Why don’t we know what PTSD looks like in autistic children? Why don’t we have a clear idea how many are experiencing it? I sense that this is because of the deeply problematic core belief in society that autistic distress is a ‘problem behaviour’ that is to be trained out of us. Looking at that list, anger, depression, aggression, irritability, panic, hypervigilance…. I’m mindful of how many behavioural-intervention checklists I see where those items are listed as ‘autism symptoms’ and the individual is relentlessly trained and rewarded for making their internal terror invisible to outsiders.
And quite commonly on Twitter, I’ve seen people call ABA “dog training for children.”
When I see that, I tend to go on Twitter rants in reply to it, because from everything I have read and seen of ABA, it is NOT “dog training” for children.
…I would never treat a dog that way.
In any case, very few dog trainers use the radical behaviourism that’s employed in ABA.
Most of the dog trainers I know mix and match behaviourism with other cognitive science research and other methods to create a more holistic approach to training their dogs. This is because dog trainers understand the limits of behaviourism on canines, because it doesn’t address the whole dog.
One would hope that someone considering using radical behaviourism on a human being would also recognize its limits.
So if it isn’t sufficient to properly train a dog, is it sufficient in educating a child?
A good dog trainer doesn’t extinguish behaviours which improve the dog’s mental health and happiness. But an ABA practitioner may not think twice before doing this to a human child.
Dog trainers understand that dogs need to chew and bark and dig, but ABA therapists don’t understand that autistic children need to repeat words and sentences, flap their hands, and sit quietly rocking in a corner when things get too much.
it’s tempting straight away to see a whole range of educational platforms and apps as condensed forms of surveillance capitalism (though we might just as easily invoke ‘platform capitalism’). The classroom behaviour monitoring app ClassDojo, for example, is a paradigmatic example of a successful Silicon Valley edtech business, with vast collections of student behavioural data that it is monetizing by selling premium features for use at home and offering behaviour reports to subscribing parents. With its emphasis on positive behavioural reinforcement through reward points, it represents a marriage of Silicon Valley design with Skinner’s aspiration to create ‘technologies of behaviour’. ClassDojo amply illustrates the combination of behavioural data extraction, behaviourist psychology and monetization strategies that underpin surveillance capitalism as Zuboff presents it.
Zuboff then goes beyond human-machine confluences in the workplace to consider the instrumentation and orchestration of other types of human behaviour. Drawing parallels with the behaviourism of Skinner, she argues that digitally-enforced forms of ‘behavioral modification’ can operate ‘just beyond the threshold of human awareness to induce, reward, goad, punish, and reinforce behaviour consistent with “correct policies”’, where ‘corporate objectives define the “policies” toward which confluent behaviour harmoniously streams’ (413). Under conditions of surveillance capitalism, Skinner’s behaviourism and Pentland’s social physics spill out of the lab into homes, workplaces, and all the public and private space of everyday life–ultimately turning the world into a gigantic data science lab for social and behavioural experimentation, tuning and engineering.
For surveillance capitalists human learning is inferior to machine learning, and urgently needs to be improved by gathering together humans and machines into symbiotic systems of behavioural control and management.
With the advance of AI-based technologies into schools and universities, policy researchers may need to start interrogating the policies encoded in the software as well as the policies inscribed in government texts. These new programmable policies potentially have a much more direct influence on ‘correct’ behaviours and maximum outcomes by instrumenting and orchestrating activities, tasks and behaviours in educational institutions.
Ed-tech relies on amnesia.
Ed-tech is a confidence game. That’s why it’s so full of marketers and grifters and thugs. (The same goes for “tech” at large.)
Source: HEWN, No. 297
Despite scant evidence in support of the psychopedagogies of mindsets, mindfulness, wellness, and grit, the ed-tech industry (press) markets these as solutions to racial and gender inequality (among other things), as the psychotechnologies of personalization are now increasingly intertwined not just with surveillance and with behavioral data analytics, but with genomics as well. “Why Progressives Should Embrace the Genetics of Education,” a NYT op-ed piece argued in July, perhaps forgetting that education’s progressives (including Montessori) have been down this path before.
“Does It Make More Sense to Invest in School Security or SEL?” Edsurge asked its readers this summer. Those are the choices – surveillance or surveillance.
What an utter failure of imagination.
Public education is looking too much like the autism industry.
Rewards ARE COERCIVE. They ARE MANIPULATIVE. They ARE CONTROLLING.
Giving contingent rewards is not compassionate, kind, or a loving action. Kids understand this fact, and they fight against it. So when a child accuses me of manipulating them, they are right.
I have been through my approach before. I will refer you here and here to learn what I recommend regarding PBIS and here for behavior management in general. Overall, what I wholeheartedly believe is that we need to stop using external motivation as a way of getting kids to engage. We are depriving them of learning for themselves how to act and behave because they want to be good and because they like how they feel when they do the right thing. We are teaching them that, at least in school, their primary motivation to complete work should be to receive a reward from teachers and other adults. We teach them to distrust their intrinsic motivations and desires. We are robbing them of the ability to develop their socioemotional sense of self on their terms.
Dr. Hunsaker is a behavioral neuroscientist and special education teacher. I’ve shared his work before. Some of my favorites:
- Defining Reinforcement and Punishment for Educators – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- PBIS is Broken: How Do We Fix It? – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- We Need to Re-Evaluate School-Wide PBIS – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- We Need to Approach Behavioral Management Differently – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- We Can Prevent Behavior/Emotional Disorders by Teaching Communication Skills – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- Moving Beyond Planned Ignore and Proximity Prase: Strategies to Address Challenging Behaviors – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- Kids Think: Behaviorism Will Fail Until It Accepts This Fact – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- Most of What We Call Autism-Behaviors Really Are Not Unique to Autism – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- Behavioral management in my classroom – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- Students Do Not Deserve Your Sarcasm – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- Behavioral Management – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
- Opinion | Science Confirms It: People Are Not Pets – The New York Times
- Rewards Are Still Bad News 25 Years Later – Alfie Kohn
- It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn
- The Overselling of Gratitude – Alfie Kohn
- The Risks of Rewards – Alfie Kohn
- Explaining the Why of Your Ed-tech Choices – Ryan Boren
- Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology – Ryan Boren
- Persuasion and Operant Conditioning: The Influence of B. F. Skinner in Big Tech and Ed-tech – Ryan Boren
But the goal of disinformation isn’t really around these individual transactions. The goal of disinformation is to, over time, change our psychological set-points. To the researcher looking at individuals at specific points in time, the homeostasis looks protective – fire up Mechanical Turk, see what people believe, give them information or disinformation, see what changes. What you’ll find is nothing changes – set-points are remarkably resilient.
But underneath that, from year to year, is drift. And its the drift that matters.
Most of the reading I’m doing right now in my final weeks of research I’d describe as “contextual” – that is, I’m reading the bestsellers and articles that reflect ideas influencing and influenced by and adjacent to teaching machines and behaviorism in the 1950s and 1960s. Needless to say, I’ve been reading a lot about cybernetics – something that totally colored how I thought about the article Mike Caulfield published this week on “The Homeostatic Fallacy and Misinformation Literacy.” Homeostasis is a cornerstone of cybernetic (and information) theory. And yet here we are, thanks to data-driven “feedback,” all out of whack.
I think there’s something wrapped up in all this marketing and mythology that might explain in part why the tech industry (and, good grief, the ed-tech industry) is so incredibly and dangerously dull. You can’t build thinking machines (or teaching machines for that matter) if you’re obsessed with data but have no ideas.
Source: HEWN, No. 296
They raise money to cure us, and train behavioral therapists to fix us, and force compliance upon us.