Pulling Up the Moorings Once Again to Transform Reality into the History of Desired Desires

If you want to “create a world where individuals will work even when they know that much of the fruit of their labor will go to those who are less fortunate,” you are going to need to use education to target prevailing social norms. If you believe that Marx’s famous quote “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need” has “morally resonant appeal” and wish to see a future society that does not dismiss that appeal “out of hand as mere sloganeering,” a perch as a World Bank economist is a tremendous platform to try to go about making it so. 21st Century Learning, perhaps?

It especially helps if you have a good working relationship with a Nobel Prize winning economist who wants to reframe economics in terms of Individual and especially Group Identity. And that economist, George Akerlof, in a 2010 book Identity Economics, recognized the value of his theories on education as the premier social institution with influence on almost everyone. An enduring influence on “what people care about, and how much they care about it.” A good working definition of Identity is values, beliefs and emotional commitments. Probably not coincidentally, precisely what the actual Common Core implementation targets for change. Which is interesting as Identity Economics defines “good schools” as those that “transform students’ identities and norms.”

Almost precisely like Transformational Outcomes Based Education sought to do in the 90s version of these education reforms. Names change but never really the goals. One of the aspects of Common Core that is consistent throughout but in the small print is its stated desire to create ‘habits of mind.” Think of those as unconscious reflexes. Now compare with Akerlof’s recognition that people “act as they do, naturally and without question, mostly out of habit. They are products of their social environment and unaware they might have behaved differently.” Remember also schools are a social environment of long duration.

So if you can use education, preschool, K-12, or higher ed (all of the above is even nicer to a future Transformationist) to create the desired feelings and values and influential conceptual understandings that filter daily life you can go a long way toward changing the future. Especially if you also rely on another insight from social psychology Akerlof points out: “individuals’ behavior depends on who people think they are.” So effective schools should get at Identity and define it in politically useful ways. Early and often. Like Chicago voting.

Now to do all that a theory of psychology based on a philosophy built on changing the nature of things in the real world would be very useful. And a factual theory of knowledge devoted to understanding the nature of things would be an obstacle because it would accept the world as it is. And maybe even keep a fondness for the past. Which would be in the way of someone who wanted to create a Worldview around his belief that:

“life is activity and to live means to satisfy one’s desires. Life is experienced as Desire: it is through desires that the subject realizes the discrepancy between the world as it is and the world he would like to have.”

Now I would assert that all of the mentions today that education must be Relevant and Engaging and about Real-World problems are merely a more subtle means of achieving that driving emphasis built on Desire. To change the world to something new. And if UK Professor Ivan Markova  wrote in 1982 that the twin Hegelian themes of activity and creativity in the acquisition of knowledge “have been emerging in various forms in social, clinical, and developmental psychology for some time and, quite probably without the knowledge of the authors concerned, that they have been reflecting Hegel’s philosophy.”

If those pros were unaware, what about now? Hegel’s philosophy is obviously a touchy subject to have as a foundation. A Soviet heritage is bad enough but tracking even further back to a common ancestry with what launched two World Wars and the Holocaust is undeniably even worse. And if the psychologists in 1982 were unlikely to know this history, how much less likely is it that a teacher or principal or administrator or politician know about this background to student-centered learning? To launder a notorious heritage you simply make it a basis for the amorphous terms “pedagogy” and “Best Practices” and “Constructivism” and then pronounce it as a better way to learn. Grounded in emotion is an easier way to remember and you simply leave out Hegel’s desire to bring values and human experience into how all science is done.

And since few know of the linkage back to Hegel, modern 21st century educators cannot rely on Scottish novelist and statesman Robert Buchan’s excellent advice from more than 100 years ago.  “A man who has been nourished on German metaphysics should make a point of expressing his thoughts in plain workaday English, for the technical terms of German philosophy have a kind of hypnotic power; they create a world remote from common reality where reconciliations and synthesis flow as smoothly and with as little meaning as in an opiate dream.” And you are wondering what does metaphysics have to to with Identity Economics and the Common Core?

Oh, you know the changing conceptualizations students are to be taught as they ignore obvious characteristics and look for new “cause-effect relationships”? Even something like RECAST, Revealing Causal Structures, that we have talked about is ultimately grounded in Hegel’s Conceptual Frameworks. Or CORE-Cognitive Reorganization. With his name left off and no warning that these are aspirational theories designed to alter current reality. When we talk of providing the Enduring Understandings that will frame everyday experiences, that’s Hegel’s insight on the usefulness to a change philosophy if education were to now be built around the recognition that “implicit presuppositions and conceptual frameworks do determine what is observed.”

Hegel so wanted to shake human consciousness that he talked about the importance of wars in human history. And pointed out that a “person has to go through disturbing experiences personally in order to grow as a person.” Which reminded me of precisely the curricula Bill Ayers and Maxine Greene and Nel Noddings were all describing in this post as necessary for “real moral growth.” http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/priming-delicate-minds-for-a-desired-disruptive-revolution-what-is-the-real-damage/

The idea of using activity and interactions with others to achieve personal growth is also Hegel. Which means the criteria of Student Growth that the US federal DoEd is requiring that teacher evals be based on ultimately tracks back to Hegel and his theories on how to change consciousness. Moreover, a change in values, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings or a willingness to apply new concepts constitutes Student Growth. And usefully for the economists that started this post that would also be a useful change in Identity and over time prevailing norms.

I could walk you through how an Indeterminate Situation with no fixed linear answer as those Pearson assessments I have described fits within the kind of higher-order thinking that changed consciousness that Hegel described as Synthesis. What the Hewlett Foundation calls Deep Learning. But I believe you get my point that the overlap is high. The book is called Paradigms, Thought, and Language if you too want to immerse yourself in all the Hegelian foundations of what we are calling the Common Core. Or try to dispute all these troubling implications. Remember in the last post when the advocates for Vygotsky sought to assert that these theories need not result in totalitarianism? Showing the history was very much on their minds even if no one is giving us the heads up on the dangers of what we are mandating in our K-12 classrooms. This is how Markova ended her book:

“In all other areas of psychology the Hegelian framework will undoubtedly be the one with the future, and Hegel’s philosophy will prove a deep source of inspiration. Finally a word of caution…action can be sinister if based on non-recognition of the other person as a human being. The future of mankind depends on taking actions in which human beings mutually recognize each other as human beings.”

So are people basically good as so many of these philosophers and economists want to believe? Will we remember the lessons of history before we once again light this Hegelian powder keg for achieving social change?

I suggest we remember another turn of the 20th century insight when these German ideas were first exploding onto the world stage. It’s from a novel by the same Robert Buchan where his character wisely notes:

” You think a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Satan.”

The actual Common Core implementation and the intent of its assessments and the accompanying economic, social, and political transformations go far beyond a touch or a push.

Shoving into the abyss is more like it regardless of anyone’s good intentions. And without much accurate actual knowledge and a deliberate cultivation of a desire for change, there does not even seem to be a parachute or a tool to catch a ledge.

12 thoughts on “Pulling Up the Moorings Once Again to Transform Reality into the History of Desired Desires

  1. In education we followed Hegel -“Create the problem and then come up with the solution.” The same may be said for economics. Keep up your great work. Thank you!

    • You are welcome. Markova’s book was a shock. Especially if you intertwine what was in there with what was described in the previous post on interweaving anything encountered day to day with existing belief system in that 1988 book I mentioned that had NSF, Carnegie, and Ford funding.

      What I am working on today has brought back up Davydov and Ilyenkov again and how they brought back more of a humanist approach based on Hegel. So we really have a continuous line now from Hegel to CHAT and Learning by Expansion with Engestrom and the conceptual approach of CORE and Erickson.

      Markova also mentions Kenneth Gergen of the Gordon Commission and Taos Institute and Appreciative Inquiry in her vision of social constructivism and using Hegelian frameworks in psychology without saying so. I believe it was Engsetrom that led me to Markova. Interesting how it really is all connected.

  2. So many great points in this post—thanks for all the hard work you do to pull these ideas together.

    Your point about the unlikelihood of a teacher, principal, administrator, or politician knowing about the background of student-centered learning is very true. Most teachers and administrators just want to know what they’re supposed to do and they do it. And they take comfort in knowing they are doing what they are supposed to do. “That’s life.” A politician is likely to be only concerned with the latest headlines.

    I was watching an interview with Larry Grathwohl, author of “Bring Down America: An FBI Informer with the Weathermen.” The author spoke of ‘self-criticism’ sessions that Bill Ayers and others would engage in as a means of remaining obedient to the cause. He spoke of one session during which he was the focus that lasted over 24 hours. Talk about manipulation of attitudes, values, and beliefs.

    It’s amazing how well you tie Hegel into the picture. And remind us of his philosophical contributions to WWI, Bolshevik Revolution, WWII, and many other wars of the 20th Century.

    What remained with me from my undergraduate classes about Hegel was his view of history as “the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of States, and the virtue of individuals have been victimized.” I can still remember the professor’s sinister grin as he spoke these words—he was really enjoying himself that day.

    Very true quote by Robert Buchan regarding ‘hypnotic power’ of the language of German philosophy—I was reminded of that as I tried to make my way through the Periklis Pavlidis article you brought up recently. That stuff makes me dizzy. People may have issues with Nietzsche, but at least he attempts to make himself clear.

    • Usually after I have outlined what I want to say I try to think of ways to put it into perspective. I pulled several books that I suspected would have something interesting to say about Hegel and what he sought to do. One of the books I pulled was Roger Kimball’s The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in the Age of Amnesia.

      He had a chapter on Robert Buchan and I thought those quotes would frame the problem nicely from someone speaking out before the tragedies. Apparently he was the Governor General Of Canada and quite a beloved figure there. He knew a great deal of history and recognized what he was looking at. I can relate.

      My epiphany was realizing that this was not based on Hegel. It was over and over again his frameworks and purpose and Markova contrasts it with rejecting the Cartesian Framework that came out of the Enlightenment.

      I am sorry that is not the call of someone with a doctorate in Educational Leadership who is not being honest with taxpayers about what he or she is up to. Or any politician. This is a rolling of the dice and it has never gone well before.

      But you can also see why Pavlidis is pertinent and mainstream and the Ascending goes back to Hegel. It turns out it is based on Vygotsky and the others who got to practice with it but it is not original with them. If you search Markovan you will see she emphasizes Vygotsky more now as the genesis of the same ideas.

      Probably because Germans especially would recognize the significance of Hegel. Just like the Vygotsky cites rarely point out the date is to English translation. This is not contemporary research.

      Well I guess it is with NSF funding unfortunately.

      • This rejecting the Cartesian Framework—let me see if I have it right. Descartes’ philosophy began by doubting everything that couldn’t be proven. Thus setting a very high bar for scientific knowledge. ‘Breaking down the Cartesian walls’ would involve lowering or obliterating that high standard of truth. Thus today we do science by consensus—which fits in with the idea of knowledge appearing “not in the form of results and solutions but rather as a process of authoring.” So we have Identity Economics, and other things like it, to confuse people, and that’s dialectic.

        To say goodbye to the gains of the Enlightenment, that’s scary. This must be the age of dysfunction.

        • Desuetude-it is also a rejection of the distinction between thought and feelings and action. Yes it is scary and because it is intended to be normative, not philosophical, it is dangerous if not discussed.

          This post is an Intro to where I am going. Laying an important foundation and also helping provide a timeline. I was ready to write Part 2 when I wrote this but now I have some additional details that will help me illustrate even better how all this happened from about 1970 on. Using quite mainstream Ivy League or award winning books. They just are not on most people’s radar. Tiptoeing through the footnotes again.

          But when we change the nature of science conceptually we do not change the nature of the world. Just our ability to understand it. People like the Ehrlichs would say “and manipulate it” but many pf those manipulations made the world a far better place for virtually everyone. Sometimes poverty apart from dysfunctional governments which is where you find famine have been the people who have not yet been lifted up. That was a big part of what was being misinterpreted in the 19th. And now the misperceptions have developed remedies that keep making problems worse.

          • Wow, Akerloft had some brief but positive words about Core Knowledge schools. I wasn’t expecting that.

          • Anon,

            You will have to tell me more than that. And I am a fan of CK but every time I have looked into this it turns out that the beloved insight is changing the curriculum to get to the goals.

            Then that turns into these are our goals, what curriculum will get us there? And then that turns into we want emotional beliefs that will compel action to these transformative goals.

            I really am just trying to get everyone using a common dictionary here. We are having a serious case of word mischief in education.

  3. I’ve never read most of the authors you cite, but any approach that has to remind us not to forget that other people are human beings is certainly very dangerous. Sounds like one of those pro-forma warnings, to be mostly ignored in practice, that is tacked on to exonerate the author of any fault if and when things go horribly wrong. This post really got me in the gut.

    Akerlof is famous for his wonderful and easy-to-read 1970 paper “The Market for Lemons” about why good used cars will sell for less than their true value, because the seller cannot convince the buyer that the car is really good. One of the classics of economics. Now he’s been pulled into trying to cheat economics by preventing people from being individually rational decision makers. But in economics if you get rid of rationality, you are really in undefined territory, and I don’t believe anyone even Akerlof can have much understanding of what will happen. And he must know it. Instead of being a top economist he’s sold out and made himself just another bs artist. I am sure he’s well compensated for it, and it probably put him over the top for the Nobel.

    • Basu and Akerlof both thank each other on their Acknowedgements pages and Akerlof spent time at Brookings in the 90s while his wife, now Federal Reserve Vice Chair, was in the DC area for a job. I came across Basu as a Brookings speaker recently and saw the blurb for his book and realized it was trouble. He has Akerlof citing it on the back cover. Since I kept seeing cites to changing Identity in various frameworks I have been reading, especially California’s, I actually paid retail for both books. Which was close to painful for me as the used book queen.

      Akerlof seems to be taking the Austrian’s insights that subjective values matter for people’s actions and is now making that part of Identity to obscure that is what is going on. And to make the environmental influences, work and school, about changing Identity and then using that changed identity to force changes at school and the workplace. Dialectical in that the process changes all into something new and consistent with what Shoshana Zuboff described in her Support Economy book on distributed capitalism. Since I actually read all of these books I notice all the consistencies and common terms and functional equivalents.

      So you have the insights of Hayek and Mises without crediting they were right all along and without the focus on the individual. That Unitary Self that has to go as john a powell said. Also closely tied to Regionalism. Since of course the intent is to use preschool, K-12 and then college and grad school to fundamentally change values, attitudes, and beliefs and guiding concepts and push a tendency to see causation where none clearly exists to create a need to transform the perceived causes. And then as Zuboff says the changed personality will demand a change in the workplace. Peter Senge envisions the same.

      I do not go looking for these people but find them from people like Cole and Engestrom and Basu and Cazden and Senge and who they are citing in their footnotes as support for their desires to literally change consciousness itself. You can imagine my surprise when Kenneth Gergen showed up in this 1982 UK book. Maybe he has since invited Markova to visit Taos.

      If the post hit you in the gut, imagine my angst as I pull all this together in ways still untold. It’s why I started the blog because so much that is permanently important was happening almost weekly and if I had just focused on getting the book out 6 months ago the direness of the situation would have been missed. This way I tell how bad it is and what it links to and book can tell how we got here. What I worked on yesterday and now today basically amounts to someone official in 1971 and then 2000 spinning a story that fits with what I already had. I know when they are skirting but it fits as well. Basically it’s the hand coming from a different direction and saying this is how we all fit together.

      Stay tuned.

  4. Wow, Akerlof had some brief positive words about Core Knowledge schools. I wasn’t expecting that. But overall I’m no fan of his Identity Economics. A thesaurus of excuses—that’s my impression.

  5. I came across this today and it reminded me of what Robert Buchan said about the hypnotic power of German philosophy. Schopenhauer had a similar view of Hegel:

    “The height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had been only previously known in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most barefaced, general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, as a monument to German stupidity.”

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