Surveillance, Positive Behavior Support, and Intrinsic Motivation

This video advocates surveillance and positive behavior support (PBS) behaviorism in schools. It has received a lot of criticism from educators.

The video itself is only two and a half minutes, but the way they efficiently pack in so much of what is wrong in schooling today is remarkable. To put it bluntly, it was a bunch of behaviorist garbage. It makes the argument that students are animals that need to be conditioned to do what is expected of them through punishments and rewards. This is music to many educators’ ears, because they all know from their teacher training that the foremost priority in school is classroom management. And when classroom management is taken care of, then they can focus on what really matters-test scores.

The punishments and rewards continue to compound on themselves. Chris gets to go to the pep rally later in the day where he can let loose and have fun. Chris is a good boy, and gets to do good boy things. Jill, however, is a bad girl, so she must go to detention instead of going to the pep rally. Perhaps making Jill sit in a room by herself while everyone else is having fun will teach her to ‘act right.’

Hero K12 reaffirms everything that is perceived to be right with Chris, and everything that is perceived to be wrong with Jill. However, what if Jill had a good excuse for being late? Like she needed to take care of a sibling in the morning because of a family emergency? Or what if she works a part-time job in the evening and is not getting enough sleep? It does not matter in the world of Hero K12, though, because only zeroes fail to show up on time.

Source: Want to ruin the lives of children? There’s an EdTech company for that. – Abrome

But when we assume that data points to behavior, and that points to the means to control behavior, we become authorized to create methods, approaches, and technologies that fulfill that promise. I offer as exhibit A this promotional video for Hero K12 a student monitoring system that gathers data from student behavior in on-ground learning environments (aka, the augmented reality LMS).

I’ve shared this video out on Twitter (with a nod to Audrey Watters, who originally shared it here), and the overall response was one of horror. My network was concerned about this level of monitoring, about the reduction of students to data, about the fact that Jill’s home or family situation, her access to transportation, nor any other factor outside of her name and grade level are considered by the Hero K12 human management system. For myself, I am most concerned about the inability of students to fully understand and to resist or change the system. While I have no doubts students are capable of breaking the system, or making it work for them, Hero K12 represents a determinant, one which students must adapt to, one which requires a surrender of their agency. They become their data, and while they may find ways to feed certain data into the system, they have no power to resist their own reduction to numbers, patterns, and statistics.

The LMS threatens the same reduction of human complexity to simple data. I say “simple” because even when data is nuanced and complex, it fails to be an accurate representation of a human being. This is not to say data cannot indicate certain behaviors, nor that it is useless, only that it has limitations. But it is not those limitations that are advertised, not those limitations that we’re trained to observe; instead, we are encouraged to see data as descriptive, not just indicative. And when that happens, a surfeit of data erects a barrier between students, teachers, and administrators. But most importantly, and least spoken about, data as a determinant erects a barrier between a student and themselves.

Source: Reading the LMS against the Backdrop of Critical Pedagogy, Part One – OFFICE OF DIGITAL LEARNING

ABOUT FIVE YEARS AGO, a cluster of new technologies began to migrate through the nation’s schools like a gaggle of fall geese. Schools have long devised policies and procedures to manage and shape students’ behavior. Sticker charts. Detentions. Referrals. Rewards. Educators routinely point to classroom management as one of the most important skills of being a great teacher, and new teachers in particular are likely to say this is one of their most significant challenges. These novel apps, bearing names like ClassDojo and Hero K12, promised to help by collecting students’ behavioral data and encouraging teachers to project the stats onto their classroom’s interactive whiteboard in order to keep students “on task.” It is, they claim, all part of a push to create a “positive classroom culture.”

Skinner’s theories have fallen out of favor in some education circles. Noam Chomsky, for one, wrote of Skinner’s behaviorism that “The tendencies in our society that lead toward submission to authoritarian rule may prepare individuals for a doctrine that can be interpreted as justifying it.”

But of course, that has always been the underpinning of behaviorism—an emphasis on positive reinforcement techniques in order to more effectively encourage “correct behavior.” “Correct behavior,” that is, as defined by school administrators and software makers. What does it mean to give these companies—their engineers, their designers—this power to determine “correct behavior”? How might corporate culture, particularly Silicon Valley culture, clash with schools’ culture and values? These behavior management apps are, in many ways, a culmination of Skinner’s vision for “teaching machines”—“continuous automatic reinforcement.” But it’s reinforcement that’s combined now with a level surveillance and control of students’ activities, in and out of the classroom, that Skinner could hardly have imagined.

Source: Dunce’s App | Audrey Watters

Deficit ideology, surveillance capitalism, mindset marketing, and behaviorism are an unholy alliance. My school district has adopted all of them. When we buy into this stuff, we gaslight and harm kids and reward the forces trying to destroy public education. Behaviorists are misbehaving, and the deficit model capitalism of ed-tech is funding and spreading that misbehavior.

Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences.” We must get rid of extrinsics and adopt the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism – a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement – and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.

Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.

It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on – in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.

In preparing a new Afterword for the 25th-anniversary edition of my book Punished by Rewards, I’ve sorted through scores of recent studies on these subjects. I’m struck by how research continues to find that the best predictor of excellence is intrinsic motivation (finding a task valuable in its own right) – and that this interest is reliably undermined by extrinsic motivation (doing something to get a reward). New experiments confirm that children tend to become less concerned about others once they’ve been rewarded for helping or sharing. Likewise, paying students for better grades or test scores is rarely effective – never mind that the goal is utterly misconceived.

It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory. That means attending less to students’ behaviors and more to the students themselves.

Source: It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn

“We are breeding a new generation of kids who are well trained to be reward and recognition torpedoes,” Berkowitz writes.

But a substantial body of social science research going back decades has concluded that giving rewards for certain types of behavior is not only futile but harmful. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink identifies seven drawbacks to extrinsic rewards: they cripple intrinsic motivation, limit performance, squash creativity, stifle good conduct, promote cheating, can become habit-forming, and spur a short-term mindset. Giving prizes for routine and mindless tasks can be moderately effective, Pink writes. But offering rewards for those tasks that are “inherently interesting, creative, or noble…is a very dangerous game.” When it comes to promoting good behavior, extrinsic rewards are “the worst ineffective character education practice used by educators,” Berkowitz writes.

Source: How Ending Behavior Rewards Helped One School Focus on Student Motivation and Character | MindShift | KQED News

Many contemporary writers on psychology — specifically the psychologies of work, business, and economics — have written about the value of intrinsic motivation. First observed by researchers in the 1950s, and built upon in the 1970s, intrinsic motivation is often contrasted with extrinsic motivation. The latter is akin to “the carrot and the stick,” while intrinsic motivation originates from internal drives to be good at things and to enjoy them — drives that seemingly have very little to do with carrots and sticks.

People who write about business psychology agree that, in our current economy, fostering intrinsic motivation in workers creates the best outcomes for businesses. Some businesses (and business gurus) call that sort of motivation “happiness.” Others focus on “culture” to foster motivation. But what keeps coming up again and again across all of the business psych books and articles I’ve read (none of which I endorse as products, by the way) are three main concepts that work together as a coherent motivational entity: agency, mastery, and legacy.

Typically, you have to have agency in order to acquire mastery. And you have to have mastery in order to leave a legacy.

Ph.D.s leave academe in search of opportunities for — you guessed it — agency. Then mastery. And then, hopefully, legacy.

Source: Leaving a Legacy Off the Tenure Track | ChronicleVitae

The author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink has studied findings in psychology and economics, as well as practices in the business world, and identifies three factors as particularly conducive to performance and personal satisfaction:

  • autonomy, which he defines as “our desire to be self-directed, to direct our own lives”;
  • mastery, or “our urge to get better at stuff”; and
  • purpose, the drive to contribute to making something better.

How can we maximize learning? By respecting individuals, by letting their innate curiosity and intense drive to explore and master things do its job. As Sir Ken Robinson and James Marcus Bach have both argued, human development is incompatible with industrial, assembly-line thinking. A far more accurate and helpful metaphor comes from traditional agriculture, where success follows from supporting natural growth processes without attempting to control them.

Source: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose – Alpine Valley School

Intrinsic motivators are drivers like autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

We’ve built most of our learning environments with sticks and carrots.

We’ve negated the power of choice and the power of letting folks craft an education that is grounded in their aspirations, their vision for themselves.

How do we build learning environments that embrace intrinsic motivation? Autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed

Jonathan Mooney offers a great example of intrinsic motivation in this talk. This will take you directly to the relevant spot.

For more, see my post on Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology.

13 thoughts on “Surveillance, Positive Behavior Support, and Intrinsic Motivation

  1. In studying to be a teacher, I’m JUST reading up on Positive Behavior Support. Frankly, behaviorist theory is just not good for all kids, but it’s especially not good for disabled/neurodivergent students. Even my own high school psychology teacher admitted it was pretty manipulative…..that was 12 years ago.

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