Transcending the Individual Mind as the Analytical Unit of Learning While Still Guiding How We Will Act

In 2003, Peter Senge, also tied to MIT’s Sloan School of Management just like Alex Pentland from the last post, wrote an article “Creating Desired Futures in a Global Economy” based on remarks he delivered at his Society of Organizational Learning’s first Global Forum. It was held in Helsinki, Finland. Like John Dewey’s purposes for education, Peter Senge’s purposes or Alex Pentland’s or those who push practices unaware of their background, the purposes still attach to the desired education practices. No matter what or where. No matter how pure the heart may be or how noble the personal intentions. The purposes need to be a part of every discussion of education reform, and no degree from any institution should enable anyone to impose these practices with their undisputed collectivist intention in a country that intends to remain free.

Otherwise we have precisely what seems to be occurring. Education being used to mount a nonconsensual political coup at the level of the human mind. In that article Senge quoted a physicist David Bohm, who in 1980 expressed the sentiment that “the most important thing going forward is to break the boundaries between people so we can operate as a single intelligence. [J.S., another physicist] Bell’s theorem implies that this is the natural state of the human world, separation without separateness. The task is to find ways to break these boundaries, so we can be in our natural state.” Senge apparently agrees with Bohm and gave a similar quote from Einstein.

He also waxes on about the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton (interestingly, that’s the same noosphere project I drew attention to in the book). If this were simply a matter of personal beliefs that would be one thing, but when these beliefs drive education policy no one should lose the right to avoid declared manipulations of minds and feelings, values or complete personality, just because the person pushing these ideas got a certain kind of degree or works at a school or district or university or government agency or has a lucrative consulting contract.

If the nature of the education policy or practice is to foster that Marxist change in the student and the world to make history that we encountered in the last post, then the people pushing these policies are Marxists. Whether they admit it or not and whether they are aware or not of the ancestry of what they are pushing. I don’t know about what you feel when reading the word Marxist, but when I have to type it feels like I am insulting someone. Like telling them they have bad breath or must turn sideways to make it through a door. For many of the people developing and pushing these education ideas though, it’s a term of pride. And when it comes to pushing Vygotsky’s theories or those of Piotr Galperin, who we are going to talk about today, it is not merely that they personally had Marxist sentiments or lived in a country under its sway.

Using education to create “forward-looking transformative practices that are needed to enact history in the present” is the entire purpose of their theories and instructional practices. If the actual implementation of the Common Core in the US and comparable education reforms elsewhere are grounded in Vygotsky (usually admittedly if you know where to look) and Galperin (by the function of the required practices and how closely they align with his theories), then the purpose of the education reforms is every bit as much of a Marxist transformation as anything that happened in Russia in 1917 or Cuba in 1959. Nobody is goose stepping or shooting or fleeing abroad this time, but that does not change the aim. Nor does it change admissions that these theories and practices are “ideology-driven” to foster a different kind of future world.

What Galperin set out to do, and what his decades of research on students in the USSR showed, according to Igor Arievitch and Jacques Haenen, was how to use the “active construction of actions in the external form [what the Common Core calls learning tasks]” to guide “transformation of those actions into mental processes.” That’s what ‘teaching students how to think’ and a ‘thinking curriculum’ actually mean. To put it in the language used in a different essay by Arievitch and Anna Stetsenko, Galperin’s systemic-theoretical instruction laid out “how to arrange teaching-and-learning processes [what he and we now call by its Russian name obuchenie] in such a way that they indeed lead to a profound developmental change in children’s minds.”

How you ask? You provide a conceptual understanding from the beginning that encompasses the point of instruction (maybe true, but what a student is to believe regardless) and what types of physical phenomena it applies to (supposedly) and the (mostly invisible) relationships among those phenomena that physically exist in the real world. So real physical things encountered in daily life by a student or adult evoke “a chain of images, associations, and concepts”  in the mind that is designed to pop up like a reflex response. Let’s tap that knee says the doctor.

Now if whoever created the textbook or software or video wants actual knowledge, you could actually use Galperin’s “technology of instruction” to accurately build up a fairly accurate understanding of reality. Such programmed instruction is not inherently bad, but there’s no real safety valve to protect against manipulative creators of virtual reality gaming or software or any other means of instruction from pushing concepts that are not true or do not apply. Nor is there any means of ensuring that the taught relationships among things accurately reflects real, verifiable, connections. Like Senge’s systems thinking, the instruction may be about hoped for connections transformation advocates want students to believe exist.

Because the manipulative potential of Galperin’s ‘technology of instruction,’ as his research demonstrated, stems from the fact that it orients future behavior in predictable ways. In other words, systemic-theoretical instruction has tremendous potential to anyone wanting to change reality and guide perception and govern individual behavior. All without saying so. Well, at least not at the typical PTA meeting. Now how is this different from that theory you learned in science class or as an interpretation in history? Glad you asked. In traditional education, those theories come from known facts. Remember though we are in the age when facts are being rejected as boring, or too print intensive, or unnecessary in a world of search engines.

Theory in the Galperin instructional practice and to Alex Pentland in the last post, and as used throughout the actual ed reform mandates, comes first. It comes from the philosophy that there is nothing as practical as a good theory for fostering social transformation. It shapes and alters how people perceive reality. It interferes with the absorption of facts when they do manage to come along. Remember all the classroom visions we are seeing pushed are experiential. Usually in a group. Physical activity. Visual encounters. Projects. All the references we have been encountering about providing students with ‘lenses’ or ‘Understandings of Consequence’ or ‘Enduring Understandings’ or ‘Generative Metaphors,’ to cite a few examples we have encountered, all seem to be used precisely as Galperin outlined. That means this is the attached vision (Arevitch & Haenen 2005):

“In fact, Galperin’s teaching strategies can be used to reduce if not virtually eliminate the gap between declarative and procedural knowledge. Namely, in his stepwise teaching model, each action that students master can be comprehended conceptually because it is introduced, from the beginning, in its functional relation to a broader, meaningful task to be learned.

At the same time, each concept students are learning is represented as a sequence of procedures (actions) that serve as a basis for solving problems. Therefore, declarative [facts traditionally] and procedural [how to do it] knowledge are essentially merged into an integrated whole. This can be achieved when teaching and learning are organized into meaningful activities, thus putting the acquisition of new knowledge to the service of orienting and guiding new actions.”

Highly useful theory of education, instruction, and knowledge to anyone with a transformation agenda, isn’t it? We started with Peter Senge, let’s close with a statement from the same paper since it applies to so much of the stated rationales for needing these so-called 21st century education reforms.

“The fundamental difference between creating and problem solving is simple. In problem solving we seek to make something we do not like go away. In creating, we seek to make what we truly care about exist. Few distinctions are more basic.”

Few education theories then would be more useful than one that orients future behavior in predictable ways.

Second-Order Change, Why Reform is a Misnomer for the Real Common Core

This is the definition of Second-Order Change used at a January 2012 presentation by Peter Senge and the Waters Foundation to the Nevada Department of Education. Second-order change:

“is doing something significantly or fundamentally different from what we have done before. The process is irreversible: once you begin, it is impossible to return to the way you were doing things before.”

Irreversible Change. That sure does remind me of a 2000 book by Vicki Phillips and Michael Barber that was the bible of the UNESCO ed vision all over the world in the last attempt at radical ed “reform” in the US.   Fusion: How to Unleash Irreversible Change-Lessons for the Future of System-Wide School Reform would be a worrisome title if its authors were influential people. Let’s see. Barber was Tony Blair’s Ed Advisor when he was UK Prime Minister, then on to McKinsey where he pushed ed reform globally by telling governments what the world’s “Top” Systems were changing. Now the Pearson Conglomerate’s Chief Education Advisor as of May 2011. Don’t worry. It’s not like Pearson is involved with the curriculum or assessments coming to a classroom and school near you. And not just in the US.

I will let you search out Vicki Phillips’ busy history as an Education Change Agent before she got to her current position at the Gates Foundation which is funding so much of the Common Core curriculum in preparation for those singular Learning Progressions that are mostly missing from the PR campaigns. And that funded what will become formative assessments in the classroom. What makes me feel even more reassured that Common Core is not in fact a noble effort to make content comparable state to state is knowing the main business actors in the global 21st Century Skills push, ATC21S, thank Vicki Phillips by name for her help. Doesn’t it make you feel like we lost an invite to some spectacular parties in scenic global locations pursuing how to use education to profitably remake the world around the meme of Sustainability while the ignorant masses don’t even know what changed, when, or why?

Since we are paying attention, let’s get back to where the influential Professor Senge said was the vision for 21st Century Learning. And if your instinct is to say “I don’t live in Nevada,” remember that the regional ed lab in Aurora, Colorado pushed Second-Order Change as part of its 2007 vision for School Improvement in the recreated OBE template we have already talked about   http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/who-is-really-standing-in-the-school-house-doorway/ . And Nevada administrators have now moved on to places like Charlotte-Meck to spread this systems vision and 2nd Order Change. And districts like Winston-Salem, NC; Portland, Oregon; Tahoma, Wash; and Carlisle are all mentioned in Senge’s Systems Thinking work as being part of his coalition of implementers.

“An Exploration-Vision of 21st Century Learning-Systems Citizenship Made Real Through Innovation, Systems Thinking & Education for Sustainability” does not sound like something I will be pledging allegiance to via a national flag. I suppose that’s what all the references to a new way of thinking and high leverage mental models for students are all about. It is portable and travels unseen and perhaps undetected within each student influencing behavior and guiding perceptions of daily experiences. It seems quite intrusive and rather psychologically precarious to me but then I am not an MIT Lecturer. I am sure their computer models are much more revealing about real kids in real classrooms across America getting ready for a real future as an independent adult.

Oh, not to be independent? Not a future based on the past? That may explain the disconnect. Let’s take a look at what Peter’s colleague, Otto Scharmer, has written about this Systems Thinking vision for the future. When Peter mentions Blind Spots or Social Evolution as he speaks, that is where we need to look for the definitions that will impact the school vision or the state or district implementation. And if any of you are breathing a sigh of relief that your teachers and administrators are doing Daggett Model Schools Training or Spence Rogers PEAK training instead, William Spady himself saw his OBE work in the 80s as comparable to what Senge was doing at the time. Except Spady was annoyed because Senge was paid so much more and Spady thought he gave a better speech. Lots of well-paid egos have been cashing in for a long time on using education to create a different kind of future and changing the students mental mindset.

Let’s look further for more insights. And take a deep breath and put down your beverage. You might create a sticky keyboard otherwise. First, as I have said repeatedly, this is about creating a new post-capitalism, non-fossil fuel based economy. Even the Scandinavian social welfare state is not sufficient.   http://www.ottoscharmer.com/docs/articles/2010_Oxford_SevenAcupuncturePoints.pdf Systems thinking is literally about reimagining a future with little connection to the past. A future where emotions are the paramount drivers in people and anything that fosters abstract thinking, like phonetic reading, sequential math or sciences, and actual factual knowledge, are rejected because they stand in the way of action thinking (Scharmer calls it analysis paralysis).

The mental models of students have to be changed, Senge and Scharmer maintain, to save Mother Earth and to transform the “relationship between business, government and civil society from manipulation and confrontation to dialogue and co-creation.” In case the extent of the US and global social transformation being sought is not yet clear, this systems thinking initiative involved so closely with Common Core is intended “to facilitate profound innovation at the scale of the whole ecosystem.” Boy, that does sound like the Belmont  Challenge and the Future Earth Alliance again. And to think Scharmer was explaining that Blind Spot at a 2010 Economic Forum in China.

Th Blind Spot is the hidden source of human behaviors. What OBE advocates always refer to as values, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings and target expressly through SEL. Systems Thinkers get to the same point of trying to dictate human responses and behaviors but their theory and rhetoric are slightly different. Both will have most of us with invisible mental serfs collars guiding our “free” choices.  Systems thinkers are concerned that “most people relate to the future by reflecting on the trends of the past.” Systems thinkers reject the past as inapt.

“They see the emerging future as an advent, a coming-into-being of something profoundly new. To connect with such a field of emerging future opportunity we have to open up, let go of the past, and tune in to what we feel is a field of future possibility, something that might be possible, something we could bring into reality, a future that would be very different from the past. . . I call this deeper learning from the emerging future presencing. . . Presencing means to sense an emerging future possibility and then to act from that state of awareness in the now.”

To get to a Presencing state requires a rejection of individualistic thinking that the systems thinkers call the egosystem and an embrace of the collective. “Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will” is the motto. This systems theory that is to be the basis for children’s classroom experiences under Common Core, not just some Fortune 500 execs on a pastoral retreat, is based on the “assumption” that each human being and each human community is not one but two:

“one is the current self, the person who exists as the result of a past journey; the other is the Self, the self that we could become as the result of our future journey. Presencing is the process of the (current) self and the (emerging) Self listening to each other.”

Not in the school classroom. If the so-called Blind Spot is an aspiration for US educators pushing Systems Thinking, then nothing in the US is sacrosanct anymore. There is effectively no impediment to tyrannical intrusions and the US Constitution is just a historical document, not a living source of protection against statist predations.

And these predations are expensive to boot. Our money. Our debt.