Yes I do know it is summer, but the UN was busy last week putting out the global ed vision at a High Level Policy Forum we were not invited to (as usual). Plus my life seems to have calmed down from the multiple pots overflowing stage to just a slow simmer so let’s use this post as an opportunity to get out of the sun and heat and talk about these laid out plans for us so we will develop the desired skills and dispositions https://education-reimagined.org/hey-teacher-what-shall-we-call-you/ , WTPs, “21st-century student outcomes” (iNACOL, July 10,2019), or “the achievement of relevant and effective learning outcomes” from https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/hlpf2019 in the Beyond Commitments link. To really appreciate what all these references actually have in mind, let’s go back in time to 1967 when E.D. Hirsch was not yet writing about what every American needed to know. Instead, he was writing the following in his book on the topic of ‘Understanding’ called Validity in Interpretation. The passage really clarified for me just how learning standards or competency frameworks can quietly force ‘shared meaning making’ and prescribed ways of thinking.
The inadequacy of identifying textual meaning with ‘tradition’ or some other changing norm is seen first of all in the total impracticality of such a norm on the level of scholarly interpretation. Certainly, in scriptural questions, changes in interpretations can be institutionalized at any moment by an authoritative pronouncement about the ‘consensus ecclesiae’. Similarly, in legal questions, changed interpretations can be institutionalized by a pronouncement from the highest court. But in the domain of learning such pronouncements cannot carry authority. No one, for example, would hold that a law means “what the judges say the law means” if there were not a supreme tribunal to decide what, after all, the judges say. There could never be such arbitrary tribunals in the domain of knowledge and scholarship.
Now, when I read that passage, I immediately wrote “not true” in the margin since I have documented that Common Education Data Standards and UNESCO’s education standards classifications do, in fact, operate quietly as just such arbitrary tribunals. More fascinatingly, a few weeks after I read that passage and objected (with at least one cat as my witness), an Elements in Public Policy White Paper by Daniel Beland confirmed I was right in my analysis by laying out “How Ideas and Institutions Shape the Politics of Public Policy.” Once again I wrote in the margin of the paper that it’s no wonder think tanks of various purported visions keep misrepresenting how learning standards work or what Competency education really is. They are part of the process of quietly institutionalizing these ideas, just like legally mandated learning standards themselves.
Let’s go back to something else Hirsch wrote earlier in that same book where he pointed out that the “necessary requirement” for the “shareability of verbal meaning” is the “existence of shared conventions.” That’s precisely what learning standards specify, as well as prescribed DCIs-Disciplinary Core Ideas, Enduring Understandings, and other ways of stipulating the desired categories of thought students are to use. Here’s Hirsch:
An implication belongs to a meaning as a trait belongs to a type. For an implication to belong to verbal meaning, it is necessary that the type be shared, since otherwise the interpreter [aka each student in a standardized classroom] could not know how to generate implications; he would not know which traits belonged to the type and which did not. And there is only one way the interpreter can know the characteristics of the type; he must learn them. (For those characteristics are not usually ‘syncategorematic’ or absolutely necessary like color or extension. Even the Pythagorean Theorem is a learned characteristic of a right angle, no matter how ‘necessary’ it may seem once it is learned.) Implications are derived from a shared type that has been learned, and therefore the generation of implications depends on the learner’s previous experience of the shared type. The principle for generating implications is, ultimately and in the broadest sense, a learned convention.
I quoted that passage in its entirety because as soon as I read it I realized that everybody involved in education reform wants to control not just the meaning of words we decipher, but also the implications we draw from interacting with any text. It answered my question as to why suddenly so many states are pushing phonetic reading via regulation or statute after years of citing Marie Clay, Guided Reading, or a Balanced Approach. Because now we have conceptual frameworks in place to act as the circumscribing barrier of shared meaning that all students are to interpret with. That passage helped reaffirm my intuition that had been brewing this legislative season.
Even more confirming was this passage from a more recent book by Noel Entwistle called Teaching for Understanding at University which laid out the true purpose of the use of academic disciplines and what the ‘intended outcomes’ for the students would be. The acronym WTPs comes from that book complete with italics as the ways of thinking and practicing in the subject.
The great disciplines like physics or mathematics, or history, or dramatic forms in literature, were…less repositories of knowledge than of methods for the use of the mind. They provided the structure that gave meaning to the particulars…The object of education was to get as swiftly as possible to that structure–to penetrate the structure, not to cover it…[And] mastery of the fundamentals of a field involves not only the grasping of general principles, but also the development of an attitude toward learning and inquiry, toward guessing and hunches, toward the possibility of solving problems on one’s own…
Now let’s go to yet another source to confirm yet again what kind of desired mental structures and new ways of thinking, and the extent to which both will be politically imposed, from the related world of Classical Education and a book by Vigen Guroian called Tending the Heart of Virtue. It recognized the same point we have found behind the terms Guiding Fiction and Anticipatory Assumptions (related to UNESCO declaring last year ‘decision-making’ to be the new global purpose of education). As Guroain noted:
while not all seeing is believing, believing is still a form of ‘seeing’. Or putting the matter somewhat differently, one truly ‘sees’ when one believes. When one believes, then the scales fall from one’s eyes and one ‘sees’ into the deeper reality of things.
Or at least fervently believes that you do since this “way of knowing and experiencing the world is not the objective knowing normally associated with physical science; nor is it the subjectivity of solipsism. It is an intersubjective and relational way of experiencing and knowing. It is a way of interpreting the world that requires memory and a moral imagination; otherwise a moral self cannot come into being.” Whether it is the so-called Right wanting to promote a moral transformation at an internalized level in the name of virtue necessary for a “Constitutional Republic,’ or an admitted progressive pushing the same transformation in the name of Democracy and Uncle Karl, the bullseye euphemised as Student Success or Achievement is the same in the individual human being. So is how it will be instilled.
Fairy tales and modern fantasy stories project fantastic other worlds; but they also pay attention to real moral ‘laws’ of character and virtue. These laws ought not to be high-handedly shoved down the throats of children (or anyone else). More accurately, they are norms of behavior that obtain in patterns of relation between agent, act, other, and world. Rational cognition is capable of grasping these norms. They become habit, however, only when they are lived, or, as in the case of fairy tales, experienced vicariously and imaginatively through the artful delineation of character and plot in a story.
See why we get so many euphemisms for what must be changed? Can any of us imagine the outcry if people understood that education globally is now about prescribing norms of behavior without that being readily apparent? Can we all see why standards of achievement and student success had to cease to be about what is rationally known so that students had provide behavioral performances or tasks instead? Proves it is a habit and neurally hardwired to lock in that desired future decisionmaking and motivations to act.
Now that we have put what is aimed at into context and stripped away the deliberate vagueness of ‘outcomes,’ let me end with another, much shorter, vision UNESCO put out last week in the form of a comic book called ‘Let’s Work Together’ https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000369006/PDF/369006eng.pdf.multi on the role education is to play in the UN meeting its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. As GEM put it in a blog post on July 10, “every goal in the 2030 Agenda requires education to empower people with the knowledge, skills and values to live in dignity, build their lives and contribute to their societies.” If we wonder why implications of words must be shared and constrained, why knowing must become a matter of habit and grounded in emotion, and why our very categories of thought must now be prescribed in advance, it would be hard to put the reason more succinctly than this quote from the second page of that link since in order to “work together” apparently–
Education must teach people to think collectively and not individually.
Explains so much doesn’t it? I feel like I should end this post with a declaration of still being a defiantly individual thinker. Who would have thought that would become such an issue in the 21st century?