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.