20 September 2022

“Empty Pedagogy, Behaviorism, and the Rejection of Equity” – Chris McNutts diagnosis on the educational reality.

Author: Chris Mc Nutt


The use of techniques based on the achievements of behaviorism stirs rampant emotions among education specialists. It is worth remembering, that behaviorism had its origins in experimental research involving animals. Conducting research on the impact of stimuli, and human reactions to them, took place at a later date. Therefore, the use of the most rudimentary mechanisms of this kind of science in the teaching of the younger generations may generate doubts, either of a moral or methodological nature.

The concept of behaviorism is based on the assumption that the behavior of an individual is determined by a history of reinforcements to which that individual has been subjected. It was on the basis of this premise, behavioral pedagogy, that one of the branches of psychopedagogy was conceived. The legitimacy of using techniques rooted in the tradition of behaviorism is the subject of some fierce discussions among experts in the field of education. While examining this topic, it is worth starting from scratch and focusing on the fundamental premises of behaviorism.

As Jagieła explains, in its classical form, behaviorism is a field of psychology that focuses on the study of objective relationships between presenting a stimulus to an individual and his or her reaction to such stimuli. The behaviors produced in this way are derived from such components as learning, motivation, biological properties of a given individual and individual interpersonal differences. Continuous sequences that occur between the emergence of a given stimulus and an individual’s reaction to it, in a specific way, are called habits.  Representatives of this scientific direction define human personality as a set of habits that a person acquires as a result of the learning process and which include both adaptive and stubborn behaviors. Behaviorism focuses on behavior visible to the naked eye, and it does not analyze the internal side of produced behaviors. The entire existence of human beings, in the sense of behaviorism, is therefore merely reduced to the application of specific reactions to the present stimuli.

Over time, this scientific direction has lived to see its radical form emerge. Its representatives, in their publications, perceive man’s free will rather as an illusion. They attach great importance to the role of reinforcements, i.e. the component of instrumental conditioning, and consider the speed of a given individual’s reaction to stimulus to be the most effective measure of its strength.  Radical behaviorism has formed the foundation for studies done by other academics, who subsequently continue to study this trend and develop it – also on a pedagogical basis.

The assumptions of behaviorism have been subject to criticism since the early days of the existence of this field of science. The results of experimental research in numerous cases have proven that the traditional concept of stimulus and reaction does not take into account the impact of several significant variables determining the outcome of the actions taken. The concept of radical behaviorism was not readily accepted by classical psychologists. Over time, its advocates have also come to see this field’s shortcomings.

Behaviorism played an important role in the development of distinct forms of psychological or psychotherapeutic actions addressed towards people of different age groups. As regards teaching and the educational process, the role of positive and negative reinforcement has been merged with the use of punishment and reward. The popularity of using techniques based on the behaviorist approach in educational practice results from the fact that we are dealing with a very simple tool which is based on the operation of uncomplicated mechanisms.

The issue of using the behaviorist concept in contemporary education is discussed in an article by Chris McNutt, from the Human Restoration Project.  It is an American non-profit organization whose goal is to transform the schooling system by incorporating progressive educational trends into it. The Human Restoration project is one of the partners of the Holistic Think Tank. [Read more]

The document, which you will find below, represents a multidimensional analysis of the phenomenon of basing curriculum on behaviorism in modern-day schools. The author both presents the historical perspective of behaviorism and provides reports by contemporary educational specialists and individuals, who in the past experienced this type of educational technique from the student’s perspective. The article also provides the definition of the so-called empty pedagogy referring to behaviorist traditions and it draws attention to a number of threats stemming from its practice. We encourage you to become familiar with the text:

The original article:
Empty Pedagogy, Behaviorism, and the Rejection of Equity