The Skinner Horror Files

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Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt

31 Days of B.F. Skin­ner Hor­ror Stories


HorrorBecause so much edu­ca­tion reform rests upon Skin­ner’s meth­ods and ide­olo­gies, it is time to tell the truth. The next 31 days this blog will be post­ing cur­rent and his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the true nature of Skin­ner’s “edu­ca­tion” that has been foist­ed upon our nation’s children.

I could make a pigeon a high achiever
by rein­forc­ing it on a prop­er schedule.”
‑B.F. Skinner

Almost all major prob­lems involve human behavior,
and they can­not be solved by physical
and bio­log­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy alone.
What is need­ed is a tech­nol­o­gy of human behavior.”
‑B.F. Skin­ner, Beyond Free­dom and Dignity

In 1968 B.F. SKINNER: THE MAN AND HIS IDEAS by Richard I. Evans was pub­lished (Dut­ton and Com­pa­ny: New York, 1968). Here are some key Skin­ner quotes with a com­ment by Evans:

I could make a pigeon a high achiev­er by rein­forc­ing it on a prop­er schedule.”

… His [Skinner’s] con­cern for what he believes to be the inad­e­qua­cy of our for­mal edu­ca­tion sys­tem led to apply­ing the prin­ci­ples of oper­ant con­di­tion­ing to a learn­ing sys­tem which he called the teach­ing machine, but Skinner’s approach is con­cerned with more than mere­ly meth­ods and tech­niques. He chal­lenges the very foun­da­tions by which man in our soci­ety is shaped and con­trolled. (p. 10)

[F]or the pur­pose of ana­lyz­ing behavior
we have to assume man is a machine.”(p. 24)

You can induce him to behave accord­ing to the dic­tates of society
instead of his own self­ish interest.”(p. 42)

I should not both­er with ordi­nary learn­ing theory.…
I would elim­i­nate most sen­so­ry psy­chol­o­gy and
I would give them no cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gy whatsoever
[mean­ing the stu­dents, ed.].”(p. 91)

B.F It isn’t the per­son who is impor­tant, it’s the method. If the prac­tice of psy­chol­o­gy sur­vives, that’s the main objec­tive. It’s the same with cul­tur­al prac­tices in gen­er­al: no one sur­vives as a person.”(p. 96)

It does both­er me that thou­sands of teach­ers don’t under­stand, because imme­di­ate gains are more like­ly in the class­room than in the clin­ic. Teach­ers will even­tu­al­ly know—they must [understand]—and I am more con­cerned with pro­mot­ing my the­o­ries in edu­ca­tion [oper­ant conditioning].”(p. 96)

I should like to see our gov­ern­ment set up a large edu­ca­tion­al agency in which spe­cial­ists could be sent to train teachers.”(p. 109)
B.F. SkinnerIn 1953 Skin­ner wrote Sci­ence and Human Behav­ior (Macmil­lan & Co.: New York, 1953), with­in which is found the fol­low­ing quote:

A rather obvi­ous solu­tion is to dis­trib­ute the con­trol of human behav­ior among many agen­cies which have so lit­tle in com­mon that they are not like­ly to join togeth­er in a despot­ic unit. In gen­er­al this is the argu­ment for democ­ra­cy against total­i­tar­i­an­ism. In a total­i­tar­i­an state all agen­cies are brought togeth­er under a sin­gle super-agency.”

Obvi­ous­ly, even before the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion was estab­lished and orga­nized teacher in-ser­vice train­ing had tak­en a behav­ior­ist (per­for­mance-based) turn, Skin­ner was advo­cat­ing these very oper­ant con­di­tion­ing meth­ods in all phas­es of edu­ca­tion. Begin­ning in 1965, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment imple­ment­ed sev­er­al teacher edu­ca­tion pro­grams based on per­for­mance —per­for­mance-based teacher education—which would ful­fill Skinner’s plan. Skin­ner was always more con­cerned with “how” teach­ers teach than with “what” teach­ers teach.

One must nev­er for­get that this is all about our chil­dren. Stay tuned in the next 31 days!
For the full con­text of these remarks and quotes above, see my book the delib­er­ate dumb­ing down of amer­i­ca, avail­able freely online as a down­load­able document.