Posts tagged “behaviorism

Throwing Any Fish?

Behaviorism didn’t become an ism for nothing.

We are influenced by circumstantial stimuli, to events in the world around us, and there is no getting around it. Behaviorism responds to this point by saying, “Well said.” Choice Theory responds by saying, “Not so fast.”

Behaviorism, wanting more than just influence, though, goes on to claim the ability to predict behavior. In other words, certain stimuli will lead to certain behavior. Do A and you will get B. Animal trainers at Marine World, for instance, explain how the strategic use of food, like tossing a fish to a dolphin, will condition the dolphin to perform specific behaviors and tricks.

The strategies of Behaviorism have been less reliable when used on humans. Some level of success seems apparent, yet at the same time something seems not quite right.

Speaking of fish, Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird (1994), shared an interaction she had with her son when he was small.

I was teaching Sam peace chants for a long time, when he was only two. It was during the war in the Persian Gulf; I was a little angry.
“What do we want?” I’d call to Sam.
“Peace,” he’d shout dutifully.
“And when do we want it?” I’d ask.
“Now!” he’d say, and I’d smile and toss him a fish.

This story, an admission really, invites us to answer the question, How then do we teach others, especially children, what needs to be learned? How can we make sure this important learning happens? How can we, in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, make it so? Anne Lamott went on to suggest that fish tossing may have more to do with the fish tosser than the fish catcher, or even the desired behavior –

The words were utterly meaningless to him, of course. I might as well have taught him to reply “Spoos!” instead of “Peace” and “August” instead of “Now.” My friends loved it, though; all three of his grandparents loved it. Now, how much does this say about me and my longings? I think something like this would tell a reader more about a character than would three pages of description. It would tell is about her current politics and the political tradition from which she sprang, her people-pleasing, her longing for peace and her longing to belong, her way of diluting rage and frustration with humor, while also using her child as a prop, a little live Charlie McCarthy. The latter is horrifying, but it’s also sort of poignant. Maybe thirty five years ago this woman had to perform for her parents’ friends. Maybe she was their little Charlie McCarthy. Maybe she and her therapist can discuss it for the next few months. And did this woman stop using her kid, once she realized what she was doing? No, she didn’t, and this tells us even more. She kept at it, long after the war was over, until one day she called to her three-and-a-half-year-old son, “Hey—what do we want?” And he said plaintively, “Lunch.”

A live, little Charlie McCarthy. You would have to be rather old (or be a whiz at Trivial Pursuit) to understand the significance of her referring to Charlie McCarthy in this way. Through much of the 1940s and 50s, Charlie was a radio and television personality. Debonair and quick-witted, he had a real following. He was known to sit a lot, though, given that he was the ventriloquist doll of the comedian, Edgar Bergen (the father of actress Candice Bergen). Charlie may have appeared like he had a mind (and mouth) of his own, however he truly was the parrot of his talented handler. Such an arrangement with a doll made from a block of wood is fine, certainly entertaining, but Anne Lamott recoiled in horror at the thought of her little boy becoming her own little Charlie McCarthy, mouthing her words and acting her behaviors on command.

Charlie McCarthy (on the left) and Edgar Bergen.

Where is the line between teaching and indoctrinating, between learning and brainwashing, between the pursuit of ideas and the pressuring of ideas? Are some ideas so important that they require indoctrination?

Such questions bring another McCarthy to mind, that being Joseph McCarthy of the 1950s Communist witch hunt. As a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, McCarthy claimed to have a list of Communist sympathizers and spies who had infiltrated the highest levels of government, the armed forces, and even the entertainment industry. He made unsubstantiated claims and attempted to smear the reputation of people he thought soft on communism and socialism. His tactics added to the already growing fears about Russia and communism and indeed swept the country. Fear, threats and force were his preferred tools and many people were unfairly affected by his attacks.

Joseph McCarthy

Two McCarthy’s – one a puppet that mirrored his owner and the other a politician who bludgeoned others with his ideology. The little-block-of-wood Charlie McCarthy reminds us of our temptation to craft our children into little blocks of our own making, while the-Senator McCarthy reminds us of the temptation to force others, maybe especially our children, to think and act in the way we deem best. The latter seems just as horrifying as the former.

Behaviorism and stimulus-response cannot with any level of certainty predict human behavior because humans are so .  . well .  .  unpredictable. Oh, we might be predictable now and again, but that isn’t really being predictable, is it? Some caved to Senator McCarthy’s attacks, while others stood up to him; and Anne Lamott’s son eventually said he was ready for lunch, rather than continuing to parrot about peace.

Choice Theory explains that we behave to satisfy a need, which may or may not jibe with the behaviors the fish-tossers in our life want. Better to focus on the needs of our children and then to teach them how to appropriately meet their needs. Besides helping children become self-managers, rather than parrots, getting rid of fish can improve the overall smell of things in general.

Behaviorism, Religion, Stimulus-Response, and the Character of God

Character of God

During the recent Soul Shapers class, I asked those in attendance to comment on four important areas or implications of choice theory. We had reviewed and discussed these areas in some depth and I wanted to check in regarding their level of understanding. In the activity format I used they each had two minutes to comment on each of these topics. Here are the topics and their answers. I think you will really find this interesting and useful. (After the topics and answers I also share how to set up a round robin activity.) If given two minutes to answer these questions, what would you write?

Something I have learned about –

. . . stimulus-response theory.

• May or may not work in the short term; does not work in the long term.
• It is a myth. May work with animals and people to a point, but is not how humans were made to respond or think. There are many factors involved in why we do what we do and this theory doesn’t address all of it.
• I learned that stimulus-response will work for some the kids, some of the time, but the students aren’t always responding to the stimulus for the reasons we as teachers think they should.
• The carrot trick can work, but the long-term effect is no good. EGW use the word disastrous. It destroys the ability to think for one’s self and it takes away the personality.
• We will never reach our full potential if we are chasing a carrot. We are not animals driven by desires or impulses. We need to be touched on a spiritual level for us to maximize our potential. Don’t drink the water in Mexico.
• Students naturally want to learn when they see the relevance of what they are learning, when it touches a chord within their hearts.

. . . the Caring Habits and the Deadly Habits.

• Criticizing, nagging, etc. are ultimately not helpful. Caring habits energize, enlighten, encourage, and help with choices.
• Use of the deadly habits will dull a student’s ears and prevent them from caring about learning.
• The deadly habits will ultimately destroy relationships, whereas the caring habits will build relationships. The caring habits take more time and energy to carry out, but the reward is worth it.
• That I am a more deadly person; I need to change. I have both, but I can see that what I fall back to mostly are more in the deadly list. I must make a conscious effort to change. My choice!
• Deadly habits are those I’ve been trained to use. I was amazed by how using these strategies “put down” or stifled creativity. I need to put a conscious effort into using “caring habits” and responses with all the people with whom I interact.
• No more smart-ass responses to smart-ass kids.
• How harmful criticism, nagging, and punishing are on relationships. How switching to using caring habits will increase connectedness and help engage students and even families.
• It is important to be aware of which habits you’re using when interacting with others. The deadly habits will push others away and cause damage, whereas the caring habits will open up doors and cause a deeper, more honest relationship to form.
• That healthy relationships are about building up the students, looking for wars to praise and spotlight. The deadly ones are about picking on faults and causing them to feel like they can’t measure to our standards. I love the Oakland A’s.

. . . Behaviorism and its effect on religion and spirituality.

• Behaviorism can be put on or taken off, but that does not necessarily affect or reflect what the heart is doing.
• It has eroded religion and spirituality. Religion focuses on the do’s and don’t’s. The focus should be more on God’s love for us.
• Behaviorism should not be the beginning of our relationship with God. Attempting to understand His great love for us and the freedom He gives us should be the most important thing. Unfortunately, we often start with the behavior, not the love.
• God will not pour obedience into us and bypass our will. The will and spirituality are linked. Being good is not the same thing as being whole and restored to the original image of God.
• God does not give us spirituality. God guides us, but with our free will we choose to obey God or Satan. My thoughts and behaviors are guided by my internal desires.
• Taking away free choice in religion and putting it in a box will turn students and adults away from the thought of any form of religion.
• That control takes away from the experience. Forcing kids to be baptized when they are 12 or pressuring people to believe or follow without choice makes the experience shallow or meaningless. Tacos are delicious.
• Forcing or not allowing choice in a religious setting will likely end up causing the person to turn away from religion as it becomes too legalistic.

. . . the character of God.

• God’s love is very deep. The power He gives us to choose is such an amazing gift. Wow!
• God’s love is so great for us that He has given us the power of choice. To love is not to force.
• Righteousness by choice; we choose our level of connectedness to Jesus. He does not force us on any front.
• God gives us free will. I may believe God is controlling me, but He is not. My behavior stems from my will to want to obey God and be like Him and like Christ.
• He loves a cheerful giver, not someone who gives under compulsion. This is probably why EGW says that rules should be few (but strictly enforced).
• From the beginning of the Great Controversy, God has let choice be the measure of your love. Decide today who you will serve. Love is not forced. Choice is not forced or coerced. That’s why prosperity gospel ministries are so shameful. God is love.
• That we have free will. God has the power to change – past, future, and present – but He allows us to choose, so that the universe can see what choices we make. I love burritos.
• God has given us free will to choose. God wants us to make the choices based on our connection with Him. God wants us to allow others to right to choose.
• He bravely gives me the ability to choose. I have been created in His same character and can reject His will or love in my life. His character teaches me to love others via His love for me.

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These topics and answers came out of a Round Robin learning format. The Round Robin format is simple to set up, yet it can lead to powerful learning results. To use a Round Robin in your classroom –

1. Identify four topics that students have recently been studying and develop clear, concise questions that can serve as writing prompts. It works best when the questions are open-ended.

2. Create quads. Divide students into learning teams with four on each team. (You can have a team of three, but don’t go more than four.)

3. Have team members number off from 1 – 4, and then provide every team member with a piece of paper.

4. Team member #1 will then write the first topic question, in bold letters, at the top of his/her paper; team member #2 will write the second topic question at the top of his/her paper; team member #3 will write the third question; and team member #4 the fourth question.

5. Each of the team members will now have a sheet of paper in front of them with a topic question headline written across the top. At the signal, students will have two minutes to write an answer to their sheet’s question. (The time can be lengthened or shortened as needed.) When the time is up, students will stop writing and slide their sheet to the team member on their left. Each team member now has a new question in front of them. At the signal, they will have two minutes to answer another prompt. This process continues until each team member has been given a chance to comment on each of the questions.

7. The round robin activity can help teachers check for understanding, as reading student answers to the prompts will show how students view the topics. Students can read what their team members wrote and then discuss their answers within the group. Small group discussions can then lead to a full-class discussion. In general, the round robin format is a good way to get 100% of your students engaging in the lesson content. And that’s a good thing!

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