Multiple Recent Proclamations Laying Out Commitment To Revolutionary Transformation of Our Entire Society

By recent I mean within the last week.  Either as an early Christmas present or to give us cause for giving thanks at the complete lack of any ambiguity whatsoever we have explicit cites, open proclamations, overt coordination with federal agencies, a veritable cornucopia of intentions that should eliminate any dispute as to what is going on. Only an electronic color billboard in Times Square could be more explicit. It is indeed slam dunk time in our effort to show that the education reforms known as Common Core or 21st Century Skills or social and emotional learning are actually a means of gaining much broader transformations.

And to show that this is truly a bipartisan attempt to make political power the harness for anyone seeking economic power in the 21st century, the first paper I am going to cite came from a blog run by Jay P. Greene tied to a number of what are considered to be Republican think tanks. Not exactly where you think you would encounter a recommendation that would lead to a “truly democratic consciousness to guide the process of socialist development itself.”

On Monday Jay posted a cite to a new NBER Working Paper called “Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition” from U-Chicago Profs James Heckman and Tim Kautz with a blurb about state achievement tests not getting at these types of important skills. Pulling up the actual paper since I knew what can lurk under such euphemistic names I discovered lots of troubling sponsors but especially the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Founded and funded by George Soros among others including Drummond Pike from the Tides Foundation and Amartya Sen of capability as a human right and other famous names who decidedly do wish to move economic thinking away from anything other than Statism and economic planning. Bad enough connections to be troubling when cited as guidance on what should be going on in the K-12 classroom.

But that’s actually not the big reveal. In footnote #6 if you pull up a copy you will see the cited authority backing up the statements about skills to now be cultivated in classroom and measured via new assessments. The second sentence says “the modern literature traces back to Bowles and Gintis (1976)…” Now I am familiar with that book and I first wrote about it back in February so I immediately recognized the significance of saying that the Grit Perseverance push (yes that Glenn Beck program on the DoEd report last March that raised such a ruckus), Growth Mindset, non-cognitive skills, positive behavior, character education–all the various names these mandates hide under including College and Career Ready go back to a book written by two self-proclaimed Marxist profs of their future vision of education to transform the US away from capitalism. That’s the cite and that’s the purpose of all this and the book again is Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life.

So all these programs are ultimately grounded in gaining that new consciousness that will promote Gintis and Bowles’ belief that “Capitalism is an irrational system, standing in the way of further social progress. It must be replaced.” G & B also hope that via education the sought revolution can be mostly without blood shed. So of course these intentions now get pursued stealthily with excuses like an anti-bullying agenda and Positive School Climate. How ironic.

Last Wednesday Harvard Law Prof and Brazilian Leftist politician Roberto Mangabiera Unger gave a most alarming lecture at the Royal Science Academy in London. It sent me scurrying for his 2007 book The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound which sure enough laid out his determination to use education to:

“accelerate and direct the permanent invention of the new that we are able to overthrow the dictatorship of the dead over the living and to turn our minds more freely and fully toward the people and the phenomena around us.”

Oh I hope Unger is not the professor who taught US Constitutional Law to President Obama or the First Lady when they were all at Harvard Law together. Not with his expressed intentions “of ambitions for the transformation of humanity” or “direction for the development of the moral experience of mankind under the reign of democracy and experimentalism.” Although that kind of experimentation does rather fit in with a HUD presentation two days ago, November 18, by Gar Alperovitz’s Democracy Collaborative. Now don’t worry. The Annie E. Casey Foundation provided the funding for the actual Anchor Institution reports. Don’t pay any attention to the fact that the Anchor Mission Dashboard lays out a Womb to Tomb Transformative economic Vision that keeps mentioning the words “equitable” and “minority.” Nor that it fits with the Regional 21 or the new Promise Zones 2nd term initiatives. Purely coincidental.

Just like it’s entirely coincidental Unger describes his education vision like this:

“Education, beginning in childhood and continuing throughout the working life, must nourish a core of generic conceptual and practical capacities to make the new out of the old. It must also equip the mind with the means with which to resist the present. For this very reason, the school should not remain under the control of the community of local families, who tell the child: become like us.”

We could make that a goal for all students and call it a common core. Excellent means to invisibly and gradually transform the present to alter the future. And I know just the overpaid consultant who will use the School Governance Council concept and a school district conversion charter to make that vision so. While the high-achieving suburban communities with high taxes to benefit the schools remain entirely ignorant of the real aims. Perhaps if more parents and taxpayers read this Unger quote they would better appreciate the last word they may want to hear is “innovation” in connection with schools. This is certainly innovative:

“democracy grants to ordinary men and women the power to reimagine and to remake the social order. That is why under democracy prophecy speaks louder than memory. That is why democrats discover that the roots of a human being lie in the future rather than in the past.

In a democracy, the school should speak for the future, not for the state or for the family, giving the child the instruments with which to rescue itself from the biases of its family, the interests of its class, and the illusions of its epoch.”

Honestly I think Professor Unger should be the last person criticizing people led by illusions.

Can’t you see now why it is so important to create no effective recourse to a local school board or politician from all the initiatives coming in as education reform?

I don’t go looking for these things. Just monitoring the actually required classroom changes keeps turning up all these self-proclaimed radicals hollering the whys behind  their policies and practices to anyone who will listen or read their words.

May enough parents and taxpayers recognize all this in time.


Pulling Up the Moorings Once Again to Transform Reality into the History of Desired Desires

If you want to “create a world where individuals will work even when they know that much of the fruit of their labor will go to those who are less fortunate,” you are going to need to use education to target prevailing social norms. If you believe that Marx’s famous quote “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need” has “morally resonant appeal” and wish to see a future society that does not dismiss that appeal “out of hand as mere sloganeering,” a perch as a World Bank economist is a tremendous platform to try to go about making it so. 21st Century Learning, perhaps?

It especially helps if you have a good working relationship with a Nobel Prize winning economist who wants to reframe economics in terms of Individual and especially Group Identity. And that economist, George Akerlof, in a 2010 book Identity Economics, recognized the value of his theories on education as the premier social institution with influence on almost everyone. An enduring influence on “what people care about, and how much they care about it.” A good working definition of Identity is values, beliefs and emotional commitments. Probably not coincidentally, precisely what the actual Common Core implementation targets for change. Which is interesting as Identity Economics defines “good schools” as those that “transform students’ identities and norms.”

Almost precisely like Transformational Outcomes Based Education sought to do in the 90s version of these education reforms. Names change but never really the goals. One of the aspects of Common Core that is consistent throughout but in the small print is its stated desire to create ‘habits of mind.” Think of those as unconscious reflexes. Now compare with Akerlof’s recognition that people “act as they do, naturally and without question, mostly out of habit. They are products of their social environment and unaware they might have behaved differently.” Remember also schools are a social environment of long duration.

So if you can use education, preschool, K-12, or higher ed (all of the above is even nicer to a future Transformationist) to create the desired feelings and values and influential conceptual understandings that filter daily life you can go a long way toward changing the future. Especially if you also rely on another insight from social psychology Akerlof points out: “individuals’ behavior depends on who people think they are.” So effective schools should get at Identity and define it in politically useful ways. Early and often. Like Chicago voting.

Now to do all that a theory of psychology based on a philosophy built on changing the nature of things in the real world would be very useful. And a factual theory of knowledge devoted to understanding the nature of things would be an obstacle because it would accept the world as it is. And maybe even keep a fondness for the past. Which would be in the way of someone who wanted to create a Worldview around his belief that:

“life is activity and to live means to satisfy one’s desires. Life is experienced as Desire: it is through desires that the subject realizes the discrepancy between the world as it is and the world he would like to have.”

Now I would assert that all of the mentions today that education must be Relevant and Engaging and about Real-World problems are merely a more subtle means of achieving that driving emphasis built on Desire. To change the world to something new. And if UK Professor Ivan Markova  wrote in 1982 that the twin Hegelian themes of activity and creativity in the acquisition of knowledge “have been emerging in various forms in social, clinical, and developmental psychology for some time and, quite probably without the knowledge of the authors concerned, that they have been reflecting Hegel’s philosophy.”

If those pros were unaware, what about now? Hegel’s philosophy is obviously a touchy subject to have as a foundation. A Soviet heritage is bad enough but tracking even further back to a common ancestry with what launched two World Wars and the Holocaust is undeniably even worse. And if the psychologists in 1982 were unlikely to know this history, how much less likely is it that a teacher or principal or administrator or politician know about this background to student-centered learning? To launder a notorious heritage you simply make it a basis for the amorphous terms “pedagogy” and “Best Practices” and “Constructivism” and then pronounce it as a better way to learn. Grounded in emotion is an easier way to remember and you simply leave out Hegel’s desire to bring values and human experience into how all science is done.

And since few know of the linkage back to Hegel, modern 21st century educators cannot rely on Scottish novelist and statesman Robert Buchan’s excellent advice from more than 100 years ago.  “A man who has been nourished on German metaphysics should make a point of expressing his thoughts in plain workaday English, for the technical terms of German philosophy have a kind of hypnotic power; they create a world remote from common reality where reconciliations and synthesis flow as smoothly and with as little meaning as in an opiate dream.” And you are wondering what does metaphysics have to to with Identity Economics and the Common Core?

Oh, you know the changing conceptualizations students are to be taught as they ignore obvious characteristics and look for new “cause-effect relationships”? Even something like RECAST, Revealing Causal Structures, that we have talked about is ultimately grounded in Hegel’s Conceptual Frameworks. Or CORE-Cognitive Reorganization. With his name left off and no warning that these are aspirational theories designed to alter current reality. When we talk of providing the Enduring Understandings that will frame everyday experiences, that’s Hegel’s insight on the usefulness to a change philosophy if education were to now be built around the recognition that “implicit presuppositions and conceptual frameworks do determine what is observed.”

Hegel so wanted to shake human consciousness that he talked about the importance of wars in human history. And pointed out that a “person has to go through disturbing experiences personally in order to grow as a person.” Which reminded me of precisely the curricula Bill Ayers and Maxine Greene and Nel Noddings were all describing in this post as necessary for “real moral growth.”

The idea of using activity and interactions with others to achieve personal growth is also Hegel. Which means the criteria of Student Growth that the US federal DoEd is requiring that teacher evals be based on ultimately tracks back to Hegel and his theories on how to change consciousness. Moreover, a change in values, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings or a willingness to apply new concepts constitutes Student Growth. And usefully for the economists that started this post that would also be a useful change in Identity and over time prevailing norms.

I could walk you through how an Indeterminate Situation with no fixed linear answer as those Pearson assessments I have described fits within the kind of higher-order thinking that changed consciousness that Hegel described as Synthesis. What the Hewlett Foundation calls Deep Learning. But I believe you get my point that the overlap is high. The book is called Paradigms, Thought, and Language if you too want to immerse yourself in all the Hegelian foundations of what we are calling the Common Core. Or try to dispute all these troubling implications. Remember in the last post when the advocates for Vygotsky sought to assert that these theories need not result in totalitarianism? Showing the history was very much on their minds even if no one is giving us the heads up on the dangers of what we are mandating in our K-12 classrooms. This is how Markova ended her book:

“In all other areas of psychology the Hegelian framework will undoubtedly be the one with the future, and Hegel’s philosophy will prove a deep source of inspiration. Finally a word of caution…action can be sinister if based on non-recognition of the other person as a human being. The future of mankind depends on taking actions in which human beings mutually recognize each other as human beings.”

So are people basically good as so many of these philosophers and economists want to believe? Will we remember the lessons of history before we once again light this Hegelian powder keg for achieving social change?

I suggest we remember another turn of the 20th century insight when these German ideas were first exploding onto the world stage. It’s from a novel by the same Robert Buchan where his character wisely notes:

” You think a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Satan.”

The actual Common Core implementation and the intent of its assessments and the accompanying economic, social, and political transformations go far beyond a touch or a push.

Shoving into the abyss is more like it regardless of anyone’s good intentions. And without much accurate actual knowledge and a deliberate cultivation of a desire for change, there does not even seem to be a parachute or a tool to catch a ledge.