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Behaviourism is a psychological doctrine about the nature of mind. It

includes a theory of learning which suggests that the only proper

concern of the teacher is that of behaviour modification. The pre-

ferred mode of learning for behaviourists is conditioning, which

involves alterations in the predecessors and consequences of the target

behaviour. Although it is difficult to see how, on their own assump-

tions, behaviourists can say this, some of these alterations are pleasant

to the target organism (rewards) and some are unpleasant (punish-

ments). These alterations are repeated until the desired result is

achieved. Thus, rats may be conditioned to run through a maze.

Conditioning is distinct from training in that no intellectual activity

on the part of the subject is thought necessary in order for the desired

result to be achieved. Behaviourist techniques can be applied to animals

and humans alike.

What is the relevance of behaviourism to education? As a matter of

principle, behaviourists assume that the internal mental life of the

individual is irrelevant to their learning. Some behaviourists would

even deny that the individual has a mental life. Educators need to ask

whether they would be prepared to accept such assumptions. The

second point is practical. Since conditioning is distinct from training,

an educator committed to the efficacy of training in some circum-

stances needs to know whether conditioning is an effective substitute.

Training very often relies on rewards and punishments to achieve the

desired result, but trainers are not necessarily committed to ignoring

the thoughts and feelings of learners. Neither are they committed to

the rigid behavioural result that the behaviourist specifies as the out-

come of learning. For example, a trainer might be satisfied if some-

one learns to achieve a desired result (say, finding a way to the end of

a maze), if necessary, by using thought and ingenuity. Developing

thought and ingenuity might even be part of the training process. A

conditioner on the other hand would look for a rigid behavioural

response, for example having the subjects run down the maze to the

exit in a way that their behaviour had been shaped to achieve.

Thus Lieberman (1990) describes how rats conditioned to run

through a maze failed to do so when the maze was filled with water.

BEHAVIOURISM

21

Instead they swam, held their heads up and tried to see where the

exit was. This was not the result that one would expect from the

application of behaviourist learning techniques. Part of the problem

comes from the dogmatic scientism adopted by many behaviourists.

Knowledge is to be gained under experimental conditions. These

involve repeated stimuli of the same type followed by repeated

responses also of the same type. But behaviourism makes the assump-

tion that the expression ‘of the same type’ is to be interpreted strictly so

that it can be defined in experimental terms. This is necessary to ensure

that findings made in laboratory conditions are reliable, that is, can be

replicated in future experiments. It does not follow that they are valid

and can serve as general accounts of how the animals learn.

Behaviourist ideas have been adopted through strategies such as the

setting of behavioural objectives or through behaviour modification

techniques. The former involves setting short-term educational aims

in terms of target behaviours to be adopted by the student. The idea

is that a somewhat vague educational aim, such as the ability to get

on with a variety of people, can be made operational in a highly

specific way, so that a relatively limited repertoire of behaviour serves

as a sufficient condition for achieving that aim. In practice, the

behavioural objective is an operational definition of the more vague

educational aim. As such, it fails to act as a satisfactory aim. Beha-

viour modification is a form of teaching that has, as its outcomes,

behaviours which are aimed for in an educational programme

designed around behavioural objectives. Instead of specifying knowl-

edge or attitude as the desired outcomes, highly specific and easily

assessable behaviours serve as desired outcomes. This approach has

greatly influenced the competence movement (see Hyland 1993)

and the notion of competence is, very often, a slightly richer version

of a behavioural objective (for example, to construct a table) or of a

modified sequence of behaviours (for example, to measure, plane,

saw, join, etc.). These are sometimes known as ‘learning outcomes’.

Educational programmes that are explicitly based on behaviourism

have lost a lot of their appeal in recent years. They can still be found

in some varieties of special education, where narrowly defined

behavioural objectives may be a suitable expression of some educa-

tional aims or where behaviour modification in a relatively crude

sense (the student no longer abuses or attacks carers) is a realistic

objective for a sequence of lessons. The flawed philosophical foun-

dations on which behaviourist theory rests have not, however, pre-

vented the approach from consolidating itself in the English National

Vocational Qualification system.

BEHAVIOURISM

22

BILDUNG

The concept of Bildung has, in recent years, become influential in

English-speaking Philosophy of Education. Bildung is an educational

concept central to the educational outlook of German-speaking

countries. It differs in very significant ways from the English notion

of liberal education, while retaining close links with aspects of it

(Hintz et al. 1995).

It is useful to start by contrasting academic liberal education with

character development, which are recognised as two aspects of liberal

education in the broader sense. Bildung involves both more traditional

instructional pedagogical activities (Unterricht) and upbringing and

character development (Erziehung). The academic side of Bildung,

which involves a broad educational experience, is known as All-

gemeinbildung. The tradition of Bildung outlined by Wilhelm von

Humboldt at the end of the eighteenth century, however, involves far

more than this (Benner 2003).

Humboldt’s conception of Bildung attempts to encompass the

following:

1 Preparation for economic participation in society at a level

appropriate to one’s ability and social rank. This requires knowl-

edge and skill for vocational purposes.

2 Sufficient skills, knowledge and virtues to participate in adult life

and to continue one’s learning.

3 The development of the uniqueness of one’s personality through

significant life experiences (Erlebnisse), such that it is, in a sense, a

continuing work in progress (allgemeine Menschenbildung).

A number of points are worth commenting on. First, the Humboldtian

conception was developed within a rigidly class-based society (Prussia).

Modern German, Austrian and Swiss society assume social mobility,

but also see education as having a significant vocational role for most,

if not all of the population. Second, civic participation in the widest

sense involves a breadth of education, appropriate attitudes and

virtues and civic knowledge. In contemporary German-speaking

societies, these involve autonomy, teamwork and taking responsibility

for one’s actions, both in personal but also in vocational and civic

aspects of one’s life. Finally, the idea that Bildung is a lifetime’s busi-

ness, without a definite closure, is still important today. This notion

of general human education or allgemeine Menschenbildung is an

important aim of contemporary Germanic vocational as well as liberal

BILDUNG

23

education, and owes a great deal to the work of the Munich-based

educator Georg Kerschensteiner, as well as to Humboldt and broader

German traditions which find their expression in literature. Central to it

is the idea of personal individuation through a process of self-discovery

through engagement with something significant, like an occupation.

It is best to illustrate allgemeine Menschenbildung through examples.

There are at least two great Bildungsromanen (novels of Bildung) to be

found in German literature. These are Der Gru¨ne Heinrich (Green

Henry) by the Swiss writer Gottfried Keller and Wilhelm Meisters

Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) by Goethe. Both these

novels explore a young man’s character development and self-discovery

through sustained occupational engagement, Wilhelm as an actor,

Heinrich as a painter. Occupational engagement provides the occasion

for self-discovery through an encounter with the standards of excel-

lence which the occupation requires. Within this context, the ability

of the hero to handle private as well as professional relationships is

put to the test and leads to a further set of discoveries of what is

important in life and what he is truly capable of. They are novels not

just of experience or discovery, but of development (but not in the

sense used by psychologists), in which the central character changes

significantly as a result of his experiences. Perhaps the nearest we have

in English is The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, which is also an ironic

version of the Bildungsroman as the hero is already mature (50 years

old) and the occupation is a dubious one (thieving). Nevertheless,

Bilbo Baggins’ progress follows the classics of this genre, in describing

a process of self-discovery through occupational engagement, but

takes up another theme of contemporary Bildung through raising the

interesting issue of the wider consequences of one’s activity. The hero

comes to realise that there is a conflict between narrowly conceived

occupational excellence and loyality to wider social values in the

incidents of the arousing of Smaug and the giving away of the

Arkenstone, which he has stolen from Smaug. This civic aspect of Bil-

dung was one which Kerschensteiner attached great importance to in his

vocationaleducationalproject in Munich at the turn of the twentieth

century. Like Wilhelm and Heinrich, Bilbo reaches a crisis with respect

to his chosen occupation, makes a self-discovery, which is a milestone in

his own development, and then turns to a different path in life.

Bildung is thus concerned, not just with academic liberal education

but with all round and ongoing personal development. The term

‘lifelong learning’ hardly captures this. For Humboldt, the ability to go

on learning is an essential aspect of Bildung, but as a means to the ends

of societal engagement and personal development, only secondarily as

BILDUNG

24

a tool of vocational training and updating. However, the connection

between Bildung and occupation remains strong. The German term

for vocational education is Ausbildung and encompasses the pursuit of

educational ideals through a broad preparation for the workplace, but

in such a way that broad capacities for independent and wide ranging

occupational activities are developed, while at the same time general

and civic education are not neglected.

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