To the extent education reforms going on globally in K-12 and higher ed are even on people’s radar, most observers still believe the dispute is over how to best transmit knowledge. And who gets to decide the type of knowledge that is needed. It is hugely convenient for the advocates of wholesale social, economic, and political transformation in the 21st century that we all continue to misapprehend the nature of the actual debate and the tools being used to drive the desired individual and cultural changes. To help us all bridge the gap between what we expect from schools and higher ed and what these reforms intend to actually do to our children and us, I am going to use quotes from 3 people whose work is at the center of the current transformation globally.
Quoting what they say the political purpose of their work is because it still attaches even if neither we nor the Principal or the legislators or the Governor are aware of those actual purposes. Or what PISA is really measuring. Farthest back in time is from a book by the chief architect of the communitarianism component, Amitai Etzioni. Back in 1983 he wrote:
“schools must first and foremost graduate individuals who can function on their own while relating constructively to one another (mutuality) and to their community (civility). Such individuals, properly ‘put together’ from a psychosocial viewpoint, will have the most important characteristics workplaces require. Moreover, I recognize that schools need to educate for other values than work, such as culture and citizenship.”
That would be the purpose that now gets hidden under the euphemism “College and Career Ready.” And the ‘culture’ and ‘citizenship’ students are being groomed for is grounded in the transformative vision of the future to prime the students to take action to help bring the new world into being. The great advantage of deemphasizing textbooks and lectures and mandating virtual reality gaming as assessment or using group collaboration around the ambiguous real-world grounded “wicked decision problems” from the last post is we are creating young people who will have the right to vote with virtually no capacity to anticipate even the likely consequences of the transformative actions being taken. The insider phrase for this new emphasis of “skilled in the fundamental pragmatics of life” gets omitted from the public sales pitch as too accurate to be acceptable.
Let there be no impediment to future action and let the actions be grounded in the cultivated feelings and values and attitudes that live in the unconscious regions of the self could easily be the new motto of global ed reforms. Let’s move on to Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum who we first met here. http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/isnt-it-political-sabotage-to-use-education-to-eliminate-the-assumption-that-students-are-individuals/ Her work on capability as a human right has increasingly caught the OECD’s and the UN’s attention as the appropriate theoretical vehicle to push for a public sector dominant society and a new kind of welfare state for the 21st century. Apparently we are not supposed to notice the marked resemblance of capability theory to Uncle Karl’s human development theory of the future.
Proponents of stealth transformation via education better hope then that no one reads this passage in Nussbaum’s 2011 book:
“ponder what is implicit in human dignity and a life in accordance with it…Marx’s vivid descriptions of forms of labor that allow continued life, but not a fully human life, resonate the world over. The notion of life in accordance with human dignity is one of the most fertile ideas used in worldwide constitutional jurisprudence.” Ahh, tenured academia–where the term Marx is actually not a pejorative insult but a still revered architect of future ways of organizing life and a society. Later, Nussbaum kindly tells us why it is so important now to have a Whole Child, social focus that grounds all thought in emotion and then uses new assessments to both drive and measure how schools are doing in driving such “growth.” It is “how we might cultivate the helpful sentiments in a socially propitious way.” Those would be the sentiments that will hopefully ground the actions for transformative change with again little ability to recognize likely disasters that would be apparent to anyone with a solid knowledge of history.
Nussbaum goes on in a passage that also primes the vision of Bruno Latour, who we meet next. In the future, political power is deemed to drive all. This is a little long but too revealing not to use:
“politicians can build a public culture that puts altruism and the relief of misery at it core. …An account of the emotions of citizens in a decent society is urgently needed.
This task involves thinking about the family, about social norms, about schools, and about the ways in which political institutions create incentives. It also requires conceptual thought about the emotions, how they arise and unfold, what their structure is, and how they interact with one another.”
In other words, the survey Nussbaum says is needed is precisely what the White House-pushed League of Innovative Schools and the EdLeader21 suburban US school districts have now agreed to research and gather data on. Not to mention all the data being thrown off by the Executive Order mandating Positive School Climates or requiring Positive Behavioral programs for all students under an indefensible reading of federal disabilities law or via adaptive software programs used in the digital learning juggernaut. You’d almost think Professor Nussbaum knew people in DC who could help drive her theories along.
Now Bruno Latour is a name familiar to me because of his role in the ‘science wars’ of the 90s. Plus he is a hugely popular choice as a campus speaker now. A French sociologist. So when I saw a 2004 book of his cited–Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy–that Harvard published, I thought we could gain more insights. Confirmation that what is being billed now as ‘innovation’ is really a push for sociological experimentation. A truly shocking book for Harvard to have embraced and for the French government to have originally funded. Reading that the “social sciences would finally become scientific if they agreed ‘to treat humans as things” made me feel like I had slipped into a Hollywood script for a science fiction mini-series. No such luck though. These are real and current aspirations we are dealing with.
The constant references I have located now to new kinds of minds and Growth Mindsets to be psychologically healthy and verbatim references to encouraging ‘dialectical thinking” (shouldn’t computer programs come with a search function that pipes up “do you REALLY want to use that word?”) should be seen through Latour’s blueprint of how we are to now be moving towards the “progressive composition of the good common world.” Not to freak you out, although I did spend the better part of yesterday with my mind racing and hands trembling, but Latour really does talk in terms of “once the collective has been assembled.” He writes of no more distinction between “interests’ and ‘politics’ or ‘nature’ and ‘politics.’ Instead, there is just political power that engages in a ‘groping process’ to ‘deal with matters of human concern.’ These new associations will unabashedly experiment with new ways of living and organizing society using 3 powers: “the power to take into account,” the “power to put in order,” and the “power to follow up.”
Roughly translated that seems to be public officials deciding what to do, then how to do it, and then examining how they did and considering what to do next. All as if public dollars will always be there for the asking to pay for such social transformations even though everything that has ever produced economic wealth is being squelched to get the mindsets that will go along. Justifying statism in the name of equality and justice is another way of looking at this genuine aspiration. That gets linked to the Common Core and other global ed reforms because they are all seeking precisely the same kinds of minds and values that Latour believes are needed and the OECD now counts as Competencies and government officials are calling “higher order thinking skills’ created by “rigor” in the classroom.
Latour actually believes like John Dewey that such a concentration of political power and binding all citizens to the results of majority will (that is in turn cultivated by what is to go on in schools and universities) need not lead to totalitarinism. He really says that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union simply had the wrong kind of politics and vision injected into their collective decision-making. I am thinking that tenure and being able to live at public expense or courtesy of untaxed endowments held by universities and charitable foundations has seriously left way too many influential people who already have utterly no conception of likely consequences.
Too much theory and not enough reality apparently is possible now on many a campus, think-tank, foundation, or government agency and it shows thoroughly in what is being pushed on all of us.
Who pay the bills and who are to have nowhere to turn if these visions continue to advance via education and cultural transformation.
Reality and Consequences do not care. If the likely consequences appear to be a nightmare, remember the unforeseeable ones we will also encounter.
Instead of cultivating new conceptual lenses and minds for students, we need to impose reality checks on a whole lot of adult professors and bureaucrats and politicians.