Most of us, at least of a certain age, see the word ‘Understand’ and then it has something to do with how the world actually works or events that transpired in the past and what likely caused them and their ultimate consequences. This is from the Science Direct article called “Understanding is a Design Problem” written by Michael Lissack of the American Society for Cybernetics. It supplies the use of Understanding being pushed by Positive Psychology and its PERMA Model for education globally as well as other initiatives.
** When the act of understanding becomes a design problem, we can more readily recognize the role played by individual agency/construction in shaping these understandings, and also our next moves.
** Understanding is not about cognizing a pre-given world, it is about becoming aware of and consciously choosing the aspects of the world that we decide to cope with.
Those were from the bullet points of the abstract, but the following quote is from the paper itself under a heading of “The Role of As-Ifs,” which will fit nicely in a minute with what Positive Neuroscience and Psychology co-creator Martin Seligman calls Prospection and what the Templeton Foundation funded found here https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/readings-and-videos/selected-scholarly-articles called “Navigating the Future or Driven By the Past.” First, here is Lissack and think again of the Reading, Math, and Science Wars as we do:
Understanding requires agency. We do not nakedly receive meaning, nor do we just perceive the world as it is. Our cognitive equipment demands that we intervene to filter, prime, and frame some portion of the world, attend to that, develop an understanding and move on…The notion of as-ifs is critical to the argument that follows. Because of our limited cognitive resources, we cannot deal with the world as it is. We are stuck dealing with what our minds can process and treat that as if it were the world itself. The implications are vast. There may be fixed facts and absolute truths that apply in the real world, but we have no way of knowing such things…
We are stuck having to deal with as-ifs and not the real world. Where we do have choice is in the composition of those as-ifs. This is the context in which design [especially when mandated via learning standards like competency frameworks] can make a difference. ‘The object of the world of ideas as a whole is not the portrayal of reality–this would be an utterly impossible task–but rather to provide us with an instrument for finding our way about more easily in this world.’ [and] ‘Knowledge is not a matter of getting reality right…but rather a feature of acquiring habits of action for coping with reality.’
Gives new meaning, doesn’t it, to the emphasis now on Concepts first and whether the student applies the concepts in real world simulations and new situations that get required via Equity mandates like this one from yesterday? https://www.inacol.org/resource/how-systems-of-assessments-aligned-with-competency-based-education-can-support-equity/ Success for All suddenly means all students must have their mental models reengineered. Equity does sound better. All students need the so-called higher performance (as in action, not grades) measures of achievement because as Lissack explained it:
Attention and ascription–giving a label to something, and thus providing a means of reference for it–entail a continuous circular reflexivity which drives our decision making and actions at any given instant…Only attended-to possibilities can afford an option for action. Unattended-to affordances, while theoretically available, simply do not afford. Action is dependent upon recognizing an affordance, which is dependent upon attention, which in turn is dependent on priming (preparedness to be attended to), which is itself dependent upon prior ascriptions, prior attention, and prior actions.
It is this context that I would put this mandate https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/13/new-zealand-schools-to-teach-students-about-climate-crisis-activism-and-eco-anxiety as the desired attended-to concepts are instilled in students’ minds to necessitate future action. Now to Seligman’s 2013 article which claimed that “Prospection, the representation of possible futures, is a ubiquitous feature of the human mind…Prospection involves no backward causation; rather, it is guidance not be the future itself but by present, evaluative representations of future possible states.” Sounds like Lissack’s desire to design the as-if conditionals that will become students habits of mind and motivators to act to me. Suddenly the need for Character Education and Virtue Training makes perfect sense if the emphasis is to be on decision making in light of ‘needs and goals’ as in this passage from the first paragraph laying out the new model of human psychology.
We suggest an alternative framework in which people and intelligent animals draw on experience to update a branching array of evaluative prospects that fan out before them. Action is then selected in light of their needs and goals. The past is not a force that drives them but a resource from which they selectively extract information about the prospects they face.
One point of contention between this blog and my book Credentialed to Destroy and other education writers has been a tendency for others to hype Behaviorism as the inspiration reforms, while I have seen cybernetics and the desire to control perception and the internalized mental models as the aspiration. Seligman shed meaningful light on this point where “the failure of behaviorism lay in its overreach, trying to use a theory that worked for rats and pigeons in the experimental setting to explain human psychology in unconstrained situations…we believe that the crucial failure was in eschewing teleological explanation, which followed directly from the exclusion of mental events in favor of drives and habits.” He then goes on to detail how the rat experiments actually “pointed clearly away from the idea that behavior was under the control of past motor ‘habits,’ suggesting instead that an acquired ‘cognitive map’ governed navigation flexibly, permitting goal-directed behaviors of unprecedented kinds.”
Seligman then made the fascinating point that the oft-cited Russian psychologist Pavlov’s research had been mistranslated into English “in such a way as to underscore the lack of teleology. His ‘conditional’ and ‘unconditional’ were rendered ‘conditioned’ and ‘unconditioned’ and this shift to the past participle brought with it the connotation of a fixed relation, whereas ‘conditional,’ Pavlov’s term, allows the ‘if-then’ representation of possibilities.” Remember our ‘pragmatic inquiry’ from Part 1 of what I am ultimately going to call this Enactive Cognitive Science Trilogy? Seligman goes into more detail about the actual rat experiments and then concludes that:
Rats, it seems, are more predictable when we postulate that they act through complex expectation-based representations of possible actions and outcomes, behaving more like inquirers actively seeking to anticipate the future than creatures of habit-channeled drives? Perhaps humans should be given as much credit…A conceptual error seems to have animated behaviorism, in which something genuinely suspect–a metaphysical teleology of causation backward in time, of the present by the future–was conflated with something not at all mysterious, namely, guidance by a system bearing causal and evaluative information about possible futures.
The quotes above from Lissack about ascriptions and attended-to affordances fit with what Seligman calls the Logic and Benefits of Expectation. Try not to compare 21st century students to Lashley’s rats in this quote:
Choice now makes sense. Lasley’s rats, even when confined to the narrow channels of the maze, appear to have been building up ab evaluative map of the possibilities their environment afforded, stretching well beyond actual experience and enabling them to improvise opportunistically on the spot. Such behavior draws attention to another core aspect of cognition that is oriented toward prospection: the active, selective seeking of information (‘exploration’), which, if we are right about prospection, should be as vital as the active, selective processing of information…Expectation is pivotal in schema (1) [adaptive feed-forward/feedback models of learning and control] because it transforms experience into experimentation–continuously generating a ‘test probe’ so that the next experience always involves an implicit question and supplies an answer, which can then function as an error-reducing ‘learning signal’.
Doesn’t that sound just like what the Formative Assessment hype brought in above in the name of Equity calls Continuous Improvement? It is what Seligman called “such active, ongoing prospection nicely illustrates teleological control–navigating into the future by considering future possibilities and electing action [student performance] in light of the benefits and risks they promise.” All the emphasis on Virtues in the Portrait of a Graduate or in Classical Education https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/four-pillars-educating-america/ , for example, make far more sense if there is a perceived need to educate Desire: “because desire provides an intelligible teleology for human action, a narrative arc stretching from discovery of a transfixing but distant prospect, across the drama of longing, seeking, and overcoming obstacles, to arrive at a denouement in union with the object of desire.”
What a student likes and values then affects their action in light of perceived possibilities and the “motivation for such action is not determined by fixed drives or past conditioning but is elicited by the evaluative process itself through the normal working of desire…Our title emphasizes navigating the future because, like a navigator, the organism must not only act but also mentally explore options and keep track of progress.” Let’s close not with the theory, but with the OECD’s Future of Education and Skills 2030 aspiration. In the ironically called Conceptual learning framework for Student Agency for 2030, where the children are already in our schools:
The concept of student agency, as understood in the context of the OECD Learning Compass 2030, is rooted in the principle that students have the ability and the will to positively influence their own lives and the world around them. Student agency is thus defined as the capacity to set a goal, reflect and act responsibly to effect change. It is about acting rather than being acted upon; shaping rather than being shaped; and making responsible decisions and choices rather than accepting those determined by others…While a well-developed sense of agency can help individuals achieve long-term goals and overcome adversity, students need foundational cognitive, social, and emotional skills so they can apply agency to their own–and society’s–benefit.
The illusion of choice using a contrived cognitive map created by mostly mandated learning experiences that over time have turned into habits. Predictable actions in the future engineered by all those as-if scenarios practiced in digital learning environments and role-playing online and in group activities.
Part 3 whenever I get a chance. Bon Chance!