Are we training pigeons or educating children?

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Charlotte Thomson IserbytNo Way, ESEA!
A Class­room Teacher Rais­es Hard Ques­tions

A 3D commentary by grassroots teacher Dawn Hoagland

A 3D com­men­tary by grass­roots teacher Dawn Hoagland

Are we train­ing pigeons or edu­cat­ing chil­dren? That is the big ques­tion we need to ask Con­gress as they re-autho­rize ESEA (the Ele­men­tary and Sec­ondary Edu­ca­tion Act)!
There seems to be a new idea, which is actu­al­ly old, being pre­sent­ed in Con­gress right now: Chil­dren can be trained to do what­ev­er we want them to do – just like pigeons!

In 1977 The Dis­trict of Columbia’s Asso­ciate Super­in­ten­dent of Schools, Guines, told us about the change from teach­ing aca­d­e­mics to skills train­ing, rec­om­mend­ed by the U.S. mil­i­tary and nec­es­sary for work­force train­ing.

The mate­ri­als will be stan­dard­ized, the lessons will be stan­dard­ized,” Guines said. “We’re tak­ing the play out. We’re tak­ing the guess­work out. We’re putting in a pre­cise pre­dict­ed treat­ment that leads to a pre­dict­ed response.” Guines said that the new cur­ricu­lum is based on the work in behav­ioral psy­chol­o­gy of Har­vard University’s B.F. Skin­ner, who devel­oped teach­ing machines and even trained pigeons dur­ing World War II to pilot and det­o­nate bombs and tor­pe­does. The basic idea, Guines said, is to break down com­pli­cat­ed learn­ing into a sequence of clear sim­ple skills that vir­tu­al­ly every­one can mas­ter, although at dif­fer­ent rates of speed. “If you can train a pigeon to fly up there and press a but­ton and set off a bomb,” Guines remarked, “why can’t you teach human beings to behave in an effec­tive and ratio­nal way? We know that we can mod­i­fy human behav­ior. We’re not scared of that. This is the biggest thing that’s hap­pen­ing in edu­ca­tion today…” (Excerpt from the delib­er­ate dumb­ing down of amer­i­ca by Char­lotte Iser­byt, p. 146)

Skinner pigeonSome peo­ple have been plan­ning for the world-wide con­ver­sion to Out­comes Based Edu­ca­tion for decades. B.F. Skin­ner died in 1990 and Ben­jamin Bloom died in 1999 but Marc Tuck­er is still around to clap for this incred­i­ble trans­for­ma­tion. Now he can write, “Dear Hillary, it is final­ly hap­pen­ing in 2015.”

The Com­mon Core is their dream come true. Any­one who com­pares the old New York State Stan­dards to the Com­mon Core can see that aca­d­e­m­ic con­tent has been replaced by emp­ty skill sets. Acquir­ing knowl­edge has been exchanged for mod­i­fy­ing behav­ior. Learn­ing how to car­ry numer­als for dou­ble dig­it addi­tion has been replaced by draw­ing cir­cles around each group of ten cup­cakes. This is not progress.

Kinder­garten stu­dents are now expect­ed to sit at desks for hours being inap­pro­pri­ate­ly sub­ject­ed to a crash course in read­ing before they can tie their shoes. What hap­pened to play­ing with blocks, learn­ing how to choose the right one, bal­anc­ing it cor­rect­ly to con­struct a tow­er? How about paint­ing at an easel with bright col­ors?

The Com­mon Core has made blocks and easels irrel­e­vant. It is impor­tant to under­stand Ben­jamin Bloom’s def­i­n­i­tion of edu­ca­tion, “to change the thoughts, actions, and feel­ings of stu­dents.” Bloom is to mod­ern teacher train­ing what Moses is to Judaism. Every teacher stud­ied “Bloom’s Tax­on­o­my” after it was pub­lished in 1969.

The authors of Bloom’s Tax­on­o­my state: “we rec­og­nize the point of view that truth and knowl­edge are only rel­a­tive and that there are no hard and fast truths which exist for all time and all places.” Ben­jamin Bloom, Edi­tor, Tax­on­o­my of Edu­ca­tion­al Objec­tives, The Clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Edu­ca­tion­al Goals, Hand­book I: Cog­ni­tive Domain, at 32 (1969).

In 1962, prayer was banned from pub­lic schools. Remov­ing God from the schools paved the way to remove dis­cus­sions of absolute truth as well. Char­ac­ter Edu­ca­tion became the new buzz­word. Do we real­ly want the state to define “good cit­i­zen­ship” and “moral­i­ty” for our chil­dren? Nazi Ger­many, Red Chi­na and the Sovi­et Union each defined “good cit­i­zens” and used data col­lec­tion and sur­veil­lance to force com­pli­ance.

Skinner babyWe know that Skinner’s lab rats received food pel­lets dur­ing their train­ing. What does behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion look like in the class­room? Stu­dents are taught to respond to a sys­tem of extrin­sic rewards and con­se­quences called Pos­i­tive Behav­ior Inter­ven­tion Strate­gies (PBIS.) Some teach­ers ask stu­dents to com­ply because they will get a stick­er or mar­bles in the jar that will even­tu­al­ly result in a piz­za par­ty.

Behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion is not about acquir­ing knowl­edge, using log­ic, or assess­ing truth. In fact, those things inter­fere with the pro­gram­ming. This is where the exces­sive non­sen­si­cal test­ing comes in. Truth and knowl­edge are not the point. It is only nec­es­sary for the stu­dent to know how to answer a series of cocka­mamie ques­tions cor­rect­ly and nav­i­gate the mouse to com­plete the test on time.

Such a sys­tem deprives the stu­dent of oppor­tu­ni­ties to rea­son through cir­cum­stances where depth of knowl­edge and good judg­ment are need­ed. Com­ply­ing with non­sen­si­cal demands demon­strates loy­al­ty to author­i­ty. What if the real pur­pose of the tests is sim­ply to deter­mine who is a com­pli­ant test tak­er?

pigeon pelletOpt your chil­dren out of the tests. Deprive the state of data. Urge Con­gress to scrap the pro­posed ESEA bills. The inter­op­er­a­ble state data col­lec­tion sys­tems must be dis­man­tled. Call Con­gress: 202–224-3121.

Did humans real­ly evolve from a sin­gle-celled crea­ture? Are we any dif­fer­ent than ani­mals or not? Ben­jamin Bloom was a trans­for­ma­tion­al Marx­ist ded­i­cat­ed to destroy­ing the ideals Amer­i­ca was found­ed upon. If we know we are not mere ani­mals, but instead cre­at­ed in the image of God with minds capa­ble of dis­cov­er­ing truth, beau­ty and virtue, then we must object to this tyran­ny.

The Com­mon Core has changed our schools from teach­ing aca­d­e­m­ic con­tent to train­ing for the per­for­mance of select­ed skills, nec­es­sary for the imple­men­ta­tion of a school-to-work sys­tem.

This rank­ing and sort­ing pro­gram that relies on data col­lec­tion, includ­ing psy­cho­me­t­ric pro­files, starts in kinder­garten or even pre-k. Will your chil­dren make it through the sys­tem to be labeled as “valu­able” sources of human cap­i­tal? Will they learn to com­ply? Do you real­ly want them to?Skinner Debby baby

Ed. Note: For fur­ther read­ing on these top­ics, see the month of Octo­ber 2014, in which this blog cov­ered B.F. Skinner’s involve­ment in mod­ern edu­ca­tion philoso­phies and prac­tices.

Also see:
Bomb­ing Pigeons Used As Mod­el for Train­ing Chil­dren!
Total­i­tar­i­an Data-Gath­er­ing
Marc Tucker’s Turkeys
The REAL Agen­da Behind Abol­ish­ing the U.S. Dept. of Edu­ca­tion