When Deep Learning and Systems Thinking Radicalizes the Student, Factual Reality Ceases to Matter

To the student, that is. The problem for society is that factual realities like incentives and consequences and what makes an economy grow and what will make it contract or even implode are still out there. Like gravity, reality and economics and the likely result of giving government officials unrestrained power to make decisions for others will have their way regardless of intentions. Or whether anyone understands them or even believes in them. I wish more educators and politicians and charitable foundation employees involved in all these machinations would remember the wise words with which the eminent economist Ludwig Von Mises closed his epic book Human Action in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War.

Von Mises was writing about the regularity of “phenomena with regard to the interconnectedness of means and ends” in human activities. That’s what he regarded as economic knowledge. You and I would call it the wisdom that helps one successfully navigate daily life.

“The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built. It rests with men whether they will make the proper use of the rich treasure with which this knowledge provides them or whether they will leave it unused. But if they fail to take the best advantage of it and disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race.

I am not quoting Von Mises to scare anyone. Well, I guess that is not really true. Think of it as an Impetus Bout of Deliberate Fright. It is time for those of us who are knowledgable about history and economics to speak up and tell those who are not, notably many Principals, Supers, accreditors, professors of sociology or education, and way too many politicians and public and private bureaucrats, that there are unacceptable costs for everyone associated with their planned education policies. Pushing Transformational Outcomes Based Education and its close cousin Systems Thinking and SEL through the schools and classrooms will not be a victimless, lucrative for insiders, Success For All scheme. It will make victims of all of us and the Educrats seem to be the least knowledgable on the likely consequences of their actions and inactions. That means-end correspondence Von Mises was referring to.

Virtually all of the actual curriculum for Common Core I have seen makes Sustainability the focus of classroom activities. And not in the sense of conservation of natural resources and please do not litter. As a connected Swede, Carl Lindberg, put it, the whole point of the UN inspired international Education for Sustainable Development is to “create a feeling of global responsibility” in each individual. Needless to say, teaching young children and adolescents that they are merely parts of a broader community that ultimately encompasses the whole planet via systems thinking is a useful tool to create just such a useful feeling. To cultivate that Senge-Scharmer Blind Spot we discussed here http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/second-order-change-why-reform-is-a-misnomer-for-the-real-common-core/ so that each student’s perceptions and future behaviors can be manipulated.

To that manipulation toolbox the educators intend to use to gain Transformative political and social change without our consent, we need to add what the Hewlett Foundation calls Deep Learning Strategies.  Deeper Learning is part of the Foundation’s 2010 plan to “equalize education for all students.” This will of course involve a levelling process for the intellectually gifted and involves a high level of ignorance for all but at least it is equitable. And the politicians and bureaucrats will not have to worry about Axemaker Minds pointing out the likely consequences thereby impeding the implementation of theories and planning. And those established businesses need not be as concerned about an Axemaker Mind creating market-disrupting new technology. Of course we will be in the situation of tragic concern Von Mises worried about when too many will remain too ignorant to even have the opportunity to disregard needed knowledge from the past.

This is what Hewlett defines as deeper learning (they really love to bold it too. I suppose to show their enthusiastic embrace).  Remember this is all anyone is to get to know and this dovetails perfectly with the well-connected 21st Century Skills push. Almost verbatim. And before you get too excited about the mention of Core Academic Content, let me give you the examples they use:

“Learn about water, oxygen and nitrogen cycles, food webs, and similar topics.”

So the academic content relates to thinking of the world around you as full of systems. The academic content then either relates to Sustainability issues or other “real world challenges” the students will be asked to try to solve. Using their nonexistent base of conceptual knowledge and search engine skills. Hence the push for Relevance as part of the new 3 R’s of the Common Core implementation.

I have already given you the example of core academic content as one of the five key elements and Hewlett’s example. They mention “mastering core academic content” too. Since this comes up all the time with Common Core, I need to point out that “mastering” does not mean knowing. It means applying. No need to stock that conceptual mental hotel with facts. Mastering thus frequently contemplates classwork with the relevant facts presupplied. No need to worry though about bias or propaganda being part of the given facts. It’s not like there is a political purpose associated with the Common Core.

I will tell you the remaining four keys along with Hewlett’s specific examples. I also want to point out that the Hewlett Foundation believes that the purpose of academic content under Common Core is to “understand ecosystems.” Except the deep, emotional understanding being sought for each student is more Paul Ehrlich Newmindedness than Von Mises based in reality. Apparently though that emotional, connected to a New Vision for Future Society element makes for “better retention of content knowledge.” What’s better–Deeply remembered nonsense or slightly forgotten accuracies? I am afraid we are about to find out if we do not act soon.

Here goes:

Think critically and solve complex problems. Examples: Re-create a natural ecosystem in a terrarium. Collect data to understand the interdependence of physical and biological elements.

Work collaboratively. Example: Work in a team to design, build, and monitor the terrarium.

Communicate effectively. Example: Present data and conclusions in writing and to an audience.

Lastly, Learn how to learn independently. Example: Use teacher feedback, test results, and reflection to guide future learning and improve study habits.

Sounds perfectly dismal to me but I can see how this would add up to preventing more Axemaker Minds from developing. And Hewlett matters. They were one of the petitioners behind the socio-cultural learning theory push the Obama Administration officially adopted that we talked about here http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/so-now-common-core-rejects-individual-thinking-to-embrace-soviet-psychology-ecology/

And Hewlett’s vision for how to educate low income and minority students so they are essentially primed for the hoped-for Insurrection is embodied in how they and other educators define “Excellence and Equity.” That will be the next post.

You are not going to like it but it is what is showing up in the suburbs as the New 3 R’s. It also explains the community organizing push we chronicled here http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/keep-urban-schools-weak-to-force-economic-and-social-justice-then-make-the-suburbs-close-the-gap/

It all fits so well it makes you wonder if there is not an active coordination around a common purpose.




8 thoughts on “When Deep Learning and Systems Thinking Radicalizes the Student, Factual Reality Ceases to Matter

  1. Wow, I suppose this incoherent release of venome on the Hewlett foundation means the educational reform effort is making progress and gaining traction.

    This is one of a number of examples I have seen lately where the “facts” cited to support an argument coming from a right wing mental model only appear to carry persuasive weight to one who already perceives reality through that mental model. It underscores the need for dialogue that considers the limitations imposed by hidden assumptions that produce beliefs that are in turn taken for “facts” which filter the way new information is taken in, aka systems thinking.

    The “consequence” of education that fosters in students habits of critical thinking and learning skills that enable students to test assumptions and perceive systemic, causal relationships is a society of free, innovative and independently thinking citizens. This is hardly manipulation or ignorance of history! Rather it is education grounded the lessons of history which affirm that students and citizens who learn to test given assumptions and see the big picture are what makes democracy work as a powerful hedge against despotism.

    • Brett-I am quoting the Hewlett documents. In particular the Education Program Strategic Plan dated October 2010. I also read their crosswalk between Deeper Learning Skills and the Common Core State Standards that I resourced. And their July 10, 2012 press release celebrating the release of the Education for Life and Work Report. I m sure they did celebrate it. They were one of the foundations that petitioned the National Research Council to push socio-cultural learning theory. I am also quite familiar with Lev Vygotsky and why he developed socio-cultural learning theory. Plus I have encountered it recently in the herman Daly work incorporated as a source for the Positive School Climate initiative.

      What precisely is a right wing mental model? Is that a shorthand description for what used to be called logic and reason?

      How precisely is insisting that content be tertiary to socialization and interaction and a psychological/emotional focus creating a bulwark against despotism? Sounds like a despotic government official to me insisting that the full range of an individual’s personality is fair game for manipulation.

      We can debate away but you are going to have to move away from spewing talking points that indicate you either do not know the real meaning of the terms you are using. Or you assume I do not.

      Take a deep breath and tell me specifically what I wrote that you dispute. Generalities will not suffice. Name-calling bothers me not at all. And history has been my hobby for 40 years.

      So please tell me specifically what you dispute and we will have a cogent discussion even though you clearly think my mental model is deficient. You may be the only person to have ever accused me of that one which is why the insults do not wound.

  2. Robin,
    Thank you for your response and for your further questions. In the spirit of genuine dialogue I am open to questioning my own assumptions, and hope you and others who may share your view are willing to do the same. I therefore grant you that my use of the term “right wing” with reference to what I perceived as a hidden set of assumptions framing your argument (mental model) is a metaphorical expression that is value laden and polarizing with a lot of societal baggage. So perhaps we can agree to abandon the language of polarization, which is a serious matter in that it is harming our society by undermining the quality of our civil discourse.

    That said, I am unapologetically an advocate for systems thinking and processes of learning that engage the whole person, including intellect, emotions, social awareness, creativity and all other aspects of our humanity. Learning that engages the “full range of an individual’s personality” sounds to me like learning that is effective in that is not privileging one part of the learning human being over another. Under traditional apprenticeship-based approaches to education, learning was not limited to memorization of a static body of accepted cannons, or the practice of rational inference from those same given facts. Nor did the ingenuity and innovativeness that created the “modern world” result from rote memorization of content, as if context, intrinsic motivation of the learner and dialogical interaction with mentors and peers had played no part in the learning process.

    To be clear, I think you are making an unwarranted assumption, even after reading all your many sources, that the Hewlett foundation by supporting the Common Core standards and 21st century learning approaches is pursuing an agenda to prime young minds for insidious manipulation by government officials. This sounds to me like a bit of paranoia.

    It seems to me that we may agree that having content standards in learning is a good thing, and government “manipulation” of young minds to support a given political agenda would be the very essence of despotism. However, I think we are looking at the same evidence vis-a-vis the programs supported by the Hewlett foundation and reaching differing conclusions. How is this possible? I submit it is because we each interpret facts according to various assumptions that are shape our worldviews but are rarely part of the process of dialogue. Sometimes these assumptions persist because of underlying fears or discomfort with the uncertainty that comes from considering alternative perspectives that challenge our personal narratives about ourselves and our world.

    So to answer your precise question, I am certainly am not insisting that content be subordinate to other modalities of learning (although I find it interesting that you interpreted my response that way). Rather, here is the problem as I see it. Content that is not answerable to context, including the context of life as experienced by students living in a changing world, amounts to teaching the solutions of the past to those who must face the challenges of the future. It is regressive and ineffective. Whether or not we can reach agreement on this point, I believe the stakes for our children and our future are quite high, and I am committed to learning through the dialogue. I hope you are as well.

    • Brett-the first problem I have is that educators are not being honest with taxpayers and parents about how much of the curriculum planned for the Common Core classroom is about social and emotional learning. I have been off via Internet in the UK and Australia this morning dealing with the implications of a paper by an Australian prof, Stephan Lewandowsky. In explaining that I ran across for the umpteenth time the same thing I find in Senge’s work, the assertion that we need new values and new mental models to go along with a reimagined vision for the future that is post-Capitalist, post-fossil fuels and thoroughly grounded in Community and socioeconomic equality, not individuality or economic freedom. When I talk about Senge it is after reading his own books and speeches. Or Scharmer’s. I read The Necessary Revolution about a week ago. I am taking a break from researching the Bioregional movement for a few minutes as I write this.

      Part of what I am saying is come into the daylight and acknowledge openly what is really going on.

      My interest in Hewlett came from the May 6, 2012 paper “Developmental Stories Lessons from Systemic Change for Utilizing the New Common Core Standards for Transforming Education” by Senge, Tracy Benson, Michael Fullan, Robert Kegan, et al. It mentions using the Hewlett districts for implementation of these ideas. I am simply describing what I found when I looked into the Hewlett districts. All I could find were references to the San Francisco Bay area and then these reports which I discussed in this post. That paper made Hewlett an issue with respect to systems thinking and its goals.

      The Hewlett Foundation was openly celebrating a report that expressly rejected individual thinking as the basis for American education. If that is not their position, they should read the full report they are endorsing and not just the news release or executive summary. I read it all on my own time.

      I have no problem with systems thinking from a well stocked mind. I have a problem with deliberately keeping a child or adolescent’s mind unstocked with facts that might be an impediment to visualizing a radically different future. At this point I know John Dewey very well. Then systems thinking is designed to alter individual behavior at an unconscious level. To make people think all actions in a complex social system necessarily have a consequence.

      I am not done discussing this yet. I will write again today or tomorrow as I mentioned.

      One more point. That quote that serves as the blogs epigraph is from a book by Julien Benda that accurately predicted in 1927 that a similar anti-reason/pr-emotion/pro-group/anti-individual would lead to some type of holocaust. There is simply nothing and no one to stand in the way of bad ideas.

      Most of what I read as the end game of all this cannot work. That’s why we need to have a well informed factual discussion in the daylight now.

      Too many Principals and Supers out there with the authority to push all this in order to gain the next promotion appear to be either Mental Midgets or Moral Ones. They simply do not know what they don’t know and they are arrogantly playing with fire and children’s minds. I don’t just think that. I get to listen to teenagers describing the nonsense that is going on each day in class trying to implement this as I drive afternoon carpool. For me it is both distressing and invaluable intel. Either way this is very real.

      And timely.

  3. Robin,
    I appreciate your providing additional context for your concern; that the referenced Hewlett-sponsored projects may have involved instances where systems thinking and the Common Core was advanced by school administrators and supers with a narrow and/or idealogically biased agenda. I am familiar with the 90-page Senge et al paper that you reference, and with many other writings on learning organizations including the Senge’s recent book, “The Necessary Revolution,” and I hope others read these works to further an informed dialogue on this issue.
    As you must know, systems thinking, which is a term used in referring to an integrative synthesis of theoretical and empirical works in management science (e.g. the mid-twentieth century Tavistock coal mine studies) engineering, biology, sociology and other disciplines constituting a solid lineage in the multidisciplinary research literature, reflects habits of evidence-based critical thinking that are well-adapted to dealing with complex problems in our global society. One of the important concepts of systems thinking is the notion that “quick fix” solutions often tend to contribute to long term problems. These important concepts are backed by many concrete examples in the peer reviewed literature and it is appropriate that we all learn from these societal examples and discernible causal patterns given the complexity of many problems facing our society and the next generation.
    I am glad to hear that you are not opposed to systems thinking per se, but rather that you have concern that some school officials, not being formally trained in systems thinking themselves, may be advancing it in an educational context to teach concepts such as “all actions in a complex social system necessarily have a consequence.” If I understand you correctly to mean that these individuals are in fact teaching that all actions that are part of the causal texture of a given complex system will have a given consequence, then those administrators and systems leaders should be called out so as to prevent misapplication of innovative tools by incompetent individuals in positions of responsibility. It is essential that teachers, principals and system leaders receive ample training in the Common Core, including system thinking concepts and learning tools, and that these system leaders learn to apply systems thinking to their own professional development and daily practice. On this we can agree. Systems thinking is not a panacea, nor does the recognition of systemic interrelatedness as an ecological and social reality in any way constitute an attack on individualism or other traditional American values. In seeking a common goal of improving education for our children, we must be vigilant to ensure that the target of reform stays on the educators themselves and that the label “systems thinking” is not co-opted by incompetent educators who do not actually understand complexity or its implications for this current generation of learners.

    • Brett-you are describing more of a university level view of systems thinking. That does not reflect what I have seen in the workshops or presentations I have seen given to state and district educators. You are also missing the New Agey spiritual element that comes roaring in quickly. Even that Equity Framework I wrote about in the August 29, 2012 post gives I shout out to Ken Wilber for his views on integration. He was already on my radar screen from his work with Robert Kegan but I cannot imagine that Eastern spirituality/altered consciousness playing well with many parents.

      Systems thinking as it applies to educators definitely predates Senge’s work. I have tracked it back to U Chicago in the 40s and then on to Michigan, out to California, etc. I think systems thinking needs for people to be predictable in order for the social system models to work. Maybe. That in turn increases the pressure to make education affective, not academic in the K-12 arena. I am not OK with that especially doing it covertly.

      Another problem with systems thinking is the ability to mask Marxist political theory and the Dietzgen socialist theory of the mind in nomenclature that obscures the essence. It still works precisely the same but the advocates get to brag on the side that none of the troubling words get used so no one will notice. Until someone like me comes along who has studied Marxist political theory in all its variations enough so that I can spot the theories under any name by function.

      On calling out Supers. Most these days think they only really answer to the accreditation agencies. And the accreditation agencies were behind the Eight Year Study attempt to adopt Dewey’s vision in the 30s. At its core systems theory in K-12 and Best Practice and Transformational OBE are all means of getting to that layer of individual human consciousness to prevent anything that would strengthen any sense of individuality or conscious will or the ability to think abstractly. Just like Marx wanted and John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky. If you need a personality that will either submit to the collective will or simply not even notice, you have to target emotion and limit the human conceptual ability.

      And visions of the collective first permeate all these writings. That’s not an acceptable backdoor vision for education in a free country where the individual has primacy, not the government.

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