Treating Children as Lab Rats (Common Core, Part 2)

The philosophy behind Common Core goes back to one of the greatest educational reformers of the twentieth-century, the pragmatic psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990). Skinner took the factory mindset of American pragmatism and applied it to school children, dehumanizing them in the process. Skinner was to the classroom what Frederick Winslow Taylor had been to the factory.

Skinner boxSkinner is famous for inventing the prototype of the Skinner Box, an operant conditioning chamber to study animal behavior. But Skinner didn’t stop at rats and mice: he wanted to take what he learned from rodents and apply it to the education of American school children. (Skinner acknowledged no ultimate distinction between men and animals, having declared “To man qua man we readily say good riddance.”) He wanted, in his own words, to bring “the results of an experimental science…to bear upon the practical problems of education.”

In his 1984 essay ‘The Shame of American Education,’ Skinner delighted that “with teaching machines and programmed instruction one could teach what is now taught in American schools in half the time with half the effort.” (Like Frederick Taylor, Skinner seems to have also been haunted with the idea of a time deficit.)

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