Behaviorism - Do you buy it? : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

I have an interview for a teaching position on Friday, so I've been researching like crazy. I know, perhaps, everything there is to know [on the web] about the school in question, but after reviewing some examples of interview questions, my research went on [and continues to go on.]

One of the sample interview questions involved "your philosophy of education." Personally, I agree very much with Marva Collins in this regard. I think if we set high standards and convince children they can meet that standard, the standards will be met. How does one, however, convince children that they can meet the standard without them failing in a particular area and accepting defeat? How do we pull them out of the "I just can't do it." frame of thought?

I suspect most here are familiar with the works of Skinner, Watson, et al. I'm curious, however, to see whether you see this line of thought as being outdated, or defective in some other way.


by Gary DeMar

Behaviorism originated with the work of John B. Watson, an American psychologist. Watson claimed that psychology was not concerned with the mind or with human consciousness. Instead, psychology would be concerned only with behavior. In this way, men could be studied objectively, like rats and apes. Watson's work was based on the experiments of Ivan Pavlov, who had studied animals' responses to conditioning. In Pavlov's best-known experiment, he rang a bell as he fed some dogs several meals. Each time the dogs heard the bell they knew that a meal was coming, and they would begin to salivate. Pavlov then rang the bell without bringing food, but the dogs still salivated. They had been "conditioned" to salivate at the sound of a bell. Pavlov believed, as Watson was later to emphasize, that humans react to stimuli in the same way.

Behaviorism is associated today with the name of B.F. Skinner, who made his reputation by testing Watson's theories in the laboratory. Skinner's studies led him to reject Watson's almost exclusive emphasis on reflexes and conditioning. People respond to their environment, he argued, but they also operate on the environment to produce certain consequences.

Skinner developed the theory of "operant conditioning," the idea that we behave the way we do because this kind of behavior has had certain consequences in the past. For example, if your girlfriend gives you a kiss when you give her flowers, you will be likely to give her flowers when you want a kiss. You will be acting in expectation of a certain reward. Like Watson, however, Skinner denied that the mind or feelings play any part in determining behavior. Instead, our experience of reinforcements determines our behavior.

Behaviorism originated in the field of psychology, but it has had a much wider influence. Its concepts and methods are used in education, and many education courses at college are based on the same assumptions about man as behaviorism. Behaviorism has infiltrated sociology, in the form of sociobiology, the belief that moral values are rooted in biology. What are the presuppositions of behaviorism?

1. Behaviorism is naturalistic. This means that the material world is the ultimate reality, and everything can be explained in terms of natural laws. Man has no soul and no mind, only a brain that responds to external stimuli.

2. Behaviorism teaches that man is nothing more than a machine that responds to conditioning. One writer has summarized behaviorism in this way: "The central tenet of behaviorism is that thoughts, feelings, and intentions, mental processes all, do not determine what we do. Our behavior is the product of our conditioning. We are biological machines and do not consciously act; rather we react to stimuli."1

The idea that men are "biological machines" whose minds do not have any influence on their actions is contrary to the biblical view that man is the very image of God - the image of a creative, planning, thinking God. In fact, Skinner goes so far as to say that the mind and mental processes are "metaphors and fictions" and that "behavior is simply part of the biology of the organism."2 Skinner also recognizes that his view strips man of his "freedom and dignity," but insists that man as a spiritual being does not exist.

3. Consistently, behaviorism teaches that we are not responsible for our actions. If we are mere machines, without minds or souls, reacting to stimuli and operating on our environment to attain certain ends, then anything we do is inevitable. Sociobiology, a type of behaviorism, compares man to a computer: Garbage in, garbage out.

This also conflicts with a Christian worldview. Our past experiences and our environment do affect the way we act, of course, but these factors cannot account for everything we do. The Bible teaches that we are basically covenantal creatures, not biological creatures. Our nearest environment is God Himself, and we respond most fundamentally to Him. We respond either in obedience to or rebellion against His Word.

4. Behaviorism is manipulative. It seeks not merely to understand human behavior, but to predict and control it. From his theories, Skinner developed the idea of "shaping." By controlling rewards and punishments, you can shape the behavior of another person.

As a psychiatrist, one of Skinner's goals is to shape his patients' behavior so that he or she will react in more socially acceptable ways. Skinner is quite clear that his theories should be used to guide behavior: "The experimental analysis of behavior has led to an effective technology, applicable to education, psychotherapy, and the design of cultural practices in general, which will be more effective when it is not competing with practices that have had the unwarranted support of mentalistic theories."3

In other words, Skinner wants behaviorism to be the basis for manipulating patients, students, and whole societies. The obvious questions, of course, are: Who will use the tools? Who will pull the strings? Who will manipulate the technology? No doubt, Skinner would say that only someone trained in behavioral theory and practice would be qualified to "shape" the behavior of other persons. But this is contrary to the biblical view, which commands us to love our neighbor, not to manipulate him.

In summary, the ethical consequences of behaviorism are great. Man is stripped of his responsibility, freedom, and dignity, and is reduced to a purely biological being, to be "shaped" by those who are able to use the tools of behaviorism effectively.

1 David Cohen, "Behaviorism," in The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Richard L. Gregory, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 71.

2 B.F. Skinner, "Skinner on Behaviorism," in Ibid., p. 75.

3 Ibid.

Excerpt used from Surviving College Successfully: A Complete Manual for the Rigors of Academic Combat by Gary DeMar, 1988 by Primero Resources, used by permission of Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, Inc. Available from your local Christian bookstore.

-- Anita (, July 19, 2000


You might find some of these books by one Gary de Mar also interesting. Just click to Gary Duct Tape's or go right here:


-- anon (, July 19, 2000.


I don't think these Gary DeMars have any more in common than the woman by my same name that lives in Florida.

-- Anita (, July 19, 2000.


I loved Skinner's stuff, especially the pigeons! BUT, during my brief stay as a psych major before changing over to more *tangible* pursuits, I found that behaviorism, even when practical to apply, was not well received by the more "liberal" mindset of the faculty.

Therefore, I'd probably downplay it in your interview, and focus on things that don't work but sound good to your interviewer. Then when you get the job, change back and do what works best for your students.

An older and more cynical,


-- Someone (, July 19, 2000.


Behaviorism's dead wrong, IMO.

I just saw your post, realized you needed something fairly quickly, and typed out some stuff from a really good book.

I didn't finish, didn't have time to check for typos, and I'll be mostly offline until tomorrow, but I hope it gives you a feel for the problems.

From "Taking Responsibility," by Nathaniel Branden, page 49...

In Skinner's "Beyond Freedom and Dignity," he argues that such notions as free will and self-responsibility are prescientific superstitions. He envisions a world in which people will be "conditioned" to behave as enlightened persons think they should.

There are two things to be said against psychological determinism, whether the doctrine is advanced on econmic grounds, as an appeal to instincts, or in reference to some sort of social conditioning. The first is that no empirical evidence supports it: It rests on an act of faith. The second is that no one can maintain a belief in determinism without self-contradiction. I shall briefly state why.

In all its forms the determinist view of mind maintains that whether an individual thinks or not, takes cognizance of the facts of reality or not, places facts above feelings or feelings above facts, everything is determined by forces outside of the individual's control. At any given moment or in any situation, the individual's method of mental functioning is the inevitable product of an endless chain of antecedent factors.

Yet consider this. We are neither omniscient nor infallible. We must work to achieve our knowledge. The mere presence of an idea inside our mind does not prove that the idea is true; many false ideas may enter our consciousness. But if we believe what we HAVE to believe, if we are not free to test our ideas against reality and validate or reject them -- if the actions and content of our mind, in other words, are determined by factors that may or may not have anything to do with reason, logic, and reality -- then we can never know if any conclusion is justified or unjustified, true or false.

Knowledge consists of the correct identification of facts. To know if the contents of our mind do constitute knowledge, to know that we have identified the facts correctly, we require a means of testing our conclusions against reality and checking for contradictions. This means and is the process of reasoning itself, the noncontradictory integration of all available evidence. It is thus that we validate our conclusions. But this validation is possible only if our capacity to judge is free.

Without this freedom, we cannot maintain logically that any convicition or belief of ours is justified. We can only declare that we feel compelled to believe what we believe. We cannot, without self-contradiction, declare, "A rational examination of the facts supports the doctrine of determinism." We can only declare, "I feel compelled to assert that psychological determinism is true."

There's more text, but in the meantime, if you have any questions I'll try to give you more insight into the problems with this doctrine.

Good luck with the position.

-- eve (, July 19, 2000.


I think I was in error. It appears that Wolgemuth & Hyatt consists of none other than Michael and friend.


I'm only an advocate of behaviorism to the extent that if one BELIEVES themselves capable of something, they will lean towards that goal. My method of teaching consists of this, in addition to constructionism and constructivism, with lots of other theories thrown in.

Folks learn in different ways, IMO. Some folks learn by visual stimuli, some have to write things down for reinforcement, and some need to experience things HANDS-ON. It doesn't matter to me HOW it's done, just that learning is experienced. To ME, behaviorism is an important beginning. If one has always met with failure, this behavior pattern needs to be changed before one can move on to knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and finally, evaluation.

As usual, I'm learning a great deal in researching that relates to MYSELF. That a particular article on behaviorism MAY have been written by someone who is closely linked with Gary North's philosophies bothers me not one bit. We may disagree on everything in life except how to successfully remove weeds from a garden. This doesn't make an article on gardening less worthy, IMO.

-- Anita (, July 19, 2000.

>I have an interview for a teaching position on Friday, so I've been researching like crazy. I know, perhaps, everything there is to know [on the web] about the school in question, but after reviewing some examples of interview questions, my research went on [and continues to go on.]

Seems like what really matters is what the hiring committee and the dean is into. You didn't say whether this is a secondary or post- secondary gig, but if it's post-secondary, you need to do a quick search of what the tenure-line faculty has published lately (that is, the associate and assistant profs). What has the department coordinator published? Has he or she published lately? Has he or she presented any papers recently?

How does the school feel about "service-learning"? This is some up and coming BS that some administrators really like. Does this school have these types of programs? Does your department participate? How could you fit into that if so? Many deans are into this stuff.

If this is a secondary gig, never mind. None of the above applies.

-- (, July 19, 2000.

My philosophy of education: flunk 'em all and let the financial aid office sort them out.

I also quit teaching about ten years ago. There is too much BS in higher education these days, although many of the two-year comprehensive community colleges are holding their own out here in the Midwest.

-- (, July 19, 2000.

Anita, You might want to read up on John Stanford, he was an ex-army general who became superintendant of public schools here in Seattle, unfortunatly he died of cancer a few years ago, but his methods and standards are what are now being touted nationally as the ones to follow for schools.

I knew him personally.

-- Cherri (, July 19, 2000.

Anita, the article said,

In other words, Skinner wants behaviorism to be the basis for manipulating patients, students, and whole societies. The obvious questions, of course, are: Who will use the tools? Who will pull the strings? Who will manipulate the technology? No doubt, Skinner would say that only someone trained in behavioral theory and practice would be qualified to "shape" the behavior of other persons. But this is contrary to the biblical view, which commands us to love our neighbor, not to manipulate him.

In summary, the ethical consequences of behaviorism are great. Man is stripped of his responsibility, freedom, and dignity, and is reduced to a purely biological being, to be "shaped" by those who are able to use the tools of behaviorism effectively.

I didn't really pick up on this the first time I read the article, but I must say I disagree. From what I've read (although I admit it was awhile ago) Skinner seemed like a pretty nice man. I really doubt he intended such a *sinister* tone to his theories, but think that what he was looking for was a straightforward way of achieving a goal.

And "manipulating" society? Are you "manipulating" your students when you want them to learn or do their homework, or are their parents "manipulating" them when they want to teach their offspring not to go out and shoot someone? I don't think doing things effectively is the same as doing them *evilly*, OOPS, feel a rant coming on, so will sign off as

Skinner Fan,


-- Someone (, July 19, 2000.


It sounds like you are already an experienced teacher. And you have raised 3 kids. I bet that makes you more informed than some of us. Certainly more than me.

Is behaviorism in fashion these days? In education; in psychology; in stopping smoking? Anywhere? Pavlov and Skinner go a way back. To me, behaviorism is like many ideas--ie, partly true, part of the time. It strikes me as a helpful tool in forming good habits and breaking bad ones. But how to apply it to motivate students? What would that mean--rewards and punishment? Are we talking young kids? Some of the pop motivators (Tony Robbins, etc) probably have better techniques.

I recognize that the human animal is somewhat conditionable but surely we are much than an input-output mechanism that can be math modeled by a "transfer function" (a little control-systems lingo there). I am no more comfortable with psychological determinism than I am with genetic determinism or historical determinism.

I remember hearing of Marva Collins and what an excellent job she did teaching in inner-city Chicago. I'll bet behavorialism was only one trick in her motivational bag.

Good luck on the interview.

-- Lars (, July 19, 2000.


.....Just for the record; Skinner's model is what's been used in our public education system for the bulk of this last century; I don't think the results have been worth a damn. Aside from that, he was an idiot that drove his own daughter to insanity with his "experimentation", and if I remember correctly, to the point of suicide, (not completely certain on the suicide part, but I think that's what I remember).

-- Patrick (, July 19, 2000.

Thanks for the suggestions, folks. When I first began researching the interview process this morning, I hit upon the "What is your philosophy of teaching?" question and thought, "I know how I FEEL about it, but I don't know what it's called." Behaviorism was the first of many methods I encountered, and thought I'd pass it by y'all. Who ever REALLY thinks about Skinner and Watson anymore?

Yes, I did teach the community college level. This particular school is a K through 12. They have openings for both math and science teachers at the high-school level. Either one would be fine by me.

Math, in particular, is a subject in which many young people feel inadequate. I tutored several neighborhood teens that were having problems in math, and in each instance they seemed to have received reinforcement that they just didn't have the potential to "get it." Many of Marva Collins' students had the same opinion of themselves. It's in this sense that I feel the behavior resulting in "I can't" needs to be modified to a behavior resulting in "I can."

Moving from the philosophy of "I can" to the reality of "I did" requires experimentation in various methods, customized to each individual, or individuals who learn via the same stimuli. How do you get someone to "love" the experience? Reinforcement of successes allows a student to begin feeling competent in the subject matter.

I really enjoyed watching the "light go on" in the students I tutored. "You've got it!" went on to "Let's try another one." "The kids CRAVED another one at this point." Of course the REAL pleasure came when the kids returned banging on my door. "'Nita! I got an 'A'!"

-- Anita (, July 19, 2000.

I really enjoyed watching the "light go on" in the students I tutored. "You've got it!" went on to "Let's try another one." "The kids CRAVED another one at this point."

Be sure to tell your interviewers that! It's easy to get lost in the theories and philosophies of teaching, but what you just wrote is (or should be, to me) the bottom line.

Good luck on Friday, Anita! I'm sure that you'll do well. Don't take it personally if you don't get the job. Often, it seems like there are a lot of unnecessary politics involved in the hiring process at both secondary and post-secondary. I'm seeing the process anew through my girlfriend's eyes: she's going to be chair of a high school math department this fall (this position rotates among senior staff) and she's now sitting in on the hiring process.

The goofest thing I can share is that one of the candidates barely speaks English, but this person had recently taught full-time in a rural high school because they needed math instructors so badly. (This person's spouse just got transferred to Columbus.)No, this person isn't going to get hired here, but will probably get hired in one of the neighboring towns.

-- (, July 20, 2000.


I think nurturing and recognizing a child's self-esteem is at the root of these issues.

If there's any way you could get hold of "The Six Pillars of Self- Esteem" by Nathaniel Branden in time, there are two chapters on nurturing self-esteem in children -- one of them is in the school environment -- that are excellent.

I think that once a child has a real sense of self-esteem -- that is, a sense of self-confidence and self-worth -- teaching them would come far easier and be most enjoyable for both parties. But even if the child doesn't have, and can't easily acquire it -- when you recognize this, and can estimate the level of self-esteem they do have (it's a range -- we all have at least some level of it) it should be somewhat easier to deal with.

If you don't have time to get this book, and you're interested, let me know, and I'll try to check back and post some of it and/or summarize, if I have the time.

-- eve (, July 20, 2000.

Thanks,Eve. There were several good summaries on the net. Here's one of perhaps five I read: Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

-- Anita (, July 20, 2000.

Anita, that was a very good essay; and one I had not been aware of.

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear before, but what I was referring to was that within the book itself ("The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem"), there are two chapters that don't have summaries on the web -- as far as I'm aware. Those two chapters are narrowly tailored to self-esteem in children and in the school environment. It's those two that I was going to try to summarize for you if you couldn't find the book.

But it's great that you're reading summaries of the whole concept of self-esteem ahead of time anyway; in fact, this is really the best way to go about it. And check out Branden's website (if you haven't already), where there are many more essays online. After reading those, you may be able to project on your own how to apply it in the areas of children and the schools.

Actually, from what I know of you, and the way you're bringing up your kids, you already seem to be pretty much aware of what's important here -- it's just that Branden lays it all out so comprehensively.

-- eve (, July 20, 2000.

Eve: Yep...I read so many books about self-esteem before/during raising my own kids that reading another at this time may just put me to sleep. I WILL, however, check out the book at the local library at the same time I check out John Stanford's book. There's always more to learn, and I think John Stanford [in particular] had much to offer on education.

Cherri: I was disappointed in the Tony Robbins offerings. He's simply too commercialized for me. I have a friend who sent me an entire shoebox full of motivational tapes that he'd copied from his originals. He was REALLY moved by the speaker, but I wasn't. Both Tony Robbins and whoever sold my friend the tapes remind me of Suzanne Sommers in her commercial advertizing an exercise machine. Folks get all whipped up about it, buy the stuff, and within 6 months the stuff is collecting dust and the folks are doing what they did before.

-- Anita (, July 20, 2000.

After a mildly successful career in show business, my Daughter and her husband have become very prominent venture capitalists. Although I am extremely proud of her accomplishments, the passionate attachment to all things Tony Robbins never fails to amuse me. Whatever. They travel the world to attend his functions and buy expensive products sold or endorsed by the Ultra-White Teeth Guru. Given his love of broccoli you have to wonder how often he has his choppers steam cleaned. They attribute some degree of their success to the teachings of Robbins and I say it is he who has become successful off of them.

-- Ra (tion@l.1), July 20, 2000.

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