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Saturday, January 28, 2017

169.Dr. Watson Presumes: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Dr. Watson Presumes 

Leapfrogging 163 years, Dr. John B. Watson, modern father of behaviorism, answered 
that question this way in the closing paragraphs of his Behaviorism (1925), when he 
appealed to parents to surrender quietly: 

I am trying to dangle a stimulus in front of you which if acted upon will gradually change 
this universe. For the universe will change if you bring your children up not in the 
freedom of the libertine, but in behavioristic freedom.... Will not these children in turn 
with their better ways of living and thinking replace us as society, and in turn bring up 
their children in a still more scientific way, until the world finally becomes a place fit for 
human habitation? 

It was an offer School wasn't about to let your kid refuse. Edna Heidbredder was the first 
insider to put the bell on this cat in a wonderful little book, Seven Psychologies (1933). A 
psychology professor from Minnesota, she described the advent of behaviorism this way 
seven decades ago: 

The simple fact is that American psychologists had grown restive under conventional 
restraints. They were finding the old problems lifeless and thin, they were "half sick of 
shadows" and... welcomed a plain, downright revolt. [Behaviorism] called upon its 
followers to fight an enemy who must be utterly destroyed, not merely to parley with one 
who might be induced to modify his ways. 

John B. Watson, a fast-buck huckster turned psychologist, issued this warning in 1919: 
The human creature is purely a stimulus-response machine. The notion of consciousness 
is a "useless and vicious" survival of medieval religious "superstition." Behaviorism does 
not "pretend to be disinterested psychology," it is "frankly" an applied science. Miss 
Heidbredder continues: "Behaviorism is distinctly interested in the welfare and 
salvation — the strictly secular salvation — of the human race." 

She saw behaviorism making "enormous conquests" of other psychologies through its 
"violence" and "steady infiltration" of the marketplace, figuring "in editorials, literary 
criticism, social and political discussions, and sermons.... Its program for bettering 



humanity by the most efficient methods of science has made an all but irresistible appeal 
to the attention of the American public." 

"It has become a crusade," she said, "against the enemies of science, much more than a 
mere school of psychology." It has "something of the character of a cult." Its adherents 
"are devoted to a cause; they are in possession of a truth." And the heart of that truth is "if 
human beings are to be improved we must recognize the importance of infancy," for in 
infancy "the student may see behavior in the making, may note the repertoire of reactions 
a human being has... and discover the ways in which they are modified...." (emphasis 
added) During the early years a child may be taught "fear," "defeat," and "surrender" — or 
of course their opposites. From "the standpoint of practical control" youth was the name 
of the game for this aggressive cult; it flowed like poisoned syrup into every nook and 
cranny of the economy, into advertising, public relations, packaging, radio, press, 
television in its dramatic programming, news programming, and public affairs shows, 
into military training, "psychological" warfare, and intelligence operations, but while all 
this was going on, selected tendrils from the same behavioral crusade snaked into the 
Federal Bureau of Education, state education departments, teacher training institutions, 
think tanks, and foundations. The movement was leveraged with astonishing amounts of 
business and government cash and other resources from the late 1950s onwards because 
the payoff it promised to deliver was vast. The prize: the colonization of the young before 
they had an opportunity to develop resistance. The holy grail of market research. 

Back to Rousseau's Emile. When I left you hanging, you had just learned that Emile's 
"liberty" was a well-regulated one. Rousseau hastens to warn us the teacher must take 
great pains to "hide from his student the laws that limit his freedom." It will not do for the 
subject to see the walls of his jail. Emile is happy because he thinks no chains are held on 
him by his teacher/facilitator. But he is wrong. In fact the tutor makes Emile entirely 
dependent on minuscule rewards and microscopic punishments, like changes in vocal 
tone. He programs Emile without the boy's knowledge, boasting of this in asides to the 
reader. Emile is conditioned according to predetermined plan every minute, his 
instruction an ultimate form of invisible mind control. The goals of Rousseau's 
educational plan are resignation, passivity, patience, and, the joker-in-the-deck, 
levelheadedness. Here is the very model for duplicitous pedagogy. 

This treating of pupils as guinea pigs became B.F. Skinner's stock in trade. In a moment 
of candor he once claimed, "We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled 
nevertheless feel free, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than 
was ever the case under the old system." Rousseau was Skinner's tutor. 



'The "problem" with English phonics has been wildly exaggerated, sometimes by sincere people but most 
often by those who make a living as guides through the supposed perils of learning to read. These latter 
constitute a vast commercial empire with linkages among state education departments, foundations, 
publishers, authors of school readers, press, magazines, education journals, university departments of 
education, professional organizations, teachers, reading specialists, local administrators, local school 
boards, various politicians who facilitate the process and the U.S. offices of education, defense and labor. 



2 Mitford Mathews, Teaching to Read Historically Considered (1966). A brief, intelligent history of reading. 
A number of other good treatments are available for the newcomer. 

Cleaning The Canvas 

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