One of the striking things in the last violent week here in the US and in the city I call home is how the sought remedies for the supposed Pandemic are also being touted as the remedies for the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. To get back to my specialty, the real agenda in education, those remedies require “Teaching to Transcend the Here-and-Now” where “whole-learner approaches…with explicit commitments to cultural responsiveness, trauma-informed practices, and restorative justice” can supposedly “support youth in reworking the kinds, of abstract narratives they create to affirm their lives, experiences, identities, values, decisions, and possible futures.” Those kind of ambitions give a great deal of impetus for the media and politicians to mischaracterize legitimate protests over a heinous act with organized rioting and looting, as well as concerns in certain states over continued lockdowns.
First, we have this statement from the Kellogg Foundation whose seminal work of what constitutes Evidence-Based Policymaking controls much of what gets required as the so-called Logic Model for desired changes in the student, how they think and feel, and what is likely to motivate them to take particular actions in the future. https://wkkf.org/news-and-media/article/2020/05/standing-together-for-racial-equity-and-community assigned the “resulting fury” to seeing the Floyd video to “the structural racism behind inequities” in every system. Then we get a link to the 100,000 deaths of COVID-19 where “the effects of structural racism are exposed on every screen” causing a need for “leaders in every circle, large or small, to raise their voices on behalf of our common humanity.” The remedy? “Commit to building the equitable systems that will safeguard children, their families and communities everywhere.”
So the phrase “structural racism” is definitely one of the Big Ideas that Teaching to Transcend the Here-and-Now would have students use:
As adolescents deliberate on big ideas, they come to recognize the salience of concrete problems and tasks that help flesh out these ideas [Think of all those images of burning covered by the media while the looting is more ignored]. As this happens, students’ concrete tasks take on a new urgency. Because students are invested in understanding the big idea or problem, they return to the concrete tasks with a new determination…[This lets students] begin shifting their dispositions of mind to see the allure and personal relevance of academic knowledge.
Let’s see what the well-connected Frameworks Institute, whose leadership also wrote this story recently https://ssir.org/articles/entry/advocating_for_age_in_an_age_of_uncertainty wanted to push as “Topic #11: Framing the post-pandemic economy.” Think of the economy as one of those systems Kellogg and other large foundations want changed fundamentally to create “equitable systems.” Frameworks stated:
The pandemic has created an opening to change the public’s perspective on what it means to have a good economy–and what role government must play in getting there…we need to lead a conversation about how to create an economy that serves everyone’s needs. We need ways to engage people in thinking about arranging our society and its resources in a just, inclusive way. The pandemic is a moment when change is inevitable–for better or for worse. We can and should use our communications power to shape this change.
I boldfaced the phrase ‘communications power’ because social scientists and politicians globally, with transformational change as their goal, view Communication as having two Equal Legs to dictate desired messages–Education is one and the Media is the other. Either has the power to create the prevailing concepts, images, and categories of thought that prevail among a majority of people. So when one wants to have students concentrate on Big Ideas, or the other to Highlight the impact of Policy choices, the words chosen matter. After all, as Frameworks noted, if we are to get to “a redesigned future”:
Talk about past, present, and future in equal measure–and connect them tightly. Show how past economic policy decisions are creating problems now, leaving more people more susceptible to harm than if our set-up had been different. Link economic decisions firmly to people’s lives and experiences. Explain, in clear, step-by-step fashion, how policies being considered now would help create an economic system that better meets people’s needs going forward…
Avoid language that suggests that the economy is a force that operates on its own. Natural metaphors like cliffs, waves, and aftershocks are likely to reinforce the idea that what’s happening in the economy is wholly beyond our control.
Take care, too, when translating economic date visualizations into language. Most people can’t picture–or don’t understand–graphs that advocates take for granted. For the public, talk of spikes and plunges bring a roller-coaster to mind. This undermines the idea that we can actively manage the economy.
Instead of highlighting the unpredictability of the system, emphasize the power of our response. Talk about what we can do, through policy, to manage disruptions to economic activity and to meet people’s needs. Explain how government decisions about the economy affect people.
I quoted that at some link not only to highlight the BIG IDEA that the Economy is a System that can be redesigned to equitably meet everyone’s needs, but also to show generally the power of big ideas and what words should and should not be used to instill the desired narrative in people’s minds. Here the Big Idea of a Pandemic, much like Structural Racism (another abstract big idea), “has pushed many people over the edge into hardship and harm. It doesn’t have to be this way. We face tough choices as we move through the COVID-19 crisis. But as we rebuild, we do get to choose. We can reprogram our economy to create secure employment, reduce poverty, and expand prosperity.”
See what I mean about same destination with different rationales and slightly different rhetoric? It fits too with what Reinventing Schools for Meaning-Making said was the “new research on connections between adolescents’ narrative building and brain development” that noted that “Adolescent learners thrive when provided an environment conducive to building strong, personal narratives that leverage the emotional power of big ideas and abstract meaning-making in the service of motivated work on concrete tasks and skills.”
When I was researching all those calls for Parrhesia practices to create the desired type of citizen for the future that requires a certain kind of thinking heavily linked to emotion I discovered that its author had also come up with another big idea phrase–Governmentality. That phrase combines the transformationalists’ need for strong governments at every level to force the desired changes with its need to also get at the prevailing mentality of each and every citizen. Sound familiar? It turns out visions like Portraits of a Graduate or Learner Profiles, as well as learning standards for desired big ideas and desired practices of behaviors and requisite new values, have been part of the plans for as long as there has been a widespread pursuit of equitable systems that will meet everyone’s needs.
Each individual’s (or at least most) mentality needs to be controlled to create “a specific understanding of the problems to be solved.” See how useful, although personally tragic for some, big ideas like White Privilege, Structural Racism, or a Pandemic can be for supposedly necessitating long desired changes? The specific understanding inculcated at the level of the mind and tied via emotion to the heart then works “in tandem with this, emphasis was placed on the understandings and constructions of the world that give rise to efforts to change it.” Now we have a view of government that shifts away from command and control, except apparently in Michigan and New York State at present, to get at the “optimal harnessing of these [human] self-governing capacities.”
For people, that means targeting their Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions of Mind and Heart–an individual’s “capacities and potentials likewise had to be taken into account and optimised.” See what the civil rights call for Equity can do? The call for it in education simply mirrors the sought changes in “other systems” as Governmentality “also had to consider the relations between regulation of organic collective entities and the ‘microphysics’ of selves: the government of ‘each and all’ was to be one of its trademarks.” Isn’t framing or required conceptual lenses required via learning standards for all students just another way to get at a new vision of government that seeks to control mentality unobserved?
Central to the Foucaultian idea of mentality is indeed analysis of the ways of thinking about government — how problems and people are thought about, what solutions to problems are dreamed up, what ends are imagined as desired outcomes…The analytic of governmentality in this sense is concerned with surfaces–the words used to describe problems, the discourses in terms of which subjects are characterised, the categories that are used to explain policies…
Governmental mentalities are governmental precisely in the sense that they seek to shape the conduct of those things, events and subjects they wish to govern. They are in this sense intensely practical — they imagine the world as governable: problems are construed in ways that make them subject to practicable solutions.
Like Shelter in Place? A Redesigned Economy? Students Habituated to act in pursuit of desired instilled goals grounded in cultivated emotions to act as their motivation?
At least we no longer need to be mystified as to precisely why Knowledge came to be redefined as Concepts or a Narrative instead of a body of facts. Which gets us to a redesigned future with governments steering us all at every level?
Did I mention the quotes on Governmentality from the last part of this post were taken from a Research Paper published by an Australian Law School?
Gives new meaning to the phrase “Rule of Law,’ doesn’t it?