Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shaping A Child's Behavior

Day 15: Skinner Horror Files

More history that would upset parents if they only knew...
B.F. Skinner

In 1961 PROGRAMMED LEARNING: EVOLVING PRINCIPLES AND INDUSTRIAL APPLICATIONS (Foundation for Research on Human Behavior: Ann Arbor, Mich., 1961) edited by Jerome P. Lysaught was published. An excerpt from the introduction by Thomas H. Miller follows:
To introduce the subject, we would like to have each of you work through the first lesson of Dr. B.F. Skinner’s course in psychology. We would hope, incidentally, that a portion of the material is somewhat new to you so that some learning will actually take place in your encounter with the subject matter. Further, we hope it will demonstrate certain phenomena that will be spoken of repeatedly today, such as effective reinforcement of the learner and progress at the individual rate....
Your introduction to the course consists of the presentation of the programmed learning sequence on the next pages.
The directions are simple. You should read the first stimulus item, S-1, consider it, and then construct in your own words the best possible answer. As soon as you have done this, turn the page and compare your answer with the answer listed at R-1, the first response item. Proceed through the program, going on to S-2 on the next page.

Under the section entitled “Principles of Programming,” written by Robert Glaser (see previous blogposts here and here), we find
the following excerpts to be revealing:
It is indeed true that this book would never have been conceived without the well-known and perhaps undying work of Professor Skinner…. It is largely through Professor Skinner’s work that all this theory and excitement about teaching machines and programmed learning has come about.
The essential task involved is to evoke the specific forms of behavior from the student and through appropriate reinforcement bring them under the control of specific subject matter stimuli. As a student goes through a learning program certain of his responses must be strengthened and shaped from initial unskilled behavior to subject matter competence.... Our present knowledge of the learning process points out that through the process of reinforcement, new forms of behavior can be created with a great degree of subtlety. The central feature of this process is making the reinforcement contingent upon performances of the learner. (Often the word “reward” is used to refer to one class of reinforcing events.)...

The term “programming” refers to the process of constructing sequences of instructional material in a way that maximizes the rate of acquisition and retention and enhances the motivation of the student.... A central process for the acquisition of behavior is reinforcement.
Behavior is acquired as a result of a contingent relationship between the response of an organism and a consequent event. In order for these contingencies of reinforcement to be effective, certain conditions must be met. Reinforcement must follow the occurrence of the behavior being taught. If this is not the case, different and perhaps unwarranted behavior be learned.  
The computer (Skinner's "teaching machine") was  particularly suited for providing immediate "reinforcement" to children. This was Skinner's "Programmed Learning," and we are now 53 years later. Just what is happening to your child in the classroom these days? Do you even know?

The above material was adapted for blog posting, with emphasis added. It comes from page 61 of my book. Want to know more? See Appendix 3 of my book the deliberate dumbing down of america. Be sure to read yesterday's post HERE for more context and background.