Thanks for this response Karen Kilbane – I absolutely agree.

You present an interesting analysis about the incongruities between privilege and equality. Along a similar line of thinking, it unbelievably never occurred to me until Tim Monreal pointed it out that all standardized testing depends upon assigning a percentage of children to be designated less than average intellectually or intellectual failures in order to be able to designate a percentage of children as intellectually above average or intellectually elite.

The method of assigning value to individual children hierarchically based upon the rubric a small group of educational authorities establish actively sets up equal numbers of children to fail as it does to succeed, and it depends on failure to work.

As children we are enculturated to accept our place in the hierarchy without complaint. If we want a higher ranking, we must figure out how to displace somebody of higher value so we can bump them down and take their place.

It is my belief the beginning point for developing equity is understanding the actual human brain itself. And the brain itself is tasked with constantly exploiting its environments to satisfy its predictions for what to do next. The brain, amidst all its complexity, can only do two main things. Every connection in the nervous system is there to support these two main things, storing all new learning in memory and making continuous predictions for what to do next. To satisfy its predictions, the brain must exploit its environment to the best of its ability.

The word exploitation usually has a negative connotation, but if you take the word in it’s neutral form, you just see brains doing what they are biologically evolved to do which is meeting their needs and achieving their goals in the ways they are able to.

Another example of how to think of exploitation as neutral is this. If I want to become a gymnast, I figure out how to exploit my muscles in order to get the absolute most our of my muscle power and coordination. Once I decide to become a gymnast, I set about doing the necessary physical feats to exploit my muscle power and achieve my goals.

Every brain is constantly exploiting the internal and external resources available in order to achieve its needs and goals.

If we accept every human brain must exploit its environment however it is able, then this changes our overview. I believe this piece of understanding can help us set up human groups in which authority is more transparent and has more checks and balances.

Our federal government, though not perfect, is designed to protect us all from any one individual getting too much power. The notion of checks and balances, in my opinion, is one of the most brilliant concepts of human kind because it accepts the realities of the human brain.

In the end, we all end up competing for resources and power in our environments, and I’m not sure we can ever stop doing this because our brains can’t really stop being brains. The brain is an organ and is bound by its structure and function just like all our other organs.

Psychological theories give us templates for how to exploit our environments to suit us but to make it appear we are really doing if for the good of others. This dynamic creates power imbalances, dishonesty, passive aggression, and a whole host of mental illnesses because it rewards those who are good at subterfuge and penalizes those who are not. If optimal rewards are only given to those good at subterfuge, then we can’t really blame the brains who do it.

So for me, sharing power must begin with the recognition we are all out to maximize our power however we are able to. I believe accepting this about our human brain is the first step towards figuring out how to share power and resources.

When we think about exploitation and power as only something the wealthiest humans have, I think it limits our abilities to establish an overview broad enough to problem solve.

This probably sounds a bit odd, and I didn’t go looking for these ideas at all. The ideas are unintended consequences of my figuring out how to best accommodate my students in a situation where they have zero power and I have all the power. How do I give each student equal power? I could not figure out how until I recognized the need of my own brain to manipulate environmental variables to suit my preferences. Only then could I figure out how to share power with my students and facilitate them at sharing power with classmates. These ideas are fleshed out in my other essays.

My ideas, on paper, still sound funny to me because I never thought I would have therm. But if you think of even someone trying to do good, I still see the same dynamic in the human brain for environmental exploitation. Let’s say Julie wants to set up a school for refugee children. She is passionate and driven. She exploits the environment to the best of her abilities to make a school happen. She might take resources away from other equally wonderful programs in the camp because she is so good at advocating for her cause and at mobilizing resources to achieve her goals. Once she sets up her classroom, she might treat her pupils with a system of discipline that gives her all of the power and her students none. She believes she is doing good, but does not recognize her brain is as power hungry as the poorest child in the room, so she is unable to put checks and balances on her own power.

If we see power from the point of view of the individual human brain, I think we become more realistic about how we handle our brains in our human groups.

I still have to think a lot more about what you wrote as my wheel house is education and child development. I am not skilled at understanding and generalizing economic information, but I just re-read your point about privilege as being the detractor from equality.

I definitely believe authority is equated with privileges and that people under an authority usually do not get to share in those privileges. I think authority, when it is transparent, awarded by the members of the group, and has rigorous checks and balances, can benefit the organization and functioning of the group. Without a proper understanding of the memory/prediction needs of the brain, however, authorities have been able to get away with abuses of their power since the beginning of human history.

Thanks for the conversation! I am passionate about the subject matter and am interested in reading more of your work as well.