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?