Gaining Access To and Then Guiding Each Student’s Subjective Perception of Reality to Change the Here and Now

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Let’s pre­tend for a moment that we are all in the same room mulling over why K‑12 edu­ca­tion is shut­ting down what works and expand­ing every­thing that has ever been con­tro­ver­sial or even trag­ic. We could get out a White Board and pre­tend to be detec­tive Kate Beck­ett on the TV show Cas­tle and cre­ate columns of what con­cerns and mys­ti­fies us. Con­crete, Down to Earth, Tan­gi­ble Con­cerns. Then lat­er as I am research­ing and foot­note hop­ping, I read the title of a 1966 book called The Social Con­struc­tion of Real­i­ty. I remem­ber that White Board and how no one wants to allow Declar­a­tive Knowl­edge any­more (defined in pre­vi­ous post) that would accu­rate­ly allow me to fac­tu­al­ly under­stand the Here and Now.

In fact, we have been notic­ing that every­thing to be required in the class­room now seems to be about guid­ing per­son­al per­cep­tion of what is actu­al­ly going on in the here and now. Fil­ter­ing how we con­ceive the who or what caused all the prob­lems we are to now notice. We keep won­der­ing why all the focus on emo­tions and show­ing your work instead of get­ting a right answer and mak­ing activ­i­ties and expe­ri­ences the point of class­room work. To quote again from The Par­al­lel Cur­ricu­lum book from two posts ago, when did we switch to read­ing a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion book so that we can imag­ine how it must have felt to be alive dur­ing a time peri­od like the Civ­il War? Is that his­to­ry? How about if we use the book to “doc­u­ment the feel­ings, per­spec­tives, and changes that occur for your char­ac­ters over time.” That’s not fac­tu­al knowl­edge. It’s sim­ply prim­ing the stu­dent to accept that a change in con­di­tions could be a rea­son for per­son­al change.

Psy­cho­log­i­cal role-play­ing, in oth­er words, seems to be all over class­es that are sup­posed to be about sci­ence, lit­er­a­ture, his­to­ry, or civics. Even math. “How would you feel if… ” is psy­cho­log­i­cal role-play­ing even if the descrip­tion of your feel­ings, frus­tra­tions, and strate­gies for what to do next is going in your math jour­nal so that “your teacher can read it and get to know you better.”

I keep bring­ing up the fact that the term ‘knowl­edge’ now is not about facts, but is rather con­cepts that are sup­posed to guide how we per­ceive all those activ­i­ties and expe­ri­ences. Why does that dis­tinc­tion mat­ter so much? Well, the social psy­chol­o­gists have plen­ty of research they share among them­selves that goes as follows:

The notion of a con­cept is essen­tial for under­stand­ing thought and behav­ior. If we want to under­stand, say, how a child learns through expe­ri­ence that stoves can burn, we assume that the child uses the con­cepts stove and burn; with­out this assump­tion, it is not clear why a child’s expe­ri­ence with one par­tic­u­lar stove and one par­tic­u­lar burn will be relat­ed to his or her expe­ri­ence with anoth­er stove and anoth­er pos­si­ble burn. [In oth­er words, if we want to get stu­dents or adults to analo­gize from one sit­u­a­tion to anoth­er, we con­vince them that they involve com­pa­ra­ble con­cepts. If we want to con­vince them about false con­nec­tions, we train stu­dents repeat­ed­ly from a young age to believe that sit­u­a­tions are con­nect­ed or equiv­a­lent even if they are not.] 

It is only when we treat the objects and events of a sit­u­a­tion as instances of con­cepts that we see what there is to learn. And just as it is hard to think about learn­ing with­out con­cepts, it is hard to think about com­mu­ni­ca­tion and rea­son with­out con­cepts. In short, con­cepts reflect the way we divide the world into class­es, and much of what we learn, com­mu­ni­cate, and rea­son involves rela­tions among these classes.”

Pro­vid­ing the con­cepts to every­one then instead of each per­son build­ing them up from facts is a tremen­dous­ly fruit­ful means for psy­cho­log­i­cal manip­u­la­tion. Effec­tive and large­ly invis­i­ble once cre­at­ed. What’s not to love if fun­da­men­tal­ly trans­form­ing the here and now is the Goal, and under­min­ing the his­tor­i­cal West­ern sacro­sanct treat­ment of the indi­vid­ual and the mind is the Means. Just tar­get how that indi­vid­ual, while they are still young, learns to cat­e­go­rize their every­day expe­ri­ences. Then make sure that any class­room work that pre­vi­ous­ly bol­stered the “abil­i­ty of lan­guage to be an objec­tive repos­i­to­ry of vast accu­mu­la­tions of mean­ing and expe­ri­ences, which it can then pre­serve in time and trans­mit to fol­low­ing gen­er­a­tions” is either destroyed or seri­ous­ly lim­it­ed in dura­tion and purpose.

We are back to our pre­tend Mur­der Board of what’s Being Dis­con­tin­ued and Expand­ed in Edu­ca­tion and my read­ing nerdy books and then trans­lat­ing them so no one else has to. That is how I felt read­ing The Social Con­struc­tion of Real­i­ty. It was like get­ting a Trea­sure Map to what would need to be stopped or empha­sized if manip­u­la­tion of how an indi­vid­ual saw real­i­ty was the Goal. Why? So that their future actions could be reli­ably planned from afar. How we order social expe­ri­ences turns out to be a cru­cial fact to know if some­one wants to pre­dict and con­trol oth­er peo­ple’s behav­ior. It’s also some­thing that adap­tive soft­ware in a Dig­i­tal Learn­ing pro­gram or jour­nals or show­ing your work in an open-end­ed ques­tion where there is no right answer all reveal. Rig­or­ous assess­ments of the type required by the Com­mon Core, a High­er Order Think­ing Skills empha­sis , or the ‘high-qual­i­ty’ tests of 21st Cen­tu­ry Learn­ing all fer­ret it out too.

Coin­ci­den­tal? I think not as a TV detec­tive would get to say. Keep­ing school work rel­e­vant to real life and every­day life sit­u­a­tions makes the rou­tine social stock of knowl­edge of the aver­age stu­dent para­mount. If school is no longer about facts, read­ing is Guid­ed and not flu­ent, and visu­al pre­sen­ta­tions are con­sid­ered on par with writ­ing papers, then the typ­i­cal per­son now exists in a place where “the real­i­ty of every­day life always appears as a zone of lucid­i­ty behind which there is a back­ground of dark­ness.” Read­ing that pas­sage from the 1966 book made me gasp because cir­cum­scrib­ing per­son­al knowl­edge in effect makes that zone of lucid­i­ty easy to manip­u­late. Lat­er in the book, the impor­tance of con­cepts and sub­jec­tive cat­e­go­riza­tion of expe­ri­ences is men­tioned as what makes us notice cer­tain aspects of what hap­pens and ignore others.

Now imag­ine that the Con­cepts and Prin­ci­ples pro­vid­ed are delib­er­ate­ly cho­sen to have just that very effect. The Goal? To make the stu­dent and the future ‘cit­i­zen’ they will become not just amenable to fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tions in soci­ety, the econ­o­my, and polit­i­cal struc­tures we now take for grant­ed like the US Con­sti­tu­tion. The stu­dent is to come to believe that rad­i­cal changes are nec­es­sary and desir­able. Hope­ful­ly the stu­dent will be ready to act on con­di­tions and prob­lems in the here and now to make fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tions a real­i­ty soon­er rather than later.

It turns out that a rev­er­ence for log­ic as in tra­di­tion­al math, chem­istry, or physics and abstract proofs or gram­mar and old-fash­ioned vocab­u­lary that can con­tain a sen­tence full of mean­ing in a sin­gle word are exam­ples of how “lan­guage now con­structs immense edi­fices of sym­bol­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tions that appear to tow­er over the real­i­ty of every­day life like gigan­tic process­es from anoth­er world.” Well, some­one does still appre­ci­ate flow­ery lan­guage when they are dri­ving home a point. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the point is how much prefer­able face-to-face inter­ac­tion is, which would explain why the Com­mon Core stress­es lis­ten­ing and speak­ing and group dia­logues and learn­ing to reach that all impor­tant con­sen­sus with­in the classroom.

Once again the ground­work reveal­ing the why in the class­room mys­ter­ies of the here and now was laid out back in the 60s attempt at fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tions. We just had to peel back enough lay­ers of the onion to locate this quote:

In the face-to-face sit­u­a­tion lan­guage pos­sess­es an inher­ent qual­i­ty of reci­procity that dis­tin­guish­es it from any oth­er sign sys­tem. [In oth­er words, we can see facial expres­sions and body move­ments and infer emo­tions from them.] The ongo­ing pro­duc­tion of vocal signs in con­ver­sa­tion can be sen­si­tive­ly syn­chro­nized with the ongo­ing sub­jec­tive inten­tions of the conversants.”

A less con­vo­lut­ed way of mak­ing the same point is that con­ver­sa­tion becomes the way to get every­one on the same page in how they describe their expe­ri­ences and using the same con­cepts. Well, no won­der, we keep hear­ing hype for Blend­ed Learn­ing or the Flipped Class­room. Just let the com­put­er or Kahn Acad­e­my pro­vide what the last post called pro­ce­dur­al knowl­edge and the 1966 book calls recipe knowl­edge–“that is, knowl­edge lim­it­ed to prag­mat­ic com­pe­tence in rou­tine performances.”

Does that sound like a Com­pe­ten­cy focus to any­one else?

So what’s your inter­pre­ta­tion of why the actu­al planned class­room imple­men­ta­tion under its vari­ety of Orwellian names lines up so per­fect­ly with how the known Social Con­struc­tion of Real­i­ty by most people?

Could it be an orga­nized attempt to manip­u­late their future behav­ior as long as accu­rate fac­tu­al knowl­edge is kept to a minimum?

Is it polit­i­cal­ly use­ful to keep vot­ers igno­rant, aggriev­ed, and reli­able in their like­ly reactions?