Aspiring to Create New Habits of Mind and Mental Models Suitable for A New Culture, Society, and Economy

As far as I know no one from MIT or Harvard stood on the banks of the Charles River holding a rally to jettison what the Systems Thinkers on both campuses call the “dominant rational/experimental model” of Western thought traceable to the Enlightenment. No, that rejection might have drawn attention to the desired shift to an “existentially-oriented approach.” Better to commit such aspirations to print in books and in lectures that only the elected to be Social Change Agents are likely to read or hear. The rest of us are just supposed to be confused when so much emphasis on Learning keeps resulting in ever decreasing levels of knowledge. You’d almost think there was a commitment to wholesale social, political, cultural, and economic change starting at the level of the individual student.

A student whose school activities and assessments and interactions with ICT technology can be used to develop a new Sense of Self. The last post mentioned David W Shaffer and his proposed Pedagogical Praxis for the classroom. Shaffer embraced the theories on Reflective Practice created by an MIT Urban Studies and Education Professor by the name of Donald Schon. He’s the one who did his dissertation on Dewey that I mentioned in the last post. Schon was a proponent of action research in the classroom to gain new mental maps and what Schon called “generative metaphors” that would guide a student’s future behaviors and actions. Remember those Ill-structured tasks we discovered Pearson plans to use in the Common Core and ATC21S and Texas STAAR assessments? Schon gives the reason for the the reliance of ill-structure beyond the social interaction it forces. When a student encounters a problem he regards as unique, Schon recognized the student would see it through the concepts already in his repertoire.

Schon liked that word “repertoire.” You and I can already sense the reason that the 10Cs Model of Diversity Awareness and Social Change pushing race and class oppression is now so popular at Harvard Ed school. Those become Generative Metaphors that influence how unique real world problems will be interpreted by students. And their teachers and administrators. Remember the C3 Social Studies Framework that is now part of the Common Core push and our concern that it was pushing metaphors like Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Thinking that are not factually true? Another useful Schonian Generative Metaphor that will come to be believed as true the more often it is used. Which certainly explains the language in the Framework about wanting students to practice daily with the C3 conceptual lenses.  Supplied Concepts=Generative Metaphor guiding Future Behavior.

It’s all consistent with what Shaffer’s Pedagogical Praxis encourages citing Schon. A student engages in activities at school and acts in daily life and then reflects on the results with peers and mentors. This action followed by inquiry and reflection (my IB Parents will recognize the significance of those terms. Which is why I believe the IB program has essentially become the Advance Guard in gaining implementation of this Action Research model) then becomes the Means for students to gain New Ways of Thinking. The desired outcome from school and daily living with such an experientially-oriented education is that the student will over time Reframe her Identities and Interests in relation to the experiences and the perspectives of others in the community. That’s why the Aspiring Social Change Agents and Theorists are so fond of referring to the Learning Community. School becomes the place where the Group changes the person from the inside-out.

I have written quite a bit about Peter Senge and Systems Thinking and also how the Positive School Climate Executive Order is becoming a means to stealthily shift to a social and emotional learning focus that looks almost precisely like the developmental model to remake human nature Karl Marx described repeatedly. Still as I was tracking the PATHS to PAX  SEL curriculum to a school piloting a Positive School Culture in Arizona, I was surprised to see Senge’s The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook listed as the implementation guide. So schools implementing Positive School Cultures and Climates will be practicing Senge’s Systems Thinking and they may not be going to Camp Snowball to set off alarms of concern among parents. Ah-Oh. Better get a copy of that Fieldbook. Sounds like Systems Thinking is coming to schools everywhere.

So I did and it turns out to have a whole section on the desired new Mental Models for students to fit all the desired Transformative changes in virtually every social system we could list. That would include us if you remember what Senge’s Presencing and MIT lecturer partner Otto Scharmer wrote in his 2010 Seven Acupuncture Points for Shifting Capitalism to Create a Regenerative Ecosystem Economy that I have already written about and linked to. Of course that was before I located that UN IHDP document that said Senge and Scharmer were among the futurists helping to shift education and business practices globally towards the IHDP desired fundamental revision of human behavior. Anyway Scharmer said in that article that the purpose of these new mental models was to allow a “reconnect with the deeper sources of inspiration and Self in order to reinvent both onself and the system.” I think he means all the systems and we should take him at his word on the desired intentions of all these changes and new models of Learning and desires for Irreversible, Second-Order Change we keep hearing about.

Rereading Scharmer’s aspirations as I did yesterday reminded me so much of what Alice Bailey described that I am going to link to that old post if you have never seen it. . I am sure that the fact that the Ford Foundation also created the named chaired professorate Donald Schon held at MIT from 1972 onward is purely coincidental. Since that foundation seems to show up constantly from the 50s to the present to fund desired transformative changes to all our social systems. No wonder our friend Jeannie Oakes went there to head their ed efforts in November 2009 just like we were in the end game and it was time for the final assault.

Back to the Fieldbook and the desire for new mental models (page 237 in my copy). Senge says Mental Models refers to:

“both the semipermanent tacit “maps” of the world which people hold in their long-term memory, and the short-term perceptions people build up as part of their everyday reasoning processes. According to some cognitive theorists, changes in short-term everyday mental models, accumulating over time, will gradually be reflected in changes in long-term deep-seated beliefs.”

Which is of course just the thing desired if you want Transformative Change in future behaviors. So the Reading Wars and the Math Wars and frustrations over integrated math and no more lecturing and the Digital Learning/ICT focus and the Actual Common Core implementation I have been describing all these months and the global ed reforms are all driven by a desire for Action Research on children involving those cognitive theories. Got it? And  Senge then goes on to tell us that “two types of skills are central to this work” of gaining the desired new mental models.

“They are Reflection (slowing down our thinking processes to become more aware of how we form our mental models) and Inquiry (holding conversations where we openly share views and develop knowledge about each other’s assumptions). The techniques we most favor for learning these skills emerged from ‘action science,’ a field of inquiry developed by theorists and educators  Chris Argyris [and he's the link to Harvard's Business and Ed Schools and is cited in Zuboff's book from the last post as a mentor to her]  and Donald Schon.”

I am giving you a break Senge does not give in the Fieldbook where his sentences are too long. He goes on after mentioning Argyris and Schon to say their work is “aimed at exploring the reasoning and attitudes which underlie human action, and producing more effective learning in organizations and other social systems.”

Now when I wrote this post back in August, I speculated that it looked to me like the Harvard Strategic Data Project involved pushing Systems Thinking on participating districts like Fulton and Gwinnett Counties in Metro Atlanta and Charlotte-Meck in North Carolina and Boston Public Schools. Now that we know of Chris Argyris and Schon’s work and its aspirations as action science, there is no question. Students in those districts are being used as guinea pigs to collect data for what Argyris and Schon called Double-Loop learning.  What will it take before the student acquires “new capacity” for different types of behaviors?

Schon wanted people and institutions that were malleable and flexible enough to “become capable of transforming themselves without intolerable disruption.” I would argue that Aurora and Sandy Hook and Columbine may well be warning us that all this SEL/systems focus experimentation that has been going on in some schools and districts for almost 20 years  is in fact intolerable to some personalities. It sure is too coincidental to ignore as the number of districts and students undergoing action science research continues to grow. Common Core will be turning our schools into a giant petri dish of social science action research into what it will take to gain Systems Transformation.

Which is not something an education degree or a Harvard Masters in Public Policy or an Urban Studies degree or a Social Psychology degree should license anyone to do.

To our kids. With our money. To this Great Country. To the rest of the world looking to the US for guidance.

Will Your Schools Be Used as an Information Age Experiment for Economic Democracy?

That title comes out of a 2004 essay published in Columbia’s Teachers College Record laying out the desired “Pedagogical Praxis” to use computers and other ICT technology in the classroom to reinvigorate John Dewey’s 1915 idea of linking school with society. The idea is that we are living in a technological Postindustrial society that calls for different habits of mind and understandings than in the past.  And let there be no doubt, the author, an AI prof by the name of David W Shaffer, said explicitly that “the approach is psychological” and involves the social and moral development of students. Which really does sound like what the Canadians have acknowledged is the real common core being imposed on global education–new values, attitudes, and beliefs. Another prof we will get to today added changed “mores” to that list as well.

Apparently we all need changed beliefs for the 21st century as Goodwin Liu alluded to when he called for something like CCSSI-the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Which is certainly convenient as yesterday a US federal government commission released a report called “For Each and Every Child” that talked about using CCSSI to get the US K-12 “system” to “distribute opportunity equitably” so there would cease to be “disparities in student outcomes.” Now people are different and long-time readers know I have talked a good bit about what Excellence in education really means. See Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi in tags. No you do not have to pronounce his name. Everyone just calls the prof Csik as it is easier. All joking aside Csik’s view of Excellence aligns perfectly with Shaffer’s view of a psychological moral and social development focus in the classroom to change students from the inside out.

Now conveniently this highly intrusive report that reenvisions the Government-Citizen and federal/state/local roles in so many areas that the ground at Montpelier, Va may have shaken yesterday sees technology and its use in the classroom as the key to gaining Equity and Excellence. You probably should check which tech stocks were up yesterday as vendors rejoiced at such an access to taxpayer coffers. OK. Less sarcasm as we hear the call for “technology systems that support learning.” There will be absolutely no references to BF Skinner and his call for using computers to be Teaching Machines delivering Operant Conditioning to the students to benefit the politically connected’s vision for the future. Ooops. Sorry. I guess it was an unconscious response to seeing that word Learning in that federal report since we know it means changes in values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. It’s almost like there is a theme going here.

Now many of the reports and books pushing ICT in the classroom as the primary emphasis cite back to a 1988 book by a Harvard business prof called In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. Such cited support is intended to pave the way for a no questions school ICT implementation mere mortals without a Cambridge pedigree may not question. Unfortunately the systems thinkers at MIT had already, through footnotes, pointed me in Zuboff’s direction. I had her book and knew it aspired to use the new ICT technology and its ability to “informate” as she calls it and not just automate to change the nature of employee-employer work relations. She wants it to move away from hierarchical, managerial relationships in the workplace to collaboration as a “learning community.” So to her ICT is the hoped for avenue to the Democratic Vision in the Workplace and Industrial Democracy and she cites her own work as well as openly socialist labor leaders like Robert Schrank among others.

Which is her privilege but that aspiration for a new society and a new economy rather goes along with her vision for the role of ICT. It goes with the visions of the Equity Commission too given the number of times that report mentioned “levelling the playing field.” It fits with Goodwin Liu’s vision for a social citizenship obligation he wants to see accepted in a new interpretation of the 14th Amendment. So once again the cite to Zuboff merely reenforces our developing sense that the ICT push is not about getting everyone ready for the 21st century. Maybe it’s to get enough people primed to envision a nonhierarchical workplace but that may also not function very well in practice. But how would the typical student know that?

Zuboff tells the stories of numerous plants and companies transitioning away from the world of physical activity to produce products to a computerized production. Now the workers watch a computer screen and many, over time, especially those without a background in the physical production processes, lose touch with the reality those screen images represent. She writes about the disorientation. When I read that passage I immediately reverse engineered the effect on students of the schools pushing virtual reality and gaming and so much use of a computer. Wouldn’t those students likewise come to believe that reality acted much like the simulations they were creating? That the world could be made to behave like the designed models and programs they had been immersed in? Some almost from birth given the ubiquity of screens among the toddler set in the grocery store now.

Isn’t the insistence on using devices and tablets and reflecting popular culture at school just going to prime these students further? Won’t many student have trouble separating real social systems that consist of independent individuals and millions of consumer transactions that are not programs and were never designed from the online models about Society and the Economy and the Ecosystem? Especially since the reformers now want students to spend so much of their school day in virtual worlds too?

That was my concern and then the next step in my pursuit of what is really going on led to a 2009 book–Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America. Now that book is being pushed by some of the biggest names in American education over the last 20 years. It makes no bones about pushing for the fulfillment of Dewey’s dream to use school to change the nature of American society toward economic democracy. It’s as if the entire 20th century nightmare of governments trying to remake human nature and shift the emphasis to the collective that occurred after Dewey wrote his theories never happened. Let’s try again. This time with the magic ICT technology and already industrialized societies instead of agricultural ones.

Do you think that will really make all the difference in likely outcomes? Even if I am alone out on this limb frantically trying to call attention to where the Common Core in the US and education globally is really going? Now Professor James Paul Gee who we met before with his insistence that there really is no such thing as discrete individuals, , is cited in Rethinking Education. The writers are explaining the envisioned push in the classroom for computer gaming that has now become such an unappreciated part of the actual planned Common Core implementation. The idea is that computer “simulation is the key to letting learners explore new situations.” So the computer gets used to let students explore various possibilities for the world of the future. Unfortunately reenforcing beliefs that reality can likewise be redesigned to reflect desired assumptions.

Mentioned among the useful possibilities for video gaming in the classroom is “draw players into roles that may conflict with everyday values and encourage players to notice the gap with their own beliefs.” There are listed war games that will allow the player to “switch sides to take on the perspective of the enemy.” I would assert the enemy is probably not created to reflect reality by people who also push PATHS to PAX SEL programs from our previous post or the Peaceable Classroom. Especially since the purpose of switching sides is to see the “conflict from multiple perspectives.”

Other programs are to involve “local environmental and social issues” where students will be urged to “co-create the world they inhabit.” Market economies and self-policing communities are also mentioned for the virtual world. I will let you guess how realistic the assumptions written into the programs are likely to be. And how many students will really recognize the assumptions factored into what is truly a Designed and Created Social System. That is likely a far cry from the real world the students do have to live in.

Now all this designing and reimagining is about to take us to an MIT prof who seems to function much like the Rosetta Stone for figuring out where all this is going. And we are going back to both Cambridge Cousins and more than one of the graduate programs at both places. And the continued dominance of Systems Thinking. In business and education and apparently, the planners hope, in society itself.

I hate to stop here but our Planning Prof who actually wrote his PhD dissertation in the 50s on John Dewey and his inquiry method is just too important. He came up in too many places we talked about today and deserves his own post.

I feel like humming that tune about being able to see clearly now after rain has come.