Muzzling Minds All Over the Globe While Trumpeting Higher Order Skills

One of the hardest aspects for those of us who have grown up in free countries, especially the United States, is to grasp what it is like to live in a society committed to having its citizens think ideologically. Through the prisms of political theory. With the lens of  models supplied and practiced with until the filtering becomes quite unconscious. Reflexive. Habits of mind common to almost everyone that are at the core of perceptions and daily behavior.

I should have had this insight last Christmas when a friend who had grown up behind the Iron Curtain began to tear up at hearing some of my stories on what was being targeted and why. She knew ideological thinking from her childhood. Maybe it was reading that 1988 KEEP book I wrote about a week ago on creating the “dialectical growth of concepts” to be interpretive and integrative filters in each child’s mind. I was ready to really grapple with this painful aspect of the real implementation template of these global education reforms.

But I think the epiphany started with reading The Devil in History by Rumanian emigrant, now Maryland poli sci professor Vladimir Tismaneanu, and phrases like “their [the Communist regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe] main weakness was a failure to muzzle the human mind.” Oh. Just imagine importing their theories and this time trying on an unsuspecting West via unappreciated education reforms. Describing from his experience, you can imagine my shock at reading descriptions of “conceptual frameworks” that “acted to make sense of general experience for all: all real phenomena could be judged against it and were ascribed value, form and essence in its light.” Do you know how often I have encountered conceptual frameworks in tracking the real Common Core? CRESST itself even told the Hewlett Foundation reassuringly that the actual assessments would be built around those, not the content standards.

Tismaneanu in describing the “continual assault on the mind” he associated with building new values and beliefs and a new Identity (and yes those terms do get used interchangeably in Ideological societies along with Worldview) reminds us pointedly that:

“However socially conditioned the individual’s thinking may be, however necessarily it may relate to social questions, to political action, it remains the thought of the individual which is not just the effect of collective processes but can also take them as its object.”

I have never lived in a society where it is considered “seditious” to maintain your individuality but plenty of people have and they have written about it. When I first wrote this alarming post on Yrjo Engestrom and where I saw the Global Cities Education Network taking us , I grasped that he did not sound like he was describing a dead philosophy or theories. But I did not yet know that in 1991 he wrote an essay called “Activity theory and individual and social transformation.” Gulp. That sounds just like the aspirations we have been encountering. And it took some searching but this weekend I located a copy. On the servers at Harvard Graduate School of Education as an assigned reading. Maybe to go with the 10 Cs I first described here? And if you are not sure yet we are dealing with ideology notice how often trains get used as the desired metaphor. I am just repeating all the uses. Which begins to make more sense once we know that (from the essay):

“Activity theory has its threefold historical origins in classical German philosophy (from Kant to Hegel), in the writings of Marx and Engels, and in the Soviet Russian cultural-historical psychology of Vygotsky, Leont’ev, and Luria.”

OK then. That also brings in Urie Bronfenbrenner and his Ecological Systems Theory that is at the center of the Common Core Social Studies Conceptual Framework. And Activity Theory is now centered at UC-San Diego and Michael Cole’s CHAT research which I have mentioned several times. But the very First International Congress on Activity Theory took place in Berlin in 1986 with Cole and Engestrom participating. That’s about the same time that Cole was thanking the Carnegie Corporation for financing the importation of psychology theories from “our Soviet colleagues.” Following up on the links between the term “Authentic Pedagogy” and Vygotsky and Cole’s work pulled up a 1987 seminal document I had never seen before. Published by the National Academies of Science and written by Lauren Resnick (who would co-chair the New Standards alternative assessment project in the 90s version of these ed reforms before serving on the Common Core creation panel) the document is called “Education and Learning to Think.”

That report, which I found on a server listed as a Common Core Precursor Document, is the source for the now ubiquitous term–Higher Order Thinking. And that document also thanks Cole and his Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition for related work that Carnegie also was financing. Thanks a lot Andrew. Might have been better to let your heirs dissipate the fortune with too many mansions and gaudy vehicles. Since Higher Order Thinking is such an important term to today’s actual classroom emphasis under the Common Core and Texas version but also the ancestry of these ideas, let me quote Lauren’s definition with her italics intact. And remember this is for all children. Concepts and expansionary thinking for all you might say.

–Higher order thinking is nonalgorithmic. That is, the path of action is not fully specified in advance.

–Higher order thinking tends to be complex. The total path is not “visible” (mentally speaking) from any vantage point.

–Higher order thinking often yields multiple solutions, each with costs and benefits, rather than unique solutions.

–Higher order thinking involves nuanced judgment and interpretation.

–Higher order thinking involves the application of multiple criteria, which sometimes conflict with one another. [We have discussed in other posts how this type of mental dissonance can force the need for new mindsets and models.]

–Higher order thinking often involves uncertainty. Not everything that bears on the task at hand is known.

–Higher order thinking involves self-regulation of the thinking process. We do not recognize higher order thinking in an individual when someone else “calls the plays” at every step. [Here Lauren seems to be alluding to sequential, linear mathematics or science where you learn theories that someone else developed and proved. AKA traditional math and science]

–Higher order thinking involves imposing meaning, finding structure in apparent disorder. [If that reminds you of RECAST, David Perkins of Project Zero is listed as involved with this report].

–Higher order thinking is effortful. There is considerable mental work involved in the kinds of elaborations and judgments involved.”

Well, it is my belief that all those are euphemisms for saying higher order thinking is ideological. It is training students to think in terms of assigned categories and imagine different futures for everyone one involved. Planning. Imagining a different economic structure. Other ways to organize societies. Solutions for alleged catastrophes. Creativity that is not impeded by knowledge of what worked or led to catastrophe in the past. Not your own conceptual understandings as gifted students have developed them through the ages but supplied concepts and models and definitions.

There were more congresses on Activity Theory and they were absolutely chock full of Russian psychologists. Which actually makes sense as I will show you in the next post that CHAT and what is now called ISCAR–International Society for Cultural and Activity Theory–are related to the so-called New Thinking that Mikhail Gorbachev transitioned to in the mid-80s as part of perestroika. And why it appears that the restructurings were not just physical but also altered mindsets, values and beliefs, and new interpretive theories. Global this time.

Remember Davydov and his Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete as the new mode of ideologically oriented systems thinking was called? He died in 1998 and was revered at that year’s ISCAR Congress in Copenhagen where his planned address was read instead. The most recent Congress was in 2011 in Rome, Italy. Guess which names showed up as part of the International Scientific Committee for that ISCAR conference? Why that would be Michael Cole, Yrjo Engestrom, and Lauren Resnick. Just in time to make sure the US Common Core implementation and assessments align with ISCAR philosophy and those higher order skills criteria from so long ago.

In case you are too busy to check, the described foundations of ISCAR fit perfectly with what Engestrom described above in 1991 as the source of Activity Theory. Which is also the current basis for most education degrees in the US. Especially the Masters and Doctorates.

Now I am just getting started on all the links involved. And I have read too much history not to have a perspective on what we are looking at here.

But I want you to get used to an idea that I have known for a while but this time approached through a new direction.

The Cold War simply did not end quite in the manner we believed. And the potentials of Activity Theory and a stealth noetic assault on Western values and beliefs appear to be the reasons we were played.

It was a good strategy but unfortunately the answers of why lie in history and political theory books I have now read.

Digest the above revelations and then we will talk some more. And no I am not speculating here. This is way too serious for conjecture. But it is fascinating too because it also makes perfect sense. Actually more sense than the spun stories once you get used to the idea.

Pulling Up the Moorings Once Again to Transform Reality into the History of Desired Desires

If you want to “create a world where individuals will work even when they know that much of the fruit of their labor will go to those who are less fortunate,” you are going to need to use education to target prevailing social norms. If you believe that Marx’s famous quote “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need” has “morally resonant appeal” and wish to see a future society that does not dismiss that appeal “out of hand as mere sloganeering,” a perch as a World Bank economist is a tremendous platform to try to go about making it so. 21st Century Learning, perhaps?

It especially helps if you have a good working relationship with a Nobel Prize winning economist who wants to reframe economics in terms of Individual and especially Group Identity. And that economist, George Akerlof, in a 2010 book Identity Economics, recognized the value of his theories on education as the premier social institution with influence on almost everyone. An enduring influence on “what people care about, and how much they care about it.” A good working definition of Identity is values, beliefs and emotional commitments. Probably not coincidentally, precisely what the actual Common Core implementation targets for change. Which is interesting as Identity Economics defines “good schools” as those that “transform students’ identities and norms.”

Almost precisely like Transformational Outcomes Based Education sought to do in the 90s version of these education reforms. Names change but never really the goals. One of the aspects of Common Core that is consistent throughout but in the small print is its stated desire to create ‘habits of mind.” Think of those as unconscious reflexes. Now compare with Akerlof’s recognition that people “act as they do, naturally and without question, mostly out of habit. They are products of their social environment and unaware they might have behaved differently.” Remember also schools are a social environment of long duration.

So if you can use education, preschool, K-12, or higher ed (all of the above is even nicer to a future Transformationist) to create the desired feelings and values and influential conceptual understandings that filter daily life you can go a long way toward changing the future. Especially if you also rely on another insight from social psychology Akerlof points out: “individuals’ behavior depends on who people think they are.” So effective schools should get at Identity and define it in politically useful ways. Early and often. Like Chicago voting.

Now to do all that a theory of psychology based on a philosophy built on changing the nature of things in the real world would be very useful. And a factual theory of knowledge devoted to understanding the nature of things would be an obstacle because it would accept the world as it is. And maybe even keep a fondness for the past. Which would be in the way of someone who wanted to create a Worldview around his belief that:

“life is activity and to live means to satisfy one’s desires. Life is experienced as Desire: it is through desires that the subject realizes the discrepancy between the world as it is and the world he would like to have.”

Now I would assert that all of the mentions today that education must be Relevant and Engaging and about Real-World problems are merely a more subtle means of achieving that driving emphasis built on Desire. To change the world to something new. And if UK Professor Ivan Markova  wrote in 1982 that the twin Hegelian themes of activity and creativity in the acquisition of knowledge “have been emerging in various forms in social, clinical, and developmental psychology for some time and, quite probably without the knowledge of the authors concerned, that they have been reflecting Hegel’s philosophy.”

If those pros were unaware, what about now? Hegel’s philosophy is obviously a touchy subject to have as a foundation. A Soviet heritage is bad enough but tracking even further back to a common ancestry with what launched two World Wars and the Holocaust is undeniably even worse. And if the psychologists in 1982 were unlikely to know this history, how much less likely is it that a teacher or principal or administrator or politician know about this background to student-centered learning? To launder a notorious heritage you simply make it a basis for the amorphous terms “pedagogy” and “Best Practices” and “Constructivism” and then pronounce it as a better way to learn. Grounded in emotion is an easier way to remember and you simply leave out Hegel’s desire to bring values and human experience into how all science is done.

And since few know of the linkage back to Hegel, modern 21st century educators cannot rely on Scottish novelist and statesman Robert Buchan’s excellent advice from more than 100 years ago.  “A man who has been nourished on German metaphysics should make a point of expressing his thoughts in plain workaday English, for the technical terms of German philosophy have a kind of hypnotic power; they create a world remote from common reality where reconciliations and synthesis flow as smoothly and with as little meaning as in an opiate dream.” And you are wondering what does metaphysics have to to with Identity Economics and the Common Core?

Oh, you know the changing conceptualizations students are to be taught as they ignore obvious characteristics and look for new “cause-effect relationships”? Even something like RECAST, Revealing Causal Structures, that we have talked about is ultimately grounded in Hegel’s Conceptual Frameworks. Or CORE-Cognitive Reorganization. With his name left off and no warning that these are aspirational theories designed to alter current reality. When we talk of providing the Enduring Understandings that will frame everyday experiences, that’s Hegel’s insight on the usefulness to a change philosophy if education were to now be built around the recognition that “implicit presuppositions and conceptual frameworks do determine what is observed.”

Hegel so wanted to shake human consciousness that he talked about the importance of wars in human history. And pointed out that a “person has to go through disturbing experiences personally in order to grow as a person.” Which reminded me of precisely the curricula Bill Ayers and Maxine Greene and Nel Noddings were all describing in this post as necessary for “real moral growth.”

The idea of using activity and interactions with others to achieve personal growth is also Hegel. Which means the criteria of Student Growth that the US federal DoEd is requiring that teacher evals be based on ultimately tracks back to Hegel and his theories on how to change consciousness. Moreover, a change in values, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings or a willingness to apply new concepts constitutes Student Growth. And usefully for the economists that started this post that would also be a useful change in Identity and over time prevailing norms.

I could walk you through how an Indeterminate Situation with no fixed linear answer as those Pearson assessments I have described fits within the kind of higher-order thinking that changed consciousness that Hegel described as Synthesis. What the Hewlett Foundation calls Deep Learning. But I believe you get my point that the overlap is high. The book is called Paradigms, Thought, and Language if you too want to immerse yourself in all the Hegelian foundations of what we are calling the Common Core. Or try to dispute all these troubling implications. Remember in the last post when the advocates for Vygotsky sought to assert that these theories need not result in totalitarianism? Showing the history was very much on their minds even if no one is giving us the heads up on the dangers of what we are mandating in our K-12 classrooms. This is how Markova ended her book:

“In all other areas of psychology the Hegelian framework will undoubtedly be the one with the future, and Hegel’s philosophy will prove a deep source of inspiration. Finally a word of caution…action can be sinister if based on non-recognition of the other person as a human being. The future of mankind depends on taking actions in which human beings mutually recognize each other as human beings.”

So are people basically good as so many of these philosophers and economists want to believe? Will we remember the lessons of history before we once again light this Hegelian powder keg for achieving social change?

I suggest we remember another turn of the 20th century insight when these German ideas were first exploding onto the world stage. It’s from a novel by the same Robert Buchan where his character wisely notes:

” You think a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Satan.”

The actual Common Core implementation and the intent of its assessments and the accompanying economic, social, and political transformations go far beyond a touch or a push.

Shoving into the abyss is more like it regardless of anyone’s good intentions. And without much accurate actual knowledge and a deliberate cultivation of a desire for change, there does not even seem to be a parachute or a tool to catch a ledge.