Homing Pigeons in Cage

DIY at the Edges: Surviving the Bipartisanship of Behaviorism by Rolling Our Own

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DIY at the Edges: Surviving the Bipartisanship of Behaviorism by Rolling Our Own

Hosted by Kristina Daniele, Ryan Boren, Inna Boren & Chelsea Adams of Stimpunks. Stimpunks combine “stimming” with “punks” to advocate for neurodiversity and push back against systems that restrict our humanity and harm our unique identities.

The Premise

Behaviorism is dead.

Despite that, 

Behaviorism won.

And neurodivergent and disabled students lost.

Behaviorism is everywhere. The All Means All of public education is made meaningless by the bipartisanship of behaviorism. The neurodiversity and disability rights movements well-understand the ubiquity of behaviorism, and its tremendous costs.

This course fights against behaviorist practices in the classroom.

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.


Navigating the Course

The Table of Contents below is provided for two reasons:

  1. to outline the content provided by our Stimpunk Learners, and
  2. to offer a suggested course flow.

While this is the suggested order of the course, you are free to work through it in the order you choose and at your own pace.

Course Structure

  • Lesson Themes – focus themes for each section to guide understanding.
  • Lesson Table of Contents – navigation and selected order of the lesson.
  • Purpose – contains the goal of the information provided in the lesson.
  • Introduction – We try to ease you into the lesson with background information and our thoughts (or quote(s)) on the topic.
  • Reading – Select links directing you to important readings, videos, and other research supporting the call to actions and deconstruction of exclusionary practices in education.
  • Activities – a combination of activities to help you process the information. presented.
  • Reflection Activity– These quotes, articles, journal prompts direct you to being intentional in your advocacy by providing further support of the ideas presented in the lesson.
  • Take It further – The offerings here encourage you to dig deeper.
  • Resources – Anything we want to share but could not fit in the previous sections.

Course Purpose

Behaviorism is dead.

The Stimpunks Foundation

We exist because of a bipartisan embrace of “Empty Pedagogy, Behaviorism, and the Rejection of Equity”. Reframing away from behaviorism is urgently needed and essential. As such, we aim to:

  1. introduce you to real accounts and understandings of the effects of behaviorism on students and education;
  2. offer insight into the various ways we can eliminate dehumanizing practices from schools;
  3. provide examples and, in some cases, reasonings behind the tools we use and have created to support neurodiversity;
  4. connect the DIY method of education to the Punk Movement and explore why it is important.

A moment of appreciation:

Our learners spent months working on this website in preparation for the Conference to Restore Humanity. This course and our website was developed with and for the conference. Our preparation for the conference was a continuous act of dogfooding our tools and philosophy.

Course Primer

Behaviorism can’t die.

It doesn’t matter how often it’s refuted and how fully it’s refuted, it comes right back to life.

It’s been refuted so overwhelmingly.

Noam Chomsky on Behaviorism

What does this mean?

Again, behaviorism is everywhere, deeply-rooted into our political, educational, and parental expectations. While the institutionalization of education seems to be the goal of conservatives, mass assimilation of students- the goal of public education- is heavily supported by so-called liberal politicians who decry exclusionary practices publicly but fail to connect the dots to education.

Authors Alfie Kohn and Jonathan Mooney dig deeper into the issues facing neurodivergent students when met with the conservative political stances from various political parties. Between those stances, and the policies like “No Child Left Behind,” neurodivergent students have suffered. While we recommend the books as they are invaluable resources, we’ve included a few quotes that highlight this collaboration by both political parties.

Notable Quote(s) from Alfie Kohn’s “The Myth of the Spoiled Child”

Alfie Kohn on the politics of education and child-rearing:

There’s just one problem with Lakoff’s theory. An awful lot of people who are politically liberal begin to sound like right-wing talk-show hosts as soon as the conversation turns to children and parenting. It was this curious discrepancy, in fact, that inspired the book you are now reading.

I first noticed an inconsistency of this kind in the context of education. Have a look at the unsigned editorials in left-of-center newspapers, or essays by columnists whose politics are mostly progressive. Listen to speeches by liberal public officials. On any of the controversial issues of our day, from tax policy to civil rights, you’ll find approximately what you’d expect. But when it comes to education, almost all of them take a hard-line position very much like what we hear from conservatives. They endorse a top-down, corporate-style version of school reform that includes prescriptive, one-size-fits-all teaching standards and curriculum mandates; weakened job protection for teachers; frequent standardized testing; and a reliance on rewards and punishments to raise scores on those tests and compel compliance on the part of teachers and students.

The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting
Alfie Kohn on the culture war of childrearing:

This widespread adoption of a traditionalist perspective helps us to make sense of the fact that, on topics related to children, even liberals tend to hold positions whose premises are deeply conservative. Perhaps it works the other way around as well: The fact that people on the left and center find themselves largely in agreement with those on the right explains how the traditionalist viewpoint has become the conventional wisdom. Child rearing might be described as a hidden front in the culture wars, except that no one is fighting on the other side.

The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting

Notable Quote(s) from Jonathan Mooney’s “Normal Sucks”

Jonathan Mooney on the problem with “No Child Left Behind”:

No Child Left Behind was perhaps the most damaging form of public policy as it pertained to public education and learning diversity that has happened in our history of education policy, and that was a bill that was sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy. It was a set of practices that was doubled down upon by the Obama administration.

Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences

Understanding Behaviorism: B.F Skinner’s Pigeon Box

“Once we have arranged the particular type of consequence called a reinforcement,“ Skinner wrote in ”The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching“ (1954), ”our techniques permit us to shape the behavior of an organism almost at will. It has become a routine exercise to demonstrate this in classes in elementary psychology by conditioning such an organism as a pigeon.”

…Such an organism as a pigeon.” We often speak of “lab rats” as shorthand for the animals used in scientific experiments. We use the phrase too to describe people who work in labs, who are completely absorbed in performing their tasks again and again and again. 

In education and in education technology, students are also the subjects of experimentation and conditioning. But in Skinner’s framework, they are not rats; they are pigeons.

The Pigeons of Ed-Tech

The pigeon. The object of technological experimentation, manipulation, and control, weaponized. 

The pigeon. The child. The object of ed-tech.

The pigeon. The history of the future of education technology.

The Pigeons of Ed-Tech

All these elements were part of Skinner’s teaching machines: the elimination of inefficiencies of the teacher, the delivery of immediate feedback, the ability for students to move through standardized content at their own pace.

Today’s ed-tech proponents call this “personalization.”

The Monsters of Education Technology

The neurodiversity and disability rights movements well-understand the ubiquity of behaviorism, and its tremendous costs. 

Behaviorist education is ableist education.

And this is why we DIY!

Our journey over the past 15 years has involved us navigating increasingly ableist, behaviorist, and underfunded systems while contributing to the Neurodiversity movement and building community compatible with us.

People with disabilities are the original life hackers because our motivation is so high. If we don’t hack we often go without.

Liz Jackson: Designing for Inclusivity – 99U

We rolled our own education, because we had too. We built something compatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability using the tools of distributed work and indie ed-tech.

Reflection Activity

Ed-tech has always been more Thorndike than Dewey because education has been more Thorndike than Dewey. That means more instructivism than constructionism. That means more multiple choice tests than projects. That means more surveillance than justice.

(How Thorndike’s ed-tech is now being rebranded as “personalization” (and by extension, as progressive education) – now that’s an interesting story…

The History of Ed-Tech: What Went Wrong?

Creating inclusive learning environments requires differentiated instruction. In what ways do you, can you, or will you create a more constructionist environment for your students?

Take it further

Texas has multiple waiting lists for different types of care, including six for Medicaid waiver programs — which use state and federal funds to get people care in the community instead of in an institution — and one for safety net services provided locally. As of March, nearly 170,000 people were waiting for care through a Medicaid waiver program — a 115 percent increase since 2010. State data shows that some residents have been waiting for nearly 20 years to receive help.

Nearly 200K disabled Texans are waiting for help, some for a decade

We are marginalized canaries, Autistic man Freestone Wilson suggested in the 1990s that autistic people are functioning as the “miners’ canaries” of civilisation. When the air in the mine is poisoned we do not… More in a social coalmine and Rawlsian barometers of society’s morality. It is deeply subversive to live proudly despite being living embodiments of our culture’s long standing ethical failings.

Our non-compliance is not intended to be rebellious. We simply do not comply with things that harm us. But since a great number of things that harm us are not harmful to most neurotypicals, we are viewed as untamed and in need of straightening up.

Asperger even anticipated in the 1970s that autistic adults who “valued their freedom” would object to behaviorist training and that has turned out to be true.


Disability systems rely on artificial economies of scarcity. Programs are underfunded, so caregivers, teachers, social workers, and disabled people themselves are all pushed to project their needs as necessary and virtuous.


The most important message I got from punk, was the DIY ethos. The DIY ethic. It’s inherently part of surviving.

Don Letts, SHOWstudio: Stussy – Talking Punk with Don Letts and John Ingham


How Texas keeps tens of thousands of children out of special education

Denied – Houston Chronicle

Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.

An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research

Trainers are rejecting behaviorism because it harms animals emotionally and psychologically. What does that say about classrooms that embrace it?
This “science-driven” mantra has been seen before through eugenics.
Therefore, eugenics is an erasure of identity through force, whereas radical behaviorism is an erasure of identity through “correction.” This all assumes a dominant culture that one strives to unquestionably maintain.

Empty Pedagogy, Behaviorism, and the Rejection of Equity

Ongoing Activities

Collaborative Notetaking

As you read through our track, we encourage you to add anything that stands out to you, for any reason, to our Commonplace Notebook.

Sharing thoughts in a collaborative, safe space, and doing so at your own pace is one way to offer low-stakes activities to your students.

Developing Your Personal Creed

Your personal creed is a set of beliefs and values that drive your actions and choices. We believe having one is important. As you go through the informations in our track and/or any others, keep a list of the ideas and thoughts sparked by the course. We’ll ask you to share you personal creeds on the last day of the conference.

DIY At The Edges – The Collaborative Soundtrack

Illustration of a person with light blue hair wearing a white mask, black hoodie, and dark pink pants while listening to headphones. Text above the person says: DIY at the Edges: A collaborative playlist
DIY at the Edges: a collaborative playlist. Artwork by itsyagerg_zero, a Black, Queer, Neurodivergent, homeschooled, Stimpunk Teen.

We’ll develop this collaborative playlist together during the conference.

Let’s go! Start with Day 1 if you want to follow along with us, or skip to whatever day strikes your fancy.

Day 1 – Written Communication and Indie Ed-Tech: Neurodivergents Created This Communication Environment

Day 2 – Reframing Learning: How We Use Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes to Nurture Intrinsic Motivation, Enter Flow States, and Make Rock ‘n’ Roll

Day 3 – Fix Injustice, Not Kids: We’ve Turned Classrooms Into a Hell for Neurodivergence

Day 4 – Choosing the Margin: Our Philosophical and Pedagogical Foundation