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An American Affidavit

Saturday, September 22, 2018

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

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.   

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