Historian Robert Conquest has a great term for the kind of ideas and concepts we are dealing with as education all over the globe thinks reframing our consciousness is the legitimate new focus. To get a different kind of society and economy and future of course. Because good intentions excuse all? When any kind of knowledge of the past and the consistency of human nature and governments that accept no boundaries would be sending up red flags of danger. It feels a bit like 1938 when Churchill’s knowledge of history told him that there would in fact be “no peace in our time” from conceding to a not yet full-strength tyrant.
Conquest calls these ways of framing our perceptions and experiences that have in fact escaped the reality that currently exists and any empirical controls–“brain blindfolds.” An apt term it seems to me to deal with K-12 and higher ed institutions globally where the principals and Supers and college Presidents are being pushed to see their new mission as transformation of the students they are presented with. Like this as the instructions on how to push the desired changes (my bolding for emphasis):
“one continually sees that a critique of one’s identification with the values and loyalties of one’s cultural or psychosocial surround precedes the construction of a fourth order system that can act upon those values, set them aside, or modify or reappropriate them to a new place within a more encompassing organization.”
That passage is from a 1994 book by the now-regularly present, Harvard prof Robert Kegan, called In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Written before the Democrats lost the House for the first time in 40 years in 1994 or Outcomes Based Education and School to Work controversies began to undermine the educational ‘reforms’ the Clinton administration was pursuing at the federal level in the 90s version of what is being called the Common Core now. These old blueprints do not go away and books written before controversies tend to be graphic in their intentions. Now that we have learned that the OECD is pushing ed reforms in K-12 globally around Kegan’s vision of shifting consciousness and that the US plans to reshape higher ed announced in January 2012 by the White House are also grounded in Kegan’s work, we had better understand what we are dealing with. The $50 word ‘omnipresent’ is not an exaggeration of the role Kegan’s theories are playing.
Except they are not really his theories as in unique, original work. It’s more like he is a major spokesperson and proponent of theories with an even more troubling pedigree. According to the Comparative Education Research Center based at the University of Hong Kong as laid out in a 2001 book Values Education for Dynamic Societies: Individualism or Collectivism, this focus on personality-oriented education and a socio-psychological concept of “personality development” comes straight out of Russian and then Soviet traditions. And upon reading that I did some checking yesterday on the current integrative models being pushed by Mikhail Berulava (he gets cited in book). Alive and well and stronger than ever since the Cold War is one way to describe it. And apparently Sochi is ever so much nicer than Siberia.
In other words, we have a real problem. It is global but that 2001 book does let us know that “elites’ in the US want American citizens to have a much greater orientation toward the collective. So does Kegan. This is what he wants to see for an adolescent curriculum. He wants the school to “grow the mind” so that each student’s daily perceptions become guided in a way “faithful to the self-psychology of the West [think Maslow and Rogers] as to the ‘wisdom literature’ of the East.” Elsewhere, Kegan mentions a Zen-like orientation as desirable. He wants education to create “a process by which the whole (‘how I am’) becomes gradually a part (‘how I was’) of a new whole (‘how I am now.’)”
Kegan may talk a lot about ‘autonomy’ and ‘self-direction’ but both he and the global ed reforms movement that pushes his and the personality development purpose generally (which is basically everybody with power now to be honest) expressly reject defining these terms as “personal authority or psychological independence.” No, this vision of education as ‘a reconstitution of self’ via “a transformation of ‘the way we understand'” never loses sight of the person as a mere part of a greater whole that should be dedicated to a common good.
Kegan envisions adolescence developing so that each child takes “out membership in a community of interest greater than one, to subordinate their own welfare to the welfare of the team, even, eventually, to feel a loyalty to and identification with their team, so that its success is experienced as their own success.” Talk about No Man is an Island. No Man Stands Alone. I am going to interrupt this discussion to point out that these are the same reforms that were so controversial in Hong Kong http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/using-education-to-shut-down-free-choices-and-then-redefining-as-personal-autonomy-orwell-lives/ when they were introduced there. Kegan even mentions Kohlberg on his Acknowledgments page as his “late teacher and friend.”
They would be controversial in other countries too if they were not hiding in what PISA is actually measuring or in poorly appreciated definitions of “lifelong learning,” “self-directed learning,” or “college and career ready.” Everything is geared towards us never seeing what is coming that we are funding until it is too late. The internal psychological changes will have already occurred. Because they are intrinsically tied to feelings and emotions from an early age they are supposed to be almost impossible to reverse.
Reader alert! If the mention of sex is not something you want to accidentally read about, skip this paragraph. But Kegan saw teenage sex, not counting intercourse in passages I cannot believe I had to read, as helpful to priming adolescents to be guided by their experiences at both a physical and emotional level. Doesn’t that put a new spin on the unending push for graphic presentations to students in schools over the last few decades? He literally sees such a push as being beneficial for adolescent students to learn what mutuality means and how to relate to others and their needs. That’s enough. I am blushing now and this is mild compared to his descriptions in the book. But mentioning this and the reasons for it should help all of us appreciate how important the desired wholesale changes in behavior and how things are perceived is. And how crucial education is to the venture.
As many teachers have already either intuited or actually heard from a Change Agent Principal, these personality changes and consciousness shifts are needed from teachers as well. No one in the building or on campus shall survive in the form and with the values they entered would be one way to describe it. I want to go back to Robert Conquest again and his fine book from 2005 The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and Delusion in the Course of History because he and I are worried about the same thing–“the general state of the Western Mind.” It’s just that this blog has a great deal of detail on how it is being targeted for wholesale change. But I would argue still for the same end as what Conquest recognized. We have bureaucrats and politicians and self-interested cronies in the public and private sectors who personally would benefit from “state control of much of human activity.”
When I mention the Soviets as the source of a theory or practice, I am not trying to frighten you. As a history major, I get what it was created to do and why it does not belong in schools or college classrooms or any society that hopes to remain truly free. Where individuals still matter in the original meaning of autonomy. If history is not your idea of a good beach read, you may never have pondered the significance of Robert Louis Stevenson’s (remember Treasure Island?) observation that “Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but principally by catchwords.” And one group with aspirations for social transformation will know exactly what those cultivated catchwords are.
When we are worrying about the origination of these theories and practices being pushed on us without our consent, let’s keep in mind this Conquest observation (my points in brackets):
“The ideal totalitarian state should control the mental as well as the physical lives of its population. Real life is not quite up to this. But if we consider the Stalin and other similar regimes, we see that they had progressed a long way towards it. [Precisely what has been imported to the US and other countries]. The most obvious and critical point is the degree to which all channels of information were blocked [by poor reading methods? cultivated erroneous perceptions? reliance on feeling and propaganda visuals?], and the extent to which a radically false picture was forced on Russian minds. For the Stalinist regime did not merely deny reality; it substituted for it a fully ideologized world fantasy.”
False pictures and world fantasies and substitutions of videogames for reality are precisely what is coming at us in 2013. Stay tuned.