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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

165. A Metaphysical Commitment: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

A Metaphysical Commitment 

At the core of every scientific research program (and forced schooling is the largest such 
program in history) lies a metaphysical commitment on which all decision-making rests. 
For instance, the perspective of which pedagogy and behavioral science are both latter- 
day extensions rests on six pillars: 

1. The world is independent of thought. It is atomic in its basic constituents. 

2. The real properties of bodies are bulk, figure, texture, and motion. 

3. Time and Space are real entities; the latter is Euclidean in its properties. 



4. Mass is inert. Rest or uniform motion are equally "natural" conditions involving 
no consciousness. 

5. Gravitational attraction exists between all masses. 

6. Energy is conserved in interactions. 

There is no obvious procedure for establishing any of these principles as true. There is no 
obvious experimental disproof of them either, or any way to meet Karl Popper's 
falsification requirement or Quine's modification of it. Yet these religious principles, as 
much metaphysics as physics, constitute the backbone of the most powerful research 
program in modern history: Newtonian physics and its modern fellow travelers. 5 

The psychology which most naturally emerges from a mechanical worldview is 
behaviorism, an outlook which dominates American school thinking. When you hear that 
classrooms have been psychologized, what the speaker usually means is that under the 
surface appearance of old-fashioned lessons what actually is underway is an experiment 
with human machines in a controlled setting. These experiments follow some 
predetermined program during which various "adjustments" are made as data feed back 
to the design engineers. In a psychologized classroom, teachers and common 
administrators are pedagogues, kept unaware of the significance of the processes they 
superintend. After a century of being on the outside, there is a strong tradition of 
indifference or outright cynicism about Ultimate Purpose among both groups. 

Behaviorism holds afictionalist attitude toward intelligence: mind simply doesn't exist. 
"Intelligence" is only behavioral shorthand for, "In condition A, player B will act in range 
C, D, and E rather than A, B and C." There is no substantive intelligence, only dynamic 
relationships with different settings and different dramatic ceremonies. 

The classic statement of behavioristic intelligence is E.G. Boring's 1923 definition, 
"Intelli-gence is what an intelligence test measures." Echoes of Boring reverberate in 
Conant's sterile definition of education as "what goes on in schools." Education is 
whatever schools say it is. This is a carry-over of Percy Bridgman's 6 recommendation for 
an ultimate kind of simplification in physics sometimes known as operationalism (which 
gives us the familiar "operational definition"), e.g., Boring's definition of intelligence. 
This project in science grew out of the positivistic project in philosophy which contends 
that all significant meaning lies on the surface of things. Positivism spurns any analysis 
of the deep structure underlying appearances. Psychological behaviorism is positivism 
applied to the conjecture that a science of behavior might be established. It's a guess how 
things ought to work, not a science of how they do. 

B.F. Skinner's entire strategy of behavioral trickery designed to create beliefs, attitudes, 
and behavior patterns in whole societies is set down in Walden Two, a bizarre illustration 
of some presumed uses of emptiness, but also a summary of observations (all uncredited 
by Skinner) of earlier undertakings in psychological warfare, propaganda, advertising 
research, etc., including contributions from public relations, marketing, schooling, 
military experience, and animal training. Much that Skinner claimed as his own wasn't 



even secondhand — it had been commonplace for centuries among philosophers. Perhaps 
all of it is no more than that. 



My discussion here is instructed by the lectures of Michael Matthews, philosopher of science. 

7 Physics professor, Harvard. He won the 1946 Nobel Prize. Perhaps the most influential American writer on the philosophy of science in the 
twentieth century. 

The Limits Of Behavioral Theory 

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