Students Must See Themselves as Active Participants in Social Change and Designers of Social Futures

Before I tell you where that quote came from and what the connection is to the Gordon Commission, I want to go back in time first. I did what I frequently do when presented with troubling declarations of plans that I know will come to a poor end. I went back to someone who dealt with comparable aspirations and ideologies for insights into what is really going on and how this might end. History is much more reliable than a crystal ball. And, unlike the Marxist historians active in Europe before World War I and the 1920s, I do not use historical research as a “means of political agitation.” I will confess though it can be more useful than espresso as a jolting wakeup call.

No, I am not that ancient except to my kids but I did go back to someone who lived through what happened in Europe in the early 20th century and presciently recognized the gravity of what he was looking at. Economist Ludwig Von Mises saw that history and political theories were being used all around him “to provide weapons against the hated bourgeois order of society.” Remember that quote when we get to the end of this post. Von Mises was infatuated with socialism when he was younger, like most German and Austrian intellectuals of that time. But he wrote the book Socialism to explain why he believed it would not work. Long before Communism had crashed and burned in the USSR or the Germans tried out a more Corporatist and Nationalist version of socialism that launched 2 world wars. I wanted his insights into why planning societies does not work from what he saw in real time. The book was originally published in German in 1932 so Von Mises is speaking from quite a unique vantage point.

What I hit upon instead was so on point with using education to shut down the abstract mind and push action instead. Plus the desire we keep encountering to supply the interpretive concepts and metaphors, instead of accurate facts, to filter student’s daily reality. I decided we could use Von Mises’s observations from so long ago.

“Abstract thought is independent of the wishes which move the thinker and of the aims for which he strives. Only this independence qualifies it as thought. Wishes and purposes regulate action (his italics).”

Von Mises goes on in a footnote to clarify that “the wish is the father of faith.”  Faith is thus what all these education reforms are really trying to create. Do you remember this post  where influential Harvard psychology prof Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi  laid out his vision of the Flow experience? As Von Mises ably observed in dealing with earlier “Let’s Remake the World Schemers,” there is no abstract thought when wish for and feeling are joined to thought. It is the sort of cultivated personality ready to attend and celebrate at rallies without a second thought. Csik’s Flow and the idea of physical activity in a digital environment instead of mental is mentioned throughout this new view of curriculum and assessment we started to look at in the last post. A primary solution for engaging students at school and keeping them in school is Gaming. As in video games.

That really caught my interest for several reasons. I know the Gates Foundation has been funding it for the Common Core implementation. I know that Professor James Paul Gee, who we discovered in this post does not believe in the concept of discrete individuals, has pivoted in the last 10 years in his education research to focusing on gaming. And I know that Amplify has been hyping Zombie-Based Apocalypse simulations as learning on its website. To get to what Joel Klein has called “new kinds of minds” I suppose.

So Pearson and the Gordon Commission and everyone else is pushing Gaming. And Gee who wants education to help create people to be “better modules in a distributed non-authoritarian system” is both a member of the Commission and pushing Gaming instead of linguistic mischief making. His previous research mission. Although if you look up his report “Good Video Games and Good Learning” you will see he is quite excited that Gaming helps move education beyond its fetish with print and words. Important to the schemers as we now know.

What do they mean by Gaming? As we saw with the Zombie Apocalypse simulation story that cited sources acknowledging that this type of digital learning is known to weaken the mind , the point of the simulations described is to practice planning and redesigning societies. You can see why I went back to Von Mises. So the same report that starts off maligning knowledge of facts as “banking education” wants students to practice reimagining other ways for societies to exist and to come to believe that societies can be planned. And the games cited are multi-user to get both social interaction and collaboration practice. Cited are the game River City where the students learn to solve a simulated 19th century city’s problems. At least in the virtual world with the provided, controlled variables. A difference from the real world that is not likely to be pointed out to the students or the teachers.

Then there is the “epistemic game called Urban Science that mimics the professional practicum experiences of urban planners.” Yes, because they are noted for doing a bang-up job with planning in the real world. Let’s ignore that and go with Professor Don Schon’s aspirations for cities and people to be systems that can be treated as problems to be solved. The virtual world awaits and the students immersed in such Gaming are likely to soon accept social and economic planning and fiats as a norm.

Perhaps the most graphic example of where all this is going in the Pearson/ Gordon Commission report is the game Quest Atlantis. There the aim is explicitly described like this:

“the focus of critical design work is to develop sociotechnical structures that facilitate individuals in critiquing and improving themselves and the societies in which they function.”

In fact the creators of the game noted that:

“although they could have focused the Quest Atlantis virtual environment solely on particular science standards about erosion, they became concerned with highlighting attitudes toward environmental awareness and social responsibility.”

And just in case you are wondering where are values, feelings, and beliefs that usually go along with these outcome-based maneuvers to change future behavior, the authors did not forget. They go on to describe how they:

“decided to make a structure connected to social commitments, creating a story [because all political schemers seem to know children learn better with a narrative!] about collecting pieces of crystal, with each representing a social commitment the designers wanted to enforce, like political awareness. They instilled in the community around the game a value of these commitments through the design of the ecosystem.”

The title of this post is quoted from the Introduction to Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures and it was too consistent with the aspirations of the Gaming emphasis not to use. Plus Gee and Courtney Cazden of the Discourse Classroom that we met in the Community of Learners post were both contributors. In fact Gee acknowledged that all these education reforms are to “change the game, that is, to change our society” to what he called a distributed economic system.

You may have noticed all the focus on cities and urban education above and in Edmund Gordon’s mission as a professor. Likewise there are increasingly stories about students being told to learn about White Privilege or their “economic class.” This week’s version involved Americorps workers in Wisconsin but the reports are increasing around the US. So I want to close this post and set up the next one with another quote from Gee’s “New People in New Worlds” essay from the book.

“We, then, really have two school problems. [to get to the sought new economic order]. The first concerns how to ensure that poor and minority children, really for the first time, get well educated enough to participate in building and transforming our societies. The second concerns how to ensure that advantaged children can get out of school able to think ‘critiquely’ about issues of power and social justice in the new global capitalist order.”

How succinct was that admission of the essence of what we are dealing with?

6 thoughts on “Students Must See Themselves as Active Participants in Social Change and Designers of Social Futures

    • Let’s just say everyone is fessing up big time back before anyone was looking. In that glorious tradition I love to turn into post titles. Overseas but it is the global template from the early 80s of what was to come. Book still has a very brown pound sign price tag on the book.

      Another aspect relates to a minor variation on systems thinking that had been keeping a lower profile than Peter Senge but clearly is the genesis for all this as well.

  1. This might be out of left field, but have you noticed the increasing use of the term “common”? Common Core, Common Standards, Common Purpose, Common Learning, etc. Do you suppose it has any significance? It makes me think of the caste system of aristocrats and commoners; is that paranoid do you suppose? I know we’re supposed to think that “common” = “standard”, but I’m suspicious and cynical by nature.

    I feel as ambivalent about the trend toward gamification as I do about much technology: if it is inevitable (and I’m sure it is), how can we keep it from being used against us? I recently watched a short video discussing the possible future of gaming ( While extreme, there does seem to be so much potential for massive profits, not just financially, but for data collecting and behavior manipulation, that it is begging to be exploited.

    That was a great interview on Trans Register Radio. I am very impressed by the scope and depth of your knowledge, your ability to synthesize it, and then to articulate it reasonably and rationally. In that regard, you are very much like John Taylor Gatto.

    • Thank you Susan.

      The references to common are in the same vein as the references to community. It is how we are to view ourselves in the future. Not as individuals or unitary selves as john a powell disparagingly put it. I think it is the prep for the common good onslaught. In fact I know that. It came up in something again today.

      Big Data is a huge part of this and in the various National Academy of Sciences reports. The idea is that behaviorally you can centrally manage an economy around what we are inadvertantly throwing off. I went to a Social Media CLE program this year and a speaker’s presentation reminded me of just that so I raised the point about being able to plan using that data about people you do not know. He was not put off by the idea of central planning or Big Data’s role. It was a lawyer who had obviously been in meetings where these very ideas were being regularly discussed. Quite an epiphany.

      Remember IBM’s current motto is the idea of the world being a “System of Systems.” We are playing a game in real time and no one bothered to tell us.

      And there is no left field in this area. Most everything is on the field but not where it can easily be seen or identified by name. You thus get the function but it is hard to see it coming. Which is why at this point I analyze by function or consequences and not by names.

      I have written before about BF Skinner and his operant conditioning and his view of the computer as the ultimate teaching machine. Several things that Have come up this week, especially the failure to appreciate what is meant by personalized learning via the computer, have made me think again of what Skinner wanted to do.

      Paranoid is thinking someone is out to get you without proof. Suspicion about such declarations around government with the ability to coerce and reward favorites is not paranoia. It’s an understnading of power without sufficient checks.

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