Desiring a Radical Dialectic Change in Social Reality Necessitates Enduring Misunderstandings

Why is there nothing as practical as a good theory? Why do I mention annoyingly named theories like “Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete” or Engestrom’s Learning by Expansion? Am I playing, look what I know? No, two reasons require such specificity. The first is the gravity of what I have been explaining on this blog. As an avid reader, I get that these truths sound a bit like the plot to a B-Grade thriller. But sometimes the truth really does trump the acceptable storylines of even an imaginative fiction writer. Trust me, you are not the only one with an “Are you kidding me?” response to all these revelations. Especially how all these links to Soviet pedagogy and psychology and philosophy just keep appearing. Since that is not what I am looking for, the constant appearances must have something to do with creating a consciousness in the West useful to those who want to keep and expand political power.

More importantly though is the second reason. A theory can get included in the coursework of a college or university where it affects the beliefs of people who in turn mold the minds of the next generation. You may have guessed I had one of those old-fashioned, first-rate, liberal arts educations. And I loved it. Well, maybe not Aristotle so much or Spinoza but all in all it was broad and deep and gave me a solid base in adult life for recognizing when I am reading a false explanation. A faulty argument. A pre-arranged set of facts to bolster a case that actually was not supported in the least. But the typical college student now or teacher or principal in graduate programs or professional development are much less likely to recognize they are dealing with a theory that just isn’t so.

Theories allow widespread collaboration in pursuing radical social, political, and economic change without most of the participants recognizing the actual intent behind the theory. You thus can get a widespread organized implementation without much of an actual conspiracy. Darn useful especially when all this is essentially going on an taxpayer expense. So no teacher or principal or even the mendacious supers being inflicted on too many school districts is likely to have studied Soviet Philosopher, Evald Ilyenkov, or why the Soviets created Developmental Instruction after Stalin’s death.

Ilyenkov’s reimagining of Dialectical Materialism through his Ascending Theory and his idea of “theoretically guided education” that would “teach children to think” comes in through activity theory and making Understandings the focus of the classroom and assessment. No further need to know where the theory came from. Or even that it is a theory designed not to reflect reality but to change it.

But the purpose for the creation of the theory still matters even if it remains widely unknown. Well until this and earlier posts. But it matters that the Professor most identified with Cultural-Historical Activity Theory in the US, Michael Cole, who worked with Engestrom at UC-San Diego, wrote the Preface for Ilyenkov’s classic activity theory book when it was republished in English in February 2009. Interesting timing. Getting ready for what implementation in the US?

Not to be too nerdy but Vygotsky and his followers want to emphasize human experience. Being interested in radical social change, they recognized that there are two planes involved. What actually happened and the perception of it. So if what goes on in the classroom can alter or, even better, create an “internal cognitive schematization” in the student’s belief system, you can permanently (that’s the hope) affect how the student filters their daily life. And thus their future behavior.

So the Abstract becomes that guiding theory. As a 1998 book Psychological Tools published by the Harvard Press helpfully put both the point and the rationale:

“Traditional education was essentially retrospective. The universal model and the cultural tradition were givens, and the task of a student was to absorb this tradition and the intellectual tools associated with it. Thus a student was taught to deal with problems that reproduced past cultural patterns. Under the dynamic conditions of modernity [another theory by the way] the necessity for prospective, rather than retrospective, education became obvious [but conveniently omitted from any PR campaign for reforms].

Prospective education implies that students should be capable of approaching problems that do not yet exist …To achieve this capability, the student should be oriented toward productive, rather than reproductive knowledge. Knowledge should thus appear not in the form of results and solutions but rather as a process of authoring.”

Quite a different view of knowledge and likely to be very controversial if widely known. So that fundamental shift in the nature of education and the Soviet inspired developmental focus gets hidden under euphemisms like “higher order skills” and “21st Century Skills.” Or just “Critical Thinking” with the typical parent or taxpayer thinking analytical within the realm of existing and still highly useful relevant facts.

But that would be reproductive of the existing social and economic order and thus not allowed. But being honest that “critical thinking” in the Enlightenment sense “stops right at the point where it touches all those problems of a capitalist society” that need to be reexamined in a new light and with new theories, could very well derail the hopes of developing “alternative prospects for humankind.” Through education.

That quote from the Journal of Critical Education Policy Studies tells us that “the notion of critical thinking takes on different dimensions when associated with the “ideals and practices geared towards a radical change in social reality. From such a perspective, critical thinking emerges as a critical consciousness of the changing world conditions, trends, and mechanisms.”

That kind of definition of critical thinking fits with the curriculum for the common core I am seeing all over the world. A classic example is one the Smithsonian’s Global Competence Initiative references. An interdisciplinary textbook called Exploring Global Issues: Economic, Social and Environmental Interconnections put out by Facing the Future. Education becomes about creating what JCEPS called an “active attitude vis-a-vis social reality, to the conscious pursuit of changing it.” Some of you may have wondered why commenters keep mentioning Hegel and I keep bringing up Uncle Karl. Both men pushed what they called dialectics because they refused to accept the “historic cultural constructs as given.” So the idea is to “perceive possibilities and prospects for alternative social development.”

And to do that is to be “creative” and “innovative” and “imaginative” and engaging in “higher-order thinking.” It helps then not to be too bogged down in facts and knowledge of what existed in the past and why it did or did not endure. Left out of all this talk of CORE, Cognitive Reorganization, and other “thinking” programs we have examined in the last several posts is what JCEPS acknowledges explicitly in the 2003 published essay:

“fostering critical ability with the aim of radical social change is equivalent to fostering dialectical thinking.” I am not going to weave you in and out of this Periklis Pavlidis essay further except to say it tells its tale through Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete. By name. Making it much easier to spot whatever it is calling itself. Which brings us back to all the presentations Lynn Erickson has been doing all over the world explaining her “Enduring Understandings” to IB audiences. She is now being quoted in Texas for CScope training and in many other state DOEs as they prepare to implement the Common Core.

The quote from her I took from a 2009 Georgia Social Studies Presentation is pretty representative: “Trying to teach in the 21st century without conceptual schema for knowledge is like trying to build a house without a blueprint.” Except what made me a good student was my ability to come up with my own conceptual understandings from the facts. Here the Enduring Understandings get assigned and put up on a Concept Wall in the classroom. The purpose of facts is now merely to illustrate that Enduring Understanding.  And the purpose of that Concept Wall is to help students to see the relationships among concepts. And to get there the teachers are to ask Essential Questions. And the students are to copy down those Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings. “A smaller version for their notebooks” is what the powerpoint said.

All of this does look much like Understanding By Design as well which also relies heavily on those Essential Questions. And UbD, Understandings of Consequence, and Enduring Understandings all function as the guiding theories in the sense Ilyenkov intended as a means of changing consciousness when he first developed Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete. And as nerdy as all these names sound they all have a common purpose, wherever they are being pushed and whether the speaker is aware of the actual intent or not.

“successful guidance of transformative social action.”

That’s why the theories created are transferable “through time and across cultures” as Erickson describes it. They are theories for social change or imagining a radically different social reality. They are productive education as Psychological Tools described above.

And quite hidden until you know the authors and the terms and then they are everywhere. Very much a part of the planned implementations. If not already in use.

But I for one beg to differ on whether this will be productive. Unless you are being paid to push it.

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.   http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/when-deep-learning-and-systems-thinking-radicalizes-the-student-factual-reality-ceases-to-matter/ 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.

Mandating Global Citizenship Mindsets by Assessing Whether Students Adopt Social Altruism

The out in the open version of education reform in the US never got over that 99-0 Senate vote on the National History Standards in the 90s. Much of the reason today’s Common Core implementation looks so different from what is being publicized tracks back to the memory of that political rejection. And an insistence that this time no one gets to object. I have described more than once that what is going on in the US is linked to comparable education reforms all over the world. Driven primarily by UN agencies insisting we must evolve into a “just and sustainable world in which all may fulfill their potential.” Under the eager administration of UN or OECD or other bureaucratic employees of course. With their generous tax free salaries courtesy of you. But I digress.

Well let’s face it if that were the sales pitch for the Common Core standards or any education reform voters and parents would revolt. So we get vague euphemisms like College and Career Ready for the end goal or words like Excellence or Quality Learning that actually have a unique meaning in Ed World we are not likely to appreciate. But in the UK and Australia the Citizenship Education agenda including its Global Dimension was explicitly laid out. Even if few people in any of these countries appreciated what they were relinquishing at the time.

We have talked numerous times about Sir  “Irreversible Change” Michael Barber who now heads up Pearson Education, the world’s leading education company. You know Pearson. They have the contracts for the SBAC and PARCC and Texas STAAR assessments measuring the results of what goes on in Texas and soon to be most US classrooms. They are global. So the fact that Barber wants to “shape new ways of thinking and forge new, sustainable behavior” as the January 2011 UNESCO meeting in London he helped chair put it probably has something to do with the kind of open ended, no fixed solution real world problems likely to make it on any of these assessments globally.  Especially since the assessments are supposed to be at Levels 3 and 4 of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. You know the one that mirrors the Dewey Indeterminate Situation I have written about. To foster a recognition of the need for social change? Won’t the nickname “Mad Professor” come in handy imagining potential scenarios for change to use? http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jun/14/michael-barber-education-guru

As will this attitude of Barber’s from 1997 when he set off a firestorm in the UK by suggesting that UK students should learn the ethics of ‘global citizenship’ to replace crumbling religious values. Barber was speaking at a Secondary Schools Heads conference and mentioned that Christianity, although “still hugely influential historically and culturally”, was “no longer able to claim unquestioning obedience.” I bolded that last part because it suggests that unconscious impulse we have seen cultivated before.  He is looking for beliefs or values or feelings that will compel action so student performance assessments grounded in emotional imagining or frustration hold great potential for Learning. In the sense of changing the student from the inside-out.

Barber goes on to say that:

“For a while in the mid-20th century it seemed as if communism might establish new ethics, but by the 1970s all that remained in Western countries was rampant consumerism and ‘the quicksand of cultural relativism’–an abandonment of the morality of right and wrong.”

And “In the absence of God and Marx what are we to do?” Well Barber got his Global Citizenship Standards. I am looking at the Secondary school curriculum that went into effect in 2002.  It explicitly proclaims that its concept of Global Citizenship is grounded in Agenda 21. Which is actually not the urban legend some people seem to believe. If Agenda 21 is a conspiracy, it’s an on-the-record open one. Here it is described as “a universal initiative that recognizes the right of everyone to be consulted about the sort of community in which they want to live. Agenda 21 is about improving the quality of life both locally and globally.”

Well Kumbayah. As one of my law profs used to say if someone has a right, someone else has an obligation. Precisely who bears that Agenda 21 obligation and at what cost? Or is Global Citizenship trying to create a willing acceptance of that obligation throughout the West? No further questions asked.

We have discussed before how the real common core seems to be new values and attitudes and beliefs and feelings. All to create new behaviors. How’s this for graphic? The Global Dimension of Citizenship will target the student’s “sense of identity” and “secure their commitment to sustainable development at a personal, local, national, and global levels.” Well that will make the UN bureaucrats very happy. If we could get something like this in place in the US it sure would go a long way towards getting Paul Ehrlich his long time Heart’s Desire. Let’s see what else Global Citizenship seeks:

Global dimension emphasizes the moral imperative to understand and empathise with fellow human beings. [Boy doesn't that sound like Kohlberg's Moral Development Theory that is in US classrooms? And Hong Kong too!] It provides young people with a solid foundation on which to base and build their value system. [Convenient for getting back to unquestioned obedience. No wonder Milton Rokeach's name kept coming up as I was researching the real common core implementation]. It helps them make decisions and take action–based on knowledge [opinions and false beliefs is more likely] of the world–which respect the nature of the world we live in and the rights and dignity of others in an interdependent world.”

No wonder Systems Thinking and Peter Senge and Bronfenbrenner Ecological Systems Theory keep coming up as part of the classroom or district implementation of the Common Core. It along with the some of the other theories I snarkily added because I couldn’t help myself at this point in the deception get us where the UK schools are without nearly the controversy. I keep hearing that Senge’s Systems Thinking is OK for US elementary students because “the teachers love it so.” So maybe we should be more honest and just rename it Systems Thinking to Create Permanent Habits of Mind for Global Citizenship?

To link up with the last post on what will be a 3 parter before I am done, the September 2012 IB presentations in Madrid talked repeatedly about Global Citizenship. But IB was citing this 2005 Oxfam document based on the 2001 UK Citizenship Standards I have been describing.  http://www.oxfam.org.uk/~/media/Files/Education/Global%20Citizenship/education_for_global_citizenship_a_guide_for_schools.ashx It sure does fit with all the US Common Core curriculum I have been seeing and the Texas CSCOPE curriculum currently attracting so much controversy. It also calls for “active and participatory learning methods.” Sound familiar? As in Michael Barber recommending Cambridge Education in 2007 to NYC to launch their lucrative US operation of telling schools and teachers they may not teach the content directly anymore. Yes that same Michael Barber. I wrote about it last May.

Oxfam recognizes that “Education is a powerful tool for changing the world” which I would be the last to dispute. I just do not think all this Social Change Education is going to create a bright future for hardly anyone. One more point as we talk about how this GC template seems to be coming into the US surreptitiously through online curriculum and the assessments. When I tracked the other definition of Global Citizenship cited by the IB, I found the AERA’s winning paper for 2003 and a Canadian and a US prof openly changing Dewey’s Social Reconstructionism vision to a new name.  Justice-Oriented Citizens.

I have a lot more evidence that the US is getting this same vision of Global Citizenship and not just in IB schools. All schools is the plan. All students. Yikes!

I am going to close with a link to a July 4, 2012 letter by Pearson to PARCC detailing all the assessment and testing work they do. But insisting there will be no conflicts or breach of confidentiality. http://www.edweek.org/media/37act-pearsonreply.pdf It’s rather startling to have that much power and they leave off the ATC21S work in Australia with Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco. Oh and the US National Academy of Sciences. And others. http://atc21s.org/index.php/about/team/ That’s a great deal of global reach for one company. Especially one led by a visionary for Irreversible Change that compels personal action.

That Pearson letter says Pearson’s services are to “improve student achievement and college-and-career readiness in the United States.” Given the real definitions of those terms there’s a great deal of room to insert this Global Citizenship/Justice-oriented Citizens/ New Ways of Thinking into assessments and curriculum and still be within that mandate.

Second is to “improve access to quality education for all students.”  http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/why-quality-learning-may-be-the-last-thing-you-want-for-your-child/ Quality learning and education is a term that tracks back to John Dewey with unappreciated,  emotional and intuition meanings. Again quite convenient if you want students to “use their imagination to consider other people’s experiences.”

It is quite unnerving how much commonality I am finding globally with what is coming to the US and is already in place elsewhere. Looks like a widespread desire to gain  “unquestioning obedience” among the 21st century masses.