Do you remember the decal from the Ghostbusters movies with the Ghost within the circle with a line struck through it? In the 90s excited high school students participating in an Educational Testing Service (the famous and lucrative ETS based in Princeton) Systems Thinking and Curriculum Innovation–STACI–Project (with ties to Harvard, MIT, and Stanford just like today’s Curriculum Redesign) using computers and simulation software came up with a graphically similar “No More Funnels” decal. These Tucson students in the same Sunnyside School District where the League of Innovative Schools had their annual conference last week celebrated the rejection of the “system of education that uses teachers as the dispensers of knowledge, dumping information into students’ heads for the purpose of regurgitating those facts onto tests, after which they promptly forget what they have learned.”
Now I have heard virtually the same verbatim sales pitch before from principals and administrators selling a school or district’s shift to constructivism many times before. Every time I hear it I know the speaker was a poor student who wants everyone to reject the importance of what they were lousy at. Honestly though there is tremendous irony in celebrating “no more funnels” in a school district that has been longitudinally tracking all students, including motivation, in order to reliably create a designed mental keel. Instead of a funnel effect that leaves each student free to build up their own understandings of how the world works and a teacher or professor to monitor whether those concepts are brilliant, confused, or just parroting others, the students get their internal mental images, associations, and concepts examined. Precisely in the manner envisioned and hoped for by Piotr Galperin in his Soviet research over decades and sought under that cybernetic theory of control we keep running into.
This is from a 1994 book on the STACI Project and its use of Jay Forester’s modelling World Dynamics software modified for the K-12 classroom as STELLA–Structural Thinking Experiential Learning Laboratory with Animation. Just the thing in other words to successfully join in reliable, replicable ways the inner representations of physical image, associated relationships, and conceptual understandings. The book’s title was Classroom Dynamics: Implementing a Technology-Based Learning Environment and it was very much a learning environment of the sort envisioned under obuchenie psychological theories. As far as I know no one is calling this STACI Project How to Get Inside Each Student’s Mental Black Box for Lasting Results, but that’s the intention.
No wonder so many radical ed reforms around 21st century skills and systems thinking are tied to the Tucson area–25 years of longitudinal data being thrown off by computers and crunched and analyzed by ETS in its quest for equity in education. Here’s what the book says is targeted in the “No funnels” classroom:
“In the learner-centered environment the focus of instruction is on procedural knowledge and general problem solving skills, rather than on declarative knowledge and rote learning. Furthermore, environments such as those created by the systems thinking approach shift the focus of instruction to real-world applications and problems. In doing so, learning is concretized, rather than dealing with abstractions that have little apparent relevance to anything. Finally, a computer-based curriculum innovation project can diminish ‘teacher talk’ and provide students with opportunities for individual and group intellectual exploration.”
Concrete then means those mental representations remain tied to real world events and applications, increasing the likelihood that the inner beliefs will produce the desired future behavior to take transformational action. That internal keel from the last post is also influenced by the constant desire to take the way physical systems operate and apply the concepts to human or social systems or real world phenomena like war, conflict, or the economy. Perception of reality gets predictably influenced by the conceptual ‘lenses’ being supplied by teachers or virtual reality or gaming software, even if a well-informed expert in the area of transfer would immediately recognize the comparison is inapt. Without funneling, few students will. Remember to a social schemer with intentions for radical transformation there is “nothing as valuable as a good theory.” Or simulation of supposed systems to amend the slogan to 21st century intentions.
So now we know why the White House sponsored League of Innovative Schools chose Tucson. It was NOT the Titan Missile Museum or the chance to see saguaro cactus. What is so fascinating to me though is that ETS began actively looking for a curriculum innovation to push “higher order thinking skills” back in the mid-80s, soon after Galperin’s research became available in English. The 1994 book was quite graphic that students were being taught to visualize systems so it will change how they view the world. Since I knew that ETS also funded the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education from 2011 to 2013, I wondered if the Commission’s work dovetailed with what I am calling this shift to an obuchenie mindset being cultivated in the student.
First of all, it turns out that one of Edmund Gordon’s mentors, the psychologist Bob Glaser, is the same person whose phrase for the new purpose of education–”developmental theory of performance change”–led me to James Raven and the socio-cybernetics aspirations we encountered in the last post. The Gordon Commission in its February 2012 newsletter stated it was looking for “a bifocal and bi-directional” teaching and learning process (aka dialectical). The vision is “less focused on what we want learners to know and do, and are more sharply focused on what it is that we want learners to become, to be disposed toward, and to be (i.e., thinking and compassionate human beings).”
No funnels, just that invisible mental and psychological keel again. Rejecting the traditional emphasis on “scholastic abilities,” students are to have “intellective competence.” If that sounds vague, it is supposedly the necessary focus for education “with equity and justice at its core.” Once again, we are requiring a shift in emphasis to cultivating non-Axemaker Minds while arguing it’s a fulfillment of social justice obligations and civil rights law requirements to provide opportunity for all. Gordon defined this intellective competence back in 2001 as a “way of adapting, appreciating, knowing, and understanding the phenomena of human experience through the domains of cognitive, affective, and situative competence.” Sounds like consciously cultivated stupidity to me, but I suppose that works better given the kind of social transformation plans we keep encountering. If you are in Vienna in late April, you may want to go to this conference and join in the planning.http://emcsr.net/general-information/
Just how very low this “intellective competence” goal actually is gets hidden by asserting the now acquired ability to “engage and solve quotidian, as well as novel, problems adaptively.” Quotidian sounds most impressive until we look it up in the dictionary and see it translates into everyday problems. Somewhat akin to putting the basketball goal at 5 feet and celebrating everyone’s ability to suddenly dunk. We could call it Basketball for Excellence or Success for All. Gordon did admit though that what is driving him, and one can assume ETS as well since it bankrolled the Commission, is his desire for “developmental democratization” and measures of student achievement not tied to “hegemonic indicators of developed ability.” Those are the intentions behind Gordon and ETS’s beliefs about what should be measured in students.
So when you hear the words Growth or Achievement it may reflect computer gaming or group project participation with a change in values and beliefs as the focus. It may mean that the student’s internal representations brought from home and the interactions within a family have now been successfully altered in a student urged to show Grit and Perseverence in novel and ambiguous real world scenarios where there is no right answer and Cognitive Dissonance may be the intention of the scenario. The student may be showing they view all the world including other people as systems that can be gutted and redesigned to see if a better world is possible. As if all things smashed can be reglued after impact.
Or that cited higher achievement or Growth may reflect Edmund Gordon’s hope for an intellective competence focus. Then the assessment might be measuring “the effective orchestration of affective, cognition, and situative processes in the interest of intentional human agency. I place affect first for reasons other than respect for alphabetical order. Human activity appears to begin with affect, and I have come to believe that while cognition ultimately informs affect, it is affect that gives rise to cognitive functions.”
That’s the developmental obuchenie focus that the banner of the Common Core is obscuring. It’s coming in at various rates depending on the venality of consultants and administrators or their naivete. Peter Senge’s version may be more famous, but Spence Rogers’ Teaching for Excellence is another example of the Change the Student focus. That’s why teacher development is so crucial. It’s also the real reason teacher tenure rules are being targeted. Compliance with the developmental vision is required.
Only the time schedule and extent of the frenzy to implement varies now.
No more funnels. Just internal keels to steer with. With no need for consent.
Should we call this all totalitarian education?