By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Founding Editor, bSci21.org
Mother Jones recently published a provocative critique of “the Skinner Method” as it pertains to school behavior programs. The article noted that the so-called method is a “philosophy…that bad behavior must be punished” and that “Pavlov figured it out first, with dogs.” Moreover, the article attributed the approach to facilitating the “school-to-prison pipeline” by exacerbating behavior problems through the use of punishment.
Aside from the fact that Pavlov’s work involved the pairing of antecedent stimuli — not consequences — to elicit reflexive responses, one thing is clear: Skinner is somehow equated exclusively with punishment. Any Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will be the first to tell you that the primary goal of any behavior program is to reinforce and build up — not punish — adaptive social, communication, and daily living skills in children and adults. Moreover, anyone familiar with the field of Organizational Behavior Management will tell you that the overwhelming emphasis is on incentivizing workplace performance and providing positive feedback to employees. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find an example of punishing consequences in the pages of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management.
The proposed solution to the “method” is known as Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) developed by Dr. Ross Greene, author of books such as The Explosive Child and Lost at School. The CPS approach is based on school staff building “strong relationships” with kids, with a heavy emphasis on problem-solving problematic situations. Then one must “identify each student’s challenges…and tackle them one at a time.”
The article alleges the program to have reduced disciplinary incidents by as much as 80 percent across an unspecified number of schools, and you know what? I’m not surprised. The CPS program is doing what behavior analysts have been doing for years: building adaptive skills through positive social interactions. The interested reader can check out several other bSci21 articles related to the use of behavior analysis in schools, pertaining to Positive Behavioral Supports, Functional Analyses in Schools, Managing Classroom Behavior, and Inappropriate Sexual Behavior in Schools.
Be sure to check out the full article, as it discusses many more details not included here. I would also encourage you to do your part to stand up to the misrepresentation of behavior analysis by contacting Mother Jones directly.
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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at email@example.com.