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Charlotte Thomson IserbytDAY 24: SKINNER HORROR FILES

Skinner TIMESkin­ner’s Ero­sion of Privacy

LAWRENCE P. GRAYSON OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF Edu­ca­tion, wrote “Edu­ca­tion, Tech­nol­o­gy, and Indi­vid­ual Pri­va­cy” (ECTJ, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 195–208) in 1976. The fol­low­ing are some excerpts from this impor­tant paper which serves as a clear warn­ing regard­ing the indis­crim­i­nate use of behav­ior­ist meth­ods and technology:

The right to pri­va­cy is based on a belief in the essen­tial dig­ni­ty and worth of the indi­vid­ual. Mod­ern tech­no­log­i­cal devices, along with advances in the behav­ioral sci­ences, can threat­en the pri­va­cy of stu­dents. For­tu­nate­ly, inva­sions of pri­va­cy in edu­ca­tion have not been wide­spread. How­ev­er, suf­fi­cient vio­la­tions have been not­ed to war­rant spe­cif­ic leg­is­la­tion and to pro­mote a sharp increase in atten­tion to pro­ce­dures that will ensure pro­tec­tion of indi­vid­ual pri­va­cy. Tech­nol­o­gy that can reveal inner­most thoughts and motives or can change basic val­ues and behav­iors, must be used judi­cious­ly and only by qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als under strict­ly con­trolled con­di­tions. Edu­ca­tion includes indi­vid­u­als and edu­ca­tion­al exper­i­men­ta­tion is human exper­i­men­ta­tion. The edu­ca­tor must safe­guard the pri­va­cy of stu­dents and their families.…privacy

Pri­va­cy has been defined as “the right to be let alone” (Coo­ley, 1888) and as the “right to the immu­ni­ty of the person—the right to one’s per­son­al­i­ty” (War­ren and Bran­deis, 1890). Indi­vid­u­als have the right to deter­mine when, how, and to what extent they will share them­selves with oth­ers. It is their right to be free from unwar­rant­ed or unde­sired rev­e­la­tion of per­son­al infor­ma­tion to oth­ers, to par­tic­i­pate or with­draw as they see fit, and to be free of unwar­rant­ed sur­veil­lance through phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, or tech­no­log­i­cal means.

Jus­tice William O. Dou­glas expressed the con­cerns of many peo­ple when he stated:

We are rapid­ly enter­ing the age of no pri­va­cy; when every­one is open to sur­veil­lance at all times; when there are no secrets from the gov­ern­ment.… [There is] an alarm­ing trend where­by the pri­va­cy and dig­ni­ty of our cit­i­zens is being whit­tled away by some­times imper­cep­ti­ble steps. Tak­en indi­vid­u­al­ly, each step may be of lit­tle con­se­quence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a soci­ety quite unlike any we have seen—a soci­ety in which gov­ern­ment may intrude into the secret regions of a man’s life at will.

DouglasBehav­ioral sci­ence, which is assum­ing an increas­ing role in edu­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy, promis­es to make edu­ca­tion­al tech­niques more effec­tive by rec­og­niz­ing indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences among stu­dents and by pat­tern­ing instruc­tion to meet indi­vid­ual needs. How­ev­er, behav­ioral sci­ence is more than an unbi­ased means to an end. It has a basic val­ue posi­tion (Skin­ner, 1971) based on the premise that such “val­ues as free­dom and democ­ra­cy, which imply that the indi­vid­ual ulti­mate­ly has free will and is respon­si­ble for his own actions, are not only cul­tur­al inven­tions, but illu­sions” (Har­man, 1970). This posi­tion is con­tra­dic­to­ry to the basic premise of free­dom and is demean­ing to the dig­ni­ty of the indi­vid­ual. Behav­ioral sci­ence inap­pro­pri­ate­ly applied can impinge on indi­vid­ual val­ues with­out allow­ing for per­son­al dif­fer­ences and in edu­ca­tion can vio­late the pri­va­cy of the student.…

Reflect­ing on the eth­i­cal val­ues of our civ­i­liza­tion in 1958, Pope Pius XII commented:

There is a large por­tion of his inner world which the per­son dis­clos­es to a few con­fi­den­tial friends and shields against the intru­sion of oth­ers. Cer­tain [oth­er] mat­ters are kept secret at any price and in regard to any­one. Final­ly, there are oth­er mat­ters which the per­son is unable to con­sid­er.… And just as it is illic­it to appro­pri­ate another’s goods or to make an attempt on his bod­i­ly integri­ty with­out his con­sent, so it is not per­mis­si­ble to enter into his inner domain against his will, what­ev­er is the tech­nique or method used.…

What­ev­er the moti­va­tions of the teacher or researcher, an individual’s pri­va­cy must take prece­dence over effec­tive teach­ing, unless good cause can be shown to do oth­er­wise. Good cause, how­ev­er, does not relieve the teacher or school admin­is­tra­tor from the respon­si­bil­i­ty of safe­guard­ing the pri­va­cy of the stu­dent and the fam­i­ly. Yet, many teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors remain insen­si­tive to the pri­va­cy impli­ca­tions of behav­ioral sci­ence and mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy in education.…

Privacy2Intent on improv­ing edu­ca­tion, edu­ca­tors, sci­en­tists, and oth­ers con­cerned with the devel­op­ment and appli­ca­tion of tech­nol­o­gy are often insen­si­tive to the issues of pri­va­cy raised by the use of their tech­niques. For exam­ple, many psy­cho­log­i­cal and behav­ioral prac­tices have been intro­duced on the ground that they will make edu­ca­tion more effi­cient or effec­tive. How­ev­er, improve­ments in effi­cien­cy through tech­no­log­i­cal appli­ca­tions can rein­force these prac­tices with­out regard to their effects. What is now being done in edu­ca­tion could be wrong, espe­cial­ly if car­ried out on a mas­sive scale. As the use of tech­nol­o­gy becomes more wide­spread, we may reach the point where errors can­not be detect­ed or cor­rect­ed. This is espe­cial­ly impor­tant because tech­nol­o­gy inter­acts with soci­ety and cul­ture to change estab­lished goals and virtues. Prop­a­gat­ing an error on a nation­al lev­el could change the orig­i­nal goals to fit the erro­neous sit­u­a­tion. The error then becomes accept­able by default.

Skinner mouseIn devel­op­ing and apply­ing tech­nol­o­gy to edu­ca­tion, poten­tial effects must be ana­lyzed, so that neg­a­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties can be iden­ti­fied and over­come before major resources are com­mit­ted to projects that could pro­duce unde­sir­able long-term social consequences.

In mat­ters affect­ing pri­va­cy it is bet­ter to err on the side of the indi­vid­ual, than on that of research or improved edu­ca­tion­al prac­tice. Vio­la­tions of pri­va­cy can nev­er be ful­ly redressed.
Ftnt. No. 14. Pri­va­cy is a con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly pro­tect­ed right; edu­ca­tion is not. The Supreme Court ruled in Gris­wold v. Con­necti­cut (decid­ed in 1965) that the right of pri­va­cy is guar­an­teed by the Con­sti­tu­tion. In Rodriguez v. San Anto­nio Inde­pen­dent School Dis­trict (decid­ed in 1973), the Court ruled that edu­ca­tion is not a pro­tect­ed right under the Constitution.

Excerpt­ed from my book the delib­er­ate dumb­ing down of amer­i­ca, pages 137–138.Skinner quote2