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Death of Behaviorism

February 14, 2020

“Times Higher Education” is a newsletter, published by the venerable Times of London newspaper, that British “Wets” read with the alacrity that Progressives in the U.S. read The New York Times. Articles for “THE” are written by British journalists who are as ill-informed about higher education as their American counterparts, so I seldom read THE’s daily reports.

Today was different because the lead article reports on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Minister for universities. That appointment is a big deal in the hierarchy of British power because the UK has so few private, what the British call “independent,” universities. The situation was so bad that Michael Oakeshott and a young Conservative MP, Margaret Thatcher, resolved in 1968 to found one. That became University of Buckingham.

But, what really caught my attention was an article titled “The Rise and Fall of Behaviorism.” If true, that is very good news indeed!

When I was an undergraduate political science major, “Behaviorism” dominated the PoliSci discipline and I took a course in system’s theory. That subject was so repugnant that I asked to be relieved of this course requirement on moral grounds.  Later, I added a chapter on Behaviorism in my history of political theory that featured the idiotic work of B.F. Skinner. I could not entirely escape this political religion because a course in Psychology that I took to fulfill a science requirement was taught by a Skinnerian and I had my own “Skinner Box” and a rat that I was expected to “train.”

Well, fortunately, Behaviorism is dead in higher education except in courses in “Methodology” of quantitative measurement that dot the curriculum in Economics and Social Sciences. Bush Administration Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings, forced that into our system by requiring that “outcomes” of each and every course taught at accredited colleges be described in “measurable” terms. That literally destroyed the Liberal Arts and led to closure of the American Academy of Liberal Education that was formed to “accredit” Liberal Arts colleges.

Well, let’s hope that is now as dead as George W. Bush’s (and Margaret Spellings’) influence in American politics and higher education.

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