Authoritarian FantasyLand: A Place With Required Habits of Mind but Disdain for Facts

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Back from my jaunt this week to Orange County, California to talk about all the things coming into K-12 classrooms under the cloaking banner of the Common Core. Since I was taking notes on Monday night and the pro-CC side zealously conceded a great deal in their prepared presentations, I thought we would talk about what was admitted upfront and what the implications are for all of us. It is safe to say that California is further along than many states so this will fit with what is or will soon be going on everywhere. If authoritarian seems awfully strong, it is partly a reaction to the number of speakers who insisted that the Common Core was now “the law” and there was thus no reason for further discussion. Now no one actually uttered the phrase “resistance is futile” or “submission is mandatory,” but that was the drift of the arguments.

Gone is any concept that the United States is a country conceived on a premise that the individual is ultimately so sacrosanct that even a king needs to ask permission to cross his threshold. No, if a school board, legislature, or city or regional council adopts a law or enacts a regulation, apparently obedience is now mandatory without further discussion. That crucial shift is one reason the authoritarian description seems apt. The other is the number of times I heard speakers, especially one who was a former California 4th District PTA President and a current Huntington Beach school board member utter phrases in support of the Common Core like “its purpose is to create habits of mind” and dictate “concepts to be absorbed” by the student. Another speaker spoke of “internalizing” knowledge.

All of those references, whether the speakers know this or not, are to what Soviet psychologist Piotr Galperin called theoretical instruction to guide future behavior. We covered it here . My dictionary defines authoritarian as “unquestioning obedience to authority rather than individual freedom of judgment and action.” Now let’s face it, if concepts have been implanted in student’s psyche at an unconscious level, which all these speakers are admitting and I have been warning about, there’s not even any opportunity to question. Is there anybody out there that denies our definition is being more than met with these openly declared intentions?

One of the Board members read two passages from my book. One is that we are looking at the “Marxist theory of education.” I suppose he was trying to paint me as some kind of 21st Century McCarthy threatening to name names. As the book lays out in detail, Uncle Karl wanted education to be all about controlling consciousness. Let’s face it, the pro-CC speakers themselves admitted that aim several times. If educational theorists and professors use the M word among themselves for what they advocate, we get to use the term as well. That’s me–factual, not raving. The 2nd quote had to do with the assertion in the book that Common Core actually wants to limit knowledge. I explained quickly about how a concept-based education worked, but I have a better example to actually quote now that I am home with access to all my materials.

The term “rigor” and “cognitively demanding” both got used a lot as reasons for the shift to the Common Core. No one mentioned though that the purpose of this kind of classroom work was to foster a “tolerance for ambiguity” in the student. More psyche in the classroom crosshairs then. I mentioned in my testimony that to work the problem MUST be ambiguous, be previously untaught, or have no single correct answer. is a 2008 article by Harvard prof Tony Wagner elaborating just that–“a complex, multi-step problem that is different from any they’ve seen in the past.”

The pro-side did not care for my pointing out that when they stated that CC were “learning standards” they were saying it was about “social and emotional changes in the student” and “goals” for changing a student’s values, attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors.  That came out on rebuttal even though our former PTA President and Board member had cited “engaging experiences” as one of her reasons to support the CC transformation of the classroom. What precisely does she believe the “experiences” are getting at? Plus, I now have access to the standard definition of ‘rigor’ which is “the goal of helping all students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging.” I took that from an SREB powerpoint, but plenty of school districts use that quoted definition verbatim too.

Another reason cited in support of CC was it “promotes Equity.” As we say in the South “Yeehaw.” Dissimilar treatment of students in order to get them to the same outcomes is not likely to be a popular selling point, at least until we get a generation trained with those Anti-bias Standards from the last post. So we get Equity imposed invisibly by Supers and Civil Rights edicts and local city councils. Alarmingly, Brookings’ Metropolitanism guru, Bruce Katz (see tags)  announced this week  that  “it’s time we rewrote our own federalist contract [that would be the US Constitution] and realign power and responsibility for the modern era in which cities and metropolitan areas, rather than nations and states, drive economies and progress.”

Right into a ditch in all likelihood, but this is the political vision all these education reforms embodied in the full CC implementation are relying on as the future they are preparing our students for. In that link, you will find a link to a UK report that makes it clear that geography is being used to disguise the shift to the needs-based, economic justice vision that Uncle Karl lusted about achieving at some point in the future. As the report said “the scale of metros means they are best placed to drive the strategic integration of public services and economic development.”

That’s the vision for Manchester in the UK and the greater LA area, my neck of the woods in Georgia, and everywhere else as well. Everything I have read suggests a Folly of monumental proportions is planned, but it will be quite lucrative for a while to those connected vendors who form public-private partnerships to receive taxpayer money for meeting ‘needs’ like housing, education, or healthcare.

I want to close this discussion with a Keynote Address noted Change Agent Shirley McCune gave back in 1981 called “The Future of Educational Equity.” She saw “struggles for equity” as the “whole rationale for the formation of the United States” which tells us what can happen when we let graduate degrees in social work dictate how we educate our kids. What I found fascinating since I had always seen the Reagan Block Grants to state and local governments as a ‘conservative’ shift was how A-OK she was with this plan. So someone who wanted to see comparable economic and social outcomes among groups and “groups of people represented throughout society in proportion to their representation in the population” viewed state and local governments as the place to achieve that.

Something to think about as commentators assume that the Common Core is an acceptable dictate if a local school board requires it. That the only problem with the Common Core is the federal fingerprints all over it from Arne Duncan’s actions. Really? Authoritarianism that goes so far as to dictate personality traits at an unconscious level to drive future behavior is not a problem now as long as it is not federal authorities mandating it? McCune believed that the “only way that persons would be willing to ‘buy equity concerns’ is if it is demonstrated that it is an innate part of quality education.” That of course is precisely what embedding Racial Equity Outcomes in coursework or those Anti-Bias Framework do.

It’s McCune and others view of how to use a misleading term like quality education for “building a new consensus on equity.” She also viewed quality education for equity as about equipping students with the “highest level basic verbal and mathematical skills consistent with their individual ability.” The only way to read that language is that slower students will get a variety of ways to show their skills, but able students still cannot go beyond basic. They can just go faster through the basics.

Just as we are seeing with all the current emphasis on Career Pathways, where California is one of the lead pilots McCune’s plan for equity relied on ALL students now receiving a combined academic and vocational education where everyone would obtain “the skills and attitudes necessary for working cooperatively with both the same sex and opposite sex in the paid workforce and in the home.”

Finally McCune’s version of quality education “would equip students with the flexibility and self-confidence that would enable them to cope with the rapidly changing society through continuing adult learning and growth.” Doesn’t that sound just like what the Common Core is touting as having a Growth Mindset? Everything old is new again apparently until total transformation is finally achieved.

Apparently the products of a “quality education” grounded in ‘rigor’ will not object to the fundamental rewrite of our “federalist contract” and in the mean time, governments at all levels seem to be pursuing this Equity vision without any genuine disclosure or consent. Leaving it to the lady who reads too much and has for a very long time to lay it all out.

Hopefully Just In Time as the slogan goes.