3/21: Behaviorism

Please post a question as a comment. Be sure to bring the question to class. See you then.




  1. What do you guys think about teaching machines? do you like that idea /think it’s effective or do you think we need the immediate feedback from teachers? Do you think in the future this would ever happen?

  2. It’s interesting that Alex so closely relates the feeling he gets when he commits acts of violence and when he listens to classical music. Do you think there is deeper meaning to the way classical music makes him feel in relation to violence? Was it the intention of Alex’s programmer for classical music to be a trigger for him all along?

  3. Although the teaching machines designed by Skinner seem outdated considering the current classroom settings children experience today, do you see any school programs that have a slight resemblance to these teaching machine, such as computer driven programs?

  4. What sort of evidence does Skinner provide that justifies machines being more efficient teachers than humans? Do these claims seem to be normative? I can think of various reasons why his claims are false; why the interpersonal communication involved in teaching actually helps students more than just watching a recorded lecture or passing through slides that mimic a test. What evidence exists today that shows his hypothesis about machines was wrong (think iPads and iPhones in the academic setting)?

  5. Are Skinner’s methods learning machines, or are they really testing short term memory? Skinner presents no evidence that his approach works better for long term memory.

  6. Skinner states, “In the light of our present knowledge a school system must be called a failure if it cannot induce students to learn ex- cept by threatening them for not learn- ing.”
    As this was written in 1958, what do you think Skinner would say about our underfunded and inefficient teaching styles compared to the rest of the world in current times? Would his solutions still remain the same?

  7. If I remember correctly, Clockwork Orange was written extremely quickly, as the author thought he was going to die soon of some sort of brain cancer, and wrote it in a flurry to make a quick buck. He would later look back in distaste, seeing his work as rushed, despite the fact it is arguably his most famous story. Some elements seem very consciously written, such as the use of Russian loanwords (“Droogz” being a corruption of the Russian word for friend) to make futuristic slang that wouldn’t appear outdated to future generations of readers. What elements in the film present something that seems to allude to subconscious symbols that reveal something about the author himself or the time in which he lived? So many generations with wildly different social struggles can all see elements of Clockwork Orange they can relate to their own time. Is it possibly the idea of the Clockwork Orange itself, an object associated with natural sweetness, but engineered to work according to mechanical methods? Yet Alex himself is clearly a barbaric character. Who or what is the element in this film that makes it such a timeless dystopian classic?

  8. Anthony Burgess mentions that “All of us might agree with Professor Skinner that a well-run, conditioned society is an excellent thing for a new race- a breed of men rationally convinced to be conditioned, so long as the conditioning is based on rewards and not punishment” (13). This idea of positive conditioning relates to the dystopias mentioned throughout Burgess’ article because that is how many of their governments controlled their citizens withing the novels. Burgess mentions “We need to be conditioned in order to save the environment and the race. But it must be conditioning of the right sort” (6). But what is “the right sort” of conditioning? Who would be in charge of determining that? While dystopias always show an ugly truth about society are they not too under the impression that their way is the “right way?” That they are somehow making a better, safer society? Is there such a thing as a utopia?

  9. After reading Skinner’s work, it makes me wonder why we haven’t made a change to this type of learning? Are there any practices similar to the machine instruction that Skinner talks about in use today?

  10. Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” speaks a lot about the wanting to control the human mind. The machines that are incorporated into the book/movie go against human nature, training Alex to act differently than he usually does. Do you think forcing/”conditioning” someone to behave a certain way is an effective way to control them, or are there alternatives? Is it wise to have such control over a person?

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