Accomplishing One of the Biggest Transformations in Human History Largely Out of Sight

The problem with having an experienced Due Diligence lawyer figuring out what is really going on in an industry is we do tend to blow through ordinary barriers. It is just reflex to figure out who really owns what and where the funding is coming from and who else is connected. Which may make me a pain sometimes in casual conversation but it was darn useful to clients. Now since I have chosen to use writing to explain the connections and why they matter in education and how it relates to planned social, political, and economic transformations globally, let’s get going again. Because with this story, the real question becomes who isn’t affected, not who is.

A book that is probably not on your radar screen that should be came out in 2009 in the UK and 2010 in the US. Called The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger it lays out a vision to “inspire us to create a better society.” It argues that the developed rich countries have “material success and social failure” and that “the broken society and broken economy resulted from the growth of inequality.” Now I would argue that what has broken the rich countries is too much government intervention, like in the mortgage markets, that creates perverse incentives and loads of unintended consequences.

We have discussed before that many economists like Joseph Schumpeter realized that if you keep blaming the ill effects of interventionism on capitalism instead of the reality of cronyism coupled to government coercion, you will steadily get socialism quietly and invisibly. That is precisely what appears to be happening and The Spirit Level is intended to be a key component in creating the desired mindsets and political will for change. Blind, ignorant, but effective change.

Because of its thesis on what is broken and why, the book wants to “shift attention from material standards and economic growth to ways of improving the psychological and social wellbeing of whole societies.” Now that dovetails perfectly with both the UN and OECD’s current global emphasis even though the authors do not say so. As we will see though the dovetailing does have a lot to do with who gets published and why these days and who gets a fat nonfiction advance. And with the merger of Penguin and Random House as of July 1, 2013 that will become even more true. That one entity controls fully a quarter of the world book publishing business and the two previous competitors were frequently the sole bidders on major nonfiction.

Now Penguin is wholly-owned by the largest ed company in the world, Pearson PLC, which is a lot of influence in virtually every area of the information that gets out. If you remember, Pearson’s Chief Ed Advisor is Sir Michael  “Irreversible Change” Barber who thought Global Citizenship would make a nice substitute ideology to guide daily behavior since, he said basically, the Christian religion was no longer compelling and Marx had a bad rep in the 90s. He has his own tag detailing some of these pushes and his links via public meetings to Irina Bokova, head of UNESCO, who currently wants to use Media Education, including digital learning, to drive the planet to Marxist Humanism in the 21st century. Yes, she has said so. See those tags as well. Does she have any connections then to media? Yes, I would say so especially as German media conglomerate Bertelsmann controls 53% of the new publishing company to Penguin’s 47%.

If we quit thinking of socialism and the rest of Uncle Karl’s visions as being about the Kremlin or Mao and begin thinking of it as government led control by connected insiders of the economy and everyone else, what is really going on makes a whole lot more sense. Accurate perception also means we can strategize over both effective defense and offense in the coming years. At the end of the Spirit Level book, the authors remark that “creating the political will to make society more equal is more important than pinning our colours to a particular set of policies to reduce inequality. Political will is dependent on the development of a vision of a better society which is both achievable and inspiring.”

Now creating such political will and vision is Oh So Much easier if the largest ed company in the world owns Penguin which can simply publish such a book and many more.  Then that ed company can have its employees write reports and Forewords like this one just released that push to have digital learning “irresistably engage” students. Software and gaming and assessments “personalized with the goal of unlocking the passion of the learner.” We have discussed before that digital learning can provide expert systems that teach but that is NOT the vision of digital learning actually being pushed. This is to be about behavioral change and the role of the teacher is to be a change agent “trained to focus on the personal experience of the individual student and to help uncover values and motivations.” Which again is darn useful since everyone involved about two levels up from the classroom, if not less, is intent on using education to obtain that political will and impose that social vision and create new values.

So the development of modern technology according to the book “will help us rein in consumerism and ease the introduction of policies to tackle global warming.” It believes “profit-making institutions” will “appear increasingly anti-social” which is highly likely given such media control over education and what gets published as nonfiction in the future. Who needs censorship when so few control so much of what will make it to most human minds as available information? We will likely get more of types of documentaries. Notice that just came out too and is classified as an educational material. Also  notice Equality Trust is preparing curriculum materials for 16-19 year olds and has a June 17, 2013 blog post explaining that we all have a flawed understanding of liberty.

The graduate student writer seems to have the life comprehension skills of someone who has always been supported by someone else as as he wants to define “liberty as the absence of relations of domination and dependence between persons” so “equality and liberty are not in conflict, but are in fact compatible and self-reinforcing concepts.” Honestly, if the government and connected insiders are in charge of making equality for all a fact as they are under all these visions, there will be a whole lot of domination and dependence and it will be hard to escape from. All in the Gutter Together with no ladder up or out. We will be back in the kind of status society referred to previously as feudalism. And we are not being assigned to the Castle with Moat class either. Someone has spent too much time in poli sci and cultural studies classes or reading the Howard Zinn view of history.

The authors are now turning The Spirit Level into a documentary for a planned release in Summer 2014 which will give emotionally compelling visuals for students going into US midterm elections. . The Foreword of the US version of the book was written by former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and the co-sponsor of that Nesta Digital Learning Innovations report is the hugely influential and connected California-based New Schools Venture Fund in case anyone thinks this is only a UK invisible coup. I explained the Marxist Humanist theory of changing attitudes and values here and that post fits with what is being explained in this post as well.

The Spirit Level ends with this rephrasing of Uncle Karl’s vision, still being sought so many years later:

“To sustain the necessary political will, we must remember that it falls to our generation to make one of the biggest transformations in human history. We have seen the rich countries have got to the end of the really important contributions which economic growth can make to the quality of life [they have gone through the requisite technology stage to supposedly make redistribution possible believed Uncle Karl] and also that our future lies in improving the quality of the social environment in our societies.[me again, that's why there is so much emphasis in ed reform on the common good and community] The role of this book is to point out that greater equality is the material foundation on which better social relations are built.”

That certainly is the role of that book and isn’t it helpful Pearson is in a position to publish that book and use digital learning and its role as provider of so much of the curriculum and so many of the assessments to be used with the Common Core and for Texas’ STAAR? In a unique global position to prepare tasks and projects and questions that push that vision and create that political will? That it has a foundation pushing Global Learning in the US with the Asia Society mostly out of sight?

And is there any question whose vision we are about to use education to experiment as to whether better social relations can be built if nobody knows much and education becomes about engaging the passions through activity and visual stimulation?

Should we start a pool on how these transformations are really likely to turn out?

Pulling Up the Moorings Once Again to Transform Reality into the History of Desired Desires

If you want to “create a world where individuals will work even when they know that much of the fruit of their labor will go to those who are less fortunate,” you are going to need to use education to target prevailing social norms. If you believe that Marx’s famous quote “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need” has “morally resonant appeal” and wish to see a future society that does not dismiss that appeal “out of hand as mere sloganeering,” a perch as a World Bank economist is a tremendous platform to try to go about making it so. 21st Century Learning, perhaps?

It especially helps if you have a good working relationship with a Nobel Prize winning economist who wants to reframe economics in terms of Individual and especially Group Identity. And that economist, George Akerlof, in a 2010 book Identity Economics, recognized the value of his theories on education as the premier social institution with influence on almost everyone. An enduring influence on “what people care about, and how much they care about it.” A good working definition of Identity is values, beliefs and emotional commitments. Probably not coincidentally, precisely what the actual Common Core implementation targets for change. Which is interesting as Identity Economics defines “good schools” as those that “transform students’ identities and norms.”

Almost precisely like Transformational Outcomes Based Education sought to do in the 90s version of these education reforms. Names change but never really the goals. One of the aspects of Common Core that is consistent throughout but in the small print is its stated desire to create ‘habits of mind.” Think of those as unconscious reflexes. Now compare with Akerlof’s recognition that people “act as they do, naturally and without question, mostly out of habit. They are products of their social environment and unaware they might have behaved differently.” Remember also schools are a social environment of long duration.

So if you can use education, preschool, K-12, or higher ed (all of the above is even nicer to a future Transformationist) to create the desired feelings and values and influential conceptual understandings that filter daily life you can go a long way toward changing the future. Especially if you also rely on another insight from social psychology Akerlof points out: “individuals’ behavior depends on who people think they are.” So effective schools should get at Identity and define it in politically useful ways. Early and often. Like Chicago voting.

Now to do all that a theory of psychology based on a philosophy built on changing the nature of things in the real world would be very useful. And a factual theory of knowledge devoted to understanding the nature of things would be an obstacle because it would accept the world as it is. And maybe even keep a fondness for the past. Which would be in the way of someone who wanted to create a Worldview around his belief that:

“life is activity and to live means to satisfy one’s desires. Life is experienced as Desire: it is through desires that the subject realizes the discrepancy between the world as it is and the world he would like to have.”

Now I would assert that all of the mentions today that education must be Relevant and Engaging and about Real-World problems are merely a more subtle means of achieving that driving emphasis built on Desire. To change the world to something new. And if UK Professor Ivan Markova  wrote in 1982 that the twin Hegelian themes of activity and creativity in the acquisition of knowledge “have been emerging in various forms in social, clinical, and developmental psychology for some time and, quite probably without the knowledge of the authors concerned, that they have been reflecting Hegel’s philosophy.”

If those pros were unaware, what about now? Hegel’s philosophy is obviously a touchy subject to have as a foundation. A Soviet heritage is bad enough but tracking even further back to a common ancestry with what launched two World Wars and the Holocaust is undeniably even worse. And if the psychologists in 1982 were unlikely to know this history, how much less likely is it that a teacher or principal or administrator or politician know about this background to student-centered learning? To launder a notorious heritage you simply make it a basis for the amorphous terms “pedagogy” and “Best Practices” and “Constructivism” and then pronounce it as a better way to learn. Grounded in emotion is an easier way to remember and you simply leave out Hegel’s desire to bring values and human experience into how all science is done.

And since few know of the linkage back to Hegel, modern 21st century educators cannot rely on Scottish novelist and statesman Robert Buchan’s excellent advice from more than 100 years ago.  “A man who has been nourished on German metaphysics should make a point of expressing his thoughts in plain workaday English, for the technical terms of German philosophy have a kind of hypnotic power; they create a world remote from common reality where reconciliations and synthesis flow as smoothly and with as little meaning as in an opiate dream.” And you are wondering what does metaphysics have to to with Identity Economics and the Common Core?

Oh, you know the changing conceptualizations students are to be taught as they ignore obvious characteristics and look for new “cause-effect relationships”? Even something like RECAST, Revealing Causal Structures, that we have talked about is ultimately grounded in Hegel’s Conceptual Frameworks. Or CORE-Cognitive Reorganization. With his name left off and no warning that these are aspirational theories designed to alter current reality. When we talk of providing the Enduring Understandings that will frame everyday experiences, that’s Hegel’s insight on the usefulness to a change philosophy if education were to now be built around the recognition that “implicit presuppositions and conceptual frameworks do determine what is observed.”

Hegel so wanted to shake human consciousness that he talked about the importance of wars in human history. And pointed out that a “person has to go through disturbing experiences personally in order to grow as a person.” Which reminded me of precisely the curricula Bill Ayers and Maxine Greene and Nel Noddings were all describing in this post as necessary for “real moral growth.”

The idea of using activity and interactions with others to achieve personal growth is also Hegel. Which means the criteria of Student Growth that the US federal DoEd is requiring that teacher evals be based on ultimately tracks back to Hegel and his theories on how to change consciousness. Moreover, a change in values, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings or a willingness to apply new concepts constitutes Student Growth. And usefully for the economists that started this post that would also be a useful change in Identity and over time prevailing norms.

I could walk you through how an Indeterminate Situation with no fixed linear answer as those Pearson assessments I have described fits within the kind of higher-order thinking that changed consciousness that Hegel described as Synthesis. What the Hewlett Foundation calls Deep Learning. But I believe you get my point that the overlap is high. The book is called Paradigms, Thought, and Language if you too want to immerse yourself in all the Hegelian foundations of what we are calling the Common Core. Or try to dispute all these troubling implications. Remember in the last post when the advocates for Vygotsky sought to assert that these theories need not result in totalitarianism? Showing the history was very much on their minds even if no one is giving us the heads up on the dangers of what we are mandating in our K-12 classrooms. This is how Markova ended her book:

“In all other areas of psychology the Hegelian framework will undoubtedly be the one with the future, and Hegel’s philosophy will prove a deep source of inspiration. Finally a word of caution…action can be sinister if based on non-recognition of the other person as a human being. The future of mankind depends on taking actions in which human beings mutually recognize each other as human beings.”

So are people basically good as so many of these philosophers and economists want to believe? Will we remember the lessons of history before we once again light this Hegelian powder keg for achieving social change?

I suggest we remember another turn of the 20th century insight when these German ideas were first exploding onto the world stage. It’s from a novel by the same Robert Buchan where his character wisely notes:

” You think a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Satan.”

The actual Common Core implementation and the intent of its assessments and the accompanying economic, social, and political transformations go far beyond a touch or a push.

Shoving into the abyss is more like it regardless of anyone’s good intentions. And without much accurate actual knowledge and a deliberate cultivation of a desire for change, there does not even seem to be a parachute or a tool to catch a ledge.

Throwing an Invisibility Cloak Over the Classroom to Get to Dewey’s Participatory Social Inquiry

The IHDP report from 2011 laying out the use of education “reforms” all over the world to shift all of us towards Societal Change talks about the need of a “positive vision for the future” to mobilize global society toward a perceived “common good.” And yes it is more along the lines of what Paul Ehrlich will pick than anything you or I would freely choose. Listed motivating possibilities for visions include:

“sustainability technologies (non-fossil fuel automobiles, LED light bulbs, geothermal power), policies (the wide scale introduction of policies to promote renewables, recycling and reuse), new strategies and methods for education that foster understanding and practice for sustainability and equity, or innovative approaches to creating synergy between environmental and economic concerns.”

Boy those do sound familiar, don’t they? Interestingly enough in order to deal with these contemplated “environmental and global change challenges,” schools get called in again– “more inclusive ways of knowing are required to bring together the partial and incomplete perspectives of different actors faced with uncertainty, diversity and change.” The more diverse the group of people who can be brought together to problem solve these “new, emerging and complex issues” the more knowledge, experiences, and values that can go into the consensus developed to impose on everyone.

That would Change the World based on theories first despite uncertain and potentially risky and speculative global or local problems. IHDP seems to grasp that tentativeness and recommends using “emotionally connective forms” of media to get ideas across. I guess that’s because spectacular graphics can trump any uncertainty. Now I have a good idea what is planned for getting to Equity because I have read Jeannie Oakes among others (and getting that diverse group into a classroom may be why most of the no tracking “scholarship” tracks back to her). Oakes laid out precisely how Participatory Social Inquiry in Urban Schools is to work. She points out that “equal terms” education conflicts “deeply with a long history of White supremacy and the fundamental norms and power distribution of democratic capitalism.”

I just want you to appreciate now how Open-Ended Performance Assessments calling for real-life scenarios will come in handy for this Equity agenda. The one that aims to move all of us toward a “democracy in which people of all races and social classes engage “on equal terms” to learn from one another as they make decisions about how to live and work together.”

So if you are in a high poverty school everything wrong gets blamed on capitalism and racism and nothing involves any poor personal behavior. Not a contributing factor at all. More upscale schools should be made to feel guilty about any privilege and there’s always Sustainability and lots of other scenarios to push the need for fundamental changes to everyday behaviors. And with online curricula and online assessments, it will be quite hard to see any of this going on. Perfect way to bring in IB’s Critical Thinking and Barber’s Global Citizenship too. You as parents and taxpayers will not be able to see these changes. Just ask anyone in Texas about the controversies over the C Scope curriculum where school kids were told to draw a flag for an imagined socialist country as a classroom activity. Concerned parents were told the curriculum was private and they had no right to learn what their children were being asked to do or believe in the classroom.

Now I have mentioned that Pearson is involved with the Texas and both Common Core assessments. So the fact  that in 2012 Pearson assessment said all of these assessments were actually assessing 21st Century Skills should interest all of us. They say that the US National Research Council says that’s what college and career readiness means. Which would explain why David Conley’s 2007 report reminded me of the 21st century skills push. It also means that our assessments are really just looking for those listed Life Skills from the last post. That’s a low bar and gives all sorts of flexibility for what can go on in the classroom. But wait, it gets even better. One of the skills that will need to be assessed is collaboration. Which implicates Albert Bandura’s Self-efficacy from the last post. I would snark what are the odds but it was checking for a link among Bandura, Pearson, and the Common Core explicitly that turned up this fascinating report.

Here’s what I found so fascinating especially in light of those IHDP aspirations. Pearson wants open-ended tasks to assess 21st century skills in authentic real-world problem contexts. And these tasks are to be done as a group in order to assess collaboration. And if the tasks were “obvious” or “unambiguous” there would be “few opportunities to observe student negotiation because there is nothing about which to disagree.” Tasks “relying on:

“stimulus materials designed to evoke cognitive conflict (ie, that reflected uncertainty, ambiguity, disorganization, and contradiction) better elicited critical thinking skills than tasks that used stimulus materials that were orderly, well-organized, and coherent.”

You know these quotes really are going to take the fun and comfort out of being told your child is doing well at school and has excellent “higher-order skills.” Instead, she may be stewing in frustration with “ill-structured” problems deliberately created because they:

“have no clearly defined parameters, no clear solution strategies, and either more than one correct solution, or multiple ways of arriving at an acceptable solution.”

Are you like me wondering why no one is being honest that these so-called tests are actually just a means of getting to a Social Interaction classroom centered around Social Justice without saying so? The tasks are deliberately laid out to require “knowledge, information, skills, and strategies that no single individual is likely to possess.” Then Norman Webb of the Depth of Knowledge template Florida and Texas and PARCC and SBAC all admit to using is cited as saying “when ill-structured tasks are used, all group members are more likely to participate actively, even in groups featuring a range of student ability.”

And that’s the whole point beyond using the assessment to drive classroom activities to create a perceived need for Global Transformation–politically, economically, and socially starting at the level of the individual student. “Groups featuring a range of student ability” will limit the top-performers from soaring as they were able to do in the transmission of knowledge classroom. They do not get to keep getting mentally stronger. And the able student’s strengths will mask a great deal of weaknesses. Leaving those students free to focus on the injustice and unfairness of it all.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s when these performance assessments were first proposed they were called alternative measures to boost graduation rates and show student “growth” even though there was very little knowledge and most of the changes were values, attitudes, and beliefs. And the university research center that has always pushed for some alternative to normed-standardized testing in the schools going back decades is CRESST at UCLA. The same UCLA where Jeannie Oakes was an education prof when she wrote the book I quoted from above. CRESST has been getting Gates Foundation funding to help prepare Common Core curricula and assessments. How convenient is that?

In January 2013 CRESST released a report “On the Road to Assessing Deeper Learning” on the status of both SBAC and PARCC. This report though was funded by the Hewlett Foundation. That would be the same Hewlett Foundation that has a Deeper Learning initiative to guide the classroom implementation of the Common Core. The one that says Common Core is not about content but new assessments and curricula and classroom interactions. The same Deeper Learning that is part of that Self-efficacy Equity Framework I mentioned in the last post.

Yet more proof that what is coming to our classrooms everywhere is not what we have been told. Toward the end of the book, Jeannie Oakes mentions:

“we step into utopian realms gingerly, knowing that social movements have the power for good and ill associated with all utopian projects. We are also well aware that some social movement scholars caution that such efforts rarely achieve the virtuous ends they seek. Nevertheless, we believe that, given the current threats to our democracy, these risks are all worth taking.”

Now, that’s mighty presumptuous of her and the other professors and foundations involved in all this. Nobody told us the Common Core was about a Journey to a possible Utopia.