This blog is a tribute and memorial to the life of my dear friend, O. Jerome (Jed) Brown. The writings posted here are the articles that he published in his newsletter, The Traditional Educator. His theme was the art of teaching versus psychological conditioning, the nobility of the former and the wanton destructiveness of the latter.

Jed campaigned for the office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction in the State of Washington in 1992 and 1996. His platform was to return public education back to the traditional knowledge-based disciplines of learning; to save our school system, teachers, children, families and scociety from the disaster of the "education reform" mandated by HB 1209, our state's version of outcome based education.

In 1993 Jed led a group of concerned parents and teachers in an effort to repeal HB 1209. Had Referendum 47 succeeded, the disastrous WASL test requirement would never have seen the light of day.

In 1995 Jed researched, wrote and co-produced a 4-part video series, "The People vs The Educational Confederacy: Educational Restructuring on Trial" with Katie Levans of Tacoma, WA. If you want to know who is responsible for "education reform," this 2-hour video production lays it all out.

On September 6, 2009 Jed Brown passed away.

Please join me in "Remembering Jed."

1994 Maltby Meeting

Cursor down to the bottom of the page for six video clips of Jed's remarks addressing Education Reform legislation, Outcome-based Education, Behavioral Conditioning and Curriculum.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Skinner Box School

“The ‘Skinner-Box’ School” by Jed Brown was published in the March 1994 issue of Squibbs and is reprinted here in its entirety.

Outcome-Based Education (OBE) has become a blight on the landscape of our national heritage. After only a few years of OBE, whole school systems are beginning to wither and die. Much worse, the children, their minds once fertile fields of intellectual soil, are even now being infected by the worm of ignorance. True learning is starved to death, as all of the nutrients of sound academic practice are being replaced with a dust-bowl curriculum that is structured to secure proper attitudes for the “Brave New World.” Sadly, the only “outcome” of OBE will be a baser society, a society in which the nobility of the mind is lost to the savagery of enslavement.

But wait! Parents have been told that Outcome-Based Education has nothing to do with changing the attitudes and values of their children; that OBE will improve learning for all children through “best-practices” research. What parents are not being told is that the research base for OBE is from the field of psychology, not education; that in psychology the term “learning” is synonymous with the term “conditioning.” What parents are not being told is that Outcome-Based Education is not education al all; it is but the hollow substitute of psychological conditioning or, as it is sometimes called, behavior modification.

Why is conditioning replacing the teaching/learning process in our schools? If the object is to change the attitudes and values of the young, why would “behavior modification” be used? Why not work with attitudes and values directly? Just tell the children what they must believe! After all, the conventional wisdom is that attitudes control behavior. If a child develops the “right” attitudes he will behave in the “right” manner. Beyond the fact that parents would not stand for such an intrusion as an overt assault on traditional values, psychologists know something that lay people do not. They realize that the direct approach to changing values does not work.

Modern psychological research suggests that the opposite of conventional wisdom is true. It is our behavior that shapes our attitudes, not the other way around. Therefore, to control a child’s attitudes and values it is first necessary to modify the child’s behavior. If the child has the “right” behavior, then his attitude will change to accommodate the behavior, his value system will change to reflect his new set of attitudes. It is like falling dominoes: if the first piece is toppled, then the rest will tumble after. Thus, conditioning, i.e., modifying behavior, is the perfect method for instilling in children the new value system required of citizens of the New World Order. Our schools know that changing behavior is the first domino. Remember, “the student shall demonstrate.”

To understand the devastation of OBE conditioning, it is important to know its origins and how it is being used to change children forever. The lineage of psychological conditioning can be formally traced back to the early part of this century, to an American psychologist named John B. Watson. Watson is credited as the father of the Behaviorist School of Psychology. He believed that psychology should become the science of behavior, discarding references to thoughts, feelings, and motivation. For Watson, only that which was observable was important. The goal of psychology, he thought, should be to predict a behavioral response given a particular stimulus.

Further, it was a time of great debate in psychology. The debate centered on whether heredity or the environment had the most profound effect on the development of the individual. Watson believed that heredity had little or no effect, that a person’s development was almost totally dependent upon his environment. In fact, Watson boasted,

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. "

Watson’s statement is at the heart of OBE. Watson became the most influential force in spreading the idea that human behavior was nothing more than a set of conditioned responses. According to the narrow view of Behaviorism, learning is nothing more than “a relatively permanent change in an organism’s behavior due to experience.” Other psychologists first, then educational leaders, and finally rank-and-file teachers have been persuaded to adopt the Behaviorists’ view of education. The richness of education is thus lost, as the schooling experience is reduced to only applied learning. No longer does learning enhance the internal locus of man—it is but an external shell. The curriculum has become hollow and learning has become mere conditioning.

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 ft. 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.”

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