[PODCAST] #349: Behaviorism, Special Ed, and Self-Esteem – A Discussion With An Awakened Teacher


Through the years, School Sucks Podcast has been a great outlet for my thoughts, feelings and frustrations about my teaching experience. I had always hoped the show could eventually serve as a forum for other former and active teachers to do the same. Yet, it's rare that I can get an active teacher to talk to me.

Then last week, I received this email:

Dear Brett,
I've been binge-listening to your show since discovering it, and I want to thank you for providing my introduction to libertarianism as well as the fascinating and thoughtful discussions about science, the trivium, and non-violent communication.

I am currently a teacher wrapping up my 15th and last year in the field, and I appreciate your perspective on how the system impacts upon the teachers as well as on students and families. As a child, I was obedient and invested in school, and I followed the path paid out for me all the way to the Ivy League. But now, looking back on that "success", I can see that I was indoctrinated into playing by the rules of the system, and it's only now as an adult that I can step back and see how the system is set up to lead people like me to "safe" thinking and aspirations - to love Big Brother to the point where we sign on to help others learn to love him too.

One topic that I would love to see more prominently on your show is the conscious use of behaviorism to control the thoughts and actions of students, particularly in special education. This is unfortunately an area in which I've had lots of first-hand experience, having worked primarily with kids with diagnosed disabilities, including "oppositional defiant disorder" and "ADHD". Just as one small example, this year my school adopted an oppressive system of constant praising for compliance and publicly displaying children on a chart labeling their behavior, which I have simply refused to use. Even so, the structure of the classroom itself ensures that the environment is only functional when kids comply, defer to me as the authority, suppress their own needs and curiosities, and accept the structure imposed on their bodies and thoughts. (Including chemically, in many cases.)

This moral dilemma was always lurking in the background, but in my early days of teaching, I had more freedom to work WITH the kids to try to make their experience more rewarding. Now, the structure has tightened up to the point where that's no longer possible. If you'd like to explore this topic further I'd be happy to provide more details.
I'm leaving teaching as soon a as my contract is up, and I am going to be homeschooling my own child. I am sure my school will quickly find some eager, naive replacement who will think she's helping kids overcome their "issues".

Thanks again for your podcast - it really is a great resource for those of us waking up out of the Matrix.


Meredith and I discuss our common experiences, our roles in behaviorist schooling environments, the handicap of the special ed label, parent involvement and attitudes and The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

Look Closer:
Previous Shows on Behaviorism - https://schoolsucksproject.com/tag/behaviorism/

Educational Theories - Behaviorism Vs. Constructivism

Applying behaviorism to our schools - http://joctl.blogspot.com/2009/03/applying-behaviorism-to-our-schools.html
Teaching Students With Learning Disabilities: Constructivism Or Behaviorism? - http://cie.asu.edu/volume8/number10/index.html
Outcome-Based Education Explained, by Ron Sunseri - http://www.sntp.net/education/obe_explained.htm
A SHORT ANGRY HISTORY OF AMERICAN FORCED SCHOOLING - http://4brevard.com/choice/Public_Education.htm
The Underground History
of American Education: A Schoolteacher's Intimate Investigation Into The Problem Of Modern Schooling
- http://johntaylorgatto.com/underground/

Check Also

Behaviorism Never Dies – with Nathan Fraser [PODCAST #687]

(Emotional Manipulators For Hire, Episode 4, Free Again) Today: Behaviorism from some surprising new angles. ...


  1. Brett and”Meredith” – very good discussion. One reason that we decided to try home education this year for my son was the evidence of behaviorism in action in the school he was attending. How is that supposed to teach you to think? I know…it’s not. Not what the “system” ordered…

    One tip: I recently finished reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg after hearing about it on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Its a quick read and I think a nice complement to the work you did on the 6 pillars of self esteem which focuses on self improvement through the combination of the conscious mind and actions (or practices in the authors terms). The Power of Habit focuses on how you can apply the conscious mind to do some reprogramming (hacking?) of the unconscious mind that is the thing thats in control of your actions more times than you might realize.

    Its not as much of a tangent as it may seem from this show either since at first I thought the book was describing a modified form of behaviorism, but I think there are some important differences. I know you probably have pages and pages of Evernote notes on show topics. but this might be a good one to tackle at some point if you are looking for something that is connected with the other work you do, but also relatively stand alone.

    If you’ve read or heard of the book, I would be interested in your thoughts.

  2. What is the bumper music, Brett?!?! I woke from a horrible dream and it was playing in my head. lol I think that was apropos to the aldus huxley association. 😉

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