A New Approach Educating Students of Color

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TITLE: "Spiral Dynamics&emdash;A New Approach Educating Students of Color"


  1. To enable teachers/administrators to understand that the roots of educational inequity are not found in our genes, but in our memes&emdash;deep level value systems.
  2. To uncover the operating value systems undergirding educational failure today.
  3. To show how the educational systems can be transformed so that everyone wins.

INSTRUCTOR: Caleb Rosado (Ph.D., Northwestern University), a former university professor of sociology, has been a consultant on issues of diversity and change since 1978.

LENGTH: Two 8-hour days

FOR WHOM?: For educators and school administrators.

SUMMARY: On the verge of the 21st century, the educational experience of Latino youth is more reflective of what it was for the nation on the verge of the 20th century. The latest results of the national study, "No More Excuses: The Final Report of the Hispanic Dropout Project," show that while the dropout rate is declining for the majority of America's youth, White, Asian, and Black, for Latinos it is alarmingly on the rise. The reasons given for such a deplorable state tend to be the usual negative stereotypes that: Latino families do not value education, language limitations, poverty, lack of academic proficiency, etc. None of these reasons are new; they have been expressed countless of times, yet the problems still persist. Much effort has been directed toward improving the educational status of Latino youth, but to no avail. Now the reaction to this final report of the Hispanic Dropout Project has been Vice President Gore's announcement of a budget of $618 million dollars to be spent for education for Latino youth. But, if we are not careful, we can end up funding the same programs that produced the problems in the first place. Where lies the solution?

The problem with the usual approaches to solving such a crisis in education is to focus on the surface container (race, gender, skin color, socioeconomic differences) rather than on the contents (value systems&emdash;how people think and act in terms of the world they are in). Such approaches, however, fail to recognize that education functions on two dimensions&emdash;Horizontal and Vertical. To comprehend these two dimensions one first needs to grasp Spiral Dynamics. Spiral Dynamics is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual framework for understanding human development and human systems. It unveils the hidden codes and dynamic, spiral forces that shape human nature, create global diversities, and drive social change. Developed by Don E. Beck and Christopher C. Cowan of the National Values Center, Inc. in Texas, from two converging streams of thought&emdash;primarily, Clare W. Graves' Value Systems theory of 'levels of human existence' and, secondarily, biologist Richard Dawkins' concept of 'memes'&emdash;Spiral Dynamics explores the new science of memetics, the study of ideas and their transmission.

Memes are cultural units of information that self-replicate by means of thought-contagion, using the human mind as a host, and attach themselves to individuals, organizations, entire cultures, and societies. They culturally impact the body politic, just like genes, the code carriers of DNA, biologically impact the body physical. Spiral Dynamics shifts the focus from the WHAT of human behavior, the surface issues, ideas, beliefs, actions, artifacts, and values&emdash;the memes&emdash;that fragment or unify human groups, to the WHY and HOW of such behavior&emdash;the vMEMEs&emdash;the core Value Systems awakened by changing life conditions and manifested as a dynamic spiral of levels of human existence. Memes operate on two levels, horizontally and vertically.

The horizontal dimensions of education is what the report uncovered: that Latino students have a high dropout rate for reasons stated above. People will argue over these reasons, and millions of dollars will be expended to try to alter these conditions, all focused on the surface level of education, the area where our differences&emdash;color, gender, status, language, physical features, culture, values, beliefs, actions, artifacts, worldviews, and national origin&emdash;conflict. To focus on these surface differences, the what&emdash;the container&emdash;is to miss the larger picture, the Vertical dimension, the why and how of human action&emdash;the contents. This is the area of Value Systems, the deep-level core intelligences, conceptual schemes, and frameworks for beliefs and behaviors, from which emerge the surface differences.

Ninety-five percent of all educational programs, workshops for effective education, restructuring curriculum, teacher training, improving the academic standing of minority children, multicultural education, motivational training, leadership, conflict resolution, and social policy planning focus on these surface differences, the Horizontal dimension. Yet our struggle is not with human types, or their socioeconomic conditions, but with deep-level human Value Systems, that like migrating, bio-psycho-social-spiritual tectonic plates, on colliding, release energy that reverberates to the surface in conflict over group differences and competition for scarce resources. The problem is not that we are Latino or White, male or female, first-generation immigrant or several generation native-born. It is the Value Systems within us that are at war. Since these are deep decision systems in people, not types of people, they transcend race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, culture, and societies.

The Latino dropout problem is a surface symptom of deeper forces operating in groups and in society, that like a deadly virus, infect all areas of life. What divides us in society, however, is not our genes, but our memes. We look different because of our genes; we think and act different because of our memes. Our genes are only Horizontal differences. It is the deep, memetic, bio-psycho-social-spiritual magnetic forces on the Vertical axis that attract and repel humanity, and result in success or failure in academics. The dropout rate manifests itself differently depending on the level of existence where students are located. Failure to understand this results in a Flatlander approach to education. "Flatlanders" are persons unable to recognize the vertical, spiral structure of human existence, and thus focus on superficial differences, rigid categories, simplistic types, and on labels to put on people. They put everyone through the same car wash, one-size-fits-all approach, paint only with broad horizontal brush strokes, as "flavor-of-the-month" consultants who project their own values, fears, and prejudices on others. The result is an insensitivity to the needs of individuals, organizations, and cultures at different levels of existence. To concentrate efforts only along the Horizontal axis, is merely to catalogue biosocial traits and inventory cultural, IQ, and test score differences. To resolve problems of human relations requires managing both axes. This is the new direction for educational leadership and the arresting of the dropout problem in the 21st century.

MORE ON SPIRAL DYNAMICS: For more information on Spiral Dynamics and memes see the book by the founders of the National Values Center, Inc., Don E. Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (Blackwell 1996), from where ideas for this opinion piece were drawn, or their website,



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Rosado Consulting
for Change in Human Systems
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for Change in Human Systems.