Do You Live in a District Piloting Deep and Continual Personal Change in the Individual Student?

In case the term systems thinking always seemed too abstract to get too worked up about. Or the fact that Peter Senge has sold 2 million copies of his book The Fifth Discipline and now holds a Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling Conference for K-12 Education was not on your radar screen as Another Thing to Worry About. Now I do not get to do that because I have seen “must teach the children systems thinking” as part of an essential aspect of every radical plan to remake US and global education for decades. It did not take me long to track down its history or see it as a sledgehammer to destroy a student’s belief that he or she is, and is entitled to be, an autonomous individual. It was honestly a relief to read the recent infed story called “peter senge and the learning organization” where they recognized the common visions and social interests between communitarian thinkers like Amitai Etzioni and Senge. You begin to imagine a chant at these conferences along the lines of “Heh, Heh, Ho, Ho, The Unitary Self has Got to Go.” Worked with Western Civ at Stanford.

Since we have already figured out that the definition of Career Ready in Common Core is based on Etzioni, Peter Senge’s views on implementing Common Core promise to be a hugely important component of what it will actually look like in classrooms.  First of all, we are supposed to recognize that Common Core is a “unifying approach to transforming American education.” Here we are as parents, taxpayers, and business people looking for capable, knowledgeable minds and we are being told that Common Core means there will no longer be variations in the content required of students moving from state to state. A worthy sounding, probably PR-tested slogan to soothe away any concerns about federal intrusions into local issues. Truly that intrusion is the least of these scheming aspirations.

Instead “Lessons from Systemic Change for Utilizing the New Common Core Standards for Transforming Education” gives us Maxine Greene’s vision for education for political transformation by altering each student’s consciousness. The authors are terribly well-connected (including Harvard’s Robert Kegan) as you will see. And there are no side essays or speeches mentioning wanting to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War to clue the enterprising reader into the actual political orientation being advocated. Like Maxine Greene and Bill Ayers but without the taint of their open proclamations, these systems thinkers want learners to be the center of the curriculum, not a body of knowledge. As Maxine Greene wrote, that’s the first step in imagining a different world,  toward acting on the belief that things can be changed. Learning as becoming Different than you were at the beginning of the day according to Greene.

For all these Professors and Supers and Principals seeking Transformation with a Capital T, education is merely a tool of alteration that guarantees funding, obscures the political theories being imposed without consent, and grants access to innermost thoughts, values, and emotions. Everything a Mao ever wanted and no one is up in arms. Yet. And if they are, they are focused on side issues about how to teach math and whether to allow ability-grouped classes.  Instead it gets reexpressed without any taint or royalties to Maxine as a “learning community” where the school creates “a culture where people continually learn with and from one another.” Community is no mere slogan either. Rather it becomes the whole point of education. To get this sought environment and Transformation (we are back to the collection of systems thinkers here including Senge):

“the most important point is the basic point: the naive fantasy that there exists such a thing as systemic change independent of deep and continual personal change fails to prepare people for the real work. The “system” in terms of habits of thoughts and actions that shape practices, processes, structures and even metrics lives inside each of us. It (their emphasis, bolding is mine) works the way it works because of how we work. What is most systemic is most personal. Consequently, all processes of real systemic change inevitably arise from developmental processes that are deeply personal.”

Probably the sort of deeply personal interactions fostered through teacher OBE training renamed as “Performance Excellence for All Kids” we met in the last post set in the pastoral settings of Vail to reenforce that this is the Way Things Ought to Be. Or Peter Senge’s Camp Snowball that includes students ready to engage in action learning to promote a Transformation around Sustainability. Since Peter had David Coleman, one of the primary architects of Common Core as a speaker this summer, all of this transforming may seem radical to us but the so-called Transformative Players do all seem to be interacting around this systems thinking vision and Common Core.

I guess David got his Second Wind at Camp Snowball getting ready to go transform AP courses and the SAT as the new, very well-paid, President of the College Board. And if anyone finds this systems thinking/College Board alliance strange you should read all the College Board publications from the 90s on finally achieving Dewey’s vision for American education including transforming the nature of college. Or just read me. I have read all those books and some of them had not absorbed fresh air in over 15 years. Musty smell to go with the toxic ideas is one way to put it.

Now I found the above quote on all that deep and continual personal change in students who are allegedly in an Algebra or World History class to be quite graphic and very troubling. In case we are slow, however, our systems thinkers point out again on the next page:

“When we use the term ‘capacity building,’ it can often mask the depth of the emotional and psychological challenges, as we implied above in emphasizing the personal character of systemic change.”

That earlier quote is not my idea of implication but this 2nd reference leaves no doubt at the depths of the intrusive aspirations. In case you are wondering how I could have written such a graphic title for my previous post, I believe these political aspirations for education have already had real victims.

Today’s title comes from the systems thinking aspirations and their desire to put together school districts to participate as “systems-based CCSS learning communities.” There is a reference to systems “we currently know and are working with.” The “we” seems to be either Senge, the Waters Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation or Harvard. I am going to focus on the Harvard connection since it appears to involve two districts in the metro Atlanta area, Fulton that we discussed from the last post and Gwinnett.

Gwinnett, the largest district in Georgia,  won the Broad Award a few years ago. Parents there say the system went to a PBIS/SEL focus last school year (2011-12) just as soon as the ink was dry on the atrocious soft skills statute giving official permission for these psychological and emotional intrusions in Georgia. Others involved in the Harvard Strategic Data Project are listed as Boston Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (which won the Broad last year), and Fort Worth Independent School District.

All this systems thinking emphasis would of course explain why Massachusetts had to give up its well-functioning standards and move to the Common Core. It’s the new assessments and a means to get at consciousness. We talked about Transformational OBE and Dallas and Charlotte along with Cobb County, Georgia, and Fulton here. In addition to Fulton’s duplicitous charter enshrining Transformational OBE that I wrote about here, it turns out Fulton’s new Super of less than a year, Robert Avossa, was asked by Education Week to join as a speaker for its “Scaling Up Student Success” Leadership Forums in April. Ah, the leadership circuit!

Apart from that charter and Transformational OBE in new forms that are less likely to be discovered in time,  let’s look back at that systems document again. The one looking for school systems with “sufficient numbers of leaders who share such a commitment.”

What commitment you warily ask at this point in the post? The one for “using the new CCSS for transformative change.”

Gulp says every taxpayer and parent in any one of these implicated districts.

Such planned intrusions negate the very essence of individual freedom in the US. But my understanding of that and what is coming is not enough.

And so I write.


Priming Delicate Minds for a Desired Disruptive Revolution, What is the Real Damage?

One of the great tragedies in American education over the last several decades, and this seems to be true of education globally, is the wolves or utopian dreamers who see schools and colleges as premier weapons to change how a society thinks. Or to prevent a voting majority from being able to think at all. These incendiary political ideas always come wrapped up in phrases of hope. When the strategy to impose a collectivist political theory or manipulative psychological practice makes it to the local school, especially the suburban schools that must be taken down to get equity, it shows up in euphemisms like school improvement, accountability, Best Practice, or a duplicitous charter.

So how do I know the intent? Well, as you may remember, we tracked the language of the charter back to the original 1988 proclamations of manipulation.

Another way is play tiptoe through the footnotes and get your hands on the books and essays allegedly supporting controversial practices. That’s how we knew neuroscientists working for CASEL aspired to physically reshape students’ brains to gain desired personality traits.  I watched the tapes after they were cited in the “research” support of the School Climate Center.

If you do not live in a state like me that got a Positive School Climate mandate tucked into that NCLB waiver authorities rejoiced over, President Obama signed an Executive Order on July 28, 2012 expanding the Positive School Climate mandate to virtually all public schools. I wonder if the advisors pushing that order were prompted by the Positive Psychology to Promote Social Change movement? You know the one that takes advantage of the malleable captive minds to promote alternative values that seek to extinguish that pesky unitary self and promote the amorphous Common Good in its place?

Or we could do what so many of my readers seem to want. Follow former Weatherman advocate for violent revolution Bill Ayers to see why a career as an education “reformer” became his next political move. To understand what makes education reform a viable next weapon for so many 60s radicals and utopian dreamers and greedy or envious gypsy supers, gypsy principals, and the omnipresent political transformation enforcers, the accreditation companies. I think we should explore the vision of Ayers’ proclaimed mentor, Maxine Greene.

For added interest, she is also an inspiring visionary to Linda Darling-Hammond, who served as Obama’s 2008 Education Advisor, and is heavily involved with the SBAC Common Core assessments many states plan to use to measure student progress. She also chairs assessment for ATC21S, the global 21st century skills movement. What drives her affects many students and taxpayers all over the world. Finally, Ayers’ co-author, Janet L Miller, is an education professor involved with the Best Practice movement trying to reimagine American high schools away from content. It is probably not a coincidence that Ayers wanted to be recognized in the 1998 book as a co-founder of the Annenberg Challenge in Chicago (CAC). That would be the one now President Obama chaired. Or that the Best Practice handbook thanks the CAC for development funding.

I have long recognized that Best Practice does not mean that a proposed practice has a good academic result. Frequently it is terrible. Best Practice is about imposing the socio-cultural vision for education and social transformation on a charter district, school or classroom. It is a political weapon and it is designed to break or deprive the logical, sequential mind that some people have of sustenance. Anything that would foster individuality or an independent view of self. Why? Well as Ayers wrote citing Greene, he is interested in “shocking ourselves into new awarenesses as a goal.” Sounds like the kind of cultural bomb that cannot be heard or seen but damages internally nonetheless.

Why do students minds need to be manipulated and shocked? Well Ayers says teaching can be a ” powerful and natural key to social change.” But you must move away from the “transmission of some certified, sanctified stuff.” That would certainly explain the real hostility to standardized testing. The kind of dialoguing and reimagining these “reformers” want going on in a classroom does not do well in a measurement of knowledge. Good thing Common Core is pushing formative assessments like group projects and portfolios instead.

What Ayers and Maxine Greene and Linda Darling-Hammond and another contributor Nel Noddings, who we met previously in the Caring Economics and Australian Student Wellbeing posts, are all interested in fostering in classrooms is “imagining a different world, a more humane social order.”  And these people are all professors in colleges of education. They credential future classroom teachers and principals and district supers. When they push a pedagogy not because it works to transmit knowledge but because it works to foster social, cultural, economic, and political transformation, you get the kind of reading wars and math wars and fights over values clarification that have recurred in district after district and school after school in recent decades. It’s not like these taxpayer funded functionaries can acknowledge openly there’s a declared revolution going on. We might try to stop the funding in time.

I joke a bit but what is not funny in the least is the shock to student minds is not just deprivation of solid content. There really is a great deal of what reads like mental torture trying to prepare students for a desired different future. They want to compel moral action. They want to use the classroom to create “horizonal persons”:

“sensitive to the common good and to their own inner spirit. Their continuous rethinking and re-creating of self nurtures community ventures.”

I can remember being bored in school and always bringing a book to read, usually history. But at least I didn’t have teachers playing with my psyche pushing me to be a “horizonal person” to gain some hoped for utopian future of altered human sensibilities. What did these classroom political pursuits do to young minds? Again:

“Horizonal persons do not define goodness and morality in terms of sets of rules or regulations but rather in terms of increasingly more satisfying moral principles.”

And what is a moral being in their eyes?

“A moral being . . . is a thinking and reflective individual, alive to the paradoxes and dilemmas of life . . .[who] wrestles with the formulation of superior moral principles which can cope with problems of equity and justice for society at large. A moral person . . . is someone irresistibly drawn by the good.”

I make this retort from a great deal of historical knowledge about political theory. A moral person to them has been trained via the classroom to think like a communist idealogue without knowing that is the mindset being deliberately cultivated. No wonder emotion and few facts are so important to this reimagined classroom that has been going on in some places for at least two decades. That’s a lot of psychological manipulation that neither the teachers (I hope) or the students understood the purpose of. But the typical education professor did.

I am going to close with a quote from Nel Noddings from the same tribute to Maxine Greene. The essay is called “Ethics and Imagination” and discusses the importance of role playing for creating the kind of compassion desired for the sought transformation– the new, supposedly better world. It is not enough to:

“imagine ourselves as victims [though] emotion is aroused, and that emotion may increase our compassion for other victims, or it may create hatred for oppressors, or both.”

Politically useful emotion apparently but not sufficient to spark the desired revolutionary attitudes and values (those are Professor Noddings emphasis italics, not mine. Bold is mine).

“when we look at the perpetrator, we are again comforted because we are not, could not be that monster. But when we look at a scene of suffering and see both possibilities for ourselves, then a new horror provides a starting point for real moral growth.

Because confronting “the powers of darkness” is politically useful to fuel a revolution apparently. To get to a Caring Economics? Not unless the school or classroom is actually a gulag for conversion while minds remain malleable.

Does any of this sound equitable or just?