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?

Does Common Core Target Hearts and Minds to Sway Future Voters?

A famous economist, Kenneth Boulding, basically invented systems theory to analyze people and their behaviors and the resulting societies about 60 years ago. It came from his concern over issues like preventing war, overpopulation, use of nuclear weapons, and other global issues. I have long known that the people who wanted to use education as a social, political, and economic weapon had a real interest in systems theory. What I didn’t know until recently is how Boulding believed in using what he called Preachments and not just prices to influence the behavior of individuals and groups. One way then to look at all this emphasis on Social and Emotional learning and Purple America and Global Competence and Dewey’s Quality Learning and Wellbeing and Happiness as desired goals for education is to create influencing Preachments. Especially while the mind is still physically developing as CASEL noted. Even better if the affected level is reflexive. Not a matter of conscious thought.

“Hearts and minds” is a phrase that just keeps recurring when you talk with politicians or professors or bureaucrats involved with implementing Common Core. It’s clearly the emphasis at meetings you and I were not invited to. It seems designed to generate excitement over what will make Common Core a superior method for the schools and classrooms. The students will be engaged with video games and interactive visuals instead of bored with lectures. Of course good lectures are not boring and videos and visuals are probably doing nothing to add to know-how or know-what.

But hey I clearly am not in the spirit of 21st century learning. And it is very rude of me to keep asking whether anyone would voluntarily pay for the skills, knowledge, values, and habits to be cultivated for the 21st century workplace. It clearly is designed to increase the comfort level with Common Core’s dominant emphasis on emotion and attitudes and cultivating useful political beliefs and social values. Nothing like a captivating slogan to make anything seem acceptable.

Remember though when we recognized that a primary goal of Career Ready Practices was to require each student to recognize their responsibility and obligations to others? And that the schools would be monitoring for daily examples of that desired attitude? I am not being Scrooge or a modern-day misanthrope when I worry about the consequences of such an explicit Common Good first emphasis. I can know what I think is for the best for me and anyone I actually know.

Calculating a Common Good for strangers though is impossible. Trying is dangerous and likely to create Common Bads. Trying to cultivate a belief in individuals that they exist to do for others and not their own needs or wishes is essentially trying to create a tolerance for modern-day serfdom. It is useful to anyone who seeks power over others which is why it has been attempted throughout history. Calling it a 21st Century Skill or Global Competence or Workplace Readiness does not change its essential function. Nor the fact that it is lethal to economic prosperity. It has people chasing after the unknowable instead of the real needs and actual preferences of people in the here and now.

Recognizing the Communitarian economic emphasis in those Career Ready Practices and other Common Core initiatives sent me scurrying toward Amitai Etzioni’s work. And guess what I found? Well, the Communitarian prof who wants to cultivate We-ness instead of individuality and reorganize the market economy around the new values to be cultivated via education mentions the necessity of “changing the hearts and minds of individuals.” Now where have we heard that phrase before? And this was in his 1988 book The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics.

He has had to be very patient. He must be very excited about all the emotions and values embedded into Common Core’s actual implementation. After all he saw them as necessary to the kind of altered decision-making he had in mind. A way of curbing each individual’s future choices without any need for their even being aware they had been so influenced.

Maybe by that 3rd Grade Teacher or maybe the Middle School Principal who pushes feeling over knowing. See how this all works?