26 January 2012

Smack that kid and make them learn...

Did something wrong? Got a slap for it? Welcome to the shitty little world of the sadistic behaviourist theory.
hit me again and you're going down...
Current and past learning experiences vary for me from having remarkable similarities and the appearance of being unchanged.

It appears as if all the learning theories have been at some time or another have had some practical implications upon the teaching methods I have experienced through the years.
I was born in 1960 and the intervening 51 years have seen many people trying to teach me many things through many different methods. When my parents sent me to bed with no supper for a perceived misdemeanour I learnt to associate hunger with behaving in a certain way. I misbehave; I feel hunger. I felt like Thorndike’s cat where if I learned ‘to pull a string’, or in my case, modify my behaviour I got a reward; that is, fed again. My parents, looking back, were firm believers in behaviourist theory and in particular Skinner where I was locked in my box, bedroom, and rewarded for the required behaviour with food. I guess they thought that, like Pavlov and his dog, that conditioned learning and responses was the way to ‘train’ young children to behave in certain ways.
The Pavlovian method my parents used was the system of inflicting pain through smacking in response to any behaviour exhibited by the child that was deemed unacceptable. The trick, for me, was to try and discover what was acceptable, and thus avoid pain. The inherent flaw in this system of learning is that an atmosphere of fear engenders suffering in the child and I soon discovered that the best method of survival, and it was a matter of survival for me, the avoidance of pain, was to keep very quiet, not to make waves, to do exactly as I was told when I was told to do it, to not think for myself, to not criticise or question anything too much and to always show respect to my parents even when I was in pain or angry. Sometimes I felt like I was experiencing an existential paradox something akin to Schrödinger’s Cat in that it was a matter of some internal conjecture whether I was ‘alive’ or ‘dead’. I did not receive much ‘love’; and still don’t. I have had to learn to survive without it.
This conditioning helped me immensely when I began to go to school as it appeared that the same methods employed by my parents were employed by the school; only with a greater degree or variation of sadism. Slaps, caning, shouting, detentions, verbal put downs, bullying; all variation of a ‘negative’ behaviourism learning theory. I hated every single second of home and school life. Learning by rote; learn or be punished. Answer this question or be humiliated publically. This ensured that my personality developed in a disordered, dysfunctional way and helped cement my view of authority as having no regard at all for me.
The contradictory nature of my early learning in which the reward given is the non infliction of pain not the giving of proper reward such as ‘praise... satisfied curiosity... , attention and other encouragement’.
Studying for a degree introduced me to self directed learning humanistic learning or ‘ego involvement’. This made me highly and actively motivated ‘by following my own interests and curiosity’. I took ‘responsibility for its effectiveness’ and it literally and metaphorically freed my mind. I also learnt about sociology, psychology, other ideas that helped me understand myself and my place in the world and how structures worked in society and where I might find my place in it; ironically as a teacher who vehemently does not teach in the behaviourist manner in which I was taught I use a system of praise and reward which I find works very well on a superficial level.
The cognitivists’ theories, which I actually experienced at University, focused less on behaviour and more on the students’ themselves. I really believed that information was not received passively but actually fit my new learning into my existing mental structure. My curiosity about why I was the way I was spurred me to learn how to understand that. This knowledge I was exposed to I feel I would never have found out on my own through discovery. I found reading lists I was given to be a perfect example of this theory.
I learnt to think; I was taught how to think critically and through this I taught myself. I agree with the brilliant American philosopher John Dewey; it is a process of reflecting and learning from this process of reflecting. 

Wear your liberalism with pride.

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