New Assessments Drive New Minds Primed for the Progressive Composition of the Good Common World

To the extent education reforms going on globally in K-12 and higher ed are even on people’s radar, most observers still believe the dispute is over how to best transmit knowledge. And who gets to decide the type of knowledge that is needed. It is hugely convenient for the advocates of wholesale social, economic, and political transformation in the 21st century that we all continue to misapprehend the nature of the actual debate and the tools being used to drive the desired individual and cultural changes. To help us all bridge the gap between what we expect from schools and higher ed and what these reforms intend to actually do to our children and us, I am going to use quotes from 3 people whose work is at the center of the current transformation globally.

Quoting what they say the political purpose of their work is because it still attaches even if neither we nor the Principal or the legislators or the Governor are aware of those actual purposes. Or what PISA is really measuring. Farthest back in time is from a book by the chief architect of the communitarianism component, Amitai Etzioni. Back in 1983 he wrote:

“schools must first and foremost graduate individuals who can function on their own while relating constructively to one another (mutuality) and to their community (civility). Such individuals, properly ‘put together’ from a psychosocial viewpoint, will have the most important characteristics workplaces require. Moreover, I recognize that schools need to educate for other values than work, such as culture and citizenship.”

That would be the purpose that now gets hidden under the euphemism “College and Career Ready.” And the ‘culture’ and ‘citizenship’ students are being groomed for is grounded in the transformative vision of the future to prime the students to take action to help bring the new world into being. The great advantage of deemphasizing textbooks and lectures and mandating virtual reality gaming as assessment or using group collaboration around the ambiguous real-world grounded “wicked decision problems” from the last post is we are creating young people who will have the right to vote with virtually no capacity to anticipate even the likely consequences of the transformative actions being taken. The insider phrase for this new emphasis of “skilled in the fundamental pragmatics of life” gets omitted from the public sales pitch as too accurate to be acceptable.

Let there be no impediment to future action and let the actions be grounded in the cultivated feelings and values and attitudes that live in the unconscious regions of the self could easily be the new motto of global ed reforms. Let’s move on to Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum who we first met here. Her work on capability as a human right has increasingly caught the OECD’s and the UN’s attention as the appropriate theoretical vehicle to push for a public sector dominant society and a new kind of welfare state for the 21st century. Apparently we are not supposed to notice the marked resemblance of capability theory to Uncle Karl’s human development theory of the future.

Proponents of stealth transformation via education better hope then that no one reads this passage in Nussbaum’s 2011 book:

“ponder what is implicit in human dignity and a life in accordance with it…Marx’s vivid descriptions of forms of labor that allow continued life, but not a fully human life, resonate the world over. The notion of life in accordance with human dignity is one of the most fertile ideas used in worldwide constitutional jurisprudence.” Ahh, tenured academia–where the term Marx is actually not a pejorative insult but a still revered architect of future ways of organizing life and a society. Later, Nussbaum kindly tells us why it is so important now to have a Whole Child, social focus that grounds all thought in emotion and then uses new assessments to both drive and measure how schools are doing in driving such “growth.” It is “how we might cultivate the helpful sentiments in a socially propitious way.” Those would be the sentiments that will hopefully ground the actions for transformative change with again little ability to recognize likely disasters that would be apparent to anyone with a solid knowledge of history.

Nussbaum goes on in a passage that also primes the vision of Bruno Latour, who we meet next. In the future, political power is deemed to drive all. This is a little long but too revealing not to use:

“politicians can build a public culture that puts altruism and the relief of misery at it core. …An account of the emotions of citizens in a decent society is urgently needed.

This task involves thinking about the family, about social norms, about schools, and about the ways in which political institutions create incentives. It also requires conceptual thought about the emotions, how they arise and unfold, what their structure is, and how they interact with one another.”

In other words, the survey Nussbaum says is needed is precisely what the White House-pushed League of Innovative Schools and the EdLeader21 suburban US school districts have now agreed to research and gather data on. Not to mention all the data being thrown off by the Executive Order mandating Positive School Climates or requiring Positive Behavioral programs for all students under an indefensible reading of federal disabilities law or via adaptive software programs used in the digital learning juggernaut. You’d almost think Professor Nussbaum knew people in DC who could help drive her theories along.

Now Bruno Latour is a name familiar to me because of his role in the ‘science wars’ of the 90s. Plus he is a hugely popular choice as a campus speaker now. A French sociologist. So when I saw a 2004 book of his cited–Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy–that Harvard published, I thought we could gain more insights. Confirmation that what is being billed now as ‘innovation’ is really a push for sociological experimentation. A truly shocking book for Harvard to have embraced and for the French government to have originally funded. Reading that the “social sciences would finally become scientific if they agreed ‘to treat humans as things” made me feel like I had slipped into a Hollywood script for a science fiction mini-series. No such luck though. These are real and current aspirations we are dealing with.

The constant references I have located now to new kinds of minds and Growth Mindsets to be psychologically healthy and verbatim references to encouraging ‘dialectical thinking” (shouldn’t computer programs come with a search function that pipes up “do you REALLY want to use that word?”) should be seen through Latour’s blueprint of how we are to now be moving towards the “progressive composition of the good common world.” Not to freak you out, although I did spend the better part of yesterday with my mind racing and hands trembling, but Latour really does talk in terms of “once the collective has been assembled.” He writes of no more distinction between “interests’ and ‘politics’ or ‘nature’ and ‘politics.’ Instead, there is just political power that engages in a ‘groping process’ to ‘deal with matters of human concern.’ These new associations will unabashedly experiment with new ways of living and organizing society using 3 powers: “the power to take into account,” the “power to put in order,” and the “power to follow up.”

Roughly translated that seems to be public officials deciding what to do, then how to do it, and then examining how they did and considering what to do next. All as if public dollars will always be there for the asking to pay for such social transformations even though everything that has ever produced economic wealth is being squelched to get the mindsets that will go along. Justifying statism in the name of equality and justice is another way of looking at this genuine aspiration. That gets linked to the Common Core and other global ed reforms because they are all seeking precisely the same kinds of minds and values that Latour believes are needed and the OECD now counts as Competencies and government officials are calling “higher order thinking skills’ created by “rigor” in the classroom.

Latour actually believes like John Dewey that such a concentration of political power and binding all citizens to the results of majority will (that is in turn cultivated by what is to go on in schools and universities) need not lead to totalitarinism. He really says that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union simply had the wrong kind of politics and vision injected into their collective decision-making. I am thinking that tenure and being able to live at public expense or courtesy of untaxed endowments held by universities and charitable foundations has seriously left way too many influential people who already have utterly no conception of likely consequences.

Too much theory and not enough reality apparently is possible now on many a campus, think-tank, foundation, or government agency and it shows thoroughly in what is being pushed on all of us.

Who pay the bills and who are to have nowhere to turn if these visions continue to advance via education and cultural transformation.

Reality and Consequences do not care. If the likely consequences appear to be a nightmare, remember the unforeseeable ones we will also encounter.

Instead of cultivating new conceptual lenses and minds for students, we need to impose reality checks on a whole lot of adult professors and bureaucrats and politicians.

In time.



12 thoughts on “New Assessments Drive New Minds Primed for the Progressive Composition of the Good Common World

  1. Did sunstein and nussbaum have any children together? Just curious. We see an example of a child reared with similar parents in David coleman.
    This could only be happening with the right person in the whitehouse.
    The idea that despite the realities of his personal life, and the consequences of enacting his ideas, that MARX is still revered in any way is troubling in a big way.

    • Not that I am aware of Madmommy but he and our UN Ambassador, Stephanie Powers, now do. For those not following along, Nussbaum’s significant other for years was Cass Sunstein, the regulatory czar during the first term. Mr. Second bill of Rights to finally get what FDR sought in 1944 which dovetails closely to what is in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that we are hearing so many anecdotal reports is a key aspect of the actual Common Core curriculum. Written of course by a self-admitted British Marxist.

      Mercy me that’s a whole lot of followers of a notorious political theorist in the vicinity of the actual implementation.

    • Knowing this is the intention and coming is little preparation for visually seeing the intention to use the Common Core to create mindsets that will accept overriding the Constitution as necessary. It is in the way of the desired majority will binds all to the imposed ‘consensus’ created by participatory meetings.

      Thanks narciso. And remember under Common Core, the answers must be based on the provided materials. Which thus have an agenda about what they say. All of which is supposedly beyond the reach of parents and taxpayers to object to.

  2. Groping? I looked it up and yes, Latour’s “groping process” in the original French is tâtonnement. I know that word from economics.

    It describes the approach to an equilibrium. Sometimes it leads to equilibrium, sometimes it does not, and when it does, the equilibrium reached may not be particularly desirable. Think of a hilly surface with lots of dips, peaks, valleys and ridges. The tâtonnement process may take you down the steepest slope from wherever you are, probably leading to a nearby low spot where you stay. Is that where you wanted to be? Well anyway you didn’t have a choice, because the tâtonnement process is obviously rather blind. Economists think it’s pretty interesting if this process leads to a good outcome, but being dismal sorts, they wouldn’t be surprised if the outcome is bad or ends up going in circles.

    And Latour, having grabbed this word from the late French / Swiss economist Leon Walras, thinks it give his theories a bit of Walras’ towering respectability. Poor old Leon, in a less towering sense, must be spinning in his grave about now.

    • David,

      The Positive School Climate materials refer to Harman Daly’s for the common good: redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future. Daly is famous for his steady-state economic theories so that fits as well. If no more prosperity is the price of all this oversight and control than these planners see that as acceptable because it is not a burden to them. They make their living advocating for this nonsense. is another fascinating link as Latour says he can openly express his ideas in Germany but not the UK or the US. He also says everything he has pushed as Constructivism was actually just to get this new vision of society of the future in place. Harvard holds the copyright to that book I cited, not Latour himself.

  3. Consensus Does Not Mean Coercion

    The degree of coercion used to force something on an unwilling or naïve population is a strong indicator of how desperately needed are the stakes by the stakeholders. This is colonialization without the guns — the making of subject serfs.

    Let’s switch from examining the intent of all this 21st Century Learning activity to examine just the means. Let’s put aside the “ends” and focus on the “means” that supposedly are justified. ( We should itemize and describe the methods being used.)

    In an earlier post, Robin reported the following words from a conference attended: “we need to prime the adults for the change needed” and we need to “create the consensus necessary to preserve this change once it is introduced.”

    Bluntly, I find that very threatening and insulting. First I’m still wondering and fearing what this “needed” forced future might be, even while I put that aside for now to concentrate on the means. Secondly, I’m really suspicious of the means — the priming, the creating of consensus, and finally the reinforcement and policing of the change once introduced. How will all this grooming proceed, and WHO is to do it?

    It seems to be full of psychological persuasion and behavior modification techniques, including conditioning and maybe even aversion therapy (Ouch!).

    It’s not so far-fetched considering one of the biggest growth hires by school boards and teacher unions recently is of additional communications and public relations personnel.

    I’ve been tracking how critical thinking (most of us would support this) has morphed into critical education, critical theory and critical pedagogy (mostly a Marxist project).

    We recently had a forum on assessments with a UCLA expert explaining how favored 21st C L skills such as critical thinking and creativity will be measured. When I spoke with her afterwards I said that critical thinking was being used as a “snare” to get parents and public onside to these new transformations. I asked her in effect: Did you know that critical thinking in the curriculum was providing opportunity for implanting critical pedagogy? That teachers searching for texts on the subject will obtain books with critical in the title, not realizing that they were about critical pedagogy, not critical thinking?

    She did not think this was happening. One just has to search “critical” in any bookseller list, new or used, and you will see the loading of the critical theory books over anything else.

    My following the “progression” of critical thinking to current critical pedagogy shows the gradual redefinition and appropriation of this theme by Marxists. This text – A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature — through six editions over 45 years (1966-2011) clearly shows “critical’s” makeover. From ASSISTING students to critique literature from different points-of-view, moving away from the traditional/historical contexts to more psychological/sociological constructs (1st Ed) to ENGAGING AND RADICALIZING students (6th Ed).

    Henry Giroux, a Marxist, in the 6th Edition moves the professor or teacher away from a disinterested enabler of learning to (hopefully) desiring to become political and “intervening in and changing the world, creating ‘new spaces, practices, and values’”. (p323) “This sometimes means that a professor might make his or her own political views part of the instruction . . . “(p306)

    So, let’s be clear. Marxists do not fill our academic social science and teacher training positions for a good job with security and good pay. They are there to propagandize and lead to activism.

    I consider this travel from critical thinking to critical pedagogy a superlative example of stealthy hijacking of many of our institutions. A form of invasion and coercion. If public opinion became aware of this infiltration and purpose I don’t think there would be a “consensus” on maintaining this state of affairs.

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