A Teaching Machine
To the Editor:
Dr. Skinner of Harvard is apparently an “aversive stimulus” to Paul Goodman [“The Human Uses of Science,” December 1960]. Mr. Goodman indicts Dr. Skinner for the evils of a teaching machine that “. . . is quite irrelevant to the chief factors in either teaching or learning.” In a previous article (“The Calling of American Youth” March 1960), Mr. Goodman wrote that Dr. Skinner would “. . . do away with the creative relation of pupil, teacher, and developing subject matter,” and extinguish “. . . puzzlement on a child’s face . . .” and “. . . the light in his eyes. . . .” Surely, this Dr. Skinner of Harvard must be a fiend.
Mr. Goodman does not explain what the chief factors in learning are. Dr. Skinner and other workers have attempted to do this by an experimental analysis of learning. Dr. Skinner proposes to utilize the techniques emerging from those experimental studies to produce more effective learning. Is it fiendish to want to give the child, as Dr. Skinner suggests [in his collection of essays, Cumulative Record], “. . . a genuine competence in reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic . . .” and to enable the teacher “. . . to function, not in lieu of a cheap machine, but through intellectual, cultural, and emotional contacts of that distinctive sort which testify to her status as a human being”?
S. J. Arenson