Sometimes the most telling fact for figuring out connections is the non-existence of something we would normally expect to see. For the intrepid detective Sherlock Holmes, it was the failure of anyone to mention hearing a barking dog on the night of a murder. The watchdog, then, must have known the attacker and let him by without alarm. It has been three weeks since the World Government Summit 2017 was held in Dubai. There were two substantial papers released at that summit. One, on desired Innovations in Government, has been written about. The other called “The State of Positive Education” has not. Radio Silence about a desired global paradigm shift so that “schools all around the world should place well-being at the heart of education” means that those of us who are paying attention do not get a chance to bark in alarm.
Why would we be so alarmed you may wonder? The Summit had two Americans as the keynoters on this topic. A U-Penn prof, Martin Seligman, with his own tag who we have previously tied to the UN’s World Happiness Reports and Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi, who is tied quite simply to virtually everything. For starters, it is Csik’s definition of Excellence as bringing together what we want, feel, and think into a single act that is in play every time we hear a desire for Excellence in Education. Think also of the federal civil rights laws and the repeated command for Equity and Excellence.
How does this tie to Mrs DeVos’ statement from the last post and the repeated push to federalize an obligation that every school have a Positive School Climate? Surely I don’t want schools to have a negative culture, belittling the less capable, or strange, student until they can barely look up from their pain. Of course not, but making how students treat each other, whether they cooperate in joint projects, and whether they show ‘prosocial attitudes’ and reach ‘shared meanings’ of what abstract ideas must mean the new purpose of schools is too transformational to be something imposed under the radar in silence.
Last fall the State of Rhode Island created a Statewide Personalized LearningTemplate for its schools. A little discussed essential component of this student-centered transformation was a requirement for “school culture shifts” of the precise kind laid out by Positive Education. It is also a fundamental component of a Colorado district piloting ‘performance-based education’. Australia, relying on Professor Seligman’s work has crafted a Positive Educational Practices (PEPs) Framework published in 2008 by the British Psychological Society’s Journal. It stated that the “major focus of the positive psychology movement is how to facilitate flourishing lives that promote individual and organisational wellbeing.” Happiness, flourishing, mental health, and ‘what makes life most worth living’ sound like such tremendous goals. Wouldn’t it take someone with the heart of the Grinch, before his Christmas epiphany, to oppose such a focus?
Readers in the United States still unsure about how widespread this focus is and just how much has been put in place under conditions of silence should know that the National Institutes of Health and fed ED have already been funding Positive Education to create “classroom interventions.” It satisfies the criteria for ‘evidence-based’ under federal law and ‘scientifically-based practices’ in legislation passed by states. Last July, the author of that summit paper, the International Positive Education Network, IPEN, held its first ever Festival. 850 delegates from 30 countries came to Dallas, Texas for the event. Apparently those Essential Knowledge and Skills Frameworks Texas has in place marry well with Positive Education.
One more example, this one cited in that Summit Report IPEN created: fed Ed recently announced its “new ‘Skills for Success’ grant competition, aimed at improving students’ mindsets and learning skills. The awarded projects will involve more than 10,000 students in various school districts in the US.” Those districts may brag about the money as demonstrating they are on the Right Track locally. Bet the grants will not be touted as being a Positive Psychology experiment. There are five listed foundations in this approach to education: Social and emotional competency, positive emotions, positive relationships with peers and teachers, engagement through cognitive and character strengths so these can be developed at school, and students having opportunities at school and in the community to develop a sense of meaning and purpose. No need for Personally Identifiable Information at all.
Would anyone like to guess how often anti-bullying is cited as a reason to shift to Positive Education? I bolded the word ‘strengths’ in the last paragraph because the provided definition reminded me so much of how Excellence is also defined. “A ‘strength’ can be defined as a natural capacity for behaving, thinking and feeling in a way that promotes successful goal achievement.” With all the mentions of prosocial actions and instilled values, it is not too clear exactly who will be setting the goals that each student is to achieve. Do remember Mrs DeVos said we all have moral obligations we may not abdicate. I suspect she will just love Professor Seligman’s definition of a ‘meaningful life,’ at least she will if anyone at DoED describes it to her.
“a meaningful life is one that joins with something larger than we are–and the larger that something is, the more meaning our lives have. [Seligman] states that life is given meaning when we use our signature strengths every day in the main realms of living ‘to forward knowledge, power or goodness.'” This really is NOT education in the traditional sense and reads like training for collectivism so that students will not question an obligation to act from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. We will cover more proof in the next post that whatever the personal intentions of Mrs DeVos or Professor Seligman or others pushing this template, it truly is creating the desired consciousness and personality traits and habits needed for a shift away from the individual’s right to decide their own pathway in life.
Actually I will close with a statement Seligman made in June 2009 for the Oxford Review of Education when he answered the question of “Why Positive Education now?” with “What is all our wealth for, anyway?” I am tempted to pretend to be Tonto when the Indians are attacking him and the Lone Ranger and ask “who is we?” but then no one thinks wealth is easier to come by apparently than politicians and tenured profs. Here is Seligman and the reason for the Radio Silence:
“General well-being–how much positive emotion, how much engagement at work, how much meaning in life our citizens have–is now quantifiable and it complements, and makes sense of, GDP. Public policy can be aimed at increasing general well-being and the successes or failures of policy can be measured quantitatively against the standard.
Prosperity-as-usual has been equated with wealth. The time has come for a new prosperity, a prosperity that combines well-being with wealth. Learning to value and attain this new prosperity must start early–in the formative years of schooling–and it is this new prosperity, kindled by Positive Education, that the world can now choose.”
I bolded that word ‘kindle’ so we can have a chance to make this choice ourselves rather than have it imposed at summits we were not invited to or educators hoping for federal grant money. Because what Positive Education seeks to kindle at the level of each child’s mind, habits, and personality is intended to turn into an invisible bonfire motivating his or her future behaviors.
It really gives new meaning to imposing a cultural revolution from the bottom-up and the inside-out.