Why Children Behave Like Animals

By Charlotte Iserbyt

An important question should be examined in regard to the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado. “What was going on inside the brains of the two boys who committed this terrible crime?”

Not only should Americans point the finger at violent television as a reason for copycat violence. They should examine the effects of computers and computer games on the human brain. I am no expert, but the computer is an operant conditioning machine and no less than the late Harvard Professor B.F. Skinner, the father of operant conditioning, refereed to it as “his box.” Operant conditioning bypasses the brain with all the important functions which distinguish man from an animal: memory, conscience, imagination, insight, and intuition, functions by which human beings know absolutes and truths and are able to know God.

Use of computer programming (simulation/virtual reality) to train individuals to fly an airplane, perform surgery, etc. serve a very useful purpose. On the other hand, the same simulation/virtual reality computer was game videos which allow the individual to engage in killing in a bloody and violent atmosphere, played over and over again, desensitize the individual to the evil act of killing, whereby the individual, as a programmed robot, finds it increasingly easy to carry this distorted vision of reality outside into other areas of his life, such as a school building or playground. If that individual happens to be full of hatred, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what “programmed” action he or she may take in order to vent that hatred and frustration.

The use of computer-assisted-instruction in school, which unfortunately has been accepted as the alternative to traditional education, should also be of some concern to those seeking an answer to school violence. The same operant conditioning, upon which school programs for all disciplines is based, can be used for training an individual to perform. Skinner said “I could make a pigeon a high achiever by reinforcing (rewarding) it on a proper schedule” and “What is reinforced (rewarded) will be repeated.” Such “training” is not “education” in the traditional sense since it does not transfer. With traditional academic “education” a student is capable of transferring what he learns to other areas of his life, at some future time. He can store the information for future use; it is in his brain where it is able to be reflected upon, where his soul, memory and conscience are able to influence the information and decisions he makes.

Not so with operant conditioning where no such transfer occurs. Children who spend their school years “learning” (being “trained”) in this manner can be expected to experience a certain frustration and dehumanization in their behavior since the creative functions of the brain are being constantly cut off. Operant conditioning experiments on animals have caused similar frustration and violent behavior.

If Littleton, Colorado schools are anything like other schools around the nation, they are using the highly controversial “scientific research-based” Outcome-Based-Education/Mastery Learning/Direct Instruction based on Skinnerian behaviorist psychology, which is necessary for School-to-Work programs and workforce training. OBE and computer-assisted instruction go together as a hand fits in a glove. The combination amounts to a most lethal concoction for our children.

I fear that unless we examine the use and effect of video games and the use for twelve years of computers in the classroom we may experience more Littletons. Is it too far-fetched to assume that he who is trained like an animal may just end up behaving like an animal?

Charlotte Iserbyt is former senior policy advisor to the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education, and author of the forthcoming book The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America: A Chronological Paper Trail.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.