Ironically, the first part of that title came to me while I was taking a break from research because one of my favorite historical series had published a new novel. Set in Tudor times, the author’s desire to have past events interpreted in a way that altered how the reader would regard similar efforts now was unmistakable. The story had taken on a normative purpose that reminded me of current pushes around the ‘cooperative commonwealth’ or Morality-as-Cooperation. In other words, the author was trying to manipulate adults in much the same way as learning standards and required conceptual progressions intend to manipulate our children, while their brains and personalities are largely still malleable. Both purposes go to creating (or rearranging) what is called the ‘sociological imagination’.
Both fit with what C. Wright Mills called ‘The Social Scientist’s Task’, exemplified by this quote I found when discovering that in 1995 the news media was asked by philanthropic foundations to rethink its role and begin to consciously impact public opinion and policy to advance social change objectives.
Men and women in a mass society are gripped by personal troubles which they are not able to turn into social issues. They do not understand the interplay of these personal troubles with the problems of social structure.The knowledgeable person [College, Career, and Citizenship Ready!] in a genuine public, on the other hand, is able to do just that. He understands that what he thinks and feels to be personal troubles are often also problems shared by others, and more importantly, not capable of solution by any one individual but only by modifications of the structure of the entire society. Men in masses have troubles, but they are not aware of their true meaning and source; men in public confront issues, and they usually come to be aware of their public terms.
Very useful then for anyone desiring transformational social change so we had the media going to Brandeis https://www.frameworksinstitute.org/assets/files/PDF/open_letter_foundation_community.pdf where they “joined public interest advocates and service providers in examining the power that media holds to set the public agenda. By choosing which public problems demand our collective agenda, the media shape the public agenda which, in turn, shapes the policy agenda.” Just as we saw with think tanks in the last post, and as we can see in higher ed (MIT specifically) recently in this series https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-computing-and-ai-perspectives-mit , all these institutions regard their 21st century mission to be the “reengagement of American citizens in common ground problem solving.”
That mission requires common goals and shared meanings, which is precisely what competency-based education creates. Adults get the news or as this document from last week http://frameworksinstitute.org/assets/files/unleashingthepowerofhow-anexplanationdeclaration.pdf states:
It is imperative that, as a field, we examine the way we define and use narrative to ensure that it delivers the social change we seek…For a communication to act as a story, some one or some thing must act, or be acted upon, and thereby propelled towards an ultimate result…human interest stories are insufficient to drive change. While the human brain is attracted to tales of episodes in other people’s lives, the civic body is distracted by them. In contemplating close-up portraits of affected individuals, the broader landscape of systems and structures is readily ignored…when considering the plight of an individual, the human mind exaggerates the protagonist’s agency, focuses on individual choices, and blames outcomes on individual frailties rather than broader factors. In this way, human interest stories reinforce dominant paradigms of individualism and dampen attention to policy issues or other collective actions.
Reenforcing my belief that there is a common blueprint across all these institutions that acts as the rudder for the desired change starting at the neural level of each individual, we have MIT literature prof, Mary Fuller, at the link above telling us that Stories now can serve as “Conceptual meeting spaces for thinking together.” She must be able to identify with the need for media, educators, and think tanks to supply explanations, narratives, and stories to build up ‘shared understanding’ and ‘explanatory chains to make implicit assumptions explicit’ to avoid the apparently horrific alternative that the “public might otherwise fill in with their own thinking” as the Frameworks Institute put it above (p.10).
No wonder federal law now insists students must be assessed at least annually to ensure they are using prescribed concepts and categories of thought when presented with unfamiliar situations or problems that have no single, algorithmic answer. As Fuller put it:
Stories allow us to model interpretive, affective, ethical choices; they also become common ground, conceptual meeting places that can serve to gather very different kinds of interlocutors around a common object, We need these. Computer science alone can’t shoulder the task of modeling the future, understanding social and global impacts, and making ethical decisions.
Computer science comes in because those MIT profs are asserting what Uncle Karl would have recognized as his Human Development Society vision in the name of Artificial Intelligence and the new morality and collective action it supposedly compels. As “The Tools of Moral Philosophy” essay makes clear, AI will create problems that, like Climate Change, cannot and should not be “solved by individual action.” No, instead we need:
systemic change [where]…it will be vital to put in place social and institutional structures that support, encourage, and guide ethical behavior. One responsibility that falls on us as individuals is to work toward political conditions in which it is possible for us to live and work more ethically.
Bonus points to everyone that recognizes that those new political conditions require a rejection by both students and enough voting age adults of the status quo. For that it is helpful to have think tanks, the media, and education institutions, from preschool to the Ivies, asserting that education be about values and character, with content that is largely conceptual and designed to create what Wright called a ‘genuine public.’ As that 1995 Strategic Communication for media paper put it when they quoted then Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, all these institutions have now been told that:
the core responsibility of those who deal in policy…is to provide the public with alternative visions of what is desirable and possible, to stimulate deliberation about them, provoke a reexamination of premises and values, and thus broaden the range of potential responses and deepen society’s understanding of itself.
For students, that examination may be occurring in a school or higher ed institution being forthright about its desire to foster a mindset for deep social change and the motivation to act to bring it about. Other parents thinking the have exercised choice in rejecting ‘progressive change’ and John Dewey may seek out religious schools, charters, or Classical Education without an awareness that most also seek transformative change. That really struck home to me when I read the “Safeguarding Our Humanity” essay from a Chemical Engineering prof at MIT who wanted to redirect education so it “would guide our lives in a direction that truly makes us better” by “Redirecting our thinking from an education focused on a particular discipline to an education that liberates our minds and allows us to investigate our true situation with the whole.”
In his view in the age of AI with its (purported) potential to be ‘the greatest existential threat,’ we should completely change our approach to education and “start to think carefully about what is important about human life. This means redirecting our thinking from what is merely advantageous to what is genuinely good, from a blind belief in efficiency to a considered understanding of what is the best in human life.”
Education, the media, think tanks, and philanthropy have united with politicians of both parties to use all the arrows in their quivers to control what determines “what comes to mind” and then what the human mind believes will be the problems and solutions to what it perceives. As one journalist put it with a great deal of arrogance: “we have some obligation to ensure that the citizenry has a clue of what’s going on.” In education we get prescribed what is called Whole Person Learning (WPL) with a similar goal where education is to be transformed so it is “not only a process to know more or better, but as an exercise to be better.” By whatever name, this transformative, outcome-oriented vision wants to be student-centered and personalized to create “an effective stimulation of imagination (to escape from the prison of their current definitions of problems), while inducing a genuine internalization of responsibility (avoiding passing the buck to one or several other stakeholders) and enhancing the obligation of action.”
I will close with a link from a paper cited by Frameworks in its Explanation of How paper to this https://haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/changing-our-narrative-about-narrative which seeks to create what it calls Narrative Power by immersing “people in a sustained series of narrative experiences required to enduringly change hearts, minds, behaviors, and relationships.” That’s what prescribed learning experiences to fit with the CEDS–Common Education Data Standards–also seek to do for students. It fits with the moral compass and social pillars we keep encountering from schools being hyped by school choice advocates.
Think of something like CEDS or its international peer–the ISCED–as creating what Rashad Robinson called narrative infrastructure. It has to be in place at a level like the human mind so the shift is both inevitable and invisible. We keep encountering the same underlying template of internalized affective, cognitive, and conative (what is sought or willed) change because all these institutions, whatever their sales pitch to parents, seek to “change the rules of society–our society’s operating system–and shape society in the image of our values.”
It seems that these shifts are everywhere because we are dealing with goals for transformation that are “just as much about changing the rules of cultural production..as they are about capturing normativity.” That can only happen if the desired changes in values, attitudes, and beliefs are prescribed by law (if you know where to look) and imposed “through social and personal spaces that aren’t explicitly political or focused on issues, but are nonetheless the experiences and venues through which people shape their most heart-held values.”
The March through the Institutions meant ALL institutions and, as Credentialed to Destroy laid out in great detail, the reading and math wars were never actually about how to teach reading or math.
It’s about controlling what comes to mind, heart, and ‘moving feet’ for social change.