Treating Western Society and its Economy as a Train in Need of Rebuilding and Central Direction

When you get down deep into the aspirations on using education to shift the West away from its historic focus on individuals and economic freedom to considering new, untried forms of organizing societies and economies, you quickly come upon the desire that “learning” NOT reenforce currently existing “systems.” The fact that what is being called systems are actually people, like me and you, who are supposed to have legally protected rights to autonomy and private decision-making gets conveniently left out. That the countries to be reorganized have a history of success in the unprecedented opportunities available to their people gets left out. That free markets where they exist have delivered unprecedented prosperity to even the poorest among us also gets left out as inconvenient facts. Systems. Just systems that can be rebuilt with enough Big Data and supercomputers into a smarter planet. No one stops to ask whose vision of “smart” is being imposed.

Our friend, psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner of Ecological Systems Theory and transforming the West as an experiment fame understood well that the theories he and others were creating were not based on some type of hypothesis about factual reality. They were and are aspirational. If implemented, these psychological and political theories become a means to “transcend the contexts given to you to produce societal change and personal developmental change.” That would be personal change in Uncle Karl’s sense of the word. . Or now hiding so well under the real definition of Student Growth. With lots of personal affective data being collected and shared to see how the developmental Learning is progressing.

We have a new global Change Agent to talk about. A professor who split his time between Finland and the University of California at San Diego, Yrjo Engestrom. His writing is important to our global story because of his Theory of Expansion and the influence of his book Learning by Expanding. Exciting for him and concerning to us, his Activity Theory is clearly the influence behind what are now being called euphemistically the Learning Sciences. As in the April 2012 Rand Corporation report for that Global Cities Education Network discussed here . The report is called Teaching and Learning 21st Century Skills: Lessons from the Learning Sciences and it again shows why making poorly understood and defined goals like 21st Century Skills the new purpose of education has so much potential for anyone with aspirations for stealth cultural transformation.

Hidden at least in the West except at conferences of the like-minded. We know Urie was downright confessional on his aspirations in print. So quite frankly is Engestrom in his books and articles if you take the time to read them. What a fun weekend I had! The train metaphor in our title comes from Engestrom but he is quoting a frustration that Urie had with education in the US and the West generally. That human development in the West “takes place like in a moving train. One can walk forward and backward through the cars, but what really matters is where the train is going.”

I personally am hoping if I am being likened to a train car that I get to be a sleek luxury bullet train car and not something Amtrak has operating. But I digress. Engestrom then went on to say that Urie’s train metaphor “exemplifies the central problem embedded in most of the available societally and ecologically oriented analysis of development” [those originally Marxian or Soviet theories get to hide now by just being referred to authoritatively as the Learning Sciences. See above].

Here is the money quote that could have come from a myriad of social and behavioral scientists and education professors. Think of Engestrom as their voice too.

“The environments or societal contexts are seen as historically changing, but not as being constructed and reconstructed by the people living in these contexts. Contexts are imposed upon, not produced by humans. Nobody seems to be driving the train.”

Luckily as my regular readers now know the videogaming vision attached to the actual Common Core implementation will give students plenty of practice in constructing and reconstructing worlds. Even embedding them in strategies of what to do after a Zombie Apocalypse. How exciting and engaging! Engestrom’s sentiments on wanting a driver of a collective train are not the least bit unusual for someone who grew up with Uncle Karl’s theories of historical progression. In fact author Arthur Koestler who was so disillusioned by the turn Stalinism took that he wrote one of the great novels of the 20th Century, Darkness at Noon, could never quite shake his dislike of spontaneous, undirected processes where ever they occur naturally. Like in biology or chemistry. He still wanted direction. Central direction.

The kind that comes from cultural evolution if you can make education about transforming personal and prevailing values, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. What became notorious as Outcomes Based Education but now hides quietly as unappreciated definitions of Student Growth and Learning. Still there but unlikely to be detected except maybe by hyperactive due diligence attorneys who read too much. Now Engestrom’s globally influential work made no attempt to hide just how much it was grounded in Soviet theories of dialectical materialism and how to try to push “a historically new form of activity into emergence.”

He certainly did not write in 1987 or again in 1999, when his book was translated into German and Japanese and he wrote a new Introduction, like someone who saw Uncle Karl’s or Soviet theories generally as assigned to the ash heap of history. For supposedly comatose or dead theories they appear in his pen to be full of vim and vigor and still existing hopes for transformation. I suppose it helps that our guard was down because “We won!”

In 1991 Engestrom wrote an article, published in Great Britain, that is clearly the blueprint for the reimagining of high school we are seeing globally and in the US as a component of Common Core. The article was called “Non Scolae Sed Vitae Discimus: Toward Overcoming the Encapsulation of School Learning.”  Now if that title was not pompous enough sounding, the actual article goes on to lay out “The Formation of Theoretical Concepts by Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete in Instruction.” Developed by V V Davydov based on Uncle Karl’s theory of finding defining relationships that can then filter everyone’s everyday analysis of reality, that theory was the subject of a great deal of research for decades in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. And it does not seem to have gone gently into that dark night either.

And neither ‘abstract’ or ‘concrete’ in Davydov’s theory have the meaning we commonly associate with them. ‘Concrete’ is NOT seen as “something sensually palpable.” Abstract does NOT mean “something conceptual or mentally constructed.” No, in this Davydov/Engestrom theory ‘concrete’ means the “holistic quality of systemic interconnectedness.” Which means that all of our encounters with Systems Thinking and Peter Senge and Appreciative Inquiry that push to teach students to see the world as interconnected and interdependent and full of relationships are back to Davydov’s theories.

Which in turn are explicitly supposed to be an updated, supercharged version of Dialectics. That’s not me alleging that. It’s me quoting those statements and then recognizing where else they are now being used. It also means that dialectical view of ‘concrete’ absolutely saturates that C3 CCSSO Social Studies framework I wrote alarmingly about here.

It is behind the 21st Century definition of ‘transferable learning’ in that Rand Global Cities Education Network report mentioned above. It is why we should be alarmed by that report asking “students to make analogies between a topic and something different, such as between ecosystems and financial markets.” Which are actually not analogous but neither the teacher nor the students are likely to recognize that. And if they all believe there is a connection and they act on those beliefs, we are back to our consequential false beliefs problem. Donald Schon’s Generative Metaphor who is absolutely cited by Engestrom by name.

The same guiding but false belief problem comes in when that Rand report “asks students to generalize broad principles from a specific piece of information.” Oh yes, that’s a good thing to practice. Practice creating and relying on dogma without anyone pointing out that is what is being practiced. No wonder students are being asked to computer model the discredited Limits to Growth scenarios from the 70s as part of Common Core science. It may not be factually true but it can now still be influential on future behavior. Plus bolstering that perceived need for transformation.

Some of you may have noticed that Common Core makes lots of references to student conceptual understanding for an approach that is so hostile to factual information. That is entirely possible if we are back to dialectical view of what concrete means as the real operating definition of conceptual understanding. Davydov’s ‘kernel’ becomes Common Core’s ‘lens’.

Which means that all of Davydov’s or Engestom’s or Uncle Karl’s aspirations for these theories come in too. Unannounced and so unopposed. No wonder the Chinese government thinks the Learning Sciences views in that Rand report are suitable in Shanghai and Hong Kong as well as the West.

They were subjugation theories against individuals and economies when they were written and they remain so now. Even if only a few of us appreciate those facts now.

Or should I say yet? And be more optimistic?

36 thoughts on “Treating Western Society and its Economy as a Train in Need of Rebuilding and Central Direction

  1. How true! I just reread my old files on the Soviet educational system, and the Common Core appears to be just an update of this “Uncle Karl” training the young children for a projected workforce with the correct attitudes and values to serve the state, but in the USA case, it means serving the corporate “privateers”. Keep up your excellent articles.

    I for one no longer feel so alone with my years of research following the “restructuring of our children”. It would appear that few really looked into Finland’s educational system. Most uppergrades get a certificate at 9th grade and are placed directly in the work place. Few go on to higher education because Finland is a small nation and does not require that many upper division, college graduates.

  2. Robin,
    Thanks again for another inspiring piece. This one is right up my alley. Not only does one see what is happening, I feel it. The world is in slow motion, the kind of slow motion that ‘Einstein’ referred to if one were travelling at the speed of light.
    We as a nation are not approaching a slippery slope we are speeding down it, rapidly drawing near the point of no return.
    In the past “The Youth of America” was relied upon, not only to carry on traditions but to improve upon them. I beieve we are already seeing the results of youth indoctrination. THE REELECTION OF BARACK OBAMA.
    Keep up the good work,

  3. Robin,
    I Was wondering if you had read or seen any of Charlotte Thompson Iserbyt’s Dumbing Down of American schools. A few months ago I watched a long video of her presenting the history of how we got to this place. This is the transcript.

    BTW has a wealth of information on education.

    And here is the google page that has the videos,or.r_cp.&fp=4125d3fe61a1c52c&biw=1024&bih=645

    Her knowledge cannot be lost!!!

    • Thanks Marlene for posting those links. I have. Several years ago when I first realized that the Georgia Performance Standards and thus by extension the Common Core were just a restatement of the notorious Outcomes Based Education I came across Charlotte’s work. It helped me begin to appreciate what the elements of OBE were. Charlotte had a quote about how the tenets of OBE never go away. I then started to teach myself political theory and reviewing history from the 20th century to come up with my own explanations of why those tenets keep reappearing. Which turned out to be a spectacular way to ground what was being sought.

      I owe Charlotte for bringing John Goodlad back on my radar. The Principal Investigator on the Georgia Integrated Math fiasco who actually invented the term P-16 and set up the first P-16 Council was from Goodlad’s National Network of Educational Renewal. She had brought him to speak to the University System Board of Regents in the late 90s. I knew there was something troubling. Charlotte referring to him as one of the premier change agents of the 20th century made me look back at my notes and start reading his books myself.

      So to use Davydov’s insight Charlotte’s work provided some kernels that have now become towering oaks as I tracked down why they mattered. The difference with Davydov is that Charlotte’s chronological anecdotes were factual. What I am working on right now is this desire to apply concepts where they are inapt and to see cause and effect where it actually cannot be isolated.

      Pulling on those threads has once again sent me back to Harvard’s Project Zero in the present time and then back to the early 80s for the explanations of the real whys.

      Understanding what is being sought by tracking through the footnotes is about to strike again!

    • I refused to teach ECRI as did two other special reading teachers. Two transferred to another school out of the Title I Reading program. Another simply quit. I resigned from teaching at this school in 1986 when Dr. Terrell Bell and Albert Shanker (AFT) came to Arizona to dedicate the Center for Excellence at NAU, Flagstaff, AZ. The teachers across AZ were trained for merit pay using Madilyn Hunter’s Essential Elements of Instruction. This program is based on S-R as develoved by Pavlov of Russia. All the teachers in my school objected to this program, but the district supt. put it in anyway, so I quit. I called it “Pavlov’s slobbering dog” and the head of NAU sent me a letter saying to stop, so I simply ripped out a page from an educational magazine quoting Hunter as saying “There isn’t a teacher that has not heard of Pavlov, but they simply refuse to do it.” (something along that line). I never heard from him again.

      I later taught in the community colleges in Maricopa Co., AZ, and continued to do research on “restructuring” not just educaton but our total society. To regress.

      Several groups of parents contacted me and asked for help re ECRI. I did whatever possible. I pushed for a Congressional investigaton into this program and others like it. The USDOE stated willful untruths in a letter to me. They denied the method (Skinner) and denied that children were timed with stopwatches. This is even after I sent them pages from the teaching pods. The people involved in promoting restructuring of our country are vicious. They try to stop any oppositon any way possible, threats, slander, labeling, name-calling and you name it. Years ago…….

      I flew to IN to try and help some parents, and the day before I was to leave, I received a letter from a large legal firm in Salt Lake City, Utah (where the program was designed and Dr. Terrell Bell put in the Granite School District there). This legal firm warned me to not talk about ECRI. Well, to make a long story short, I picked up the phone and called them and told them to go straight to Hell and tell the developer to do the same. I went to a small rural farm area and stayed with the parents. The principal and his secretary were paid $1.000.00 to implement and promote the program. This proof along with other serious documentation went to my Congressman, Rep. Eldon Rudd. Many others have tried to expose the destructive programs being used on children and teacher to no avail.

      It has been difficult to watch all this destruction to young children and our great nation, but some of us just continue to plug along–sending out what information we have researched on our computer webs. We have written what we can and placed it in small publications over the years, but Charlotte Iserbyt’s book “the deliberate dumbing down of america” has been a great help along with others who have struggled to get anything published.

      From your blog I picked up the name Banathy (father and son) and stared researching the International Systems Institute. I found “Whole Systems” and the plan fell in place along with other research accumulated over the years. I did research on many of the characters years ago and still have their books.

      Of importance for researchers is “On November 5, 2002, President Bush signed into PUBLIC LAW 07-279 (116 Stat. 1940) the Education Science Reform Act. The act produced the Institute of Education Sciences organization and abolished the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. The OERI website content is at of March 2011. However, visitors to the OERI website information were directed to visit for up-to-date on the Institute of Education Sciences and its programs”.

      The “What Works Clearning House” will give the most current information posted.

      The Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development (Wikipedia) was one of 20 original Regional Educational Laboratories funded by the United States Congress starting in 1966. These programs were promoted through the National Diffusion Newwork into states, districts and local schools as “Educational Programs that Work”. That is how they were able to move so quickly to implement the programs. It was from this Lab that Spady worked to promote OBE funded with a grant approved by Dr. Terrell Bell. This web continues to state:

      “The lab’s work in this area was on the cutting edge of what has been called a ‘quiet revoltuion in teacher educaton.’ in 1995 FWL merged with the Southwest Regional Educational Laboratory (SWRL) to form WestED.” My state of Arizona produced the director of WestED and he has been active in promoting “Common Core” and the other mess. Enough for now.

      Thanks for all your great work. I’m sending far and wide. Ann Herzer, M. A. Reading, Arizona State University graduate.

      • What a nice summary Ann. The Institute of Education Sciences funded the research I am going to explain next. It takes my points that the conceptual understanding under the Common Core and the higher order thinking under the accompanying SBAC and PARCC assessments and what is currently being used in Texas as STAAR and proves it is in fact Davydov’s Theory of Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete.

        And all these psychological and political theories pretending to be something called Learning Sciences and Education Sciences are being funded either by NSF or IES. We are funding our own destruction even apart from those ed labs.

        I am so glad to have your stories from the past. I know this stuff but coming from you and your actual experience in the past helps frame both the longevity and the political purposes. These people really are stunningly graphic in the books and reports they never thought an outsider would read. Especially Bela.

        A lot of the PBIS materials I have came from the SW Regional Lab as well as the State Dept of Ed in CO. McREL’s world.

      • Ann:

        In the early years of our charter school, when I was on the founding board, we were the top elementary school in the state on the state assessments (which at that time were legitimate). These scores were completely out of line with our relatively modest demographic, demonstrating substantial added value from the school.

        It was a direct instruction school, complete with stop watches.

        Our children were mental athletes. They performed best when timed and constantly challenged to exercise their mental muscles with sustained focus; their capacity to concentrate for extended periods (one of Einstein’s great secret weapons) continually amazed us. Our teachers taught with a sense of urgency. Choral responses maximized student interaction with the teacher, far more effective than individual responses that allowed all the other students to take a mental snooze. An audible or visual signal allowed them all to know when to respond, like the stroke of a conductor’s baton. That way you controlled the phenomenon of students taking their cue from one another, answering a fraction of a second late; each had to be able to generate the correct answer independently and articulate it in unison.

        We rarely question or condemn this kind of structured environment when it comes to music, dance, and athletics. (Who objects to a coach or P.E. teacher using a whistle, presumably treating the athletes or students as if they were Pavlov’s slobbering dogs?) Yet we recoil when it is used for intellectual training. Why? The method is misused if it is used to indoctrinate; any method applied to this purpose is misused. It is pure gold if it is used to lay a firm foundation of broad, legitimate content, including a rich fund of memorized poetry, which is how we used it. And by the way, during the years when I served on the board, we did not have a single case of dyslexia. We attribute this phenomenal record to careful teaching of phonics via Reading Mastery and cursive writing starting from the very beginning, in kindergarten. At the other end of the grade spectrum, our children used to regularly beat out the competition on the DAR essay contests. In fact, one year we were asked to sit out to give other schools a chance to win some prizes. Clearly, we did not have a case here of robotically trained children incapable of producing literate, thoughtful, original essays on historical topics.

        Any person who claims to be objective must take account of such data in forming a definitive opinion on a methodology. If such a testimony simply rolls off one’s back, one is as guilty of ideological presuppositions as those one is opposing.

        There is a nationally known columnist who has been very critical of common core who actually moved to our state to put his/her children in this charter school and who has been very satisfied with the school. I refrain from naming him/her to preserve his/her privacy.

        Charter schools originally were intended to give parents choice in education. We firmly uphold the principle of choice. There was a group of parents early on who rejected direct instruction and went off and founded their own charter school. We wished them well. The discrepancy in their test scores and ours, at least during the period when I was actively involved, speaks for itself.

        I love Charlotte Iserbyt, but I vigorously dissent from her views on direct instruction. DI is a technique (as well as a set of principles for structuring lessons), and as such is neither good nor bad in itself. It can be used for either purpose.

        Finally, I challenge you to identify the author of the following piece of advice. Unless you are already familiar with this quotation, the answer is very surprising: “…The second thing is modesty. Never think that you know everything. No matter in what high esteem you are held always have the courage to say to yourself: ‘I am ignorant.’ Do not let pride take possession of you. It will result in you being obstinate when you should be conciliatory. It will lead you to reject useful advice and friendly help. It will deprive you of the ability to be objective.”

        With cordial greetings from an unapologetic defender of direct instruction,


          • Hi Anita.

            I am glad you have come to talk. I can figure out the broad economic, political theory, philosophy history etc but there’s nothing like info from the trenches. Especially from a veteran.

            If you take that Ramalay pdf on STEM I linked and factor in Dewey’s aesthetic grounded in emotion, you have the STEAM. Again it’s not academic knowledge. We are all talking about a variety of techniques to change the child. Except we are following up on what is said in binding side documents and then their footnotes. And then reading actual books from the people cited in the footnotes.

            By the way, have you ever read Skinner’s diary from the 62 Behavioral Sciences trip to the USSR? The one Ralph Tyler was on as well? Fascinating.

            Please comment more. You have invaluable info.


  4. Re: Harvard’s “Project Zero”

    The Arizona Republican Caucus sent me a paper titled “THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE”, by Lluis Alberto Machado of Venezuela and a summary page titled “Dr. Luis Alberto Machado The Right to be Intelligent”. I was asked to comment on the several pages, but after reading it I was too stunned to respond. They enclosed pages from LEADING EDGE, July 18, 1983, Vol. III, Number 17, “Frontiers of Social Transformation” clearly stated that Business Leaders urge partnership with schools and Venezuela IQ project goes to schools, hospitals,…..a UNESCO connecteion, plus Pierre du Pont, and chairman of IBM, Frank Cary, are connected; also Educational Leadership, May 1986, clearly stated that HARVARD’S PROJECT ZERO is based on Venezuels’s project; also a task force chaired by James Hunt, governor of North Carolina, included 14 governors and the cheif executive officers of Ford, Dow Chemical, Control Data, Texas Instruments, Xerox, RCA and Time Inc.; also, 100 educators, psychologists, sociologists and government officials from 20 nations.

    The participating countries included China, the USSR, Israel, Japan, France, the U. S. and many South and Central American Countries. Representatives from UNESCO, the Organization of American States and the Vatican also attended.

    This was published in The Wisconsin Report, November 10, 1994, as an urgent message from me to Editor, Virginia Meves. The above is what she put together from my message to her re this program. (This small paper is no longer being published). I was going there to speak at their annual conference. I went three times re restructuring education plus several other states. I was also the candidate for State Supt. of Public Instruction in 1982 and 1986. I did not win of course, but I did help expose the plan as far as I knew it at the time. Through “Choice” they are destroying representative government. The plan is to privatize everything possible that belongs to the citizens.

    The different Charter Schools are training children for specific work skills based on SCANS (low level skills for our service economy).

    I thought this information might be helpful in your research.

    • That is Ann.

      And quite consistent with what I have and know. Let’s just say I know what the VZ work was in turn based on.

      You know you can look at the list of corporate names and appreciate the temptation. So many of the companies that have been pushers of early iterations of these reforms are either gone like DEC or shadows of their former selves. A government Big Business alliance is so tempting for a multinational since it is how they do business in other parts of the world and they have to pay for lobbyists in the uS as well already. I was once the Treasurer of our Corporate PAC and remember being called and told we needed to donate to Congress or else. That was a long time ago but going along especially if you get to be the designated, protected vendor is hard to resist.

      I can remember when SCANS first came out when they were honest enough to say few need to be well-educated. That did not play well so now everyone must get post-secondary or more and those institutions basically view all this as a permanent annuity. Meanwhile few will be well educated despite their degrees.

      I have those original charter school docs from Minnesota and Shanker’s speech from 1988 to the National Press Club.

      And EdVisions that is part of GCEN is one of the original operators. Surprise. Grounded in John Dewey’s philosophy.

      Just keep the info coming. As I said it helps ground and reiterate what I am saying to others. The reality of these intentions does take some getting used to.

    • Oh and don’t forget Project Zero is a contractor for IB to create Global Consciousness with AIR as a partner. And contract to the CCSSO to cultivate Global Competence.

      Nelson Goodman would be so pleased.

  5. Their ideas all start off sounding like nice ideas, and then there is the nefarious turn.

    The idea of ‘generative topics that resonate with students and teachers’ sounded great until they cited Global Warming as an example. Would ‘Social Justice’ be one too? Good grief! They’re trying to ‘incite’ the students by baiting their emotions with pure opinion. I doubt there could by much intellectual growth through this approach. You produce angry people with strong opinions and no knowledge to back it up. But they will vote. Knowledge is superfluous in this environment. Why go to school? Except to vent.

    And this concept of ‘expansive learning’ in which students sit around and criticize the teacher, the school, the textbook, and everything in general – it’s nihilism!

    I’ve been trying to make sense of that report on STEM and transdisciplinary learning by Judith Ramaley you linked to in a comment in your last blog. I’m still trying to understand it (the transdisciplinary approach) Help me out if I’m wrong but right now I think of it as a bunch of people studying a problem, asking questions, coming up with explanations (like the moon is made of blue cheese), and when they wrap up the sessions they call it knowledge. It’s not subjected to a ‘peer review’ process (per Ramaley). Yet it constitutes knowledge within that particular group.

    Is this how we got stuck with Global Warming in the first place?

  6. It is not just future voters being created, the Change Agents want to create future policymakers. Social Justice is a huge, in your face part of the curriculum. I know Robin has a prior post with a source document link.

  7. Yep! Just keep the information going. Now, finally I don’t feel so alone. I have good company!

    Abraham Lincoln said you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time. (something like that). Ann Herzer

    • We are not talking about people but their ideas. Ideas they have published.

      We are just pulling them together in a new but perfectly appropriate way.

      We may not be able to stop this but what is being sought and why will no longer be a mystery.

    • Ann,

      I think you are recalling the words of Will Duran from his book The Lesson of Historyt:
      “Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple. A cynic remarked that “you mustn’t enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it.” However, ignorance is not long enthroned, for it lends itself to manipulation by the forces that mold public opinion. It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that “you can’t fool all the people all the time,” but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.

      • Those influential false beliefs. Especially when they are designed to get at emotion to provoke action.

        After what I have read in last 2 days I have no illusions.

  8. It is interesting to note Deborah Cole’s support of direct instruction and charter schools. She appears to have no knowledge of the S-R or S-R-S methods. Both create an automatic, direct response that when carried to such timed rate can by-pass the brain.

    Sure any child can be programmed on a test and show results, but one must question if this type of learning will transfer and if it is moral and ethical. Skinner trained pigeons this way, and Pavlov trained slobbering dogs. All research, I have read to date, says no transfer in academics.

    Deborah, you should cite the origin of your quote and not just make implications as you have done. This is typical of what the opposition to Direct Instruction, Common Core, Charter Schools or training children for the global workforce does. Shame on you.

    One last word to you regarding reading instruction —not all children can learn to read using one method. Some children cannot hear the phonic sounds and must be instructed using other methods. The Scientific Reading Act (phonics) passed by Congress and then mandated in states was based on radical behavior modification as outlined by Pavlov and Skinner and others. It was based on thirty years of unproven research accumulated mostly in the Learning Disabled Department of Health and Human Services.

    Also, using music, PE or anything else to try and justify the use of classical and operant conditioning on innocent children, just won’t sell. I suggest, that in the event you are well intended, go to a bookstore and obtain B. F. Skinner’s books. It is obvious you need to do more research. Take care! Ann Herzer, B. A. History, M. A. Reading

    • Ann,

      I am going to stay out of your debate with Deborah on reading. I think one of the things you are saying is that phonics can be taught in a method that makes it no more cognitive than sight reading. Since I never taught phonics per se but systematically taught the alphabetic code to kids with large spoken vocabularies and a love of books, I am not experienced in teaching reading to kids outside that rarefied situation.

      Maxwell did say something we can all agree with on page 63:

      “Far from helping to promote human progress and rational, humane, social inquiry, the social ‘sciences,’ in order to meet with success, actually require people to be obediently incapable of innovative thought or action.”

      And pedagogy as taught now in our colleges of education all over the West is the ultimate social sciences, blending elements of all the rest.

      • Robin, I sent a reply to Ann responding to some specific points, and with the intention of concluding the exchange. Did you receive it?

        • I did not and I know she and I would like to see it. I have read others questioning Charlotte Iserbyt’s antagonism over DISTAR and then refusing to take Dumbing Down as the authority it is. I understand what Ann is saying and get it but if the two of you could get on the same page in terms of the differences among “Phonics” approaches it would be helpful to many.

          I read something today that referred to STAR as components reading. That is consistent with too many reading computer programs where the total ability never gets blended. That’s how I can tell it is Mastery Learning. I imagine Ann has looked at what Bloom did in Chicago and all the ill effects were just ignored. IIRC the system got some of the royalties when other districts came aboard.

          The constructivist math centers were based on a template that originated with constructivist reading programs.

  9. Robin, there is no debate. I have no intention of answering any more comments like Deborah’s, but did because I was hopeful that she was sincere and might do some research to ascertain the facts about direct instruction i. e. conditionong of children.

    The old Follow Through program, (USDOE supported) using Direct Instruction research was negative, but that was not widely published. The USDOE continued regardless of the research, year after year, to promote programs using classical and operant conditioning.

    In my opinion, the Common Core Standards are just a continuation of this training. Performance based education is nothing but old Mastery Learning, Outcome Based Education, Teaching by Bloom’s Objectives, all now hooked into systems management through computers.

    I have taught all ability level students K through College in Reading, and we have had more research in this area than probably any other, but good research over the years determined that there is no one way to teach all children to read or do anything else. Each child, regardless of circumstance, has his/her own way of learning…and they have their own rate which these direct conditioning programs do not allow. They also require teachers to teach from a prepared script, and children must respond exactly as the script outlines, or start over in the scripted cycle. This is programming not education! This is contrary to human/genetic nature.

    The teacher evaluations are based on the above theory. Actually teachers have been evaluated for years on their fidelity (loyalty) to these awful ,destructive programs. They will either use this method of teaching, or be fired. That is what we are seeing now. Never mind how many children will be damaged with these highly stuctured, scripted, timed programs. There is no room for the individual in this political movement! The American dream is being destroyed. Representative government is being destroyed through “Choice” Charter Schools.

    One last thought, I taught phonics to those children who needed it, but found not all children could learn because some were tone-deaf. Not deaf, just tone deaf like the inability to reproduce singing etc. I learned to sight read when I was four years old. I do believe that sight readers somehow associate the sound with the printed word, but I don’t know how because I can’t see inside their brain, nor can anyone else as far as reading and cognition goes. MRI’s don’t show it!

    What we are dealing with is a “collectivist” philosophy which is alien to most Americans. Most Americans still believe in the “individual”, free-will, and individualistic traits. What we are seeing now, in my opinion, is a transformation away from our constituional beliefs that most citizens had no input into. We are seeing a globalist one world philosophy that is alien to most Americans. The Common Core educational standards have nothing to do with learning factual information and then building on it to a higher cognitive level of retention. This CC is a constant state of learning NOTHING but confusion!

    Americans will, and have always rejected training children for a “global workforce” or an American workforce for that matter. Americans expect their children to be educated, and their individualistic traits be respected. I’m glad to see your blog and others now taking a stand. The insiders involved in restructuring education and our country forgot one important thing “the American people”. Ann Herzer

    • Ann, I think that is well stated and I agree especially about the Mastery Learning OBE aspect. Something I have spent a great deal of time contemplating. Including Ben Bloom’s widow describing a 1987 trip to China where “they were treated like royalty everywhere we went.” Why I wondered?

      I appreciate the update that compliance with these programs has been an issue all along as I have been screaming to the treetops and beyond that that is the real function of the teacher evals.

      I am working on something now that will once again put all this into its accurate international focus. I know the story but once again we have bureaucrats laying it all out for us to read.

      Yes the insiders forgot we still have Axemaker Minds. Plus we know enough history and economics to get that if we do not essentially blow the whistle, nothing will function. And I do not say that lightly.

      On the prepared script, I have heard repeatedly from K-lower el teachers telling me precisely that. They now equate the Common Core with a prepared script.

    • Ann:

      I would like to address a few concrete points in your posts responding to mine.

      “Sure any child can be programmed on a test and show results.”

      Our students were not “programmed on a test.” They took the state test just like any other students in any other schools.

      In addition to the top scores which our students achieved on these tests, I gave an example of how our students developed intellectually and were able to generalize their learning, on the essay contest.

      “Deborah, you should cite the origin of your quote and not just make implications as you have done. This is typical of what the opposition to Direct Instruction, Common Core, Charter Schools or training children for the global workforce does. Shame on you.”

      Okay, I admit I gave in to a mischievous impulse with the quotation. I’ll identify it. But first I want to protest in the strongest possible terms being lumped in with advocates of Common Core and global-21st-workforce garbage, as well as Mastery Learning, OBE and Bloom’s Taxonomy. I loathe them and completely repudiate them. As for charter schools, I was a founder of one of the earliest charter schools in my state, when the entire education apparatus was against us; we were no lapdogs for the educrats, I assure you. I grant you that the charter school movement may have been hijacked in the interim.

      “…not all children can learn to read using one method.”

      This is true. What is remarkable is how few failures we have had using Reading Mastery and fluid achievement grouping (completely the reverse from OBE where the entire class is slowed down to the pace of the slowest learner.)

      “The old Follow Through program, (USDOE supported) using Direct Instruction research was negative, but that was not widely published.”

      Not true. Quite the reverse:

      Just look at the two bar graphs. Project Follow Through occurred in the late 1960’s, before the DOE was created. It was a project of the Office of Education.

      ” It is obvious you need to do more research.”

      Ann, I have 20 years of hands-on experience, boots on the ground, thousands of students who have gone through the two schools with which I have been associated and have gone on to high schools and universities where they have been…bored stiff because they could run rings around their fellow students (and in many cases, their teachers). I know this because they come back and tell me. I have done “research” that I’ll pit against that of anyone. I have not contributed to academic child abuse, as you imply. The problem is that direct instruction is simply off bounds; its very mention shuts down the possibility of reasonable and even fruitful exchange, an exchange, which if allowed, might clear up some misconceptions. My 20 years of experience are irrelevant; they violate a dogma and therefore I am either lying or fantasizing. You, however, are willing to grant the possibility that I am well-meaning and misguided, and that buying a book by Skinner will set me straight. This betrays a condescension that I normally associate with the other side.

      The quotation: Ivan Pavlov.

      Robin: This will be my last comment on this matter, and possibly on any other. I do not want my heterodox views on this or other things to allow acrimony to enter into this blog and to undermine the forward momentum of the wonderful work you are doing. All my best.

  10. I realize this is an old conversation but perhaps the protagonists receive email alerts to the thread and will see this. Ann, I wonder if you could identify the source of your claim that “The old Follow Through program, (USDOE supported) using Direct Instruction research was negative”?

    And I guess a key question too would be, negative for what?

    • Karin-hopefully Ann will see this but it has to do with Behaviorism I believe and training students to still see whatever phonetic instruction they were getting perceptually. The phonetic instruction is not treating the sound-letter relationship for what it really is–a symbolic code for sound. An abstraction that stands for an underlying reality of sound. Math, phonetic language, and music notes are all second-tier symbol systems that ignite the mind when they are taught as symbols.

      There was an exchange in the comment thread on some post between Deborah and Ann on what she means by the kind of direct instruction she deplores. If she does not, I had lunch with Charlotte Iserbyt earlier in the week. In her book Deliberate Dumbing Down Charlotte describes Ann’s concerns.

  11. With no reply from Ann I”ll assume she is not getting email updates or cannot support her statement, so I will correct it. Project Follow-Through, the largest education experiment ever undertaken, unequivocally showed that Direct Instruction was superior to all other methods tested. At teaching basic academic skills, that is.

    Now, it is possible that Ann was referring to some other outcome, though there is none that DI has not shown itself superior at generating, to the point that its founder, Zig Engelmann, has a standing offer of $100,000 to anyone who can out-teach him or a trained teacher using his methods. See p 45 of this link: This booklet also gives overview Follow-Through results.

    But rather than Ann meaning something other than reading, it is more likely is that Ann is not a fan of successful reading instruction. Like many teachers, she may have a conditioned aversion to the elements of successful instruction.

    In my career as an observant and curious school parent, I have observed this phenomenon times beyond counting. It is an essential piece of the education puzzle to understand that teachers are conditioned during training, and on an ongoing basis throughout their careers, to revile most characteristics of successful instruction: an orderly environment such as desks in rows, equal space for each child (eg desks – they love seeing kids jostle it out for space on the rug like gladiators). In fact the very concept of a teacher at the front of the room is anathema to them.

    There is a reason for this. If you look at the simple business case for education, there are only limited prospects for growth if you are successful at teaching. There is expanding the school day or the school year, expanding number of years, and then, there is failure. If you blow the teaching in year one, you have to repeat the work. That is far more lucrative for every component organization in the system than if a teacher successfully gets every student reading in year one. It’s really not much more complicated than the lure of planned obsolescence in manufacturing.

    The entire education system is designed not to produce student success, but to produce learning problems that it subsequently grows around. Successful teaching is not what grew education from its original 5 or so years to 13, and it is not what is currently driving K-12 to grow into pre-pre-pre-K to 16. The education system is simply taking kids to the bank, and iatrogenic problems are the best way to do so.

    Most teachers, of course, do not enter education to make children fail, and this is where their conditioning comes in. It’s actually funny when you think about it. Teachers are conditioned, through Skinnerian and Pavlovian and other techniques, first during training and then in unions, to abhor and revile the concept of operant conditioning of children. Hence you see the response that Ann described having to ECRI, which I understand to be a structured reading instruction program that would, inevitably, involve some conditioning techniques, because all successful teaching does. Hell, it’s how we all learn to drive, and how we learn everything else from babyhood up that keeps us safe, alive, socially acceptable, and functioning. Ann’s response to ECRI, however, was not scientific or rational: it was conditioned. This is not an indictment of Ann. ALL teachers are trained to respond like this and to regard the pursuit of failure as success. Only a few are able to overcome their conditioning and then recognize and use effective methods.

    Robin, I admit I have not read your whole blog, so I don’t know if you have recognized the centrality of the reading wars to the material you are covering. If not, you might do some browsing at, where the state of knowledge about reading instruction, relative to its practice in the field, might become evident.

    The question of teaching cannot be reduced to “uses operant conditioning or not.” Conditioning is how we all learn most of what we know and do, so the more important question is WHO is using it to teach WHAT to WHOM. And in teacher training, its use is truly toxic. I have a lot of trouble with anyone who objects to its use for teaching reading, because that person’s invariable and unavoidable agenda is to produce people who cannot read, or who cannot read well.

    If you look at a guy like Neil Sanders, whose videos on YouTube I really enjoy, whether I take them as gospel or not, and, he’s clearly had to READ a lot to put his material together, because Marcuse and Gramsci did not make videos! The ability to discern historical patterns and differentiate reality from what you’re being taught depends utterly on reading. If I don’t believe what Sanders is saying, I can go and check his source material, because I can read.

    Too late to say I won’t belabour this, I suppose, so I hope I’ve said enough to clarify why some people who support your work may be interpreting it as support for an agenda that actually is part of the whole dumbing down. Education is odd and circular and will drive you crazy unless you have the piece in hand about willful underperformance. As an analyst, I was lucky – it was the first one that fell into my hand and first got me thinking 16 years ago.

    • Karin-

      I cannot type much as I got stitches last night after a glass broke as I was washing it. Should have left counter messy.

      My chapter 2 is on reading wars and what is really going on. addresses some but it is about what second tier symbol systems do to brain and its powers.

      I know about willful underperformance as I believe does Ann.

      But my other fingers do not like to type and I really cannot reply more right now.

      • Sorry to hear of your accident, and really no need for an extensive reply. I like the point you tied to on the other post that slaves were not to be taught to read. Exactly. All the more reason to catch and question the anti-reading rhetoric that is so pervasive even among people who think they are part of the solution, but who are actually mistaking the kind of instruction you wrote about doing earlier – teaching kids who are equipped to figure it out for themselves, and do – for effective teaching of reading to kids who are not so equipped.

        • I taught all of my kids to read fluently and phonetically and chnaged the course of their lives without realizing I was doing anything unusual.

          Teachers now are struck by the ability to read words never seen. Sad.

          I also have the ELA language progression that I secured more than 2 years ago hiding on a server outside the US. The intent is to dole out words as desired by fluency is stifled. Unesco has even changed its definition of literacy.

        • Karin-

          Ann wrote a long description to me on the reading research she observed. Since I know where this all leads and what is sought and what is in my head to write as soon as my fingers cooperate, let’s postpone this discussion for about a week.

          Then we can use what I am going to reveal next as the long sought goal from any direction and reading as an example of what had to be prevented and encouraged.

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