Operant conditioning’s role in the school system

Lily Stanton

Staff Writer

Operant Conditioning is a method of learning observed by American Psychologist, B.F. Skinner, referring to the actions and reactions of rats held in captivity. This observational study has many ties to the American school system’s way of teaching.

Skinner’s study concluded that continuous reinforcement of a specific repeated actions would result in a robotic and instinctual repetition of said action in order to receive said reinforcement.

The similarities of this experiment to the treatment of students within the American school system are vast. The question is whether or not this method of teaching supports moral behavior for the sake of goodness rather than forced repetitional compliance.

The average school system teaches students a mind set in which performing a specified task grants you a reward. If students do good work, they get a good grade and good grades act as rewards.

“I often punish myself over not meeting ridiculous requirements of a test.” Said Anasha Barnes, a Junior at Douglas Anderson. “They claim to condition us for the real world. You don’t survive the real world by just spitting out numbers…”

While most children grow into adulthood with these repeating cycles of give and receive, it does not account for what they do when they find themselves in a situation where they won’t receive punishment or gratification for their decisions right away as it happens outside of school.

“Motivation has to come from within for it to be long lasting.” Said Douglas Anderson Guidance Counselor Cathy Anderson.

Operant conditioning is only one of many psychological studies of forced muscle memory that can be tied to the instructional behavior of teachers in classes all throughout America. Whether the school system decides to stop this type of children’s learning and focus on teaching things that will allow the freedom of thought and production that they will hang onto outside of school is a matter of federal level power that most cannot reach. Until then, the repudiation of children’s differences in learning continues across the globe.

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