Behavioral Psychology Explained
The following information is from Jed Brown's report "The 'Skinner Box' School" which is reproduced in its entirety as Appendix XX in my book the deliberate dumbing down of america. This will be very helpful for those who have never been taught about behavioral psychology. If you want to understand what is happening to children, this briefly tells the story:
Three different types of psychological conditioning have invaded schools with Outcome- Based Education and education reform. Each type has its specified purpose in controlling the behavior, and therefore the minds, attitudes, and values of our young. The first is Classical Conditioning, developed by a Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov only a few years before Watson’s conception of Behaviorism. The second, credited to B.F. Skinner, is Operant or Instrumental Conditioning. The third, attributed to Albert Bandura, is Observational Learning. Each of these Behaviorist conditioning approaches is woven through the OBE reforms of education to accomplish only one thing: to control attitudes by controlling behavior.
Classical, or Pavlovian Conditioning can be defined as creating a relatively permanent change in behavior by the association of a new stimulus with an old stimulus that elicits a particular response. Working on physiology experiments, Pavlov noted that each time the dogs he used as subjects were to be fed they began to salivate. He identified the food as the “old” stimulus and the salivation as the response, or behavior. Pavlov rang a bell each time the food was presented to the dogs. The bell was identified as the “new” stimulus. After several pairings of the bell and the food, he found that the dogs would salivate with the bell alone. A change in behavior had occurred.
All well and good, but what do dogs, food, saliva, and bells have to do with changing attitudes in children? Just like Pavlov’s dogs, children’s behavior patterns can be changed with Classical Conditioning. Upon sufficient pairings, a child will associate old behavior patterns and consequent attitudes with new stimuli. The Pavlovian approach is therefore a potent weapon for those who wish to change the belief structures of our children. Further, Classical Conditioning may be used to set children up for further conditioning that is necessary for more complex attitude shifts. The method is being used to desensitize children to certain issues that heretofore would have been considered inappropriate for school-age children.
One example of an attitude change by Pavlovian conditioning revolves around the word “family.” The term “family,” as it is applied to the home setting, is used as the old stimulus. The allegiance to parents and siblings that is normally associated with the term “family” may be thought of as the response, or behavior. With the current education reform movement the child is told by the teacher that the school class is now the family. Thus, the term “class” may be thought of as the new stimulus. By continually referring to the class or classroom as the family, an attitude change takes place. By association, the child is conditioned to give family allegiance to the class and teacher.
An example of desensitizing children through Classical Conditioning can be seen in the inclusion of gender orientation within the curriculum. The school setting may be thought of as the old stimulus. The formal school setting carries with it a whole set of emotional-behavioral responses, or behaviors. There is an air of authority and legitimacy that is attached to those subjects included in the curriculum. This feeling of legitimacy can be considered a behavioral response. By placing the topic of gender orientation into the curriculum, it is associated with legitimacy of the school settings. Thus, children are desensitized to a topic that is different from the traditional value structure, and hence they are predisposed to further conditioning.
The real meat and potatoes of Outcome-Based Education is Operant Conditioning, or Rat Psychology, so called because B.F. Skinner used rats as his experimental subjects. A “Skinner Box,” a box containing a press bar and a place to dispense a food pellet, is used to condition the rat to press the bar (the behavior). A food pellet (the stimulus) is used to reinforce the desired behavior, pressing the bar. The rat, having no idea what to expect, is placed in the box. Once in the box, the rat’s movements are exploratory and random. As soon as the rat looks towards the bar, the experimenter releases a food pellet. After eating the food the rat resumes his random movement. Another look, another pellet. Another look, another pellet.
Once the rat is trained to look at the bar, he is required to approach the bar before the pellet is delivered. The rat must then come closer and closer to the bar each time before reinforcement is given. Over time, the rat’s behavior is slowly shaped by the experimenter; each trial the rat successively approximates more closely the ultimate behavior of pressing the bar. Eventually the well-conditioned rat will continually press the bar as fast as he can eat. Operant Conditioning is, therefore, defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior by successive approximations through repeated trials using positive or negative reinforcements.
The concept of “successive approximation” is key to understanding the use of Operant Conditioning with Outcome-Based Education. Just as for the rat, the experimenter (the State) establishes the ultimate goals for children (pressing the bar). OBE requires that specific behavioral outcomes be designed such that the children must master each outcome in succession. The outcomes are designed in a spiral fashion, such that as the child goes further in school, the outcomes more closely approximate the ultimate goals. As children master an outcome, the reinforcement is found in approval (food pellets). Another outcome, more approval. Another outcome, more approval (successive approximation). When the Skinner Box experiment is complete, our children, like rats, will dance to the tune of the State.
Observational Learning, although it does not carry the name conditioning, has been described by Dollard and Miller as a special case of Operant Conditioning. It is Operant Conditioning applied to social behavior. Observational Learning is the twenty-five cent word for modeling. There are two purposes for Observational Learning in the schools. First, it is a method used to condition a host of social behaviors, like parenting styles, gender roles, problem-solving strategies, and discipline boundaries. Second, it is used as reinforcer of the behaviors and attitudes previously conditioned with Classical and Operant Conditioning.
According to Observational Learning, people model the behavior of those within their “reference groups.” Under normal conditions, the child’s primary reference group is the family. Nevertheless, children are being conditioned with Classical methods to shift allegiance to their new school family, their new reference group. Once the new group is established, schools use surveys to gauge attitudes and then orchestrate the conditioning process through Observational Learning. Relying almost exclusively on cooperative learning (group learning), OBE reforms unfortunately use Observational Learning to establish and enforce the proper behaviors and attitudes through peer pressure and a forced “group think” process.
The idea that our schools are not dealing in attitudes and values is ludicrous. The psychologists have ripped the schools from parents and teachers alike. Their only objective is to create children who may look different, but behave the same, think the same, and believe the same. They shall create in each child the “perfect child.” Like John B. Watson, they shall create children as they see fit. They shall do it with conditioning, not teaching. Is it any wonder that our schools are failing to educate children when we use rats as the example of exemplary learning? Welcome to the “Brave New World.” Welcome to the “SKINNER BOX SCHOOL.” [all emphases added]