Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Corporate Education Reformers Looking To Churn Out Obedient Workers And Compliant Consumers

This Alternet article on the connection between behavioralism and consumerism resonates in the day and age of corporate education reform:

Those who rise to power in the corporatocracy are control freaks, addicted to the buzz of power over other human beings, and so it is natural for such authorities to have become excited by behavior modification.

Alfie Kohn, in Punished by Rewards (1993), documents with copious research how behavior modification works best on dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people. And so for authorities who get a buzz from controlling others, this creates a terrifying incentive to construct a society that creates dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people.
Many of the most successful applications of behavior modification have involved laboratory animals, children, or institutionalized adults. According to management theorists Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham in Work Redesign (1980), “Individuals in each of these groups are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they most want and need, and their behavior usually can be shaped with relative ease.”


Behavior modification is fundamentally a means of controlling people and thus for Kohn, “by its nature inimical to democracy, critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants.”

For Skinner, all behavior is externally controlled, and we don’t truly have freedom and choice. Behaviorists see freedom, choice, and intrinsic motivations as illusory, or what Skinner called “phantoms.” Back in the 1970s, Noam Chomsky exposed Skinner’s unscientific view of science, specifically Skinner’s view that science should be prohibited from examining internal states and intrinsic forces.

In democracy, citizens are free to think for themselves and explore, and are motivated by very real—not phantom—intrinsic forces, including curiosity and a desire for justice, community, and solidarity.

What is also scary about behaviorists is that their external controls can destroy intrinsic forces of our humanity that are necessary for a democratic society. Researcher Mark Lepper was able to diminish young children’s intrinsic joy of drawing with Magic Markers by awarding them personalized certificates for coloring with a Magic Marker. Even a single, one-time reward for doing something enjoyable can kill interest in it for weeks.

Behavior modification can also destroy our intrinsic desire for compassion, which is necessary for a democratic society. Kohn offers several studies showing “children whose parents believe in using rewards to motivate them are less cooperative and generous [children] than their peers.” Children of mothers who relied on tangible rewards were less likely than other children to care and share at home. 

And that, of course, is the ultimate objective of the corporate education reform movement - to develop obedient, compliant, easily manipulated children who will acquiesce as adults to the capitalist punishment/rewards system they have been taught as children in public schools run by authoritarian control freaks like Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, Eva Moskowitz, Geoffrey Canada, et al.

Evil - truly evil.

1 comment:

  1. Do you think education can be saved without a broad cultural upheaval that brings about a mass refusal of the capitalist punishment/rewards system? My own suspicion is that we can only be optimistic about education when we read about media moguls tearing their hair out trying to explain why the ratings for programmes like X-Factor have plummeted and why the billions spent on advertising no longer seem to be making any difference to the sales figures.