Viewing Education as the Prime Lever for International Social Change: Community Organizing Everywhere

No I did not add that reference to community organizing as a provocative means of grabbing your attention. Yes I do know that it was the past profession of the current US President and it’s not an area I knew much about. Until about a week ago when a book from the political theorist I kept seeing cited in the footnotes of so many of the books and reports I was reading came. If his was the political vision that went with these education, social, and economic “reforms,” I thought I’d better check out precisely what that vision was. His name is Harry Boyte and the 2004 book was called Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life. Boyte lays out his vision for the future direction of society in terms of a “cooperative commonwealth” where citizen groups organize and work together with governments at all levels to identify and solve society’s problems.

I do not find Boyte’s vision to be especially workable but it is the vision of the future that is attached to the real Common Core once you tiptoe through those all important implementing footnotes. Boyte sees a reenvisioned education, K-12 and higher ed, as central to his goal of creating a partnership among citizens and government. He quotes Jane Addams in terms of how to best spread his vision of an Everyday Politics:

“We are gradually requiring of the educator that he free the powers of each man and connect him with the rest of life. We are impatient to use the dynamic power residing in the mass of humankind, and demand that the educator free that power.”

If that sounds like John Dewey, yes we do seem to refighting the issues of the 20th century again in the 21st century. Again, there’s a reason Addams sounds like Dewey. They were both colleagues and friends back in the 1890s Chicago. Old theories do not die in politics or education. They just get renamed for another try regardless of tragic histories.

Boyte wants to use education in the 21st to “reinvent the role of productive citizen and the politics to express it.” Otherwise, “public life is unlikely to improve.” And what precisely does he intend to do? Here’s his precise plan:

“If we are to renew democracy through everyday politics, five things are needed. This first is conceptual: we need an understanding of the commons as something created and sustained by human beings, not simply given. The other four are practical. We need to develop public policy frameworks for productive citizen-government partnerships in problem solving. We need sustained culture-changing organizing in mediating institutions [bolded to make sure everyone recognizes he is referring to preschools, K-12 and colleges and universities], including the addition of everyday politics to political parties, issue groups, and other structures now dominated by experts. We need to understand popular culture itself as a crucial site of democratic organizing [somehow I think Hollywood got this memo long before us and maybe some network execs and newspaper editors]. And we need to develop learning partnerships that spread everyday politics on a global scale.

Boyte mentions Peter Senge and his idea of the learning organization for both schools and businesses admiringly in his book. He also advocates a systems approach. Which is really fortuitous because on July 4, 2012, Senge,  Robert Kegan of Harvard, Michael Fullan (Canada’s premier Driver of Education as Social Change) and others delivered a report to the Hewlett Foundation–that well-funded driver of Deep Learning as the real purpose of the Common Core that we have discussed several times. The report was called “Lessons of Systemic Change for Success in Implementing the New Common Core Standards” and it fits right perfectly with getting to Boyte’s vision of everyday politics with new guiding values and concepts for each student and adult.

The report envisions teachers and students developing and growing initially through classroom experiences that will take them through new stages of awareness and behaviors. Going from the initial Internalized Stage to the Socialized stage is to cause the students and faculty to develop deeper connections with each other. This transition is considered to be critical to “effective education” under the Common Core, which has a definition the parents and taxpayers are not being told about–“social interactions between adults and students and among adults.” Those of you compiling a glossary of unappreciated definitions will also want to add Community of Learners and Professional Learning Communities to the list of terms use to describe this interactive web of relationship learning.

Next stage (3) according to the report is called Self-Authoring or Empathetic but that’s not where they want students or adults to stop. As an Education for Sustainability report noted, empathy is not enough because it may not provoke action to change conditions and structures. It is thus important that education in the future “provoke outrage” about real-world problems. Those same problems that are to be the focus of the assessments of student performance under the Common Core. How convenient.

The last Stage is called Self-Transcending. Schools now will be looking to students and adults to commit to “personal transformation” and a willingness to confront and then “cultivate one’s mind-body system and strive to move on to the higher stages.” No I suspect that the public descriptions of what is going on will not be that graphic which is why it is so important to read the underlying blueprints and theories behind the sought school changes. The Hewlett report itself has a chart that describes the “self-transcending stage” as the level that sees school “as a vehicle for societal transformation.” Which is once again left off of the monthly newsletters from the school and district. Also left off from public discussion of the planned vision are a classroom that wants students to “maximize mutual learning and co-creating desired futures.” Based on feelings and wishes and maybe some fairy dust to boot but virtually no accurate knowledge of the past or how the world really works or how we came to be where we are in the 21st century. Apparently knowledge impedes imagination to co-create the future.

Our Self-Authoring striving towards Transcendence student is to seek “deeper awareness.” Just what you want when you put them on the school bus in the morning or drop off a loved one–“the capacity to interact and respond adequately with sensitivity and pertinence to the circumstances, situations or events that arise moment after moment.” And if this systemic/developmental vision of the Common Core does not sound creepy enough, non-progressing students and adults will have the reasons for the “blockage” examined so a remedy plan can be implemented. Individualized learning indeed.

This is the sought and planned reality behind the “student-centered” classroom mantra. The report goes on to inform all the adults, from teachers to principals to Supers, that it is the “fundamental task of leadership at all levels”–that means preschool and college too–to make sure all students “see the larger system of which they are a part and seek higher leverage strategies that address forces in these systems.” Not based on knowledge which is to be little and far between but grounded in feelings and affective beliefs about how the world works.

This is where all the references to hands-on learning and experiences become important and all the references to service learning and civic engagement come in. The best way to move students and keep them at these described higher levels of consciousness is to move them into community activities outside the classroom where they can work to solve real problems. And get primed to both practice Boyte’s everyday politics and to demand as Zuboff and Scharmer envision a different kind of economy to meet everyone’s needs instead of personal choices.

I wish I could tell you I am stretching here to try to provoke you into action on opposing the Common Core but honestly, if anything, this post still underplays just how radically transformational the attached visions of the future really are. I did not go looking for a reason to oppose the Common Core. I went looking for a reason for all the discrepancies between the rhetoric about the Common Core and the reality laid out in regulations and reports and waivers and books by the theorists being cited for support.

I am going to close this reality based thunderbolt revealing the real aspirations for change with a quote Professor David Orr used to describe his reasons for pushing the ecological education and Slow Knowledge that are attached to the actual implementation coming to a school near you. If it is not there already. Damaging and unknown to the public funding it. The words come from EF Schumacher:

“Education which fails to clarify our central convictions is mere training or indulgence. For it is our central convictions that are in disorder, and as long as the present anti-metaphysical temper persists, the disorder will grow worse. Education, far from ranking as [our] greatest resource, will then be an agent of destruction…”

The real Common Core is about new values and mental models and those central, motivating, convictions. And they will not be based on what the student brought from home or what has EVER created mass prosperity in the past. And even the relatively few who are aware, much less concerned about the Common Core, are unaware that the actual common core involves an internal redo of everything we hold dear.

Out of sight. Remaking those minds and Personalities.