When I looked into Tim O’Reilly, whose company was touting the Haunted by Data video from the last post, he turned out to be a great admirer of a professor Alfred Korzybski. Now that was a new name on my horizon, but his point that the brain’s neural networks, coupled to available language, constrain how each of us interprets our experiences, was not new at all. It fits with Classic systems thinking as well as the reason for Whole Language reading instruction under its various names. There is a story told about Korzybski that fits right into why transformationalists want to Frame Orientation via a “Well-Organized Mind.” Here goes:
“One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit. ‘Nice biscuit, don’t you think,’ said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog’s head and the words ‘Dog Cookies.’ The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet. ‘You see,’ Korzybski remarked, ‘I have just demonstrated that people don’t just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter.’”
False narratives can make Dog Biscuits seem palatable and turn actual healthy practices into something we avoid at all costs. Just the tool if transformational economic, social, and economic change are sought, but being open and overt would likely result in effective opposition. In 1968 the US Office of Education awarded SRI International at Stanford an Educational Policy Research Center grant to “investigate alternative future possibilities for the society and their implications for education policy.” The resulting scenarios were later written up with this 1973 quote from a Fred Polak being a lead epigraph to frame the plans:
“Awareness of ideal values is the first step in the conscious creation of images of the future and therefore the creation of culture, for a value is by definition that which guides toward a valued future…”
If that seems a bit scifi and premeditated, the actual study stated that its specific purpose was “to chart, insofar as possible, what changes in the conceptual premises underlying Western society would lead to a desirable future.” Well, that purpose certainly puts a new spin on what the acronym NAEP–National Assessment of Educational Progress–was really planning to monitor when it was created in the same time frame. Perhaps we should just start assuming that when it comes to K-12 education, in the US and globally, false narratives are the norm and have been for decades. Last Friday I was at a False Narrative Extravaganza being billed as the Fulton/Atlanta School Justice Partnership Summit “Pipelines to Pathways: The Problem, the Solutions, the Actions.”
Transformation Ready to Proceed, in other words, and it was full of influential people from lots of Atlanta police officers, Georgia Supreme Court justices, juvenile justice judges and administrators and school district officials. The ‘incarcerated by their minds’ comment was actually from the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice about needing to shift the focus from punishment to “reform, reshape, and rehabilitate those individuals [juvenile offenders] to become productive citizens.” It was a prelude to a presentation by a Georgia DoED Deputy Super and a former school psychologist, Dr. Garry McGiboney, called “Changing the Conversation About Student Discipline” to promote PBIS and Positive School Climate [see tags for previous posts on point] as “what it takes to heal these broken kids.”
‘Broken’ because they are growing up in “unsafe environments and unstable homes.” After all “people and their environment are NOT separate things,” according to Dr McGiboney. “Behavior is a function of the person and their environment,” and to reiterate the point, McGiboney cited notorious Frankfurt School social psychologist Kurt Lewin [tag] as having created a formula for change. To make things even more interesting, False Attribution Theory then came in (by name) as Dr McGiboney complained that too many administrators looked to “understand the behavior of others by attributing causation to feelings, beliefs, intentions, and personality” instead of the “situational contexts” kids have grown up under. “Attribution of cause” affects the “doled out consequences”.
So if someone who grew up in bad circumstances misbehaves at school, their poor behavior gets excused as due to “environment.” Children who grew up in better circumstances and behave well in the classroom nevertheless need PBIS in every classroom and a Positive School Climate in every school so their values, feelings, beliefs, intentions, personality, attitudes, etc. can all be targeted and rearranged by the school. I guess if a student is not Incarcerated by their Mind when they come to school, they certainly will be by the end of a preschool and K-12 grounded in these psychological and mental health practices. Dr McGiboney actually sold this as “school climate matters to student outcomes.” Well, of course it does since SEL is now a crucial component of how ‘learning,’ Growth, and ‘student outcomes’ are measured.
The audience would not know that though and simply listening to the presentation they would believe that PBIS and Positive School Climate were nifty Georgia ideas and not federal mandates and requirements under Georgia’s NCLB federal waiver. Not to pick on Dr McGiboney, but I was down at the State DoED the day after they got that federal waiver. State officials that day did not seem too happy I knew that the School Climate Center guidelines required schools to have a social justice emphasis. What can I say? I read a lot. That is also how I know that all the hype about how PBIS and Positive School Climates will help reading achievement contradicts Georgia’s NCLB waiver. As I noted in my book, it explicitly made sure that an inability to read would no longer be a basis for holding a student back from promotion.
That’s one way to increase graduation rates, huh? Dr McGiboney closed with a truly poignant story about a potential suicide incident at a high school that was physically in terrible shape–dirty, broken windows–, in other words, a terrible physical environment. He related that the girl asked him if “he believed in unicorns” and he said yes, because he believed she needed to hear that. Years later, she reached out to him and talked about how she had pulled it together and lived a successful adult life. Her turnaround and the importance of environment then once again became the pitch for PBIS and Positive School Climate.
PBIS, Restorative Justice, Positive School Climate, and social and emotional learning generally are all targeting the personality and values. Tragic story and lots of false narratives used to sell something as a good idea that is actually another way of pushing the UNESCO vision we met in the last post without admitting that. Few in the audience understood that these measures are not in addition to an academic focus. They are actually a substitution for it as the new purpose of school and education. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3744335/pdf/nihms-493001.pdf , supported by multiple federal agencies and grants, confesses the intention to blur the distinction between student learning and mental health outcomes. All are deemed part of student success.
In 1987, then Princeton Professor and now President of the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania, Amy Gutmann, published a book–Democratic Education. It laid out a new vision for K-12 and higher education and worried about the still prevalent and “well-intentioned misperception that [teachers'] obligation is to impart knowledge, not to develop the moral character of their students.” It is my belief that all these various rationales we keep encountering on why all schools must use PBIS as a core component in each classroom and Positive School Climate practices in every school attempt to stealthily use the law as an enforcer. The required agenda is actually the UNESCO vision as well as what Gutmann laid out as the necessary right of the State “to shape the political values, attitudes, and modes of behavior of future citizens.”
Hide it under the alluring title of “Character development” as well. http://character.org/ Everyone knows too many kids now have deficits in this area. Selling this political agenda honestly would create objections. So we get all these false narratives and problems where the offered solutions are always headed in the same direction. Change the student at the level of their mind and personality. Call it conscious social reproduction and insist that it is about altering the future, just like SRI also had in mind. If the phrase Incarcerated by their Minds still seems a bit strong, how should we describe this intent: “To cultivate in children the character that feels the force of right reason is an essential purpose of education in any society.”
This is Guttmann’s vision of conscious social reproduction and its ties to education. Every child must be educated “to be capable of participating in collectively shaping their society.” She does believe in the ability of the majority to bind everyone as long as each person gets to participate in policy deliberations. Public policy directs society and the economy. People have a human right to have their needs met. In Dr. McGiboney’s vision where environment is all, there should then be no more ‘disruptive behaviors.’ Back to Gutmann, we have all schools, public and private, with an obligation to create “a set of secular beliefs, habits, and ways of thinking that support democratic deliberation …compatible with a wide variety of religious commitments.” Parents have no right to object either.
I am closing this post with the disclaimer I do not know who at that Summit was aware of the broader agenda I have covered in this post. Because the vision though fits precisely with where the UN has said we are all going by 2030, my guess is a few are aware this is all a sales pitch backward mapping from desired transformations to get to a new vision of the future. It is also Atlanta, home of the new Civil and Human Rights museum, so it is probably not a coincidence Gutmann’s vision ties so tightly to what Martin Luther King called the “Beloved Community” [tag] vision for the future.
Pipelines to Prison and School Discipline Problems in 2015 have been worsened by these previous educational reforms that had no interest in teaching reading or math properly. Now tragic bad individual behaviors are selling a vision where school and education are not really about knowledge in the traditional sense at all.
I simply want all of us to be able to recognize a Dog Biscuit, whatever it is being called, before we take that first bite.