The Legacy of B. F. Skinner?
Sherry left a comment on my post Science Lagging? which I thought would be an interesting topic.
It would be interesting to hear just what your college taught about Skinner's methods, and how these were supposed to play out in curriculum and classroom practice.
Indeed it would. For those who don't know, I have a degree in education from the University of Kansas which developed the Behavioral Model of instruction, based on B.F. Skinner's research. The problem is that Skinner's philosophy was more infused throughout the curriculum than explicitly taught. It is difficult to separate out was said about him and his research because I really don't remember talking about him much outside of my psych classes. If I were to go back through all of those courses now, I might have a different view, but a lot of it was good instructional practice and I still use bits of it. I'll address that later.

What made me uncomfortable then (and I truly despise now) is Skinner's basic view of human learning. Humans are compared to animals, specifically rats trained to hit levers to get food rewards on varying schedules. Learning is seen as the net result of environmental stimuli. Humans can be conditioned...even brainwashed. But do we want to raise our children to increase those behaviors which bring positive benefits to them, or do we want to raise our children to make decisions based on principles, despite the consequeces? Skinner writes in Beyond Freedom and Dignity,
What do we mean when we say we want to be free? Usually we mean we don't want to be in a society that punishes us for doing what we want to do. Okay--aversive stimuli don't work well anyway, so out with them! Instead, we'll only use reinforcers to "control" society. And if we pick the right reinforcers, we will feel free, because we will be doing what we feel we want!
I can't help but draw a distinct comparison here to modern society. Out with aversve stimuli...sentences for crimes are getting lighter with increasing focus on societal factors than individual responsibility. What reinforcers "control" society? They seem more like distractions to me, but our entertainment driven culture continually desensitizes partakers to a variety of behaviors, including sex outside of marriage, course language, nudity, homosexuality, and even murder. And I would say that a good deal of us "feel [we are] free, because we [are] doing what we feel we want!"

We do what we feel we want and therefore show little or no concern over increasing state involvement in every aspect of our lives. We do what we feel we want and thus do not care when our property is taken from us and redistributed based on what the state says is for the "common good." We do what we feel we want and thus show little more than passive distaste for increasing violence in our communities. We do what we feel we want so feel no personal responsibility for our communities, our neighbors, and, increasingly, our own families. So mom and dad both work, Jr. attends daycare, goes to a public school and is involved in who knows how many extra-curricular activities. They sit down to dinner, a little homework and a couple of hours of television and go to bed, feeling they are free.

But is that what true freedom is? Historically, the word "free" is derived from a German concept based on rights and responsibilities. Not on doing what we feel we want. And the bible tells us that "if the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." Free from sin, free from death, and free to enter into a relationship with the Creator of the universe. Not free to do what we feel we want. Freedom is not an imaginary construct based on what we were trained to desire, but a very real relationship between our God-given rights and responsibilities.

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