Tianxia is a phrase translated from Chinese aspirations that caught my eye because it fits so well not only with what I see being mandated via K-12 learning standards all over the world, but also with False Narratives and Accurate, but Irrelevant, Narratives that seem to be used to distract parents from the true focus of changes they might rebel against. Personally, I think parents would be really outraged by a politician or principal openly admitting that they seek to control each student’s ‘cognitive system’ so they can control “what they can do or be” in the future. That’s far worse than simply hyping White Privilege or Gender as a Social Construct. Both those examples that now rightfully have many parents in an uproar are simply components of larger, more invasive aims that we need to talk about.
The Chinese idea of Tianxia, like other aspirational terms we have illustrated here at ISC like Upravleniye or Dirigisme, become useful shorthands that allow us to know it when we see it because we now have a concept that illustrates an effect or plan that would otherwise make no sense. Tianxia struck me as akin to an invisible and unconscious Mental Habit of Mind being fostered that guides, and even controls, future decision-making, perception, motivation, and likely behaviors since it is defined as “a common choice made by all peoples in the world, or a universal agreement in the ‘hearts’ of all people.” In fact, after I first outlined this post, I came across this https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/commission-on-information-disorder-final-report/ released this week. Those recommendations simply reinforced my sense from reading materials and reports being pushed all over the globe that there was a common effort to control what must be thought, believed, and valued.
That Aspen Commission insisted such common beliefs must be held, mentally and emotionally, “at all levels of American society, paving the way for sincere collective progress.” That emphasis on collectivism fits with the Chinese emphasis, as would Aspen’s insistence that We the People now begin to build “trust across division, which is a precondition for societal cohesion.” Collective Progress and Cohesion in some kind of alliterative motto then rely on Control over each Individual’s Cognitive System. There’s a pattern here! I know there are skeptics reading this that think I am only inferring that aim because of my analysis in my book Credentialed to Destroy that this is how Competency-Based Education grounded in Learning Standards like the Common Core actually work, but like a seasonal Holiday Ronco commercial from my childhood: “Wait! There’s more!”
Back in early October the National Science Foundation in the US, which has done so much to finance the now no longer mysterious ‘constructivism’ in reading, math, and science because it turns out teaching the actual subject matter is passe, released its “Next Generation Earth Systems Science” vision urging a shift in emphasis from the physical sciences primarily to including the social sciences. Things begin to make far more sense when we remember that Pedagogy and Psychology are Social Sciences. When they are then rounded in Neuroscience we suddenly have an excellent tool for the classroom to combine the physical sciences, with social sciences’ normative aims as to what society can become. All it supposedly takes is for the typical student, and then citizen, to have the desired values, attitudes, and beliefs instilled in them via prescribed learning experiences.
The always useful Bibliography to that Initiative’s paper linked a 2013 article from Systems Research and Behavioral Science called “Understanding Systems Science: A Visual and Integrative Approach” that included just such an explicit aim. It also helpfully provided a graphic illustrating “The Function of Systems Science in the Field of Sciences.” Cognitive Systems were one of 5 listed Areas of the Phenomenological Sciences–Physical, Living, Social, and Technological Systems are the others–that will need to be controlled in the 21st Century. This will allow for all 5 systems to then feed into a desired “Systems Design” vision where collective decision-making, problem solving, and design can all be guided from afar to yield the needed Values and Aesthetics. See how the aims of Tianxia fit?
It fits in even better once we become aware of a paper by a Chinese professor from Lanzhou University published in the International Journal of Education, Learning and Development in mid-September called “The Construction of a Learning Field Based on Lewin’s Equation for Behavior”. It calls for thinking of each person as a platform with the targeted human elements listed as the “physical, psychological, and social.” Redefined as competencies in education, those aims would correspond to the Cognitive, Intrapersonal, and Interpersonal that were the topic of a 2014 White House conference and now are tied to mandated Whole Child learning standards. Without outlining that paper fully at this point, it also aims to hack the cognitive system to rearrange its synapses in order to create ‘fitness’ “for the modern, interconnected world.” Now we have a vision of learning that seeks to “redesign and reconstruct [each student’s] inner psychological structure.”
We have comparable aims in the US, but they tend to get obscured as Civic Education initiatives or Personalized, student-centered learning. Such nice euphemisms for aims that function just like Tianxia and the Human Being as a Redesignable Platform to fit new political and normative aims. Rather than summarize any of these papers with a common aim in this post as I wade back into writing, let me call attention to one more influential recent paper with global aspirations. https://ncee.org/quick-read/rethinking-education-systems-for-tomorrow-a-conversation-with-marc-tucker/ is from the group that originated the first set of Learning Standards back in the 90s . Tucker also wants to make sure that students all “develop the social and emotional attributes to function effectively in relation to others” which rather fits with all this emphasis now on working together as a collective, as does the “need to understand and develop empathy for others near and far who may be very different from them.”
Beyond that emphasis on the psychological and social attributes, we get another Cognitive hack of students being trained to use prescribed abstract concepts as they “draw on that deep understanding of multiple disciplines to analyze the enormous challenges society now faces” and draw also on the cognitive “ability to interweave the study of theory and concepts with the constant application of theory to real-world problems great and small.” Those aims are what makes a school, district, or country Top Performing in the 21st Century, even though even a cursory knowledge of history would be a tip-off that applying theories of what might be is a poor model for redesigning what already exists. That, of course, would be what Tucker’s paper decries as “the accumulation of facts and rehearsed procedures” instead of the sought, far more flexible to upending the social status quo: “deep understanding of core concepts and the structure of knowledge.”
Nobody then has the pesky facts to notice an Inapt Metaphor being used to hack the Cognitive System. In the next post we will cover all these papers with a common, global, and internalized aim for students as “adaptive agents” who will practice experiences to “take the [conceptual} frameworks they had learned to understand in one part of the world and use them to gain a new and more creative perspective on another part of the world.” There’s a reason such Higher Order Thinking Skills are considered a prerequisite to envisioning a new society, economy, culture, and even a new ethos for humanity itself.
It all goes back to hacking the Cognitive System and grounding its perceptions and interpretations in emotion and useful transformative images. All these game plans and more plan to take us to a common destination. Shouldn’t we all know the Itinerary before inadvertently climbing aboard? Especially since it is so detailed if we know where to look?
Here we go again here at ISC.