Nothing As Practical As a Good Theory For Gaining Access to Action Research

If a political theory gets you grant money or a job at a foundation, it “works” whether it is true or not. And puts its creator in a position to drive social change. The same is true with a learning theory. It does not have to be grounded in how kids actually gain knowledge if imposing it on a classroom will change future behaviors of soon-to-be voters in desired ways. Or might. That’s the great thing about action research theories. You impose them in real-life situations and see what happens. And you call them “research-based” to add an additional touch of legitimacy. Slyly leaving off the key point that the research is yet to come.

We already encountered Anthony Giddens saying it did not matter if global warming theory did not turn out to be factually true. That the theory itself would drive desired changes in individual behavior and social and economic changes. German sociology prof Ulrich Beck was even more forthright in declaring CAGW theory created a basis for a post-Berlin Wall Metamorphosis of the State all over the  traditionally capitalistic and individualistic West.

Social science researcher Kurt Lewin is the one who made the observation that there is “nothing as practical as a good theory.” He is considered the Godfather of all political theory action research and is intimately involved in what education pedagogy has become. Culmination of his life work you might say if you look him up.  The fact that he is quoted by name as a justification that:

“in order to learn how to sustain the development of the whole of humankind, individual human minds develop new mental models that can be used for representing worldviews in innovative ways. One way that knowledge of a global view of the world can be enhanced is through the use of systems thinking, from which merges the concept of global interdependence.”

Now the part in the next section about systems thinking being a useful metaphor and not literally true gets left out when systems thinking comes to a classroom. There it takes on its intended function of creating new mental models and worldviews. By the way that IB presentation I mentioned in an earlier post recently had multiple slides on creating new worldviews. It was the purpose of the Critical Thinking and Global Citizenship emphasis.

The disturbing fact that these new mental models and worldviews are intended to use education to drive a Biosocial Evolution should give us pause. So should the reality that I pulled the language from a UNESCO Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS). Especially as the National Geographic Society is helping to draft the Chapter called “Global Interdependence and Biosocial Systems.” It’s not like NGS is involved also with the drafting of the new US Common Core Science Standards.

That’s us. A biosocial system. And the introduction of such systems thinking into the classroom likely will not have the intended effect but it will alter values, beliefs, emotions and perceptions. That highly useful foursome to change future behavior. Just like Paul Ehrlich says his MAHB is more than five years into doing. Now Paul Ehrlich has a history of outrageous predictions of future calamities that never turn out to be true. I have noticed a tendency recently to mock his predictions and ridiculous statements on Twitter and in books and publications. It can make it easy to forget that Ehrlich’s theories do not have to be right. They are not intended to be. What they are intended to be is Influential. To become the excuse for someone’s desired change. That Metamorphosis of government power over people and an economy and the political structure. And in those domains his theorizing seems to be working splendidly.

That’s also why the influence of his Stanford colleague psychology prof Albert Bandura on the classroom implementation of the Common Core in the US and education reforms globally matters to all of us. That would be Bandura who is now trumpeted as the most cited living psychology prof. It appears we have located MAHB’s how to fundamentally change human behavior via UNESCO’s sought global education reforms. It is Bandura who Ehrlich and Orenstein thank first in their Humanity on a Tightrope book. Bandura is intimately in the hyping of overpopulation with Ehrlich. He and Ehrlich were working together to get the Palo Alto schools to study how to motivate students to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Oh and Stephen Schneider too for those who know his work. And if you wonder if he hypes quite as much as Paul I suggest locating Bandura’s 2007 “Impeding Ecological Sustainability through Selective Moral Disengagement.”

Not like access to the classroom would give a means to do something about Moral Disengagement on this issue in the future. That’s Bandura’s Self Efficacy Theory by the way creating a new theory for equity and student success in the Classroom that I described in this post. Based on that 2010 Framework created by California Tomorrow to become a national template. That’s also his theories involved when I wondered why the Facing History theory taught students that “history is largely manmade” even though that is clearly not true. Described in this important previous post

Stressing the idea that each person can make a difference turns out to be based on Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. He has discovered it encourages motivation to take action if students believe they can manage fortuity as he calls it. So he has developed theories of Social Agency to encourage students to take action, individually and collectively. So Kurt Lewin was right. Good theories are practical means of  trying to change the future in Transformative Ways. And it is important that we remember that and not get caught up in the falsity of the theory.

Now if Bandura’s influence was limited to what I cited above, it would still be important to write about. UNESCO and friends really are trying to use government mandates over education and what constitutes science and regulatory policy to drive a Biosocial Evolution. Why? Because it brings them power and money and justifies what they already have. A motivation about as old as Ancient Babylon and Eqypt if not just after the Garden of Eden exodus. No Bandura is much more influential than that. Which is how he came to my attention.

I have mentioned that Ed Week wanted to trumpet Fulton County, Georgia’s Conversion to a Charter System as of July 1, 2012. And that when I read that charter it clearly reflected the Hearts Desire of UNESCO for post-Berlin Wall education that I wrote about here. . One of the troubling terms used repeatedly in that Charter was Life Skills. Clearly a defined term left undefined in the actual document so I went looking for the origination of the term. And I found it in a 1993 document put out by the World Health Organization, Division of Mental Health with help from UNICEF, TACADE UK, and funding from the Carnegie Corporation in New York.

The idea was that teaching everyday life skills would promote mental well-being and positive health behavior. Something to keep in mind now as social and emotional learning are being trumpeted as necessary post-Sandy Hook “mental first-aid.” These Life Skills for Psychosocial Competence are listed as “Decision making, Problem solving, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Effective communication, Interpersonal relationship skills, Self-awareness, Ability to empathise, Coping with emotions, and Coping with stressors.” The actual document goes on to describe each of these in detail. Leaving no doubt that Life Skills for Psychosocial Competence is the less politically correct name for what are now being called 21st Century Skills. Which is not just a controversial US push under the name P21. As I mentioned in the previous post it is global under the name ATC21S and tied into what Pearson will actually be assessing students for. That will be the next post. I promise.

Today we are talking about Ehrlich and Bandura and the usefulness of theories in driving attempts at social change. Which is why the following paragraph from that WHO report is so important. Not just to education’s real intentions globally. Since its intended purpose is to change future voters from the inside out on what will motivate them to take action and how to behave in the future. That’s really how you get Transformative Change. Here goes:

“The methods used in the teaching of life skills builds upon what we know of how young people learn from the people around them, from observing how others behave and what consequences arise from behaviour. This is described in the Social Learning Theory developed by Bandura (1977).  In Social Learning Theory, learning is considered to be an active acquisition, processing and structuring of experiences. It is this emphasis on the individual as an active processor of reality that lies at the heart of the conceptual basis for teaching life skills using active, learner-centred teaching methods.”

So the actual classroom implementation of what is being called Common Core in the US and Quality Learning and what goes under a variety of names in other countries all ties back to what was laid out in this WHO document in 1993. That ties into what every UN agency wanted before and since. That ties into Ehrlich’s declarations. And the measurements to be used to determine if this is in fact what is going on in classrooms. And the Effective Teacher evaluations. Yes I do have all the relevant documents.

So never ridicule an influential theory or theorist until we successfully defuse those who plan to impose those theories on us anyway. At our expense. Short term financially and long term culturally.


22 thoughts on “Nothing As Practical As a Good Theory For Gaining Access to Action Research

    • Absolutely. In fact the co-author of Humanity on the Tightrope I mentioned in the post, Robert Ornstein, is the co-author of the book The Axemaker’s Gift: Technology’s Capture and Control of Our Minds and Culture that I wrote about in this post from July.

      That’s where my metaphor of the Axemaker Mind comes from because there is very much a desire to shut down the logical, abstract mind. Here’s a memorable line from the book the goes to the essence of the real reason for the reading and math wars. “symbols gave the user the ability to run scenarios, to see outcomes in theory before committing to practice.”

      Can’t have that say Orenstein and James Burke. Ehrlich has the same desire laid out in his book New World, New Mind: Moving Toward Conscious Evolution that I described in this post

      I shorthand that aspiration in the way he did–Newmindedness

      • Conservatives, including myself, tend to naturally fall back on reason. How can we defend our values in an environment where reason itself is devalued?

        Don’t get me wrong, I believe in reason as a basis for establishment of policy. How do we communicate our well reasoned positions without employing reason? What I mean is, in a way that resonates in today’s culture.

        • I think that is why there is so much focus on mindsets and perception and emotional habits of mind. In fact I know that because I have read the open declarations. You cannot reason someone out of a position or point of view that is not grounded in reason. That is based on emotion or cultivated false beliefs as I find the Facing History curriculum and that new C3 Social Science Framework. Remember there the students are supposed to “practice” with various perceptual lenses at school until they become a habit. The 10Cs Race and Class Oppression curriculum I wrote about works much the same way.

          The idea that the urban schools have been deliberately kept weak to create a sense of grievance coupled with a great deal of ignorance to aid community organizing is appalling. Yet that is precisely what the literature says when they believe they are talking among themselves. I am reading the 2006 Dewey lecture that was mentioned in a footnote. Breaks my heart to read.

          We have to tell the story of what K-12 and colleges and universities are being used to do. Change the culture and infantilize minds. At great expense.

          And now it is going into preschool. In fact I was reading about the SEL curriculum adopted in Cleveland after I finished this post and it was to start in prekindergarten and run to Grade 12. That’s a lot of telling students how they are to feel instead of teaching them to read fluently.

    • The EOSSL chapter I was quoting from made the point that it’s not learning unless there is a change in behavior and the recognition of the need to take action.

      Apparently working for a nonprofit these days or a university may mean no one needs to know their history. We are taking action to wholesale replace flawed institutions that work imperfectly but have survived because they work in favor of theories about what MAY work if we can only change human nature this time. And repeatedly these docs do insist that people are basically good if things were merely more fair.

      Which is rather contraindicated anywhere it has been tried.

      • “take action” reminds me of the 4 step learning cycle pushed in grad school early 90s (Org Behavior and MIS especially). When I grabbed the Org Behavior text it fell open to an article on Socialization by Richard Pascale (1985 in California Manage,ent Review). Seven steps to implicit social control. Step 2. “Humility inducing experiences in the first months on the job precipitate self-questioning of prior behavior, beliefs, and values.” Step 5. “Careful adherence to the firm’s transcendent values. Identification with common values enables employees to reconcile personal sacrifices necessitated by their membership in the organization.” Step 6. “Reinforcing folklore provides legends and interpretation of watershed events in the organizations history that validate the firm’s culture and its aims.” Rinse, repeat in an endless cycle. Social currency as power pushed through the MBA into big business, now applied to our teachers and children.

        • henry-

          Thanks for describing that. You would not believe how well that fits with Outcomes Based educations targets–values, attitudes, and beliefs– coupled with what are to be called communities of practice or communities of learners. Basically teachers and students working on problem solving where there is no fixed, linear answer and texts where the group can learn to agree by consensus on the “meaning.”

          And the whole reason for pushing these untaught Indeterminate Situations in the curricula and especially in the assessments is the change available from the frustration of there being no right answer.

          I think adults wanting power and “steering” ability as the Club of Rome called it in their Turning Points report I wrote about are failing to appreciate what this kind of Systems Thinking will do to still forming minds. And that deliberate attempt to make the emotions the dominant response instead of regulated by what you know.

          I hope you will add more from your grad school experiences. There really is a “why can’t everyone behave like our models” element going on.

          • Robin,

            6 years of the PhD seminar in that stuff, but long ago enough that I’ve recovered my capitalist mojo. I was looking for the correct names for the learning cycle (there are three nearly identical — the Org Behav one, the “native american wheel”, and Deming’s quality cycles), but had a senior moment and reached for the wrong text. They all are roughly “think, plan, act, evaluate” clockwise (with Deming counter-clockwise). The Org Behav PhDs were training to become corporate interventionists, I have reams of intervention methods and the theory behind it gathering dust. I’ll dive in again as your posts or comments trigger something like today.

            BTW, its not so much “why can’t everyone behave like our models” as “how do we force everyone to behave as our models.” The Org Behav types see themselves as the front line in this effort.

          • You know Henry that OBE the first time was sold as just the education variation of Deming until even Deming said no. You are going somewhere else. I have a copy from the 80s of some schemers bemoaning the fact that they need to sell it as a business model based innovation instead of the change future behavior reality.

          • Henry-

            Since Systems Thinking rings such a bell with what you saw in business grad school, I thought you’d appreciate this link a reader just sent me about the Winston-Salem School District voting last night to cancel their affiliation with Peter Senge and his SoL and systems thinking.


            Wouldn’t it be neat if someone in North Carolina reading this blog brought Senge and Scharmer’s and Bela Banathy’s clearly expressed intentions to the attention of the school board?
            Now if parents in Portland and the State of Nevada and Tucson would recognize Systems Thinking to Create Permanent Habits of Mind for Global Citizenship as I called it last week fits with schools in Cuba or 70s Moscow but not in the US. Not without gutting the intention of our Constitution.

          • Robin, Senge was a good friend of my thesis advisor — systems thinking seems to be b-school manna. Right now I’m trying to keep it out of WI schools. What I hear is the politicians are very confused about what various proposals entail, although some now read your blog. As you well know this is a marathon and not a sprint. Good for parents in Winston-Salem!

          • It’s a marathon with a rulebook that the runners are not being given.

            Nor the sponsors of the race.

            Only the referees seem to have it.

          • henry–

            I would recommend any school district fighting this read Bela Banathy’s book as well as the 1994 version of The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. That Fieldbook makes it clear that systems thinking is also a good way to describe what Csik’s Flow and the real meaning of Excellence are trying to achieve: that blend of thinking, wishing for, and feeling based on a personal vision of what is desired for the future. The Fieldbook goes back to using the terminology we talked about with the view of education as Transformation and the religious as creating an obligation in everyday life. As Dewey and the Ikeda Center envision now as part of Global Citizenship. The Fieldbook goes back to talking of head, heart, and soul again.

            I sometimes think that the school districts that know they are dealing with Senge and the Waters Foundation and the Meadows modelling of the future may be the luckiest. There is a frontal assault. A district using Spence Rogers or Willard Daggett is getting these same concepts but it is less obvious.

            Then you read Rogers books for example and he cites Csik as what he bases his motivation work on and Csik says he is trying to use education to override our genetic predispositions. For a bright mind without a facade identity these aspirations strike me as school as emotional torture chamber. I think the future vision of a changed humanity that is just not likely as Oakes herself seems to recognize somewhat (from yesterday’s post on the Invisibility Cloak) is obscuring the very real dangers of these double-loop change the students while their beliefs and values and attitudes remain malleable approaches.

            But then I was saddened last night when I realized the bumper sticker in front of me in the carpool line at a Dance Studio said “My child is a Student of Character at x Elementary School.” Not what they know now but how they feel and behave.

  1. Being ignorant, stupid orKnowing nothing will soon be given victim staus, becoming a protected class ( cognative vapidity, or blank stare syndrome) and pile on the already incapacitated ( many perfectly able) multitude of victims awarded badges, special treatment , extra everything status, entitlement
    wages and will deeply value tv and the government. Psrfect 21st century workers, products of 21st century learning.
    Also the idea that
    ” we can make a better world”
    “We can make a difference”
    Implies that our world is apparently horrible. ( destroy patriarchical colonialist history) Teaching kids to be perpetually unsatisfied and critical and untrusting. Critical
    theory, thinking, pedagogy.
    It see this every day with my kids assignments. I am forever tempering them to the least damage possible.

    • Madmommy-It was intriguing how much last night’s SOTU dovetailed with what I have been detailing. P-Tech by the way is polytechism. And I have all the docs for that vision from more than 20 years ago. P-Tech is also on my radar since an IBM exec said Georgia’s Career Pathways for all students is based on the P-Tech model. I was at the meeting when she said it and came home and looked into P-Tech. Georgians then should be aware that their state is helping to pilot the redesign of high schools around the polytechnical model. Which of course disparages giving any superiority to the mind vs the hand. Gee you’d think “Head, Heart, and Hand” was some kind of Common Core motto or something.

      Your children’s assignments are based on a desire to create what is called “Disruptive Knowledge” that is generally false beliefs but who cares as long as it impels future action to seek change. Which is the whole idea.

      Fortuitously all of this and the link between Equity and Quality Schooling and Community organizing is described in detail in the book I am finishing this morning. Which is also tied to those Common Core PARCC and SBAC as well as the Texas STAAR performance assessments. And Texans reading this comment because of their concern over the C Scope controversy should know the book explicitly mentions the Alliance Network in Texas I have written about.

      • What happens if students discover that the “disruptive knowledge” is lies? I suspect that it depends on the person…

        Maybe 5 years ago or so I was watching an episode of the Nick (or was it Disney?) show Zoe 101. In this episode the high school boarding school characters are all sitting around the dining hall table, and one comments mildly, “My hamburger is cold.” Another kid deadpans, “I blame global warming.” First kid grins and then deadpans back, “I blame the cafeteria lady.”

        This is as generic whitebread as it gets. If teenybopper shows are openly mocking AGW then the kids aren’t buying it…

        • Cathy–

          From the backseat conversations I overhear as I chauffeur high schoolers around it is the focus of the Honors Biology course and they get tested on it. And it’s the focus of the AP Human Geography course as they are foisting Thomas Malthus on 15 year olds as if his predictions are the ever present spectre. In Honors English they are reading excerpts from Carol Dweck’s Mindset on the importance of not having fixed beliefs.

          It’s fascinating to overhear especially as so few read anything but yahoo news for info.

          But high schoolers are at least salvageable if they have an abstract mind and not just emotions and beliefs that they have been taught is knowledge. Most of what Oakes asserts about economies is not so. Scarcity is in fact real and not an ideology.

          There’s an NSF biology curriculum foe elementary school kids that will have those kids visualizing warm and cuddly Koalas at risk and not some insect. Also the dynamic modelling software to be used to illustrate the supposed effects of various scenarios is designed to stick memorably in the mind.

          In college NSF is funding lucrative fellowships to attract the best science minds into climate science to hype all this, What a waste of good minds.

    • I had not seen that Buffett remark but Oakes in the book I cited from today said that the “privileged” would not be able to withdraw into their gated communities and privatized schools. It is very much on their minds. And through the accreditors the private schools can be almost as radical. Except the parents do not believe it can happen for what they are paying and to nice families.

      I have done private and public so this is not a matter of sour grapes. I have watched all these dynamics.

      In Australia the ideas being pushed on the privates mirror our actual Common Core implementation. They have vouchers and that’s the nexus to go after privates. You could create a way around but only if public officials and taxpayers know what’s contaminating in the first place.

  2. Yes, you are on top of the private schools situation and the author could learn from this website. I think I will get the URL to him somehow.

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