Friday, October 24, 2014


Skinner's Erosion of Privacy

LAWRENCE P. GRAYSON OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF Education, wrote “Education, Technology, and Individual Privacy” (ECTJ, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 195–208) in 1976. The following are some excerpts from this important paper which serves as a clear warning regarding the indiscriminate use of behaviorist methods and technology:
The right to privacy is based on a belief in the essential dignity and worth of the individual. Modern technological devices, along with advances in the behavioral sciences, can threaten the privacy of students. Fortunately, invasions of privacy in education have not been widespread. However, sufficient violations have been noted to warrant specific legislation and to promote a sharp increase in attention to procedures that will ensure protection of individual privacy. Technology that can reveal innermost thoughts and motives or can change basic values and behaviors, must be used judiciously and only by qualified professionals under strictly controlled conditions. Education includes individuals and educational experimentation is human experimentation. The educator must safeguard the privacy of students and their families....

Privacy has been defined as “the right to be let alone” (Cooley, 1888) and as the “right to the immunity of the person—the right to one’s personality” (Warren and Brandeis, 1890). Individuals have the right to determine when, how, and to what extent they will share themselves with others. It is their right to be free from unwarranted or undesired revelation of personal information to others, to participate or withdraw as they see fit, and to be free of unwarranted surveillance through physical, psychological, or technological means.
Justice William O. Douglas expressed the concerns of many people when he stated:
We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy; when everyone is open to surveillance at all times; when there are no secrets from the government.... [There is] an alarming trend whereby the privacy and dignity of our citizens is being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen—a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a man’s life at will.

Behavioral science, which is assuming an increasing role in educational technology, promises to make educational techniques more effective by recognizing individual differences among students and by patterning instruction to meet individual needs. However, behavioral science is more than an unbiased means to an end. It has a basic value position (Skinner, 1971) based on the premise that such “values as freedom and democracy, which imply that the individual ultimately has free will and is responsible for his own actions, are not only  cultural inventions, but illusions” (Harman, 1970). This position is contradictory to the basic premise of freedom and is demeaning to the dignity of the individual. Behavioral science inappropriately applied can impinge on individual values without allowing for personal differences and in education can violate the privacy of the student....

Reflecting on the ethical values of our civilization in 1958, Pope Pius XII commented:
There is a large portion of his inner world which the person discloses to a few confidential friends and shields against the intrusion of others. Certain [other] matters are kept secret at any price and in regard to anyone. Finally, there are other matters which the person is unable to consider.... And just as it is illicit to appropriate another’s goods or to make an attempt on his bodily integrity without his consent, so it is not permissible to enter into his inner domain against his will, whatever is the technique or method used....
Whatever the motivations of the teacher or researcher, an individual’s privacy must take precedence over effective teaching, unless good cause can be shown to do otherwise. Good cause, however, does not relieve the teacher or school administrator from the responsibility of safeguarding the privacy of the student and the family. Yet, many teachers and administrators remain insensitive to the privacy implications of behavioral science and modern technology in education....

Intent on improving education, educators, scientists, and others concerned with the development and application of technology are often insensitive to the issues of privacy raised by the use of their techniques. For example, many psychological and behavioral practices have been introduced on the ground that they will make education more efficient or effective. However, improvements in efficiency through technological applications can reinforce these practices without regard to their effects. What is now being done in education could be wrong, especially if carried out on a massive scale. As the use of technology becomes more widespread, we may reach the point where errors cannot be detected or corrected. This is especially important because technology interacts with society and culture to change established goals and virtues. Propagating an error on a national level could change the original goals to fit the erroneous situation. The error then becomes acceptable by default.

In developing and applying technology to education, potential effects must be analyzed, so that negative possibilities can be identified and overcome before major resources are committed to projects that could produce undesirable long-term social consequences.
In matters affecting privacy it is better to err on the side of the individual, than on that of research or improved educational practice. Violations of privacy can never be fully redressed.
Ftnt. No. 14. Privacy is a constitutionally protected right; education is not. The Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut (decided in 1965) that the right of privacy is guaranteed by the Constitution. In Rodriguez v. San Antonio Independent School District (decided in 1973), the Court ruled that education is not a protected right under the Constitution.
Excerpted from my book the deliberate dumbing down of america, pages 137-138.