Have you ever noticed we do some of our best thinking when we are not trying at all? This year I vowed to not think about education for at least a week and to immerse myself in some good historical fiction while relaxing at the beach. Right as we were leaving though I did print out a 2012 white paper from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins called “From Common Core to Curriculum: Five Big Ideas.” Because McTighe & Wiggins do so much training of teachers all over the country in how to implement education reforms (even in states like Texas that did not formally adopt the Common Core), their vision of the classroom implementation is quite relevant to what is really going to happen within schools. That paper really hammers home the extent to which the desired focus is now on specifying desired behaviors in students and then setting up the opportunities to practice those behaviors until they become a habit.
Standards for College and Career or Workplace Readiness is then a euphemism not for certain levels of knowledge that prepare a student to be an independent adult, but for having practiced performances in authentic contexts enough that what a student will do when confronted with “messy, never-seen-before problems” or “new challenges” becomes predictable. That’s what McTighe & Wiggins want to emphasize as the ultimate aim of a curriculum: independent transfer. Unfortunately for them, I have encountered these aspirations of trying to program students so that their likely perceptions have already been gamed long before they encounter new experiences. My reaction has always been “So you want the student to apply this analogy even though it is not apt or follow beliefs that are not true?” And honestly, if transformational social, economic, and political change is the ultimate end game as all my sources repeatedly assert, cultivating a capacity to act in predictable ways, regardless of the current facts and without awareness of the likely circumstances, is an effective, if dangerous, means for facilitating mass change.
Now McTighe & Wiggins acknowledge the longevity of this behavioral pursuit of “desired performances by the learner” by tying it back more than 60 years to Ralph Tyler. They quote Tyler that the purpose of standards or outcomes, or his own term ‘objectives,’ is to indicate the “kinds of changes” to be “brought about” “in the student.” They do leave out the fact that Ralph (who had worked with John Dewey) was also coining the very phrase “behavioral sciences” at about the same time he conceived of making behavior the focus of curriculum and then using the ambiguous term ‘objectives’ to obscure such a radical shift. A proud tradition of obfuscation over actual intentions that continues in education to this very day.
Which is what kept teasing at the edge of my mind while I tried to relax. The recognition of just how often the phrase “teaching and learning” or “learning and teaching” keeps recurring not just in connection with the actual Common Core implementation, but also as a headlining description in English of UNESCO’s Agenda 21 education work and the primary phrase used to euphemistically describe radical ed reform in the 90s. http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/didnt-the-president-just-admit-ccssi-was-a-ruse-to-change-classroom-interactions/ All that musing also reminded me that when I first started researching the so-called math and science wars in curriculum, the university based curriculum centers that pushed all these bad ideas in return for massive grants of federal money were consistently called “Centers for Learning and Teaching” or CLTs. Now I knew that the English phrase “learning and teaching” in whatever order was an unappreciated term of art translating a Russian word for guided psychological growth called obuchenie.
By the time of my return trip from the beach, the number 1 research item on my list was to resolve my curiosity about whether the term obuchenie accurately summarized what McTighe and Wiggins were describing as the actual classroom focus of the Common Core and what the new assessments should be measuring. Now the nice thing about correctly surmising how something is linked and that the same concept is hiding under multiple seemingly innocent names is that simple searches throw out lots of open declarations. Even so, I was floored to find both a 2012 Russian Journal of Cultural-Historical Psychology from Moscow State telling me I was correct http://psyjournals.ru/en/kip/2012/n3/57239_full.shtml along with a 2009 article from Professor Michael Cole, the US overseer of CHAT-Cultural Historical Activity Theory http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Journal/pdfs/16-4-cole.pdf .If this were all a game, I would be able to yell out “BINGO!” now for the win and the pot of money.
Every single one of these sources is consumed with the stated problem of transfer. What can be done to guide future adult behavior in desired ways? Long-time readers know we have already encountered the nerdy expression Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete from Soviet psychology and its ties to Professor Cole’s work (see tags for him and CHAT). That Russian psych term is helpfully a part of the Mindset to be created now apparently in American students and students all over the globe. Instead of a focus on teaching factual knowledge, the Soviets saw the behavioral implications of teaching theoretical concepts instead. The theories then become the lens through which everyday experiences are perceived. Knowledge itself becomes construed as the perceived relationships among objects (i.e., the repeated insistence on thinking in terms of systems), instead of factual qualities of the objects themselves.
What the Russian journal calls theoretical concepts, the US Common Core tends to call Big Ideas or Enduring Understandings or Understandings of Consequence. It’s the same idea as what the Journal described as:
“The importance of the interplay between the scientific concepts derived in theoretical learning and the spontaneous concepts formed in empirical learning is central to this account of development. If the two forms do not ‘connect’ then true concept development does not take place. Thus theoretically driven content based teaching which is not designed to connect with learners’ everyday empirical learning will remain inert and developmentally ineffective.”
‘Developmentally ineffective’ is another euphemism for saying it will not guide future behavior in predictable ways. The Common Core would decree that ‘Deep Learning’ (as championed and financed especially by the Hewlett Foundation) has not occurred. Now we can also see the reasons for hands-on science and math and project-based learning as a new focus. It provides the empirical experiences that the desired theoretical concepts like fairness or social justice can be pegged to so that the student believes over time what ever the curriculum developers want him to believe. As you can imagine this will be really handy for anyone intending to push climate change regardless of actual facts, as the RSA and the Garrison Institute have both announced underlies their ed work. It is also handy if you intend to push a new economic system and blame all the current problems attributable to too much previous government interventionism on the “continued adherence to free market capitalism.” See http://www.50plus20.org/film for a preview of the last installment of this trilogy.
At the end of the Russian psych journal, it concedes that obuchenie or making education about psychological development in predetermined ways is the means by which All Students Can Learn. It is the method of “democratic solutions to mass education.” A phrase that should give us all pause as we have constant demands to close the achievement gap and ignore real differences among students.
Free societies do not cultivate ideological thinking as a matter of habit in their young people. Free societies do not try to program future behaviors to be prompted at an unconscious level in their young people. Free societies do not measure effective teaching by whether obuchenie is occurring within the student so that they can be relied upon in the future to act without regard to facts. Free societies do not assess students to see if an obuchenie Mindset and Worldview is taking hold in a student.
Since none of this is speculation about what is being put in place in the name of the Common Core, where are we really headed in 2014?