House of Tomorrow: Targeting Behavior Change Requires Move Away from Declarative Knowledge

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If you hang out in the dun­geons and attics of the Trans­for­ma­tion Blue­prints like I do, one of the omnipresent con­fes­sions that is cru­cial, but not mak­ing it into the pub­lic domain YET, is that class­room activ­i­ties and expe­ri­ences are now “aims-based” or “goal-direct­ed,” not “sub­ject-mat­ter based.” His­to­ry, math, lit­er­a­ture, or sci­ence course names still get used, but it hides the new broad­er pur­pos­es of social change. They have ceased to be, unfor­tu­nate­ly, ends in them­selves. The very phrase “stan­dards-based” over the last two decades is also intend­ed to hide what is indis­put­ed­ly a shift to a per­son­al behav­ior empha­sis that is still too obscured.

This post is designed to rem­e­dy that and build on the facts and dec­la­ra­tions laid out in the recent­ly fin­ished APUSH tril­o­gy as well as par­tic­u­lar­ly Chap­ter 7 of my book–“What if Com­mon Core Actu­al­ly Lim­its What Every­one Can Know or Do While Tar­get­ing Feel­ings, Beliefs, and Val­ues Instead?” The Ques­tion that Grows in Per­ti­nence on a Dai­ly Basis. Often times the best way to illus­trate what is being required in edu­ca­tion is to con­sult a pro­fes­sor in anoth­er area, who is unlike­ly to mask his state­ments about what is intend­ed. Do you remem­ber the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics where that trou­bling Fabi­an Stained Glass win­dow has now found a new home? As a sym­bol of rev­er­ence, not infamy, unfortunately.

Back in 1994, LSE’s then Direc­tor, soci­ol­o­gist Antho­ny Gid­dens, kind­ly explained the role of His­to­ry to polit­i­cal rad­i­cals in a book called Beyond Left and Right. It mat­ters because not enough of us appre­ci­ate that the Fall of the Berlin Wall, death of Mao, or dis­so­lu­tion of the USSR, nev­er altered the wide­spread desire for His­to­ry to be pro­gress­ing some­where. If facts get in the way, edu­ca­tion becomes the pre­ferred tool to get the process head­ed in the desired direc­tion again. Tell me this quote is not behind the spir­it of the activ­i­ties I spelled out in the pre­vi­ous posts: “For social­ists, the past is not com­fort­ing; it is val­ued at most because it has pro­vid­ed the means where­by we can active­ly move on to grasp and appro­pri­ate the future.”

If you make K‑12 edu­ca­tion about alter­ing and cre­at­ing desired feel­ings, val­ues, beliefs, per­cep­tions, and behav­iors (per­for­mances or learn­ing are the pre­ferred K‑12 euphemisms obscur­ing this real­i­ty), edu­ca­tion can sup­pos­ed­ly cre­ate the con­di­tions for the House of Tomor­row. When I write posts explain­ing the NEA CARE Guide cre­at­ed with the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter to use in the Com­mon Core class­room or the Aspen Insti­tute’s RETOC-Racial Equi­ty The­o­ry of Change, tie those inten­tions to high­light race, class, and eth­nic­i­ty to cre­ate feel­ings of griev­ance or guilt to Gid­dens telling us that Marx­is­m’s allure for so many is and was the “meta­phys­i­cal idea that his­to­ry, in its more con­se­quen­tial and rev­o­lu­tion­ary moments, is made by the oppressed.”

If that quote seems a bit too ‘meta­phys­i­cal’ for any­one’s taste, let’s sim­ply make real-world prob­lem solv­ing the focus of K‑12 edu­ca­tion, and see if the class­room over time does­n’t cre­ate a con­scious­ness pre­cise­ly as Uncle Karl would have want­ed. In 2013 the Jour­nal of Teacher Edu­ca­tion for Sus­tain­abil­i­ty pub­lished a help­ful con­fes­sion from Erin Red­man com­plain­ing that tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion and declar­a­tive knowl­edge like facts, lec­tures, and text­books were too “val­ue-free, didac­tic” and “one-way meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion” (instead of the now glo­ri­fied class­room ‘Dia­logue” among ‘Equals’). Edu­ca­tion in the 21st Cen­tu­ry is sup­posed to be about long-term behav­ior change from an uncon­scious basis at the lev­el of each indi­vid­ual. Those Aims or Goals require “require real-world, expe­ri­en­tial and prob­lem-based learning.”

Thanks for the hon­esty even if it is tucked away. Keep in mind the calm asser­tion that “Behav­iour­al schol­ars have, how­ev­er, clear­ly estab­lished that the lin­ear, infor­ma­tion-deficit approach [aka Trans­mis­sion of Knowl­edge of the Best that has Been Thought or Done by the Sages of the Past] to edu­ca­tion is insuf­fi­cient in pro­mot­ing behav­iour change.” Since we have been con­cen­trat­ing on what these Aims and Goals do to his­to­ry course­work, let’s end with the rec­om­men­da­tion that this Nor­ma­tive view of the pur­pose of cur­ricu­lum results in a sug­ges­tion for “shift­ing away from sci­en­tif­ic facts as the pri­ma­ry dis­course in sus­tain­abil­i­ty.” That ‘s why it’s so impor­tant to empha­size feel­ings and the Whole Child.

It is why Pro­ce­dur­al Knowl­edge gets so hyped now in the form of the Skills Deficit. That is the need­ed action-relat­ed process knowl­edge and how-to skills use­ful for real-world trans­for­ma­tions. Effec­tive­ness Knowl­edge now gets hyped because Beliefs about the Need for trans­for­ma­tions in the present to alter the future are very much influ­enced by “per­ceived con­se­quences asso­ci­at­ed with dif­fer­ent behav­iours as well as beliefs about who is respon­si­ble for giv­en out­comes.” That’s the Aim that real­ly finds fac­tu­al knowl­edge to be an obsta­cle since it might pre­vent view­ing the assigned Vil­lains as cul­pa­ble or notice that local politi­cians will blow even more mon­ey if giv­en ever more plan­ning power.

But then I am no teenag­er and we have already con­clud­ed I would be on the first ship­ment to Per­cep­tion Re-edu­ca­tion Camps to extin­guish Fac­tu­al Knowl­edge as an Imped­i­ment to Fun­da­men­tal Change. The typ­i­cal ado­les­cent will be easy prey though for class­rooms built around: “One of the cen­tral ways for enhanc­ing effec­tive­ness knowl­edge is by focus­ing on prob­lems that are local­ly rel­e­vant and at a scale with which stu­dents feel empow­ered to act, while also exam­in­ing the pos­i­tive impact of indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive change.” Lack of much fac­tu­al knowl­edge, unless the par­ents have stepped in or the child is the rare flu­ent, vora­cious read­er, means that a capac­i­ty or will­ing­ness to con­ceive of any neg­a­tive impact is unlike­ly hap­pen in most class­rooms anymore.

Final­ly, “social knowl­edge (i.e. norms) encom­pass­es sub­jec­tive and local knowl­edge includ­ing the motives, inten­tions and actions of oth­er peo­ple. In order to enhance social knowl­edge, it is crit­i­cal that sus­tain­able behav­iours are posi­tioned as the nor­mal and the desired way to act.” Objec­tive, norm-ref­er­enced tests of knowl­edge have to go away qui­et­ly in this sought sce­nario for the future since they cen­ter on Declar­a­tive Knowl­edge. Rad­i­cals always need­ed alter­na­tive assess­ments to exam­ine whether the desired behav­ior and atti­tude changes were occur­ring and what strate­gies and con­cepts are used when there is no cor­rect answer and not enough infor­ma­tion is giv­en. Today’s Rig­or­ous Assess­ments mere­ly build on what was known as the New Stan­dards Ref­er­ence Exam­i­na­tion in the 90s Cre­at­ed again by the Moth­er of both High­er Order Think­ing Skills as well as the relat­ed term Rig­or, Pro­fes­sor Lau­ren Resnick.

We should sim­ply view them cor­rect­ly as Cul­tur­al Activ­i­ty Research on our kids with our tax dol­lars. Remem­ber the ISCAR 2011 Con­fer­ence in Rome, Italy? It’s all about Aims-Based Edu­ca­tion too. Trans­for­ma­tion­al Aims with Polit­i­cal and Social Pur­pos­es. Just like the Com­mon Core or 21st Cen­tu­ry Learn­ing or Com­pe­ten­cy-Based Instruc­tion now. It’s all about Behav­ior Change if we climb down to the dun­geons or up to the attics or just trace back to the foot­notes in the typ­i­cal Aspen Insti­tute Report.

Those inter­est­ed in fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tions in the polit­i­cal and social spheres that is the Pro­gres­sive View of the Role of His­to­ry now need the tool of K‑12 edu­ca­tion, if not preschool as well, to reach those same Aims and Goals. It’s why so many edu­ca­tion grad­u­ate degrees today open­ly trum­pet their ground­ing in Change Agent The­o­ries. To make stu­dents the mass car­ri­ers of new cul­tur­al memes and behav­iors with­out most par­ents or the typ­i­cal tax­pay­er even being aware of the shift. That’s the pur­pose of all the Orwellian lan­guage that has me climb­ing down, then up, and flip­ping back to those foot­notes again and again.

I may have to under­stand all this at a very nerdy lev­el just burst­ing with facts and wordy dec­la­ra­tions of intent to once again try out noto­ri­ous the­o­ries in the real world, but that is not the lev­el where most peo­ple live. When I explain what is intend­ed in order to get real trac­tion in the real world, I always have to find ways to bring these inten­tions into the every­day lives of my read­ers. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, though, I am not the only one who under­stands that cru­cial point.

In fact, the shift away from Declar­a­tive Knowl­edge to grant­i­ng par­i­ty to sub­jec­tive ways of know­ing and inter­pret­ing, along with that tar­get­ing of Pro­ce­dur­al, Effec­tive­ness, and Social Knowl­edge we have just talked about, is all about meet­ing peo­ple and stu­dents at the lev­el of knowl­edge that “guides con­duct in every­day life.” Just the are­na, in oth­er words, if long-term behav­ior change is the admit­ted (if only qui­et­ly shared among insid­ers), new Goal or Aim of K‑12 education.

Behav­ior Change Archi­tects intent on Polit­i­cal and Social Trans­for­ma­tions to kick His­to­ry Back into Gear on the Planned Path­way of Change would need to appre­ci­ate each per­son­’s “sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence of real­i­ty.” To get at the per­cep­tion of real­i­ty held by the “com­mon-sense of the ordi­nary mem­bers of society.”

That’s what alter­na­tive ‘high-qual­i­ty’ assess­ments like the NSRE above got at and what the Com­mon Core and for­ma­tive assess­ments get at now. It’s what adap­tive soft­ware gets at as well.

Then we have per­for­mance stan­dards under their vari­ety of mask­ing names like Col­lege and Career Ready or Next Gen­er­a­tion Learn­ing to cap­ture and then reme­di­ate over time behav­iors, val­ues, and atti­tudes that are not desir­able for tran­si­tion­ing to the Planned Path­way for History.

Not to men­tion what all the social and emo­tion­al pro­grams being sold as Char­ac­ter Edu­ca­tion or Bul­ly­ing Pre­ven­tion or Pos­i­tive Behav­iors for the Whole Child do.

Am I final­ly reach­ing the every­day recog­ni­tion of what is com­ing at all of us?