Underlying Assumption about School #3

Learning is the product of teaching.
This is my paraphrase of Krishna Kumar’s pithy summation of the long since debunked but still very powerful theory of behaviorism, the idea that observable behaviors are simple responses to positive and negative stimuli, and that everything else, any non-observable psychological phenomena (i.e. thoughts, emotions, etc), are either an illusion or not appropriate topics for psychologists to study. Unfortunately, I found this discussion in a transcript of a talk he gave which is published in the Summer 2009 issue of the NAMTA Journal. It isn’t all that easy to get your hands on a copy unless you’re a member of the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association, so here’s a long quote (though it’s only a little bit of what he’s getting at in this talk):

“Ideas of behaviorism are far from dead. In fact, behaviorism continues to be the most reliable, if not the most respectable, school of thought in applied psychology. If you ask, ‘Applied where?,’ well, applied in teacher training and in trainings for the army and police…The idea that teachers can be trained for predictable outcomes, that they can be used for manipulating human minds, is very central to behaviorism…

Let me just now return to this teaching-learning binary with which I had begun, and it is now possible for us to unpack a little bit the assumptions underlining this binary. The first obvious assumption is that learning is an outcome, and the corollary of this would be that it is teaching which causes learning. If you look at both the assumptions, they make us teachers feel very good to begin with; if we are the ones who bring about learning, how wonderful. If our efforts result in learning, then here is every reason to take teaching seriously. So when behaviorism and its assumptions about learning are discussed in the context of teaching as a profession, the immediate, or you might say the ostensible feeling, is a good feeling….”


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