As Powerful as a Religious Conversion: Bestowing Deep Understandings for their Revolutionary Effects

In one of those obvious statements that really deserves a sarcastic “Really Sherlock?” response, did you know that people differ in their ability to come up with explanations and structures to organize their thoughts? Which is of course unfair. So in the interests of fairness and equity and without any mention of the political usefulness, schools and effective teaching should now be about providing those so-called Cognitive Structures. That enable thinking and motivate acting in the future. Thinking Tools. How nice. Then there need not be any “cognitive consequences of cultural opportunity.” Single parents, second language, learning disabilities. School will provide the Enduring or Deep Understandings that “serves to organize perception in new ways.” That conceptual lens that may not be true and is not spontaneously generated by All children will now fortuitously be Provided to All children.

Then All Children Can Learn and coincidentally will believe the same things that can have very nice side effects for anyone looking for Fundamental Transformation. Here’s a quote from a 1988 book reprinted regularly through the 90s about the research done with Native Hawaiians as part of the Kamehameha Elementary Education Program (KEEP). It had Ford and Carnegie Foundation funding as well as the National Science Foundation. KEEP was part of a restructuring template to make schools places providing assistance so Each Student can Learn. In the unadvertised sense of behavioral or belief system changes. Much more lasting than mere factual knowledge you see. Only someone working at someone else’s expense would dare say:

“We do not yet know under what circumstances cognitive structuring is to be preferred over questioning, or vice versa. The potential power of cognitive structuring is not in doubt. As in instances of religious conversion, the acceptance of a cognitive structure can have the most revolutionary effects on human behavior and experience. How and why this occurs remain largely mysteries, although our understanding of these remarkable processes is increasing.”

Now it would be possible to provide Concepts and Generalizations and Understandings that are politically neutral but once we get beyond fractions that does not appear to be what anyone has in mind. Old Timers in the Ed Wars will be quaking in their boots when they read that Lynn Erickson was citing Hilda Taba as a model to be emulated in this area of Conceptual Understanding. I will let you look Hilda up. But the idea that human development in school takes the “individual child in whatever form and guides and nurtures the mind, body, and self-concept” should give us all pause. Let’s put that in the context of World Bank economist Kaushik Basu writing in concluding Beyond the Invisible Hand:

“We can come to have norms where behaving otherwise is met with so much social disdain or self-loathing that no one does so. And in the long run, the norms can become so much a part of us that we end up following them not for any reason but rather because that is our instinctive behavioral response.”

And there’s nothing quite like providing “accepted explanatory belief systems” that are practiced with daily over years to transform those norms to instinctive responses. So nice from someone who also wrote that the “demise of the USSR is thus an indictment of a perverse brand of capitalism, not of socialism.” Gulp. Lots of political value in providing the concepts that guide everyday life. And don’t think the radical educators and political schemers (who are sometimes the same person) do not know it. They have been gloating over this for decades beyond our sight but not unrecorded for posterity.

We have covered Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky and his Cognitive Tools repeatedly as well as the related Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) beehive at UC-San Diego.  It would probably surprise you then to know that in June 2007 the American Education Research Association (yes it was about the time AERA elected Bill Ayers as one of their guiding light execs) published  “Vygotsky’s Neglected Legacy: Cultural-Historical Activity Theory.”

Now neither CHAT nor Vygotsky strikes me as neglected in the least. I am practically feeling crushed by the frequency at which they pop up without looking. I think that essay though was intended to mainstream these theories in preparation for offense and implementation in more classrooms. The fact that the paper received funding from the Canadian government and had a co-author from Singapore further suggests we are dealing with a coordinated psychological assault against the individual mind anywhere that ever upheld Anglo-Saxon common law. This is a little long but important. Concepts matter and Concepts aimed at Reorganizing Thought matter most of all.

“Because CHAT addresses the troubling divides [not to me. I prefer the division thank you very much] between individual and collective, material and mental, biography and history, and praxis and theory, we believe that it is deserving of wider currency in the educational community. . . In part, the vigorous dialectical materialist grounding of psychology in Marxism that A.N. Leont’ev pursued may have slowed the reception of CHAT in the West. Yet we emphasize that these powerful analytic tools, existing even in Vygotsky’s works, have little to do with totalitarian regimes that have falsely masqueraded under the banner of Marxism, socialism, or communism.”

I believe that translates as nasty dictators misappropriated those lovely intentions of Uncle Karl and needlessly besmirched this lovely tool for future human development. This time we will get it right and will only manipulate people’s driving belief systems and values in beneficial ways. For their own good. For the Common Good. For the Planet. And you and I may find Dialectics to be an off-putting word we could do without but that is because we fail to appreciate “the dialectical nature of consciousness, which includes cognition, memory, and personality, among others.”

Well, I guess the dialectical part comes from wanting to fundamentally transform it and CHAT is apparently a PRIMO tool. Did you know that “dialectics is ‘possibly the most appropriate frame of reference for the study of human development, and indeed was actually developed as an explanation for human development?” Well, actually I did point that out but now we know once again why it fits our Common Core and global reform realities so well.

I am not going to belabor the number of times those coauthors used that D word in that essay. I will, however, mention that the result of all those contradictions and synthesis of Concepts results in a Deep Understanding. Which is exactly the phraseology the Hewlett Foundation keeps using to describe where it sees the Common Core going. And it dovetails with the Education for Life and Work report from last summer. .

Boy it sure does look like Leont’ev is getting his transformative experiment in the West that he told Urie Bronfenbrenner he aspired to back in the 60s. is the post where I explained that ginormous discovery. That is even more important now as we think about all those false conceptual lenses in Urie’s Ecological Systems Thinking Theory. Which is all through the new C3 Social Studies Framework.

One way to think of the to-be-supplied Concepts and Cognitive Structures and Mental Maps is to see them as “schooled concepts.” The Russians so got the importance of the difference between what can be understood only as a result of formal instruction and everyday practices that the 1988 book mentioned above includes the Russian term nauchnoe ponyatie along with the cite to Vygotsky. These Abstract Concepts are learned at school and then applied “downward” from “generalization to palpable example.” All our mentions of Real World problems and Relevance seem to be based on the recognition from Vygotsky and his followers that “Everyday concepts stand between schooled concepts and the experienced world. Schooled concepts, in Jovian detachment, can connect with the world below only through the everyday concepts that have risen through practical activity. …The constant relating of schooled with everyday concepts enriches and saves schooling from aridity, but this relating also profoundly changes the nature of the everyday concepts that are touched, making them ever more systemic, autonomous, and tool-like.”

These research observations could be used to help teach students to better understand reality as it exists but that would not be transformative. Or perhaps as Engaging. Instead the weaving of schooled concepts with the everyday is to be used to create activities and projects and learning tasks with the purpose of “a fundamental restructuring in which all are transformed: actions, relationships, and thinking.” The cite is to another Soviet psychologist. This time El’konin.

I am not looking for Boogie Men (or women) here but we clearly have a constant refrain of Transformation. And I am getting an increasingly uncomfortable feeling that many influential people at the helm or employed by influential institutions or foundations believe that the Human Development aspects of Uncle Karl’s writings make a good Overlord theory for the 21st Century. And they do intend to give it a try in real time on a massive scale all over the West. But especially against the World’s only Superpower and its  economy.

And the US for the most part is completely unaware that this most subjugating of theories against the primacy of the individual is coming in under an “How All Children Can Learn” banner.