Surfing the Contrived Sluice to a Citizen Fit for Constitutional Democracy So that Marx Quietly Prevails

I want you to think of the kind of sluice you knew from the log ride at an amusement park with two sides that force all water down the same pathway. That’s how learning standards and competency-based frameworks actually work. Think of my explanation of that as equivalent to teaching a neophyte how to use the surfboard. My explanation of the term ‘constitutional democracy’ will show how Harvard prof Danielle Allen’s explanation of it as a compromise phrase in her appearances pushing the Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy is rather disingenuous. The exact term actually tracks back to a curriculum created for US K-12 in 1972 (with help from the California Bar) called Law in a Free Society [LFS} to promote ‘Justice’ and “What can be done to make the reality [of Justice} closer to the Ideal and What May be the Results of Failing to Narrow the Gap.” Readers of my book Credentialed to Destroy may remember my discussion of competency-based education and Freeman Butts’ vision for it. Butts’ work turns out to be tied to the LFS Initiative.

The ties of the term ‘Constitutional Democracy’ to substantive duties of Justice to be enacted politically then tie to John Rawls and his work and Allen’s statements in other interviews such as this  https://ethics.harvard.edu/interview-danielle-allen-director-edmond-lily-safra-center-ethics-and-james-bryant make it clear she actually sees the term consistently with these prior initiatives and Rawls’ work. She is the one who brings up Amartya Sen in that recent interview and since he already has an ISC tag and I have his book The Idea of Justice that turns out to be dedicated to “The Memory of John Rawls” we can use that book to get at the real vision sought in the name of ‘constitutional democracy.” Helpfully Sen is quite explicit that his vision of Justice requires targeting “what individuals think, choose, and do,”  and also “individual valuation,” which just happen to be the goal of learning standards. What a coincidence! That Roadmap to EAD will come in awfully handy for creating the needed “level of conformity of ‘man-in-the mass’ or collective man.”

What all these initiatives call Justice is a ‘substantive democracy’ that needs to be enacted in the world. Sen actually quotes Marx by name on the need to change the world not simply accept it as is, but, to me, more fascinatingly, Sen quotes Antonio Gramsci and his infamous Prison Notebooks on the use of abstract concepts to invisibly force radical change. Gramsci wanted everyone to be a spontaneous philosopher, which certainly sounds a lot like “what every student should know and be able to do”. This will require targeting “language itself, which is a totality of determined notions and concepts” [just like competency-based frameworks] and not just words grammatically devoid of context.”

Sounds a bit like why Language had to be Whole and Literacy Balanced, doesn’t it? Sen goes on to note that:

As a political radical, Gramsci wanted to change people’s thinking and priorities, but this also required an engagement with the shared mode of thinking and acting…This is kind of a dual task, using language and imagery that communicate efficiently and through the use of conformist rules, while trying to make this language express non-conformist proposals. The object was to formulate and discuss ideas that are significantly new but which would nevertheless be readily understood in terms of old rules of expression.

Bingo! Exactly what Allen was doing with the term Constitutional Democracy and what we saw with the National Constitution Center redefining Liberty and Freedom towards communitarian ideals as the new functional definitions. When I came across a very expansive view of the Law and its purpose so that it “converts human intentions and values into legible directives” and it then went on to say this view of the law agreed with John Rawls that “In a constitutional democracy, …the public conception of justice is to be political, not metaphysical,” I was a bit floored by the implications of the Roadmap, Sen’s work, Rawls mentioning the term as well so I went looking for connections among Allen, Sen, and Rawls. Those were too extensive to document here, but I also came across the supposedly conservative think tank– the Acton Institute–promoting a 2016 book on Rawls’ theory of justice using rhetoric on the Founding Fathers’ ideals. Thank Gramsci for this accordion use of “concepts, notions, and principles.”

In late June, the Civics Alliance issued its version of Social Studies Standards for K-12 that also makes the focus conceptual more than factual and on changing the student in a way not dissimilar to what Sen and Gramsci want. Wilfred McClay wrote an essay in August on seeing the purpose of education as creating a desired narrative https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2022/08/83804/ and

the formation of a particular kind of person, and thus a particular kind of citizen, who embodies the virtues of both inquiry and membership, and therefore is equipped for the truth-seeking, deliberation, and responsible action that a republican form of government requires. We are talking here about moral formation, in the fullest sense of the term.

Again as I read it my reaction was that everyone seemed to be headed toward the same vision of education and wanting the Common Core and competency-based education generally to be wrongly understood so that the psychological techniques embedded in learning standards and conceptual frameworks could continue to be used in ALL schools–public, private, on-line, and any vehicle available to outraged parents seeking an alternative. If all public policy and think tanks now is dedicated to getting Marx’s Human Development Society implemented via education globally without admitting it, it’s hard to imagine a more effective way. Since the only way to Surf the Sluice in my metaphor and not go under in the churning wave action is to know how these initiatives all function the same I need to lay that out. After all, most of the time we have to draw connections via function or footnotes. Every once in a while though we get something explicit like the recent EAD Newsletter that says:

RealClear Education has launched a new, free online resource for K-12 civic education at RealClear American Civics. Developed using the Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy and carefully curated by veteran civics teacher Enrico Pucci, the website includes essential articles, primary and secondary resources, lesson plans, interactive games, and visual and audio resources to aid civics educators and inform students.

This is that embedded link http://www.realclearpublicaffairs.com/public_affairs/american_civics/lesson_plans/ and that is tied to numerous think tanks and involved with the Civics Alliance above which might well explain why American Birthright, to me,  functions as it does and all the ties between the 1776 curriculum and competency-based educators I have noticed. Use education to drive the “evolving will of the people” by using learning standards to mandate what students are to believe and value. To force the very idea of knowledge to be more a matter of concepts and notions than a body of facts. In fact, the think tank AEI released this https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/How-Schools-Indoctrinate-and-How-They-Can-Educate.pdf?x91208 equating a fact oriented curriculum with Indoctrinating.

If the law is now to be seen as “no longer a static set of rules but a means of engineering goals among a system of actors aligned with the state” and education learning standards can be legally mandated we end up with civics education and ‘history instruction’ designed to get at “the decision-making capacity” of the student. That was from a fall 2022 Facing History program with Allen and Tufts’ Peter Levine. Both are involved with the EAD Roadmap. If legal standards now generally, and learning standards in particular:

standards allow humans to develop shared understandings and adapt them to novel situations, i.e. to generalize expectations regarding actions taken to unspecified states of the world…[They] facilitate communicating what a human wants an agent to do…[and create] a shared ontology of abstract concepts…{They can be] a consensus social choice mechanism to aggregate preferences and values across humans or time. Eliciting and synthesizing human values systematically is an unsolved problem that philosophers and economists have labored on for a millenia.

Not anymore! I wrote in the margin when I read that. If the problem of the ages is an inability to get alignment around “one ethical theory (or ensemble of underlying theories) being ‘correct,’ we simply embed the desired theory into learning standards. Suddenly, we have an invisible enforceable mechanism “to align humans around that theory (or meta-theory).” No need to bemoan any longer that “there is no endogenous society-wide process for this.” Nope learning standards, civics education, and the Roadmap all become the mechanism to enact Sen’s Idea of Justice. Education becomes the “consensus update mechanism to that chosen ethical theory” with few pointing out it comes directly from Uncle Karl and Gramsci too.

In this ambiguous concept of Constitutional Democracy we get that theory that Uncle Karl called Marxist Humanism that would require a Moral Revolution. Now though the Moral Revolution gets imposed as Civics and History education that is personalized, data-driven, and fits with the desired Portrait of a Graduate. No need to sell it to the populace, in it comes at the level of the mind, heart, and soul and suddenly we have shifted what the guiding ethical philosophy is about away from the individual without discussion and mandated an authoritarian vision where (quoting Sen)

the understanding of democracy has broadened vastly, so that democracy is no longer seen just in terms of the demands for public balloting, but much more capaciously, in terms of what John Rawls calls ‘the exercise of public reason.’ …the idea of deliberation itself…

I am going to end this installment of discussing how mandating Principles and Practices into education  can get us everything political radicals have ever wanted while it hides as Civic Education, Founding Fathers’ philosophy, or Constitutional Democracy with a poem Sen finished his Introduction with. Tell me if this vision doesn’t seem to enshrine Man as a Maker of History.

History says Don’t hope

On this side of the grave,

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.