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.” http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/priming-delicate-minds-for-a-desired-disruptive-revolution-what-is-the-real-damage/

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.