My Conceit: I, Saving All School Districts in the U.S. from Poor Teaching

(My conceit in other words is:) I, Saving All Young Learners from School Failure Due to Poor Teaching

I hear a lot of talk about all kinds of schemes to improve public education in the U.S. Much of it “HOOOOEY!” I’ll give you the straight STUFF, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. The central core of education. This needs a big megaphone! A coast-to-coast radio and TV hookup! A satellite Public Address system shouting down from the sky.

Dang it! The teachers must perform in devising the objectives OF THEIR TEACHING, the BEHAVIORAL OBJECTIVES, to be clearly delivered to each individual learner, and received by the learner as clear, as judged by the learner’s re-stating it back to the teacher TO THE TEACHER’S SATISFACTION! That is absolutely clear communication, followed by active listening, which is the only and best kind of listening.

My fervent pursuit of those goals had been my professional aim, goal and objective for all those years I was teaching teachers how to teach, back in my working days at the university.

The answer is simple to state, but very difficult to attain, in reality. I want to stress that: would-be teachers have a very difficult time seeing what I want from them: a behavioral analysis of the subject they are to teach: history; English; math; health; social studies; biology; general business; study hall; lunch, gym.

One example, for English class: “The pupil will be able to recognize a double-negative when someone uses it in everyday speech. The learner will be able to correct the double-negative and recite the true meaning of what the double-negative really is saying.”

Actually I chose that particular example because I am very surprised to hear it coming out of the mouths of people I had condsidered to have an advanced education. That is the distracting stuff of verbal static. I think to myself, where in the hell did he ever go to school? When I hear his credentials and hear the name of the school, I tend to think less of that school. If a young man or woman is interviewed and the job interviewer hears something like that little marker of mis-education, or inattention to basic studies, well, then, he’d be okay for the shop out back, perhaps, but for the front office? Perhaps not. If there are a significant number of such indicaters . . . well, I think you catch my drift. There are behaviors aplenty to master. The teacher, supposedly, you hope, knows them all, and can specify them in detail, to teach them effectively. Impressions will be made of the carry-over training, and education, and the responsibilityy is on the teacher to help learners to fit well into the adult world. Or the student could make a poor impression, and the reflection would be on the schooling system, that kids coming from that school cannot compete well in the world of work and society.

Remember, for want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. . . . That some big things hinge on the smallest of things is the moral of that old story.


Unfortunately, I have heard vociferous criticism of the nasty type against the term “behaviorism” and its connotation from the Skinner school of operant conditioning. Do not be too hasty in judging “behaviorism”. Do not deny the accomplishments of “behaviorism”. Operant conditioning works, opportunistically applied. Behavioral responses can be controlled by reinforcement of the desired (response) behavior at the moment of its expression, as it arises. The reinforcement alerts, or communicates to the learner what the desired behavior is. It is a form of positive criticism.

In a speech class, I asked a class listening to the speech of a student-speaker to smack their desk-tops every time the speaker uttered a vocalized pause (“uh”). That was the purpose of that round of speeches. It happened that that negative reinforcement contributed to much more fluent speaking in subsequent speaking performances. You might guess that I am extremely sensitive to the vocalized pauses I am hearing all over the television programming. There was one speaker who literally began every sentence with “UM”. Watch for it! You’ll see!

What do kids DO to show that they have the behaviors of math, English, history, social studies, health, etc.? The teacher of the subject matter must write an objective and a series of objectives for the goals and aims of the learning that must take place. “Learning” is simply “behavior change”. You DID “that” before you learned, but now you DO “this” instead of doing “that” which you did before learning “this”. After learning, your behavior has changed, and we said that doing “this” is better for you than “that”. You are a changed person and more acceptable to society at large in the many ways that the teacher sees as beneficial for the learner’s future, OUT THERE.

Start Here: Defining Behavioral Objectives

Every teacher should be required to specify, in behavioral terms, what the outcomes of learning, for the specific subject matter, will be. That may be simply stated, but it is a very, very difficult task for the teacher. The teacher workshops in off time might be appropriate places for teachers to work out those “objectives”.

The Pedagogical Process

It is the function of pedagogy to identify inappropriate habits

  • of acts (overt behavior),
  • thinking and reasoning (covert and overt behavior),
  • and emotion (any disturbance of equilibrium, or loss of balance, emotional upset, easily observable and obvious nonverbal behaviors),

and to move a post-learning awareness back to a synchronic awareness, and even then to a pre-condition of subsequent behavior. Poor habits have consequences (OUT THERE).

Pedagogy is the art and science of behavior change to improve consequences for the learner. Habits are familiar old friends, the silent valets, you take for granted. Changing habits affects the individual’s confidence in doing what he or she has always done. The learner will try, fail, and try again, feeling very low, discouraged, about little progress. Learning new behaviors is uncomfortable, painful, but can also be matters of self-pride in doing advanced behaviors. The teacher will have to suggest new contexts in which the learner may practice the newly mastered behavior. No getting around that pain changing to pride. It is always easier to do what you have always done, but the new will take the learner farther than the old OUT THERE. The pedagogue must be hardy to withstand the heat in a struggling learner, avoiding any harshness of tone. But there will be the pride of the teacher, as well.

The process has these general steps in teaching after the behavioral objectives have been clearly specified, before the teaching has begun:

  1. diagnosis (pre-testing),
  2. awareness,
  3. experiences,
  4. critical feedback,
  5. post-testing.

Motivation and Criticism

The goal behavior must be set up as a “lack” in present behavior, and one learner’s “lack” may be different from the “lacks” exhibited in each of the other learners in the classroom. That is where the teacher’s job is extremely tough. The teacher must be an able “critic”, giving constructive feedback. There is a high art to criticism, yes the written kind, but I was referring to the important art of verbal criticism. “Criticism” has a definite bad reputation because it is done so poorly by rank amateurs, such as “parents” who have not had direct intruction in “informative and constructive feedback.” Much parental “criticism” comes across much like “shaken-baby syndrome” and with those dire results. The learner must be motivated to change from what is “lacking” to what is “desired”. The learner must have his or her desire to change “energized”, for that is what “motivation” is, energized behavior.

The learner must, MUST!!!, be motivated beforehand. Otherwise, effort will be missing.

One final point: administrators will have a much easier task in evaluating individual teacher performance, as well as the performance of the school system overall. The teachers who do this work will stand heads and shoulders above those who will not, or cannot do the work. The handwriting is on the wall. The parents, too, will have a much better gauge for assessing the change in their offspring. I, personally, have my own hopes for change in the schooling system. I am writing a book that will refer to those hopes for key changes that will, if installed at the appropriate level, make for a better U.S. society in the long run.

My conceit about this is my excessive hope and certainty that I am right, and the antonym is that which I cannot effect, humility, for something I want very much to happen as my expression of certainty, that I am correct.


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