is a Neuroscientist who readily admits — “Teachers change brains.”

    I found her descriptions easy to understand and fit with my grasp of elementary psychology. I doubt that the average teacher knows these processes by name but I’m comfortable that good teaching does change brains in these positive ways.

    In view of cognitive research I’ve been following there is only one statement that causes me to be cautious, and that is her saying that educational scientists state that “practice makes permanent” instead of the usual “practice makes perfect”. My concern arises when dubious and trendy methods are used in the classroom, particularly the notorious “discovery” and “inquiry” methods to solve problems. Cognitive scientists warn that if the wrong answers are discovered, and even if corrected, they may become lodged in long-term memory. Thus, misconceptions are therefore “learned” and can remain with unknown (maybe harmful) effects for the future.

    These particular cognitive scientist’s work (Kirschner, Sweller and Clarke) is described in this paper Putting Students on the Path to Learning

    • I think you are being overly optimistic about the intent here or the purpose of activity. The Society for Learning Analytics Research has held its LAK combining Educational Data Mining and LA twice In Vancouver and the conferences only began in 2011. That’s more than any other city.

      You might also want to take a look at this by the same Australian prof who wrote Chapter 25 as well as Chris Goldspink who is tied to the Australian Teaching for Effective Learning framework. It’s not about content either.

      Here is the TfEL framework

      They are also pushing the idea of an internalized compass. That is a completely different push than the effect fluent reading or symbolic logic has on the brain neurally. They do not want Axemaker Minds that create their own thought categories and metaphors. The point of systems thinking is to think as a group, bot individually. To have a shared understanding.

    • “practice makes permanent” is definitely true. The difference, and the importance of practicing correct things rather than wrong ones, was obvious when my younger kid was learning violin. He wasn’t to practice too much, because after he was tired, it would just engrain wrong habits.

      And you cite one of several reasons I don’t think much of “discovery learning”. We’ve had generations of mankind’s greatest geniuses figuring out what the fundamentals are and how they fit together. Given hundreds of years, any given class of elementary kids would not do nearly as well, and they have only a few years, so stop teasing them and just give them the damn answers!

      • Hi David. Here is another link from just this week on the importance of role playing and games for ‘learning’. I am reminded that people keep assuming Learning is about content, but the actual definition we covered on this blog back in 2014 is an internalized mental representation that leads to predictable behavior. The academic domain is just the source of a particular mental concept that may fit a given context.

        Yesterday I realized the IHDP–the International Human Dimensions Programme–I wrote about was closed down and merged into Future Earth in June 2014, two months after I wrote about it. I am pesky. I found another example of this yesterday when I was following up on a reference I found on a Classical Education website that seemed parallel to how to create a human who functions as a designed system so I read the cited book. Then after finishing the book I followed up on the implications of what I had read and located this interview among others. I will bold the particularly crucial parts of the quote that ties into the gaming, Project-Based Learning, and role-playing. Notice that the new categories of thought are needed to re-imagine the future for social and economic transformation.

        We have to provide people with interpretive categories so they can think that way. But then we have to create actual festivals of abundance in which people can experience it.

        Precisely what these new types of assessment and activities that constitute the curriculum provide. And it is the experience that locks it in neurally, for better or worse. If people keep stating their purposes for these changes in education, we should listen to them.

  3. Off topic, this is interesting to me. Lamar Alexander is proposing a new way of monitoring student loans for college, that could “restrict access” to basketweaving and other unemployable degrees.

    Commenters on that liberal website are saying that such monitoring is OK for vocational degrees like nursing, but that “liberal arts” degrees should be exceptions. But that’s just what should not be exceptions. If someone wants to study Gender Studies, that’s great. But I don’t want to lend money for that, because (presumably) it’s hard to get a job with such a degree.

    Bringing some market discipline to colleges would straighten out a lot of the nonsense.

  4. The redforEd thing makes sense as its another avenue for the culturally saturated parentless utopian genderless to get attention. they have another tunnel into schools in lgbtq. The school infiltration under the guise of sex rights for teens and safety etc is a collection point for the kind of kids who will buy into the emo socialist movement and the dream of stardom.

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