Behaviourism, Not Behaviour

Behaviourism: A psychological approach that values observable events.

Education Example: We set behavioural objectives, so that we can assess observable evidence of students meeting the objective. We use verbs like “create”, “recite”, and “draw” rather than “know”, “think”, or “understand.”

Behaviour: the way something moves, functions, or reacts

Education Example: Normally a judgement, determining behaviour to be within social norms, or outside of them. Often punish for “bad behaviour” (speaking out, truancy).

As educators, we set behavioural objectives, and sometimes punish for bad behaviour. The former is deified by pedagogical experts, the latter condemned. That they share etymological roots confuses the issue for all students, both in public schools and in Teacher Education programs.

The breakdown of the argument:

  • We teach courses based in a curriculum
  • Grades represent performance of students relative to that curriculum
  • Objectives are how we scaffold student progress towards curricular achievement
  • We phrase behavioural objectives so we can assess student progress
  • Behaviour issues directly related to curricular content are rare
  • Reducing grades for behaviour issues dilutes the meaning of the grade – it no longer reflects curricular knowledge.

Education and knowledge do not exist in a vacuum, separated from context – they cannot. So when we’re told to separate grades from behaviour, I understand. I understand the curricular argument, and I don’t disagree. However, schools are socializing agents – they shape the beliefs, values, and behaviours of students. We expect our education system to prepare socially aware and engaged citizens. But we give no structure to support that.  Disclosure: my CAF experience pre-disposes me to regulation and centralized management. When we expect schools to regulate social norms, but give no central planning to achieve that, it’s left to the discretion of each school district, perhaps each school. Each principal? Each teacher?

I don’t think that’s necessarily bad – I can think of many worse alternatives. But if we care so much about behaviour outcomes, why haven’t we designed a behaviour curriculum? Are we too busy sticking our heads in the sand, denying that schools are socializing our youth?


One thought on “Behaviourism, Not Behaviour

  1. Zach your intriguing and bonafide words have never ringed with such grace, they ring truer than the bell of Big Ben himself!
    I would agree with you in depth, that we need to realize the fact that schools are a place where students are educated as well as socialized. Students being part of schools socialize them to see the norms of society and the world in and out of the classroom. The interesting thing to me is the fact that the main governors of these behaviors are the teachers. I believe that it comes down to the teachers responsibility to teach and encourage behavior in the classroom. A few of my professors are advocates of TPSR, which I have mentioned previously in our blogs. They would love to see behavior teaching implemented into every lesson and every interaction with the students. It is tough to say if we should have a behavioral curriculum. I believe in a perfect world we should not, only because I believe that behavior and responsibility should naturally be in schools so that we don’t have to grade the students behavior. I kind of think of it as a necessary hidden curriculum. But in saying that I immediately want to have a known curriculum that teaches good behavior. It is a battle that I have been constantly struggling with for my whole 3rd year experience.
    If we did actually introduce a behavioral curriculum what would we use as a guide? Would it constantly change with norms that were not norms a few years ago? I foresee problems that could arise with this idea of curriculum, but what curriculum doesn’t have issues?


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