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It is as hard for the good to suspect evil, as it is for the bad to suspect good. Marcus Tullius Cicero

THE OPERANT SOCIETY; A CRITIQUE

April 14th, 2011 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 467 views | Print this Article

By Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses a subtle, but influential sub-ideology that became entrenched in American Society several decades ago and continues to influence virtually every aspect of American life, including child-rearing, education, economics, communication and personal development. It is encompassed in the operant conditioning paradigm, whereby “positive reinforcement” is wielded as a social panacea and a means of putting an incongruously happy face on growth, learning, creativity and social responsibility. The argument here is that in general terms such a method has been unsuccessful and that it is at odds with how minds, bodies, and nature itself operate.

THE SPIRIT OF THE TIMES

We arguably live in a time when criticism, long the precursor to excellence, is viewed as an ineffective, perhaps even crass approach to dealing with children. To an extent this is understandable, particularly as the distinction between adult and child becomes less clear with each generation. In previous times adults told children what they were expected to do and guided them accordingly. The presumption of authority enabled parents, coaches, teachers and even the clergy to exert fluidly their influence on the child. Adults did not have to prove themselves to children through the excruciating mental gymnastics that go with building trust, establishing relationships or reaching the child. Not that those things weren’t important. They just weren’t required.

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