Saturday, January 7, 2012

Right enough today but maybe not tomorrow

I had the following note to myself relating to my graduate school experience of studying psychology:

Our determination to avoid falling into error was itself the cause of our falling into error: the behaviorists as an example of scrupulous effort of be scientific and not fall into mere language and myth that leads us astray.

When I was growing up, I almost never heard the word 'liberal', especially not related to US politics.  Even when I was eleven years old, I was primed to hear the word because my church minister, Dr. Waldemar Argow, had written a book called "What do religious liberals believe?" I knew the book and gave a short presentation to my Unitarian Sunday school on it.  

Then, maybe 20 or 30 years later, "liberal" became a word snarled by some politicians who wanted support from those who yearned for order and dependability in life.  The word sometimes had a dirty or despised aura among some people.  I had had training and experience with rigorously-held belief systems and knew that sometimes people cling to beliefs and want to stay away for those with different beliefs and from those who question.  Even as a youngster, I felt that the question mark was my "shield and buckler ", my motto, my charm, my talisman.  Being male, I understood competition, even though I rarely won anything, but I was used to be on the other side.  I didn't balk at the role but I noted that "liberal" was even more on the outs among some.

In graduate psychology classes, we usually heard that we were among "experimental psychologists".  I wondered why the adjective.  I found that another label of "clinical psychologists" was applied to those I had heard of, those who sit with someone with a mental or emotional problem and try to help them.  But this latter group was the one I was interested in as a teacher and education doctoral student.

Over time and with meditation experience and aging, I have more respect and sympathy with those who adhere tightly (or think they do) to a plan or a scheme or a set of principles.  Still, it is clear that we humans pay a price for a strict plan.  Statisticians often say that most things are linear in the short run.  They mean that a straight line - a nice simple model - is often a good model of a complex curve that wiggles this way and that IF a short enough segment of the curve is modeled.  Just a different way of saying that most things get more complex or go haywire eventually.

So, now behaviorism (very strict adherence to the dictum that we don't try to understand anything much about people other than what we can observe them DO) is seen as limited and not so valuable an approach.  

Teachers try to understand people but that is not the main goal.  The goal is to have students learn, mature, develop, flourish.  Teachers will use all sorts of approaches to make those things happen.

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