Happy New Year!
Here is my second (out of three) article review for my Learning Theories class. You can read the first review of Constructivism here. This time I chose to review an article about Behaviorism, particular Skinner’s theories. I received 100% (as you can see, the teacher for this class was very generous with the grades) for this assignment.
Behaviorist Article Review
Staddon’s (2006) article evaluates Skinner’s theories of behaviorism. He first tells two stories, one of a sheepdog who displayed intelligence far beyond mere behavior shaping, and the other of a young boy in a formal school who passionately pursued his educational interests in the middle of the night, leading his professor to incorporate them into his daytime schedule. Staddon uses these two anecdotes as examples of how human learning differs from animal learning, and how even animal cognition is more complex than Skinner may have postulated. Staddon then went on to discuss Skinner’s two behaviorist theories in light of Darwin’s evolutionary concepts. He questions that perhaps there is more to learning and cognition than Skinner’s theory allows for and makes a case for the complexity and variability surrounding the whole topic of learning. According to Staddon, Skinner’s narrow-minded opinions did not accurately reflect his own research findings and Darwinian thinking, which allow for complexity and variability.
The article Staddon penned is extremely engaging, due in part to his writing style. Since this article was written in first person perspective, it has the feel that the author is speaking directly to the reader. Furthermore, this article is very different from other types of critiques in that Staddon did not completely discredit Skinner’s behaviorist theory, but merely questioned if it is being presented and applied correctly. In fact, he emphasized that the theory has potential beyond how it is currently being put into practice. One flaw in Staddon’s article is that he accepted the Darwinian evolutionary theories as a fact. It would have been better if he had treated them as mere theories and compared Skinner’s behaviorist ideas with other possible theories of development. Despite this weakness, Staddon’s article is very captivating and powerful.
Staddon’s article effectively accomplishes what I believe was his intention of causing the reader to call into question some of the behaviorist ideas while not disparaging the theory altogether. Compared with Schunk (2012), Staddon (2006) provided additional enlightenment regarding Skinner’s emphasis of only some of his research findings and not the other. Schunk and Staddon agree on the complexity of learning. According to Schunk, the more complexity a learning theory allows for, the more credence it has, an idea that also permeates Staddon’s article. When comparing this article with my own views of education—which are very similar to the constructivist theory—I find close correlations in Staddon’s ideas of allowing the learner to pursue his or her passions. However, even constructivism boxes learning into walls that do not allow for its complexity. In essence, I resonate with the idea that all learning theories have some truth. Rather than pitting them against each other, one must instead come to the realization that they can work together (Derby, 2002).
I personally was enthralled with this article from start to finish. I especially like the author’s use of narratives. He could not have chosen better ones to hold my attention—sheepdogs have always been my favorite breeds, and I am likewise very passionate about allowing children to explore their interests as a part of education. I also really resonate with the idea that learning and teaching should not be limited within the confines of one particular theory. As aforementioned, I do think Staddon limited himself by accepting only one theory of development (Darwinian evolution) as truth when in fact there are other options. As a Christian, I believe that development is not so much an evolutionary process as it is a cultivation of God-given mental faculties within constructive and stimulating environments. Thus, while I do not agree with some of some of Staddon’s foundational beliefs, I am very intrigued by his untraditional teaching applications.
Derby, S. J. (2002). Naïve teacher education + naïve assessment = naïve teacher epistemologies: A response to Schraw and Olafson. Issues In Education, 8(2), 159.
Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective [6th ed.]. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Staddon, J. (2006). Did Skinner miss the point about teaching? International Journal of Psychology, 41(6), 555-558. doi:10.1080/00207590500492708