The paradigm of behaviorismUltimately behaviorism provides a simplistic lens that can’t see beyond itself.Why is the doctrine of behaviorism still being used, at all?How can ABA be the gold-standard for autism when it... More going back to BF Skinner…denies, dismisses, trivializes, or simply writes off the whole idea of inner experience and looks only at behavior, the actions on the surface you can see and measure.
Source: Alfie Kohn | Does Behaviorism Belong in the Classroom? by The Think Inclusive Podcast • A podcast on Anchor
The behaviorism we experienced at school and in the autismAutistic ways of being are human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.If you are wondering whether you are Autistic, spend time amongst Autistic people, online and offline. If... More therapies recommended to us by school felt fundamentally misguided. This uneasy feeling led us to the neurodiversityNeurodiversity is the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.NEURODIVERSITY: SOME BASIC TERMS & DEFINITIONS Neurodiversity is a biological fact. It’s not a perspective, an approach, a... More movement, where we found our discomfort with behaviorism almost universally shared.
There are few allies to neurodiversity in education, but in Alfie Kohn’s work on behavior and motivation I sensed a powerful education ally aligned with autisticAutistic ways of being are human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.If you are wondering whether you are Autistic, spend time amongst Autistic people, online and offline. If... More communityWhat I have always been hoping to accomplish is the creation of community.Community is magic. Community is power. Community is resistance.Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century https://www.amazon.com/Disability-Visibility-First-Person-Stories-Twenty-First-ebook/dp/B082ZQBL98/ https://www.amazon.com/Disability-Visibility-Adapted-Young-Adults-ebook/dp/B08VFT4R9T/... More advocacy. Kohn gave me vocabulary for the inchoate discomfort I had with the behaviorism used on my kids. His writing nicely complimented and supplemented my neurodiversity advocacy.
I’d been following, amplifying, and applying his work for a number of years, when, in 2018, Kohn published “It’s Not About Behavior”. This article is a neurodiversity advocate’s dream.
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, valuesRemind yourself that shared values, rather than shared beliefs, are what matter when it comes to interacting with others, and that there is no replacement for doing the hard work... More, 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 gradesGrades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning. A “grading orientation” and a “learning orientation” have been shown to be inversely related and, as far as I can... More and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in readingThere are three types of reading: eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading.The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning Most schools and... More incentives and merit pay for teachers.
Source: It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn
And then, in 2020, Kohn discovered our community and published “Autism and Behaviorism”.
But even more compelling is the testimony of young people who understand the reality of this approach better than anyone because they’ve been on the receiving end of it. It is nothing short of stunning to learn just how widely and intensely ABAUltimately behaviorism provides a simplistic lens that can’t see beyond itself.Why is the doctrine of behaviorism still being used, at all?How can ABA be the gold-standard for autism when it... More is loathed by autistic adults who are able to describe their experience with it. Frankly, I’m embarrassed that, until about a year ago, I was completely unaware of all the websites, articles, scholarly essays, blog posts, Facebook pages, and Twitter groups featuring the voices of autistic men and women, all overwhelmingly critical of ABA and eloquent in describing the traumaIn expanding our definitions of trauma, we must make sure we see trauma as a structural issue, not just an individual one. Scholars now recognize what people from marginalized communities... More that is its primary legacy.
Source: Autism and Behaviorism – Alfie Kohn
The ally I had long sensed came out with a powerful essay demonstrating what an insightful and compassionate ally can do.
And if it turns out that, contrary to widespread assumptions, behavior modification techniques aren’t supported by solid data even when used with autistic kids, why would we persist in manipulating anyone with positive reinforcement? A rigorous new meta-analysis utterly debunks the claim that applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is the only intervention for children with autism that’s “evidence-basedEvidence-based practice is the process of identifying the best available evidence to make decisions about practices that should be deployed to support individuals in a given population (McKibbon, 1998, see Vivanti,... More.” In fact, it raises serious questions about whether ABA merits that description at all.
The late Herb Lovett used to say that there are only two problems with “special education” in America: It’s not special and it sure as hell isn’t education. The field continues to be marinated in behavioristUltimately behaviorism provides a simplistic lens that can’t see beyond itself.Why is the doctrine of behaviorism still being used, at all?How can ABA be the gold-standard for autism when it... More assumptions and practices despite the fact that numerous resources for teachers, therapists, and parents offer alternatives to behavior control. These alternatives are based on a commitment to careThe activities that constitute care are crucial for human life. We defined care in this way: Care is "a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue,... More and to understand. By “care,” I mean that our relationship with the child is what matters most. He or she is not a passive object to be manipulated but a subject, a center of experience, a person with agency, with needs and rights. And by “understand,” I mean that we have an obligation to look beneath the behavior, in part by imaginatively trying to adopt that person’s point of view, attempting to understand the whys rather than just tabulating the frequency of the whats. As NormNormal was created, not discovered, by flawed, eccentric, self-interested, racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist humans. Normal is a statistical fiction, nothing less. Knowing this is the first step toward reclaiming your... More Kunc and Emma Van der Klift urged us in their Credo for Support: “Be still and listen. What you define as inappropriate may be my attempt to communicate with you in the only way I can….[or] the only way I can exert some control over my life….Do not work on me. Work with me.”
Source: Autism and Behaviorism – Alfie Kohn
Read “Autism and Behaviorism” and “It’s Not About Behavior”. Listen to “Does Behaviorism Belong in the Classroom?”
Knowing that the neurodiversity and disability rights movements back Kohn’s claims with an outpouring of testimony, do you think behaviorism belongs in the classroom? Or anywhere?
Previously on behaviorism,
- Profiting from Misery: When Autism Researchers Disregard Harms
- The Problem with Behaviorism
- Behaviorism: Measuring the Surface, Badly
- There Is Little Empirical Basis to Suggest That PBS Is Effective
- Tech Ethics and the New Behaviorism
- Self-determination Theory > Behaviorism
- Post-truth, Open Society, and the Business of Behaviorism
- The Meaninglessness of “Evidence-based”
- Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction
- Behaviorist Ed-tech — Ed-tech from the 1940s
- Persuasion and Operant Conditioning: The Influence of B. F. Skinner in Big Tech and Ed-tech
- Lost In Translation: Ways in Which Neurodivergent and Neurotypical Social Languages Differ