The Attitude Changing Machine”

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Charlotte Thomson IserbytDay 11: Skin­ner Hor­ror Files

And you thought com­put­ers just taught aca­d­e­mics?

Programmed Instruction

In 1963 THE ROLE OF THE COMPUTER IN FUTURE INSTRUCTIONAL SYSTEMS was pub­lished as the March/ April, 1963 sup­ple­ment of Audio­vi­su­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Review.[1] James D. Finn of Los Ange­les was the prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor and Don­ald P. Ely (lat­er of Project BEST: Basic Edu­ca­tion­al Skills through Tech­nol­o­gy) was the con­sult­ing inves­ti­ga­tor for this project. Excerpts from a chap­ter enti­tled “Effort­less Learn­ing, Atti­tude Chang­ing, and Train­ing in Deci­sion-Mak­ing” fol­low:

Anoth­er area of poten­tial devel­op­ment in com­put­er appli­ca­tions is the atti­tude chang­ing machine. Dr. Bertram Raven in the Psy­chol­o­gy Depart­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at Los Ange­les is in the process of build­ing a com­put­er-based device for chang­ing atti­tudes. This device will work on the prin­ci­ple that stu­dents’ atti­tudes can be changed effec­tive­ly by using the Socrat­ic method of ask­ing an appro­pri­ate series of lead­ing ques­tions designed to right the bal­ance between appro­pri­ate atti­tudes, and those deemed less accept­able. For instance, after first deter­min­ing a student’s con­stel­la­tion of atti­tudes through appro­pri­ate test­ing pro­ce­dures, the machine would cal­cu­late which atti­tudes are “out of phase” and which of these are amenable to change. If the stu­dent were opposed to for­eign trade, say, and a favor­able dis­po­si­tion were sought for, the machine would select an appro­pri­ate series of state­ments and ques­tions orga­nized to right the imbal­ance in the student’s atti­tudes. The machine, for instance, would have detect­ed that the stu­dent liked Pres­i­dent Kennedy and was against the spread of Com­mu­nism; there­fore, the stu­dent would be shown that JFK favored for­eign trade and that for­eign trade to under­de­vel­oped coun­tries helped to arrest the Com­mu­nist infil­tra­tion of these gov­ern­ments. If the student’s atti­tudes toward Kennedy and against Com­mu­nism were suf­fi­cient­ly strong, Dr. Raven would hypoth­e­size that a pos­i­tive change in atti­tude toward for­eign trade would be effec­tive­ly brought about by show­ing the stu­dent the incon­sis­ten­cy of his views. There is con­sid­er­able evi­dence that such tech­niques do effec­tive­ly change atti­tudes.

Admit­ted­ly, train­ing in deci­sion-mak­ing skills is a legit­i­mate goal of edu­ca­tion in this age of automa­tion, but the prob­lem remains—does the edu­ca­tor know what val­ues to attach to the dif­fer­ent out­comes of these deci­sions?… What about stu­dents whose val­ues are out of line with the accept­able val­ues of demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety? Should they be taught to con­form to some­one else’s accept­ed judg­ment of prop­er val­ues? Train­ing in deci­sion-mak­ing is ulti­mate­ly com­pound­ed with train­ing in val­ue judg­ment and, as such, becomes a con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject that needs to be resolved by edu­ca­tors before the tools can be put to use.

Programmed ChildAnd you thought Johnny was just learning math? Think again.…

1. Excerpt­ed and adapt­ed and empha­sized from my book, the delib­er­ate dumb­ing down of amer­i­ca, p. 67–68. Facts con­cern­ing this pub­li­ca­tion:
(Mono­graph 2 of the Tech­no­log­i­cal Devel­op­ment Project of the Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion [Con­tract #SAE9073], U.S. Office of Edu­ca­tion, Dept. of Health, Edu­ca­tion and Wel­fare: Wash­ing­ton, D.C., 1963)