Forty hours of look at me/quiet hands? No more fluttering your hands in a language only you know, no more flapping your hands watching golden drops of happiness fly from your fingertips as you hum … no more angry bolts of lightening flying from your nails as you shake your hands so hard your wrists pound.
No more you.
It’s been a thoroughly demoralizing few weeks on the advocacy front with a progressive Democrat endorsing ABA in education and the vile flood of ableism from the left directed at disabled self-advocates for sharing tales of ableism in the gig economy.
I cling to the bright spot that is Alfie Kohn’s powerful piece of advocacy against behaviorism in ed.
See also his previous piece on behaviorism.
We so desperately need allies against ABA & behaviorism in ed. Allies like @alfiekohn. He gets it. The response to this piece from the neurodiversity, disability, & ed communities I hang out in has been very positive. Kohn is an informed ally. https://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/autism/
…behaviorism represents a reductive, experience-denying caricature of science that is still trapped in the century-old ideology of logical positivism. It gives real science a bad name.
If their theory collapses the richness of human experience into measurable behaviors and their practice relies on objectifying children, is it really surprising that the widespread antipathy for ABA expressed by people who have had it done to them doesn’t seem to faze its practitioners and proponents one bit? Behaviorists see only behaviors. The experience of those to whom they’re doing things is, if you’ll excuse the expression, outside the spectrum of what they’ve been trained to detect and address.
ABA is rooted in an ideology that proudly stays on the surface, committed to reinforcing whatever behaviors the people who control the reinforcements endorse and extinguishing those they don’t. This focus on behavior — on that which can be seen and quantified — isn’t just problematic theoretically (reflecting a truncated understanding of human psychology) and ethically; it also fails from a practical perspective, as has been demonstrated repeatedly. If you train an autistic kid to stop rocking or squealing or flapping his hands, you have done exactly nothing to address what elicited that self-regulating or self-stimulating behavior and its emotional significance to him. Kids need to feel safe; ABA just eliminates the (unusual) ways he tries to attain that safety — for example, by elaborately praising him for “quiet hands.”
But if your child is getting classic ABA therapy, what you are seeing is an illusion. And what looks like progress is happening at the expense of the child’s sense of self, comfort, feelings of safety, ability to love who they are, stress levels, and more. The outward appearance is of improvement, but with classic ABA therapy, that outward improvement is married to a dramatic increase in internal anxiety and suffering.
I was once an Autistic child and I can tell you that being pushed repeatedly to the point of tears with zero sense of personal power and knowing that the only way to get the repeated torment to end was to comply with everything that was asked of me, no matter how painful, no matter how uneasy it made me feel, no matter how unreasonable the request seemed, knowing that I had no way out of a repeat of the torment again and again for what felt like it would be the rest of my life was traumatizing to such a degree that I still carry emotional scars decades later. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is a therapist, a teacher, a parent, or an age-peer: bullying is bullying.
Source: ABA – Unstrange Mind
What if anything “good” about ed-tech this past decade was so overwhelmed by all the money funneled into the “bad” that the “good” didn’t matter one whit? What if all that “bad” meant any semblance of “good” was stifled, suffocated? What if, as David Kernohan has suggested, there wasn’t anything this past decade but technological disappointment? What if there wasn’t anything good about ed-tech?
I’m serious. Sit with that sentence a minute before you pipe up to defend your favorite app or social network or that cute robot your kids coded to move in a circle. What if there wasn’t anything good about ed-tech? What if ed-tech is totally inseparable from privatization, behavioral engineering, and surveillance? What if, by surrendering to the narrative that schools must be increasingly technological, we have neglected to support them in being be remotely human? What if we can never address the crises of our democracies, of our planet if we keep insisting on the benevolence of tech?
Source: HEWN, No. 337
“Behaviorism is the foundation of education technology.” It is also the foundation of too much of what we platforms do. See Audrey Watters’ review of the past decade of unethical and misguided ed-tech. Resisting behaviorism in education and in our companies is part of the work of the neurodiversity and disability movements. Allies welcome.
Personalized learning – the kind hyped these days by Mark Zuckerberg and many others in Silicon Valley – is just the latest version of Skinner’s behavioral technology. Personalized learning relies on data extraction and analysis; it urges and rewards students and promises everyone will reach “mastery.” It gives the illusion of freedom and autonomy perhaps – at least in its name; but personalized learning is fundamentally about conditioning and control.