Monday, February 18, 2013

Was B.F. Skinner a “teacher” of his rats and pigeons?

Is there any difference between (1) using material rewards and punishments (including grades) to elicit behavioral responses from kids; (2) telling kids what to think about value questions, and then assessing them on how well their answers conform to the “correct” ones; and (3) trying to engage kids’ minds, reason with them, and help them think for themselves about the world around them?

Are the behaviorists right that the answer is “no”? That behavior is all, that “thinking” and “the mind” are useless illusions, and that education should focus only on eliciting desired behaviors?

I propose we use the word “teach” to describe only the third category. I wonder how much of what now goes on in our schools would count as “teaching” under that definition.
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