Unveiling the True Focus of the Common Core: Obuchenie within Students to Gain Desired Future Behaviors

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?


34 thoughts on “Unveiling the True Focus of the Common Core: Obuchenie within Students to Gain Desired Future Behaviors

  1. Thanks again, Robin. At the Psychology Journal article on Vygotsky you linked to, there is a link to a subject called Cultural-Historical #3, an index of articles on Cultural-Historical Psychology. O boy, if that isn’t a vein to mine.

    Incidentally, I copied all links into a blank browser page, so they wouldn’t be followed back to your article (I hope).

    • Isn’t it interesting how the Journal started in 2005 and is published in Russian and English?

      I have it downloaded too. Hopefully it will stay up, but I was afraid the name of article would not be enough and it is quite detailed. This is not a minor point. In fact, it really is the essence of what is sought and digital learning provides the perfect environment to foster the desired understandings and beliefs. Especially embedded virtual reality gaming.

      Moscow State is also involved with the Big History Project and IIRC Michael Barber at least was on the faculty there. How nice to now have Pearson as the dissemination means.

      • Yeah, “nice.” I think, essentially, these are the heirs of Pavlov, whom, as we know, Stalin kept close to himself after inquiring as to whether Pavlov believed his research had application to human beings. I don’t know the actual descent of theory here, though I have read about the influence of the German schools of psychology on Yale and Harvard. Just the fact that these theories are pushed by a Russian Institution raises a red flag to me, because we know that the dominant Soviets were devoted to acknowledging only material causes for phenomena such as human development, learning, history, economics, etc.

        I have also been reading your excellent book, and examining your summary of Dewey’s influence on American education. It is more than enough to give one pause. I am just getting to the good point where you show how the Ooutcomes-Based Education went underground and emerged everywhere under a different guise. I can only read so much at a time however as it evokes very strong objections on my part.

        • In the Psych Journal article Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete is attributed to Davydov. We know from the posts I did early last year that is Evald Ilyenkov’s work that tracks back to 1962. The same year Maslow and Rogers published their Perceiving, Being Becoming: A New Focus for Education that is very similar in what is to be pushed. It is also the year of Kenneth Boulding’s book The Great transition. The extent to which this appears to be a coordinated push going back decades is something even that Russian journal is hedging about. The problem is I am familiar with both the origination of the theory and that Davydov is the student, not the originator.

          Professor Cole as I have noted is the one pushing Ilyenkov’s work in English.

          We also know from that Dutch professor that UNESCO is still conducting a great deal of its meetings in Russian or French instead of English and that much of UNESCO’s digital learning publications remain in Russian and have never been translated. It is hard not to wonder if obuchenie in particular is what Leontiev and Luria referred to as the Great Experiment in the West when Urie Bronfenbrenner was a graduate exchange student. It certainly fits all the known facts and my response to the 1962 book has always been how much it reminds me of David Conley’s definition of college ready that he created for the Gates Foundation.

          As you can see from what’s in the book and now the blog, we have got to flush out these dreadful ideas from all the euphemisms they hide behind and the carefully broken up parts ready to piece back together into previously infamous ideas.

          • Robin,
            thanks for the quick little refresher on geneology of ideas. I think I should put together a timeline.

  2. My tipoff was the intermediate unit coming into our private school for speech therapy, I googled the weirdo worksheet for my third grader, ( uh speech therapy in a group?) which said at the bottom, “thinking speech” and marxist.org came up with vygotsky as the top of the search. well a look into tthe intermediate unit and lo and behold do they push wiggins and mctighe.!!!! understanding by design, backwards design, OBE, a rose by anyother name would stink just as bad!

    NCEA doyenne Lorraine Ozar of Loyola Univ in Chicago, head of the
    COMMON CORE CATHOLIC IDENTITY INITIATIVE…. pushing wiggins and mctighe… the big ideas, drove me crazy!! uh, now we know WHO”s BIG IDEAS>>>
    OZAR fits somewhere on that family tree.


    According to Dr. Lorraine Ozar in a July 2012 presentation, “Catholic schools need to pay attention to the fact that the common core standards are here and it is important to get on board”.


    The NCEA convention was described as a pick up market by Dr. Willliam Coulson humanist psychotherapy, group encounter colleague of carl rogers and abe maslow, who regretted their work with the IHM nuns in LA, destroying their numbers and schools, while maslow and rogers died early, Coulson went on a crusade against their and his work, decreeing that both his colleagues realized that their work was dangerous and destructive yet the Dewey academic establisment knew this and embraced it with glee for their desired purposes we see today.

  3. It does bring up the questions of what the new standardized tests will start to look like and how will they be graded. From what’s been written, I have a difficult time believing that students will be able to maintain today’s standards, let alone improve on them. This program will probably be allowed a few years to show some improvement, and then things may get more challenging. But if they alter the tests, the scores could improve and everyone will just follow along. Getting to the international standardized tests might be more challenging, but I’m guessing the broad, international scope of these programs has already taken that into consideration.

  4. Interesting linguistic point you make in this article, that I didn’t catch, now I feel I should have suspected it.

    uchit’ is the Russian verb “to teach”. It can also mean “to learn”.

    The more common verb “to learn” is izuchat’ , which has most of the same letters just rearranged. The prefix there iz means “out” and the endings it’ and at’ don’t generally give meaning (they are typical endings on verb infinitives), so it’s practically the same word, the meat of it is “uch”, with a prefix.

    The noun form of uchit’ is uchenie, or more clearly in English uchiniye.

    The prefix ob is from “o”, which means something like “about” or “around”. So “teaching/studying about things.” (it does not mean “the study about teaching and learning”)

    It’s not that there’s anything spooky or foreboding about this word, it’s a nice word in Russian, but the constant use of “teaching and learning” in English only as a pair pays homage to a Russian origin, where the words for teaching and learning are nearly indistinguishable. I find this pretty convincing.

  5. Yes, A Few More Dots To Connect In 2014

    Those of us who value freedom — who cherish the choices we do have — whose antennae are twitching because we perceive that local education systems are being used for global agendas — have work to do.

    Free societies, as in the above essay, DO NOT cultivate ideological thinking in their schools, DO NOT program students so they “act without regard to facts”, DO NOT meddle with human nature.

    From the content of the book, “Credentialed to Destroy” and this instructive blog I see that not only “immeasurables” as emotions, values and beliefs are at stake, but our very life-saving instincts as well.

    Cultural psychology as proposed by Cole and other cognitive “researchers” is the foundation of educational experiments from which future behavior modification insights will be harvested. Two such experiments in Finland and Russia are mentioned in this paper “Narrative Learning in the Fifth Dimension” http://www.outlines.dk/contents/Outlines041/Hakkarainen04.pdf .

    And if that combo technique of obuchenie doesn’t get the child to behave on command, then the above essay adds another social engineering technique — perezhivanie (pg 12), or emotional crisis learning. In other words, the Stanislavsky acting method for 5 year olds! In the story of the ant and the grasshopper the students are to “dance and freeze to death”.

    Here is Charles Darwin, 1871, on instincts:

    *** “It is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason.”

    2014 should unravel some mysteries for us, particularly: WHY do they want to change human nature?

  6. I have begun to hear to things chanted with a certain amount of predictability in private schools. #1. Should we have honors awards? and its offshoot; Should we have honors/AP classes? and #2. Do we really need standardized test, ie AP, SAT, ACT type tests. Mediocrity shall reign and the envious will control all.

    This NGO was just brought to my attention and while it is not part of any governments formally sanctioned education system it works as if it is. Its a variant on any charter plan really. I wish I could get my hands on their actual “teaching” material.


      • Sara,

        Yes, I saw that too. Grrr… fwiw check out this link.

        Its the Canadian version of the program I believe. I checked through several of the PDF’s. For the life of me I have not found one “tool” that actually teaches literacy as in…This Is how you make the letters and sounds make sense.

        Lots of all the behavior changing stuff though. And pictures. So you can make up the meaning of the words. Its SO flexible. 😉

    • Mari, sometimes I think private schools are worse than public, or they can be. Our public school has an orchestra as well as a band and a chorus. Most private schools around here don’t have orchestras.

      Our public school would be up in arms if someone suggested getting rid of honors and AP courses. I can’t imagine it happening, and there is certainly no “chanting” of such a thing here.

      • In many areas it’s getting harder for the school districts to support the AP classes. The number offered in our former town in NW Iowa certainly dropped over the course of my three children going through the system. Whether schools are dropping these courses due to cost / time constraints or “fairness” matters little in my mind.

        • Plus the AP courses are all being revamped around this teaching and learning/systems oriented thinking. I worked up the changes in the AP World curriculum several years ago before it was pulled. It was reconfigured to be about broad themes with facts used only to illustrate desired points. It had capitalism as the bane of the last 200 years and Communism was defined as an international economic system for distributing economic goods. No mention whatsoever of any downside historically associated with its implementation.

          It was my first introduction to David Christian who has now become the architect of Big History built around similar big ideas.

          With David Coleman as the architect of the Common Core being in charge of AP now and pushing an equity agenda and hiring the data gurus from the Obama reelection campaign to help him and bragging about having the expertise of Educational Testing Service behind the College Board’s agenda, it’s hard not to see AP courses becoming another propaganda means to get at the worldviews of bright students. The AP American History course was reshaped to emphasize primitive man more. So pertinent to the 21st century.

          • Yes Robin I have seen the very things you describe in my daughter’s AP World history class. As a history major myself it galls me. Most recently she had to write an DBQ essay as part of a test and said documents were not fact based historical record at all. So she was basically asked to write an opinion/bias piece based on historical opinion/bias documents. It was mind boggling. She even saw the absurdity of it.
            Fortunately her old-school teacher has pointed out the absurdity of what they must “know” for the exam. At the beginning of the year he pointed out to the parents and kids that the AP emphasis these days tends to put anything Western on the back Burner. Eastern anything reigns supreme.

      • Hi David, Fortunately or unfortunately depending on several factors, where I live, private is still the better option. In most townships anyway. To have access to the better public schools that provide the extracurriculars requires purchasing a home in the one million dollar before door knobs range. I’m only exaggerating slightly.

        • “one million dollar before door knobs ”

          Mari, having renovated this house after I bought it and paying for everything including the door knobs, I like that expression.

    • I think it’s hard to say. One thing I know is that, until everybody’s so completely conditioned that they can’t wake up, there is always a chance. Of course, the opposition knows that, too, which is why it is so important for them to get this into place (from their point of view).
      I think the more topics we address with reason, the better. For example, is education a human right? My dad told me it wasn’t a right, it was a privilege, so I better work hard. How do U.S. Constitution guaranteed rights differ from human rights (quite a lot when we consider and compare the U.N. declaration of human rights).

      These areas of discussion are vital. How do I know? Because I see the opposition doubling down on their efforts in these areas, too. If it wasn’t vital they wouldn’t waste their time.

      • Plus Sara, we have an acute OPM problem. So much deficit spending has gone into trying to buy a voting majority to push socialism whether they understood that was the end game or not. Read this May 1964 speech by LBJ and tell me he did not have more in mind with the Great Society than a way on poverty. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lbj-michigan/

        The Promise Zones are supposed to work better this time because of interagency coordination? Governments do not produce anything and now at all levels they seem determine to prevent the people who can produce from being able to do anything or have any incentives to put in the effort. That cannot last. It is acutely important that we begin to properly diagnose what ails us. I think that is a huge start.

        • Any idea what these lines in the middle of the speech were about?

          “And I understand that if I stayed here tonight I would see that Michigan students are really doing their best to live the good life.

          This is the place where the Peace Corps was started. It is inspiring to see how all of you, while you are in this country, are trying so hard to live at the level of the people.”

          What does the last sentence mean? Isn’t he speaking in Michigan to a bunch of kids who are mostly from Michigan? Are there some aliens from the advanced civilization of Alpha Centauri there too?

          • David-

            I thought those lines were an homage to Kurt Lewin and the continuation of his social psych work at Michigan http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu/history/. Michigan and Michigan State are also were BSTEP-the Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project commenced in 1965 that would forever change teacher ed.

            Also some of the systems thinking work that will become what is today International Society for Systems Sciences was going on at Michigan at that time.

  7. Robin, this almost sounds like a pitch for Agenda 21 in places. Yes, there is more and more evidence that this goes all the way back. We are just seeing the fruition of it now.

    • I think that is how I would describe Agenda 21. It’s the updated operating blueprint to rationalize a public sector centric world. And we have a real problem as the UN becomes the post-office place for politicians to keep travelling at taxpayer expense and make more money. Have you ever seen the mansion in Paris the OECD works out of? Equity is just an excuse for bureaucratic oversight of us with a nice lucrative management fee annuity for the ‘effort.”

  8. I guess the problem just seems so large and daunting. I would assume that some representatives and members of Government see the problem. Who could effectively take such an issue on? Even if a different administration were elected, it goes beyond them. Debbie Downer here today, looking for hope.

    • LL-

      I see hope in the fact that the politicians involved have become so sure of their invincibility they are now bragging about what they are doing. Right after the Presidential election in 2012 I wrote a post that said there is an electoral majority that would reject all this if properly presented. I still believe that. I am trying my best to present it all in a way that can be heard.

      We have quite a dialogue going just today. That should give you hope. We are no longer really speculating about what is happening. It’s not pleasant but it is no longer hidden either.

      • I am thankful for your efforts Robin! Just wish more were listening. Meeting after meeting we hold in our state, more are waking up. Keep going and we will all keep sharing.

        • I’m grateful too Robin. Even if I feel frightened. I keep thinking that if enough people read your book we could actually change the trajectory it record time.

          And if someone asked me where to start unraveling the mess, Id say at the beginning. As in teach phonetically beginning in kindergarten. Teach people to READ and THINK.

  9. Because of what I have learned regarding the Aesopian Language used in Russia, I am highly suspicious that “Obuchenie” means something worse than what we have uncovered so far.

    • Kyrie-

      I think the people involved in pushing this and the time periods involved make that clear. I thought David’s commentary on Russian was helpful. I have no doubt this as what Urie Bronfenbrenner was alluding to in his 1977 article. I also believe that Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete is the other side of the same coin to Rogers and Maslow’s 1962 work I have also written about.

      Obuchenie makes many things make far more sense though. It’s what is so radically different about the Common Core. I would also pull Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset work and Angela Duckworth’s Grit work into the Mindset to be created.

      Remember that the environmental element to obuchenie gets satisfied by a computer and digital learning and blended learning. All that UNESCO work on digital learning that is current and untranslated into English or French is likely quite full of how to use visual input to create the desired beliefs and ‘lenses’ that filter reality. It’s amazing how often that lenses word comes up, especially in the C3 Social Studies and the next Generation Science Standards.

  10. This whole post is a conspiracy theory. Obuchenie refers to joint construction of knowledge. It doesn’t have anything to do with behaviorism.

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