Ed-tech mindfulness, like other mindset marketing, disguises the ways they kill us.
The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health.
Rising autism diagnoses lead to the growth of an autism industry that caters more for the cultural expectations of parents than the needs and well-being of autistic people on the margins of society.
I am watching the US education system not very subtly invite punishment back into the mainstream classroom. This appears to be driven by the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).
Autism therapy is attracting significant attention from private equity firms, a trend that could fund rapid expansion of clinics, but is also raising concerns about quality of care.
Like EdSurge, Disability Scoop uncritically promotes marketing. A great many autistic people reject ABA as abuse. Private equity doesn’t care. We are commodities.
Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism – a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement – and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.
Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.
It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on – in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.
It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory. That means attending less to students’ behaviors and more to the students themselves.
Behaviorism commodifies people. I wish humane tech and tech regrets folks were louder about what’s going in ed-tech. The primitive moral development of Silicon Valley (& Skinner & Lovaas) is in our schools.
Educators and tech workers, do we want to be in the business of behaviorism?
…you cannot understand the history of education technology in the United States during the twentieth century – and on into the twenty-first – unless you realize that Seymour Papert lost and B. F. Skinner won.
> I have often argued to students, only in part to be perverse, that one cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.
(I am assuming, I suppose, that you know who these two figures are: Edward L. Thorndike was an educational psychology professor at Columbia University who developed his theory of learning based on his research on animal behavior – perhaps you’ve heard of this idea of his idea, the “learning curve,” the time it took for animals to escape his puzzle box after multiple tries. And John Dewey was a philosopher whose work at the University of Chicago Lab School was deeply connected with that of other social reformers in Chicago – Jane Addams and Hull House, for example. Dewey was committed to educational inquiry as part of democratic practices of community; Thorndike’s work, on the other hand, happened largely in the lab but helped to stimulate the growing science and business of surveying and measuring and testing students in the early twentieth century. And this is shorthand for Condliffe Lagemann’s shorthand, I realize, but you can think of this victory in part as the triumph of multiple choice testing over project-based inquiry.)
Thorndike won, and Dewey lost. I don’t think you can understand the history of education technology without realizing this either. And I’d propose an addendum to this too: you cannot understand the history of education technology in the United States during the twentieth century – and on into the twenty-first – unless you realize that Seymour Papert lost and B. F. Skinner won.
Mood: Rubrics, behaviorism, surveillance, compliance, and stress aren’t a learning culture worth showing up for.
When ABA proponents tell parents that only several hours a day of relentless compliance training can “make us fit for society”, they are not seeing a person. They are seeing a problem, a defect. Yet they insist on Person First Language.
“Because Kara’s self-injury is a behavioral issue as opposed to neurological, it’s THC, not CBD, that stabilizes her mood.”
I get the distinction they’re trying to draw, but I cringe at seeing autistic needs framed as and reduced to a “behavioral issue”. Stop interpreting our needs as “behavior”. Behaviorism is bad framing. The behavioral vs. neurological and THC vs. CBD binaries in that sentence are too…binary.