History as Psychological Reality-Transformation Tool Must Begin Well Before High School

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We may nev­er have thought of his­to­ry as a means for alter­ing our Identity–how we see our­selves and what guides how we are like­ly to behave in the future-but every­one with fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tions on the mind seems to. The pre­vi­ous post’s steer­ing through how all edu­ca­tion path­ways now seek to push com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism was a reminder that in the 21st cen­tu­ry, the nation is no longer sup­posed to be “the com­mu­ni­ty that defines his­to­ry and polit­i­cal iden­ti­ty.” That quote was from the keynot­er at the La Pietra Con­fer­ence, Pro­fes­sor Prasen­jit Duara. Thomas Ben­der in his Intro­duc­to­ry essay to the 2002 Rethink­ing Amer­i­can His­to­ry in a Glob­al Age says that the “aim is to con­tex­tu­al­ize the nation” to avoid the “dan­ger of com­plic­i­ty, con­scious or not, in a tri­umphial­ism that jus­ti­fies the cur­rent phase of capitalism.”

So if you ever won­der why I reg­u­lar­ly see the need on this blog or in my book to dis­cuss the eco­nom­ic trans­for­ma­tion inten­tions, whose the­o­ries they are tied to, and why dra­mat­i­cal­ly chang­ing edu­ca­tion to min­i­mize any­thing that bol­sters the con­tin­ued valid­i­ty of indi­vid­u­al­ism, it is not because I am the One with the prover­bial Bee in my Bon­net on this issue. Edu­ca­tion may be the means to fun­da­men­tal rev­o­lu­tion­ary trans­for­ma­tions, hope­ful­ly with­out vio­lence, but it is espe­cial­ly the pur­pose of sub­ject-mat­ter con­tent that had to shift. Oth­er­wise, tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge of any sort nur­tures a rev­er­ence for the world as it is and pro­vides hard fac­tu­al info that pre­vents ful­ly imag­in­ing a world as it might become. What real­i­ty sup­pos­ed­ly should look like. When all course­work qui­et­ly turns into an exam­i­na­tion of cur­rent social con­di­tions, it becomes impor­tant to see the past in ways that jus­ti­fy and help ignite the pas­sions to change today.

His­to­ry not ground­ed to facts, but tied now to expe­ri­ences, makes an impor­tant mech­a­nism for stu­dent role-play­ing in alter­na­tive social worlds. Instead, of treat­ing his­to­ry and anthro­pol­o­gy as sep­a­rate sub­jects, that divi­sion is to be dis­solved per Ben­der’s pro­posed new frame­work so that “peo­ples orga­nized into nations, with lit­er­a­tures and archives” no longer have pri­ma­cy over “all dif­fer­ent­ly orga­nized peo­ples.” There’s a good rea­son, in oth­er words, why the NAACP and La Raza are so excit­ed by the Com­mon Core as a vehi­cle for trans­for­ma­tive broad­er social change. Now let’s dive into ele­men­tary, mid­dle, and high school class­rooms to see pre­cise­ly how class­room activ­i­ties get reimag­ined to guide per­cep­tions, nur­ture cur­rent griev­ances, height­en emo­tions, and shape Stu­dent Iden­ti­ty as if it were an over­coat to be tak­en on and off when­ev­er cold winds shift.

These exam­ples are all from a 2002 book called The Par­al­lel Cur­ricu­lum that caught my eye because I knew how involved one of the authors had been in devel­op­ing the new Teacher and Class­room eval­u­a­tions. See why fac­tu­al knowl­edge is such a nui­sance for those who view one of the “key goals of edu­ca­tion itself–helping peo­ple under­stand the past in order to invent a future”? Again that would be a reen­vi­sioned K‑12 edu­ca­tion that can cre­ate stu­dents with “a greater capac­i­ty to adapt to change.” Appar­ent­ly hav­ing stu­dents with sol­id text­book knowl­edge who can tell a grasp­ing may­or or leg­is­la­tor that “we fired King George for less over­reach­ing than that” is in the way of our accep­tance of being ‘gov­erned’. So is any course­work that nur­tures rev­er­ence for what social plan­ners have long referred to deri­sive­ly as the “dis­tinc­tive orga­ni­za­tion of law in the Unit­ed States” or the dread­ed obsta­cle of the “prac­ti­cal­ly cast-iron Constitution.”

In pur­suit of not being the last Gen­er­a­tion that Remem­bers, let’s delve into pre­cise­ly what is planned. Think about how these activ­i­ties and areas of empha­sis play into the inten­tion we are now aware of to inspire, or at least tol­er­ate, fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tions of cur­rent real­i­ties most of us take for grant­ed. This is from a planned mid­dle school his­to­ry unit: “Through­out the year, three con­cepts are used to orga­nize the cur­ricu­lum: cul­ture, con­ti­nu­ity, and diver­si­ty. At the end of the sec­ond quar­ter all stu­dents will work with projects that ask them to use these con­cepts to com­pare their own cul­ture with that of Rus­sia. Many stu­dents will select or devel­op a fam­i­ly that is sim­i­lar to theirs but that lives in Russia.”

Raise your hand if you think the unit will stress com­mon­al­i­ties, not dif­fer­ences. One of my most fre­quent obser­va­tions when review­ing planned activ­i­ties is to rec­og­nize all the delib­er­ate encour­age­ment of inapt analo­gies. Here’s anoth­er exam­ple from 4th Grade Sci­ence: the class exam­ines the weath­er ‘sys­tems’ and “oth­er sys­tems (e.g. fam­i­ly sys­tems, the school as a sys­tem and body sys­tems.” Notice how nat­ur­al sys­tems that respond based on phys­i­cal prin­ci­ples, that are not impact­ed at all by our inten­tions or under­stand­ing of how they work, are being mar­ried to social sys­tems that sup­pos­ed­ly involve the deci­sions of free indi­vid­u­als. This is a recur­ring theme and, in my opin­ion, why ‘sys­tems think­ing’ as a required com­po­nent of Rad­i­cal Ed Reform goes back decades and is now fea­tured promi­nent­ly in that July 2014 fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion, WIOA, defin­ing work­force readi­ness for every stu­dent in every state in the US.

The 4th grade teacher is sup­posed to “help her stu­dents look at it through a con­cep­tu­al lens, stress­ing the key con­cept, ‘sys­tem.’ ” What is ‘it’ refer­ring to there, you ask? Why that would be the goal to have stu­dents “gen­er­ate and test prin­ci­ples that would show the rela­tion­ship between weath­er sys­tems and ecosys­tems in general–and between weath­er sys­tems and par­tic­u­lar ele­ments in ecosys­tems (ani­mals, plants, rocks, and food chains.) ” As we can see the ecosys­tem assign­ment does leave out at this point the most dom­i­nant par­tic­i­pant in ecosystems–real people–but it does a nice job of com­plete­ly mud­dling in the child’s mind phys­i­cal sys­tems with nat­ur­al laws and social sys­tems that some peo­ple now hope to social­ly engi­neer. What nice prepa­ra­tion from an ear­ly age to sim­ply accept such plans with nary a sec­ond thought.

That’s the advan­tage when K‑12 edu­ca­tion becomes about cre­at­ing behav­iors through “guid­ed expe­ri­ence.” Where the stu­dent is to “under­stand [in that phro­net­ic sense of the last post] the nature of the dis­ci­pline in a real world man­ner” and then “assume a role as a means of study­ing the dis­ci­pline.” Com­mon Core would cer­tain­ly have a greater PR hur­dle, would­n’t it, if it owned up to its real pur­pose of role play­ing var­i­ous future behav­iors until “what it feels like” becomes a “habit of mind.” So his­to­ry, for exam­ple, becomes a “means of look­ing and mak­ing sense of the world” so that stu­dents can begin “escap­ing the rut of cer­tain­ty about knowl­edge.” There is more in the book involv­ing this Cur­ricu­lum of Prac­tice that can be used for all course­work that still has a con­tent-ori­ent­ed name. It is all any­thing oth­er than the Trans­mis­sion of Knowledge.

How about an ele­men­tary social stud­ies class that uses the top­ic of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion as a rea­son to scan news­pa­pers and news mag­a­zines “for the pur­pose of iden­ti­fy­ing con­tem­po­rary rev­o­lu­tions.” Any­one else think Inapt Analo­gies are sup­posed to become a prac­ticed habit of mind? So the top­ic of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion becomes “a means of think­ing about caus­es of, reac­tions to, and poten­tial effects of a con­tem­po­rary cul­tur­al change.”

How about the new planned use of the Civ­il War in a 5th grade class­room? Instead of the past empha­sis on “the events relat­ed to the Civ­il War…addressed in chrono­log­i­cal fash­ion, mov­ing from the causes…to the events and peo­ple involved in the bat­tles and the war,” the teacher, “equipped with new knowl­edge about the impor­tance of big ideas and con­cept-based teach­ing,” will have stu­dents spend four weeks look­ing at the liveli­hoods and economies of var­i­ous peo­ple and groups. The book bold faces those big ideas like nation and fed­er­a­tion and espe­cial­ly the plan to have 5th grade stu­dents exam­ine “var­i­ous per­spec­tives with­in the emerg­ing nation [notice this not-so-sub­tle inten­tion to time bound the con­cept of the nation. Forged by the Civ­il War real­ly and thus expend­able as con­di­tions change in the 21st] about state and civ­il rights issues.”

Next thing the Civ­il War becomes a vehi­cle for dis­cussing “per­spec­tives, view­points, bal­ance, con­flicts, com­pro­mise, con­sen­sus, and res­o­lu­tion” gen­er­al­ly, which is cer­tain­ly going to be handy since we have already encoun­tered numer­ous explic­it inten­tions to push shared under­stand­ing as the new required norm. Remem­ber the posts on the Rock­e­feller-fund­ed Com­mu­ni­ca­tion For Social Change, the par­tic­i­pa­to­ry gov­er­nance push of Struc­tured Design Dia­logue, or the Dis­course Class­room Court­ney Caz­den envi­sioned while on a Cold War trip to the USSR? Now the con­cept of civ­il itself becomes a means for the stu­dents to prac­tice being “thinkers and analyzers.”

Want to guess what the exem­plar of an ‘expert’ of the con­cept would be? Why that is described as the stu­dent belief that “Peo­ple have civ­il wars when they can’t resolve their con­flicts or achieve their rights peace­ably.” Peace is always the answer then. At least until we dis­cov­er actu­al evi­dence in ille­gal tun­nels lead­ing to day care cen­ters of plans to kid­nap chil­dren dur­ing Jew­ish hol­i­days or, more like­ly, the actu­al ter­ror­ist event like the World Trade Cen­ter occurs. The list­ed exam­ple of an expert acqui­si­tion of the desired Prin­ci­ples and Rules is that “Empa­thy, com­pro­mise, and con­sen­sus, can be used to resolve con­flicts peace­ful­ly because they hon­or indi­vid­ual per­spec­tives and values.”

That’s what Cham­ber­lain naive­ly thought in 1938 because he lacked Churchill’s deep ground­ing in actu­al his­to­ry of events. Des­tined to repeat itself is a lousy way to face the future just because it is con­ducive to social plan­ning and engi­neer­ing by the polit­i­cal­ly-con­nect­ed few against the many. To end with that Civ­il War quilt I men­tioned, an indi­vid­ual inter­pre­ta­tion of the scenes depict­ed on the quilt and whether their “con­clu­sions are well sup­port­ed in infor­ma­tion they had stud­ied” is sim­ply an excuse for All Pro­pa­gan­da All the Time.

Now to all this, let’s add on being able to depict any sce­nario desired in the vir­tu­al real­i­ty brought in through the lap­top or IPad.

Will the next gen­er­a­tion know any­thing that is true?

Or will every­thing be guid­ed by what is influ­en­tial in build­ing sup­port for fun­da­men­tal transformations?