Imposing Cybernetics Control Theory on Students While Pretending the Impetus is Equity for All

The term cybernetics to me was always just a vague concept that had something to do with computers. I was following up on the Soviet psychologist Piotr Galperin and his behavior-orienting systemic-theoretical instruction by reading a 1975 book (translated into English in 1980, except curiously the footnotes) by one of his students, Nina Talyzina. Called The Psychology of Learning it kept referring to cybernetics, but there were no computers. Instead, cybernetics is described as a theory of control over processes. One of the processes that the Soviets and certain American educators wanted to control was human behavior.

Before anyone thinks this is just a haunting history lesson with me pouncing on disturbing intentions from the past, let me remind everyone that the US Common Core are designed as performance standards. They are about what students are to be doing. Competency is the same globally as is 21st Century Skills. Performance assessments are about action.  The shift from a mental focus to an activity focus (because that is what Marxist-Leninist theory required as Talyzina laid out) has already taken place. The significance of that deliberate shift is simply not well enough appreciated. Cybernetics, as applied to education, seeks to optimize “control of the learning process.”

That learning process is no longer to be “through the development of capacities that already exist at birth,” like mental ability, but is rather “a process of assimilation of various types of human activities by students and hence of the set of actions that bring this about.” What is going on with the learning tasks created for Common Core (described in Chapter 7 of the book), as well as the digital curricula being unveiled by Pearson (with Microsoft as partner) and Amplify (rolled out for middle school this week) among others, and the Connected Learning agenda being pushed by the MacArthur Foundation http://dmlhub.net/sites/default/files/Connected_Learning_report.pdf , are all examples of designing the teaching-learning [obuchenie] process in accordance with the requirements of a general theory of control.

When I recognized the full implications of what the Consortium of school districts from the last post sought (hence the hunger for Student data and continuous mentions of feedback in personalized instruction) and the gaming in classrooms (with its ability to control the visual images associated with any chosen concept and force the virtual world to conform to desired models of either reality or the future) to the cybernetic theory of how to control human behavior without that being apparent, I did some searches to see what was happening now.  One of those pulled up an essay that had been in the 2002 UNESCO Encyclopedia by the radical constructivist Ernst von Glasersfeld who I had talked about in Chapter 3 of the book. I gulped since I had not been looking for UNESCO or Glasersfeld. The essay is called “Cybernetics and the Theory of Knowledge” http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/255 and it lays out how crucial the theory of constructivism in education is to the goal of behavioral control via cybernetic principles.

More gulps. The word cybernetics is derived from the Greek word “Kybernetes” which referred to a steersman of  ship. It is the etymological root of the English word “governor” as in the lead elected state officials who seem so determined these days to combine economic development with education as workforce development. The word also retains its same control function in its use as a governor on an engine, regulating possible uses. Maybe we didn’t really appreciate the significance of the term cybernetics or its applicability to education, but radicals interested in political and social transformation at the level of individual consciousness certainly do. Everything to be required, or condemned, in a Common Core classroom is now driven by turning to Vygotsky and especially Galperin (image, associations, concepts) as the necessary psychological theories (instead of Skinner’s behaviorism). Galperin’s theory especially, backed up by decades of research, laid out a means and rationale for specifying the desired activity in the real world that would then produce the hoped for mental concepts.

Those mental conceptions, because they are created by actual activity in either the real world or a virtual immersion world (of the sort pushed by MIT’s Media Lab or Amplify’s Zombie Apocalypse game), are thus controllable in a way conceptions built up by facts delivered from lectures and textbooks are not. Then we have the new assessments and now to be a new SAT to monitor the extent to which the desired concepts (in the hermeneutic-dialogical sense we met in the previous post) are connected to associated  relational qualities (also supplied) and then tied to real world problems or phenomena. Understanding here is like a web and assessments are looking to see what strategies the student’s web of understanding reaches to apply when there is no fixed or correct answer. That tells a great deal about how the student will behave as an adult when they are on their own.

Now the Cold War implications of this psychology of learning and Galperin and cybernetics as a feature of education in a supposedly free country, especially since Talyzina mentioned a UNESCO symposium in 1976 on the psychological bases of programmed instruction, are obvious. Despite what is going on now in the Ukraine and the Crimea and the current Russian role in the UN’s digital learning and Information Society initiatives I have written about, our problem in 2014 are not the big C threat of decades ago. Subjugation of the individual and control over consciousness though clearly remain a primary government goal though. That Connected Learning report above makes it painfully clear that the digital and media agenda now in education is tied to a social and economic transformation to a shareable, collaborative consumption economy.   The new motto is to be “sharing reinvented through technology.”

If you go to the writings of the professors cited to show the economy is changing, we find the sociologist Juliet Schor (see her tag) who wrote Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. That pulls in her commonwealth vision of the future and the agenda of Gar Alperowitz and the Democracy Collaborative. Another cite turns out to be Harvard Labor Economist Richard Freeman. Finally, there is a cite to a 2008 paper by Bowles and Gintis. Uncited is their book from 1976 Schooling in Capitalist America that predicted a socialist transformation of the US that might need to become violent. I mentioned that book in this post http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/promoting-alternative-thinking-strategies-is-this-really-mental-health-first-aid/ . Its central point that education is so crucial to social change because “socialism is not an event. The consciousness developed in struggle is the same consciousness which, for better or worse, will guide the process of socialist development itself” is even more relevant when cybernetics is in use.

Making the cognitive activities, such as learning tasks or computer games, and the internal mental states created, the focus of instruction is certainly a fine way to develop and manipulate such a consciousness. It’s not like we are not drowning in evidence at this point of such broader transformative intentions from every direction. Foundations, local districts, states, federal DoEd (they openly work with MacArthur on Reimagining Education), and internationally via the UN and the OECD. Page 91 of that Connected Learning report even links to ITU’s 2011 Measuring the Information Society report. It is what led me to the UNESCO Sakhalin Declaration I wrote about already.

I can find the M-L roots of what is being pushed now. Talyzina was quite graphic about them. The public sales pitch now though for the same theories and practices is that the shift to digital and networked media (that makes cybernetics so much easier via adaptive software and the visual emphasis) is necessary to protect the life opportunities of “non-dominant youth.” To force “an environment in which opportunity and outcomes are widely shared across the citizenry” as if productive wealth is not in the minds of talented people, but in some pot ready to be rearranged. The constant drumbeat that these shifts are necessary “begins with questions of equity” and “centers on an equity agenda.” If you got a quarter for every time that report mentioned “privileged” youth or families or the “elite”, you could go out for a fine lunch.

That report once again quotes John Dewey making me very glad I laid out in the book why his vision remains so relevant to what is sought today. If we go down this road of cybernetic control over the development of a student’s adult personality (what college and career ready actually tracks back to) and adopt the vision “as progressives have argued for generations, the functions of schooling should be to prepare young people for contributing and participating in social life, which includes economic activity but also civil society, family, and community” where will we be as a nation or world in five or ten years?

Will it make the world a peaceful place? No, we will simply not see the aggression coming until it is too late. Will the public sector workers lying to us now on their intentions and lining their pockets with tax money decide to suddenly act altruistically in the name of the common good and genuine social justice? No again.

Equity and equal opportunity for all strike me as a means to federalize issues of education practice so that change can be required without consent or notice. Through civil rights law edicts. Secondly, it forces a surrender of individual primacy and sovereignty. It takes a citizen as subject to be molded at will approach.

No wonder we just keep running into all these Soviet techniques and theories. They were free to do the preliminary research on cybernetics in education. Guess where it will be continuing now?

Motto of Living Well as an Individual is Not Functional Anymore; Must Find Ways to Live Well Together

The final Chapter of that 1989 New World New Mind book we have talked about in the last two posts moved on to where all the radical education reform visions go eventually if you know where to look. That new vision of the future with a transformed society and economy. We need to always understand that if the future vision is anathema or likely to lead to unappreciated consequences that may well be tragic, we need to know that up front while the education pathway for these transformations is being put in place. The chapter was called “Changing the World Around Us” and pointed out that “people’s ideas are not as fixed as commonly thought–that in fact much is known about how to change them systematically.”

Which is precisely what the education reforms in the 90s known as Outcomes Based-Education and Whole Language set out to do. Another fascinating point from more than 20 years ago is the statement that “Television, of course, is one of the most important tools for developing new minds that society possesses.” Now that certainly explains an awful lot of series plotlines, doesn’t it?

Ehrlich and Ornstein point out that “the media, with minimal effort, could do a great deal to promote new-mindedness.” Boy did they ever step up to that plate. Greatly enjoying their inclusion among the “people who have leverage in our society” who would be on the list where “We must expose leaders of society to notions that are not now current.” I would say they all bit since virtually every troubling figure I have written about in recent months seems to be doing keynote speech after conference headliner after traipsing to DC or up to Boston to meet with Project Zero. Busy times as we reach the end game of what was laid out in 1989 as:

“Obviously, we need to make new kinds of thinking and new ways of handling our problems immediately available to society’s decision makers. And while changing the form and content of education would be a major step toward conscious evolution, much has to be done outside the schools as well.”

Which did happen. Society’s decision makers from their positions at foundations and think tanks and the UN and OECD and Big Business and ambitious politicians at every level have excitedly answered that call and are busily planning that future in books most of us have not read, in commissions we were not asked to join, in initiatives we have never heard of, and at conferences we have not been invited to. But it is no theory that there is a massive coordinated effort going on at our expense with a common consistent vision that involves our future and it has been in motion for about 25 years now. Let’s take a look at it since it involves no longer permitting the “pursuit of material self-gain” and an insistence a global self-appointed elite will create new systems of governance on our behalf with new “rules, arrangements and institutions that enable us to live well together: minimising destructive conflict and division in society.”

When I read the language in the 2010 National Education Technology Plan about 21st Century Competencies being the real goal, it was not news to me but it reminded me that I had better take a look again at what else the OECD was pushing. I knew they had issued Guidelines in March 2013 declaring that everyone’s subjective well-being was now their concern. How’s that for an all encompassing intrusive edict to justify a hoped-for lifetime of a tax-free salary and then pension? Was there a relationship between this Competencies/ Digital Learning push and the Subjective Well-being Initiative? Well of course. “Everything within the State, Nothing Outside the State, Nothing Beyond the State” as the saying with an unfortunate history goes. The language I quoted in the title and last paragraph came from this April 2013 OECD report. http://www.oecd.org/site/oecdgfd/Session%203.1%20-%20GFD%20Background%20Paper.pdf

This intrusive juggernaut coming out of both the UN and the OECD really tracks back to the Human Development Review reports that started in 1991 just as Ehrlich would have hoped. Over time what was sought just got bigger until now we get NGOs insisting they get to monitor and respond to whether “everyone’s relational and subjective needs are being and will be met” and “what governance in the 21st Century must consist of.” All that personal ed data and visualization will really come in handy when targeting personal “perceptions and aspirations” in order to gain a “cohesive society” is what is sought.

You can read that troubling 19 page report. Please note that the same US National Academy of Sciences now pimping 21st Century Skills and that Soviet pedagogy-inspired Education for Life and Work report has already quietly assembled a panel on Subjective Well-being as well. Another thing we are paying for but we are not invited to. Let me now add the Meeting of the Minds in Toronto in September to the list. 350 invites and they forgot us.  http://cityminded.org/events/toronto/agenda But we all have minds as well. Are we insufficiently newminded to qualify for the event? This annual get together to plan all of our futures without our consent around the concept of sustainable cities and regions started in 2007. We would all love to hear the “Economic Development Case for Urban Social Equity” and how universities and hospitals can become “anchor institutions” controlling the economy of an entire area. Or listen to the EPA official announcing the US is “re-inventing commerce as we know it, pivoting from a consumption model to something more sustainable.” As both the taxpayers paying his salary and the consumers about to be shafted can’t we listen too?

I am also intrigued by the “Dumb Phones, Smart Kids: The Coming Revolution of Citizen Engagement” program since that does seem to put an unacknowledged real purpose on all the Bring a Mobile Device to School hype. Apparently “Present and future generations will have unprecedented leverage with youth ‘voice’ in such areas as mobilization of demand, improvement of services, participatory engagement and accountability in local government.” Will the youth be able to tweet when their relational and subjective needs are not being sufficiently met?

Two of the listed speakers at the conference though are involved with pluralist commonwealth visions for our futures that just happened to come my way last week. These planners all seem to love that commonwealth phrase every bit as much as Harry Boyte and now the White House Office of Public Engagement. Lots of commonality of what the future Good Society is supposed to be in places we would not be likely to look at so let me give this a boost. In July 2013 PolicyLink and the Center for American Progress released the book All-In Nation: An America that Works for All http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/AllInNation-1.pdf with a government-centered/redistribution on steroids vision that will likely imperil almost everyone’s prosperity if it goes forward.

In addition we have a special journal issue called The Good Society laying out the commonwealth vision for the future. It did recognize that education is how we get there and that the US Constitution would need to be jettisoned or amended heavily and reenvisioned. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/10.5325/goodsociety.22.1.0074.pdf?acceptTC=true lays out how we get to a “Property-Owning Democracy” just as soon as a majority of voters will it apparently.  The contribution from the Democracy Collaborative (which also got invited to speak in Toronto) http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/10.5325/goodsociety.22.1.0001.pdf  is called “The Possibility of the Pluralist Commonwealth and a Community-Sustaining Economy.”

All the papers are in a similar vein. Public ownership and a state-directed economy and a reimagined workplace can be made to work in the 21st Century if we simply build the right Mindsets and personal perceptions and values through our schools. There is one more book that is being repeatedly cited as the vision for the future that goes along with these educaion reforms. Written by a sociology prof admirer of both Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren and all their environmental economics work. Publishing her (by Pearson’s Penguin Group of course) basically gets their past and current visions but it appears to be a new voice. Called Plenitude: the new economics of true wealth it sees us all swapping used clothes in the future and work sharing and rebuilding a face-to-face, localized, self-sufficiency economy.

Now none of us can debate what we do not know about and apparently only “society’s leaders” are supposed to be the decision makers in this future. No wonder there is so little knowledge in this Competencies/ digital learning vision. No wonder information on emotions and perceptions and motivations is so vital to the vision of future education. These visions of the transformed future that are sitting on unlikely assumptions about changing human nature are literally joined at the hip to the actual planned education reforms galloping into classrooms and schools that start classes tomorrow or in a few weeks at the latest.

Now one of the expressions that gets used all the time to sell this new vision for learning and education is to quit thinking in terms of silos. Well that goes both ways. We parents and taxpayers and believers in individualism and knowers of what actually creates mass prosperity and what dooms it need to start peering into the silos of future plans.

I for one just do not have the disposition to merely be among the ‘governed’ in the 21st or any century.