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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.
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.
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
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
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
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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