Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dear Diane Ravitch

March 2, 2013

I have been following you on Twitter and reading your blog. Excellent, high quality research and writing. Thank you.

The current effort to reform public education is being criticized by you for the use of standardized testing, privatization of education and politicians making decisions about pedagogy.

The solution is not to develop better tests, but to tear down the No Child Left Behind Law high-stakes standardized testing regime, and use authentic assessments that are organic to the process of real teaching and learning. I believe System Dynamics is the process that meets this requirement. I believe System Dynamics is an inquiry based learning and teaching environment that is also a process for assessing both teachers and students.

I first studied System Dynamics one summer with teachers at a workshop lead by Diana Fisher and her colleagues at Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon. In 1997, I joined the effort to teach teachers and infect the public school system with our processes. That was when I had to really learn System Dynamics in order to teach teachers how to present dynamic modeling to their students. Since then I have spent many hours studying the pedagogy of System Dynamics.

As you have said, the attempt by politicians to quantify learning and teaching in a standardized manner is extremely expensive; takes up weeks and months of time in school; narrows the curriculum; undermines the intrinsic joy of learning; leads to a culture of corruption and cheating; and supports the privatization of public education. As a measure of student learning, standardized tests are a limited instrument. As a measure of teacher effectiveness, they are flawed.

Today, students are tested on what they know from the past and the skills for how to use what they know. System Dynamics enables us to understand why systems work they way they do and develop foresight about the future. I wrote a blog post titled “Why System Dynamics?” that describes a way of reasoning about why System Dynamics is important to public education (see hyperlink below). This article was published in the Creative Learning Exchange newsletter, Winter 2013 ( ) pages 2 and 12.

We need a way to think, learn and communicate about the future. The current public school system does not meet that need when using standardized testing. System Dynamics has a pedagogy and testing regime that meets the needs of teaching and learning as a way to think, learn and communicate about the present and future of systems. Replacing standardized testing by developing an assessment of teaching and learning for teachers and students using System Dynamics would be a key step in the right direction.

From an economic, efficiency, ethical, logical and pedagogy perspective, System Dynamics makes common sense as an improvement to public education. However, the current education reform process does not support using System Dynamics.

What is it going to take to get System Dynamics in K12 Education?

Teachers are beginning to resist giving students standardized tests. States are opting out of the NCLB law. Charter schools are failing.

You are making visible the profit motivated, union busting, misinformation campaign by corporations. There might be an opportunity ahead for System Dynamics to step in and support public education by replacing the standardized test with inquiry based assessments of teachers and students using System Dynamics.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dear President Obama

An example of a double bind:
A teacher invites a student for a cup of tea. The student sits down in a chair front of a cup of tea on a table. The teacher says, “I will hit you with this stick if you reach for the cup and I will hit you with the stick if you do not reach for the cup. What are you going to do?”

The first step in resolving this dilemma is to become aware of the pattern. We need to step back from the detail of the issues and the specific words.

Republicans, Tea Party members and conservatives, verbally and by voting, hit you with their stick every chance they get. Whether the topic is guns, taxes, spending, jobs or climate change, they are ready to say you are wrong, no matter what you say or do. When you state your messages to the people, they criticize you as if you were not communicating with Congress. When you respond to any criticism by giving more details, using logic or ethical reasoning, by their words and actions Republicans say indirectly or imply that you and the Democratic Party members are lying.

This binding of progressive ideas, so that as a country we can not move forward and resolve the many issues before us, leaves us in a perpetual crisis. This is very stressful for everyone. We can not leave and we can not physically fight. Over time, not being able to deal with our natural “fight or flight” response to stress causes anxiety attacks. The country is experiencing anxiety attacks. As the pressure continues to build, as our anxiety gets worse over time, we might have panic attacks. 

The debt ceiling crisis, the fiscal cliff crisis and now the sequester crisis are all examples of Republicans binding the progressive agenda and causing anxiety attacks for the country and each of us as citizens. The stress is building and the anxiety attacks are coming more frequently. The future might lead to panic attacks.

How to Resolve the Double Bind?

The key to getting out of the double bind dilemma is to take the stick away from the teacher. Using this metaphor and applying this pattern to the Republicans requires insight into the dynamics of the power struggle. What Democrats need to do is alter the pattern. Do something unexpected - stop negotiating with the Republicans and use your executive powers to continue to take action on climate change in a more dramatic way than you have been doing.

What are the assumptions that the Republicans are making to support their words and actions? What are the assumptions that the student is making that keeps him at the table?  We need to peel back the layers of the dilemma by continuing to ask questions about the hidden assumptions, threats and sources of fear in order to alter the pattern.

I can not give you the answers to these questions. You and other Democrats will have to use your insight and figure out what the stick represents in the real world and how to take the stick away from the Republicans. There might be a different stick for each major issue. There might be one giant stick that they use in different ways.

One way to take the stick away from them, that you have already used, is to have VP Binden carry your message to the Senate and have them pass legislation even though the House might not pass it. Keeping your team together and “on message” is difficult but helps in the long run. But these are things you already know about and do.

Validate what you are going to do by creating a double reward situation. No matter what the Republicans and conservatives say or do, Democrats and progressives take a stand on moral principles that is right. Supporting the Voting Rights Act is an example.

What key thing can you and other Democrats do to take the stick away from the Republicans? Who would the Republicans least expect to rise up and disagree with them? Who has not voiced their support for your agenda and, surprisingly, has the power to counter the suppression techniques used by the Republicans?

Republicans use all of the “Five Master Suppression Techniques”:
  • Making Invisible
  • Ridicule
  • Withholding Information
  • Double Bind
  • Shame and Guilt

By ignoring your positive messages, your facts, your details and denying you have any power, Republicans are attempting to make you and the progressive agenda invisible to the public. Your public messages, speaking directly to the people and using social media, are all examples of how to deal with this attempt to make you invisible. Keep taking up the media space, keep yourself involved. Keep making yourself visible to the people.

By their body language and implications, by name calling and descriptions, Republicans continue to ridicule Democratic politicians, their progressive agenda and you. The counter message is to question what they said and ask them if they really meant what they said. You can validate your questions by making sure that you are asking them to behave in a respectful manner. No drama Obama!

The Republicans withhold information, deny facts, ignore cause and effect, and manipulate information to support their agenda. The way to counter this suppression technique is to put all the cards on the table. Keep informing politicians and the people of the details of your plans. Transparency about guns, climate change, taxes, spending, and many other issues counters their mis-information campaign. This is one of the strongest weapons Republicans and conservatives use that creates confusion and delay.

The Double Bind was discussed in detail above.

Shame and guilt are feelings we all have at one time or another. Some of us are more sensitive to feelings of shame and guilt. Republican words and actions are designed to cause people to feel shame and guilt for not agreeing with them, by blaming you for something that you did not cause. For example, by not reducing taxes on the “job creators” you are denying people jobs and unemployment will not go down. You are suppose to feel shame and guilt about this and every other major issue on their agenda. Republicans blame you for unemployment, the debt and the deficit and other issues even though these are not your fault.

This is the most difficult suppression technique to counter. Blame and shame can be described as the total sum of all the preceding suppression techniques.  Shame and guilt are thrown at us externally while the feelings are experienced internally.

The first step is to be aware of these feelings people have, that they are being applied by someone else and it is not our fault. You need to state this in public to the people. You need to state that you are breaking the pattern of the past and we are not going back to the way things were.

Second, you need to be clear about your expectation of positive and healthy relationships based on respect. Keep repeating this message.

Third, you need to set reasonable standards and boundaries. These might be physical boundaries or abstract boundaries. Standards of behavior and standards of honesty.  For example, you might have an issue where you take action on your own, as President, and use your executive powers to direct government actions. The Republicans would then have to cross a clear boundary of separation of powers and everyone would be able to see this.

You are fighting a battle for all of us that has been repeated for hundreds of years. The rich and powerful want to suppress any opposition that would change things for the better for everyone else. The rich and powerful conservatives in America have been using these techniques with more force, as minorities have become the majority, and the white male voters are now a minority.  I am a white male voter, but I am a liberal with beliefs aligned with a progressive agenda that will benefit everyone.

Take Care

Richard Turnock

Summary of Five Master Suppression Techniques

Domination Technique
Counter strategy
Validation Technique
Taking up space
Cards on Table 
Double Bind
Alter The Pattern
Double Reward
Guilt & shame
Manage Self-Talk
Setting Reasonable Standards