Despite all the uses of the terms ‘grassroots outcry’ and ‘organic movement of parents’ with reference to the widespread sudden outcries over CRT–Critical Race Theory (which I deplore, which is why this blog began covering years ago issues like the Aspen Institute’s RETOC Initiative–Racial Equity Theory of Change, the SPLC’s Handbook with the NEA, and Glenn Singleton’s Courageous Conversations work for school districts, as just a few examples) I can see a coordinated effort in play. It comes out in the webinars I have been on since my last post, stories in publications that are factually untrue with common support from certain philanthropies, and troubling articles by lawyers who just happen to share office space with think tanks belonging to the State Policy Network just to offer a few recent examples. The common remedy being explored for CRT, as well as another term–Action Civics–is what I want to talk about though because statutes prescribing and proscribing thought in a classroom or activities outside the classroom seem to me, as a lawyer, history major, and an active researcher of educational thought, to be Trojan Horses.
Let me explain with Liberty as my example since it fits with the kind of Ideals or Founding Principles exceptions language I am seeing. Liberty is definitely within the philosophical and normative tradition that the Declaration of Independence is grounded in. But what if it has been redefined and no longer has that historic definition? I intend to show eventually through a series of posts how common Founding Principles and Ideals have all been systematically redefined to lead to what Uncle Karl called his Human Development Society. They are all being ground into K-12 curricula and pedagogy grounded in the so-called Science of Learning and Development. The SoLD Alliance, of course, sounds so much better than saying grounded in Marxist philosophy and Soviet psychology, but the latter links are provable too.
In the historic ancient world, all roads were said to lead to Rome. In education over the last century, it can honestly be said that all ‘reforms’ lead to that Human Development Society which, in turn, needs a Moral Revolution to be its midwife http://invisibleserfscollar.com/naming-educators-as-the-levers-shifting-the-human-personality-to-marxs-moral-revolution/ . Sometimes that same shift gets hidden as a pitch for John Dewey’s Democracy as covered in my book Credentialed to Destroy. Sometimes that shift is hidden in a word like Liberty. A book from Cambridge Press released in April 2021 called Whole-Child Development, Learning, and Thriving: A Dynamic Systems Approach (WCDLT) that is tied to the well-connected SoLD Alliance has a co-author, Richard M. Lerner, who wrote a book called Liberty: Thriving and Civic Engagement Among America’s Youth, published in 2004.
Since the phrase “Thriving Individuals, Flourishing Societies” has become a ubiquitous goal to supposedly address alleged ‘structural racism’ and the traumas of the ‘Pandemic,’ let’s find out what comes in under the Ideal of Liberty referenced in a statute to supposedly combat CRT. In fact, Lerner went beyond just the general term Liberty and redefining what it means, he argued that the very ‘Idea of America’ requires a shift in educational and social practices that get at the “link between the is and the ought of human behavior…so that normatively civic duty and moral action are merged.” What precisely does that mean we should reasonably ask? Here’s what Lerner defined as A Theory of Positive Youth Development, Thriving, and Liberty (italics in original):
I define a thriving young person as an individual who–within the context of his or her physical and psychological characteristics and abilities–takes actions that serve his or her own well-being and, at the same time, the well-being of parents, community, and society…a path that eventuates in the young person becoming an ideal member of a civil society…[Thriving young people] are people whose senses of self involve a combined moral and civic commitment to contributing to civil society in manners reflective of their individual strengths, talents, and interest. Accordingly, thriving youth are on life journeys that involve productive civic engagement and valued contributions to other people and to the institutions of their communities…I describe such a mutually beneficial relationship between person and society as liberty.
I don’t and I suspect you do not either. Yes, I have just activated the blog tag for communitarianism and rightfully so. Here comes another Ideal too and a Founding Father–as Lerner insisted that “in specifying that ensuring liberty involves developing an integration of moral and civic identity in youth, a development that enables young people to contribute effectively and productively in a society that promotes individual freedom, I am in a sense proposing an idea found in the writings of Benjamin Franklin.” Wise old Ben supposedly laid out “moral qualities of youth that, when present enabled them to successfully contribute to their communities.” Who knew? Before we shift to WCDLT, which seems to be the method of enablement, Lerner reminded us that Liberty and this sought “association between moral and civic life does not occur by happenstance, and, most certainly, it is not ‘in our genes.’ Rather, the merger of moral and civic life is developed.”
That development, which Lerner calls Human Development Theory, is grounded in biological aims to implement these philosophical and normative aims because of “the intertwined changes between biology and culture that characterize humans’ evolutionary heritage and, as well, humans’ contemporary functioning.” That functioning is precisely what WCDLT seeks to alter using words like probabilistic epigenesis instead of Liberty or Freedom to change “the pluripotentiality of each and every human being.” WCDLT is very aware that it needs to shift the purpose and goals of education in the 21st century to provide the “context–relationships, environments, and experiences–[that] provides the energy that drives the brain’s electrical circuitry and develops the neural pathways that build increasingly complex skills.”
We can infer those complex skills are to be used in a communitarian manner and, like we saw in the last post, broader systems other than the individual student must be altered as well because “when such systemic societal inequities are addressed, the malleability of human beings to positive experiences and relationships can unfold.” I want to show another danger of blindly hyping CRT or treating it as synonymous with Equity as part of what I took from this video put up last week. https://www.city-journal.org/theoretical-roots-and-practical-consequences-of-critical-race-theory In the WCDLT book, David Osher lays out what he calls “Robust Approaches to Equity and Thriving” linked to these changes sought for the classroom to supposedly create “anti-racist teaching practices.” Osher wants:
new approaches to equity and thriving must address the historical nestedness and dynamic nature of thriving, including dynamically related biological, phenomenological, and social processes that contribute to thriving…approaches to equity and thriving driven by minimalist standards do not provide learners with a means to address institutionalized racism and privilege–they neither enable individuals to fully address opportunity structures that are stacked against them nor do they prepare individuals to work with others to change the conditions that affect them…A richer approach to equity includes universal access to opportunities to develop attributes that contribute not only to well-being, but dynamically to individual and collective thriving–socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively, spiritually, and economically–in co-acting dimensions that together constitute thriving. As the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement vividly illustrate, thriving cannot just be individual. Our capacity to thrive, particularly over time, is dynamically linked to the well-being of others. This relation includes our proximal environment, those who support us, or with whom we affiliate, live, or work, the other human beings on the planet, and the health of our globe.
Those Equity aims to promote Thriving grounded in the K-12 classroom are much broader than simply talking about White Supremacy or the 1619 Project. Parents need to understand these planned broader aims. Nothing in my book has ceased to be relevant to today’s aspirations. The Civic Mission of Schools and its link to Competency Frameworks is even more important to grasp now. It’s also what allowed me to follow this trail. We need to appreciate what it means to be pushing a Building Blocks For Learning template that seeks to create “a set of skills that all children would have the opportunity to develop in an equitable world (a world in which access to opportunity and robust equity define the prevalent conditions)” is not actually about math, science, or how to best teach reading or history anymore. It’s not “institutionalized racism or white privilege” themselves that must be addressed in this education vision, but their supposed SOURCES. Hence all the allegations about ‘structural’ or ‘systemic’ causation.
WCDLT honestly states that its social vision can be achieved supposedly by using education for “placing a primary focus on the individuality and potential malleability of each individual.” Education that targets the “attributes of this being” using open-ended, web-like processes (dialectical principles being the function, but too loaded a term apparently). WCDLT asks “what could be true if educational and learning settings were designed to nurture children’s potential?” This struck me as an eerie and odd common destination with the CRT video linked above, which also states at about the 16 minute mark that the solution to the CRT controversy is “we should really be aiming toward Excellence which provides a common standard and challenges people of all backgrounds to achieve their true potential.” What a coincidence! Same goals and another abstract word–Excellence–that does not adhere in 21st century practice to its earlier dictionary meaning.
That’s the journey we are on now. To see what transformational aspirations can be hidden in an abstract word with an assumed traditional meaning that just isn’t so. Parents have every right to deplore CRT and factually inaccurate curricula. Just be careful about where these offered remedies are really going. The ISC Glossary of What these Terms Really Mean and The Declared Intentions is just starting.