Dunce’s App

Audrey Watters, The Baffler, Aug 20, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I think it's important to distinguish between 'behaviourism' - the theory that mental states are essentially equivalent to behaviours or (Ryle) dispositions to behave - and 'behaviour management' - methods and tools to encourage correct behaviour. Hero K12, described by Audrey Watters in this post, focuses on the latter. It's a bit like an in-school policing system, automating things like tardy slips, warnings and the like. It also seeks to identify and reward good behaviour - the "heroes" of our story. Watters says "that has always been the underpinning of behaviorism—an emphasis on positive reinforcement techniques in order to more effectively encourage 'correct behavior.'" True, but that doesn't make them behaviourists. Like the police, they may focus on encouraging correct behaviour, but the moment they start talking about cognitive phenomena, such as motivations, socialization, mental models, expectations, and the like, they cease to be behavioursists, and are just run-of-the mill product vendors interested in behaviour.

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