Have you noticed that everywhere we look, across time and in other countries, the consistent message is to create a new system of values? New values that form a personal core so they are available to fuel future action or fulfill future psychological needs in these times of change. It’s why certain religions are being urged to shift their belief-systems. It’s why Milton Rokeach originally created the very term Competency back in the 60s that is now with us more than ever. It lies at the heart of what Career Ready turned out to mean and embodies the personal and societal transformations the UN’s IPCC reports want to require preemptively, whatever the actual weather or temperature trends over time.
To ground the consistency of this message I have once again gone back in time. I cover important aspects of this story as it relates to education as a weapon in the Cold War in my book. As a history devotee though, there turns out to be additional details now available to augment our discussion of How to Get to Fundamental Transformation and Why the Pursuit has been Consistent and Unrelenting Over Decades. The Berlin Wall coming down in fact seems to have acted as an accelerant. So let’s go back in time to something anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote in an essay for a 1966 book Automation, Education and Human Values.
I first tried to approach the fact that Uncle Karl was more relevant to what was sought in the West back in this post http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/political-primer-101-what-is-the-marxist-theory-of-the-mind-and-why-does-it-matter-in-2012/ and in a subsequent post explaining that Marx had a Human Development Model of society that would kick in at a certain point as technology developed through capitalist innovation. This was quite frankly to be the utopian time of “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Mead, like so many others we have now encountered from the 60s or later in the US or Europe, was assuming that stage had been met. It is also what Sweden was relying on in its changes we looked at and why its former Prime Ministers just keep showing up to guide the UN’s vision over the rest of us.
We will never understand what is being sought via education and why it targets new values so consistently as a prime directive until we appreciate that. We also need to know that in 1974 the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Establishment of a New International Economic Order. The countries of the South and the developing world then have been not so patiently waiting for what they regard as their just due (as a response to colonialism) and the NIEO ever since. The magic technology that the NIEO is intimately intertwined with was information and communications back in the 70s. Now it has been updated to computers and broadband for all courtesy of the affluent West.
Let’s look first at Mead and then at the 1985 UNESCO paper “The New International Economic Order: Links Between Economics and Communications.” Then we can pivot to the ed vision and contemplate the irony of so many foundations created by tech fortunes financing the shift to a planned society built around the use of ICT. Conflict of interest? Mead brought the same kind of lack of bias to discussing economics that she brought to examining the sexuality of Polynesians, which is my sarcastic way of saying her desired ends influenced what she asserted. Nonetheless, she was an influential representative of a then and now common mindset that we best be aware of if we are going to accurately perceive the real aims. She noted that “the problems of a society as abundant as ours, with such extensive natural resources and such a large internal market” are now “problems of distribution rather than production.” Taking on the belief common to those who have never spent a moment in the true private sector, Mead wanted planners and decision-makers to be able to decide “how to distribute buying power.”
She would really like today’s EBT/SNAP cards instead of food stamps, wouldn’t she? She saw the early 60s as the “second phase of the moral revolution” that began when the Great Deal “in practice if not in principle” established the “idea that society was responsible for the subsistence of all its members.” Phase two of the ‘moral revolution’ as she called it, which of course always requires new values, is about each member of society having a “right to share in its productivity” via the “right to live well.” That 1985 paper citing a 1976 paper called Moving Toward Change wanted everyone to recognize once again that the establishment of the NIEO was not just a call for new economic and political structures and institutions, but to transform “socio-cultural factors” to help all peoples struggle against “all forms of domination.” I don’t believe gravity was included as a form of domination to be altered, but it is easy to see why education becomes the magic means for change with aims like these:
“[NIEO] is directed not only to making the best use of things and sharing them out more fairly, but to developing all men and women, and every aspect of the individual, in a comprehensive cultural process, deeply permeated with values, and embracing the national environment, social relationships, education and welfare.”
The paper also put a great deal of emphasis on how mass media and who controls it can help bring about this new vision and noted how the electronics companies like GE and Westinghouse were buying broadcast networks and publishing houses, especially textbook companies. Connections between education and communications media that are even more profound today even if none of us got the memo about the related Human Development Society with its needs economy or the demand of so many countries to force “Equity” on the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia among others. To think we have been wondering why so many global ed conferences now are held in a Middle East waiting for that 1974 resolution to finally be fulfilled.
Now let’s go back to the related ed vision from the 1966 book since it is still relevant and has the kind of graphic descriptions of intent that are only found before a plan runs into obstacles and controversy. For one thing it takes it for granted that the combination of computers and the behavioral sciences will inevitably create a means of “control which must include the manipulation of human beings.” Since we now know how important the behavior control theory of cybernetics is to the actual planned implementation of the Common Core and digital learning and the new assessments, the quoted New York Times review of Norbert Weiner’s book Cybernetics should still sound alarms so many decades later: John Pfeiffer wrote:
“The story is not entirely a happy one, however, because he [Weiner] did not trust robots. More precisely he did not trust man of affairs to use robots, or their fellow human beings for that matter, with either constraint or compassion.”
Me neither. Just imagine if Weiner had all the open declarations we have put together from fellow profs at MIT and elsewhere. What we now hear as the ubiquitous claim of the primacy of the ‘common good’ in the 21st Century and the need for social justice was clarified in 1966 as the “problem of the one and the many.” The 21st century keeps wanting to redo values to confront this same problem, which is why we keep running into cites to Professor Amitai Etzioni and communitarianism lurking behind poorly known new mandates in the schools. By 1966 the wake for the “notion of individualism in the old sense” was already being planned with glee. Education needed to replace a reverence for the past with an emphasis on the present and future so that “purposeful direction” could begin.
Education was to become ‘general’ with the “wellbeing of all as the key to human relationships powered by justice and compassion.” Education “for technical competence” was to be reconciled with “education for emotional or psychic competence.” No wonder a Whole Child emphasis or social and emotional competencies just keep recurring all over the world. We are just not appreciating that it is all tied to such an enduring vision of extensive transformations in virtually every sphere. Nor do we quite understand why the template for the Great Society that is so widely viewed as an expensive disaster that created and magnified societal dysfunctions remains a blueprint still being followed.
Let’s end with the confession from the 60s that the “humanities, as historically transmitted, as conventionally conceived and defended, as conventionally organized and taught, just will not do” in an “age of advanced technological and social change.” That is still the attitude today. Education for transformational social, political, and economic change needs fresh voices “of man’s changing efforts, experiences, and aspirations.” So if content is not relevant to either “the world of action or to man’s inner needs,” it needs to no longer be part of the curriculum.
Every once in a while it is important to pause and look back in time for our answers on the whys of what we are dealing with now in education. Now we can better appreciate why education globally is putting new values front and center as both the purpose and focus of the classroom and life experiences generally.
And why so many are so impatient.