Monday, April 25, 2005


I've just republished a long article I wrote about behaviourism in 1998, The Place of Behaviourism in Schools (for instance in the teaching of Quadratics)

For a long time before I wrote this article I really disliked the whole idea of Skinner's Behaviourism. This was a strong emotional feeling.

I saw behaviourism as drill and practice imposed by an authority figure, a teacher. I saw myself as a rebellious and creative type who didn't need any external authority to impose their drill and practice on me! I also saw Skinner's absolute refusal to speculate on what happened inside the brain as a huge copout, as some sort of proof of the sterility of his whole approach.

As a methodology behaviourism seemed to symbolise the main thing that was wrong with School and Education. That it was BORING.

I have a vague memory of really liking something I read about Chomsky's "refutation" of Skinner, even though today I can't remember any of the details of what Chomsky said.

At any rate, I much preferred any approach that employed the rhetoric of creativity. Early on I was drawn to 'The Act of Creation' by Arthur Koestler and later to the writings and Constructionist philosophy of Seymour Papert. These thinkers seemed to take creativity seriously not like boring old Skinner.

This history forms an emotional backdrop to this article. When I realised that I had drifted into combining logo programming and behaviourist methods successfully in my classroom then it was a real shock, for a while I was in a state of disbelief.

So I had to write about it and theorise it. I'm still theorising it. For me this article was a difficult self reflection, an accomodation, where my view of the world suddenly crashed in the face of reality.

I now believe that Skinner was misrepresented, that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, that I didn't understand behaviourism and for a variety of reasons I'm now critical of my former hero Chomsky. I don't go into all of this below but would like to see a broad discussion on these issues.

This article covers a lot of ground - behaviourism, constructionism, learning maths, how to use computers in school, School with a capital 'S' (the institution of school and it's ingrained ways) and what works for the disadvantaged.


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