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A CRITIQUE OF MODERN LEARNING THEORY

(Based upon "Learning Theory for Teachers "- 4th Edition

by M. Bowden.

1. THE PHILOSOPHICAL BASIS.

The assumption that the behaviour of animals will be applicable to that of human beings is apparent in the very first sentence of Chapter 4. ''Do animals, including human beings, learn by ....''

Here we are lumped in with ''animals''. This might be of some use in the study of biology but it is unwarranted to extend the instinctive behaviour of animals to the far more intricate and subtle reactions and motivations that human beings have. This unacceptable assumption will always arise when no account is taken of the completely different way and basis upon which man was created.

If we believe that man is only a clever animal, then we will automatically analyse his behaviour in this light and try to ruthlessly apply whatever ''lessons'' we wish to learn from animal behaviour. The range of animal behaviour is so great, however, that the experts pick and choose those features they wish to publicise. The actual items selected will depend upon which of the many ''models'' the expert is trying to propagate, and contrary behaviour is totally ignored or glossed over. Examples of this will follow later.

If, on the other hand, man is considered a special creation by God who gave him attributes that no animal possesses, then this should make a profound difference to the way in which we deal with other men and women. It should be acknowledged at all times that they are a very special creation of God who made them for a purpose. We should therefore treat everyone with respect, kindness and dignity, for every man has been given a responsibility to live a life that is worthy of his origins - God himself. That some choose to ignore these inner prompting that God has left in all of us does not diminish the fact that they will all ultimately be held responsible for their decisions.

The Christian faith is the only religion that not only teaches but applies this lesson - ''Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'' is the second of the two Great Commandments. Any theory of man that excludes the fact that he was created by God will finish up as a Godless theory that has within it the seeds of its own destruction, and will inevitably fail - after much hardship for the people involved.

2. ROUSSEAU AND THE PERFECTIBILITY OF MAN.

This is one of the most damaging theories that have abounded since the days of the French Revolution. Rousseau proposed (with no evidence whatsoever) that man is born perfect but it is the environment (and people) around him that make him adopt unsocial behaviour. From this philosophy comes two important issues -

(a) In order to have a perfect society we have only to change the environment and men will then behave in a rational and acceptable way. This is used to forcibly change the status quo even violently in order to bring in the ''promise'' of a ''new order''. Unfortunately (!) the new regime always has as many, if not more, problems that the one that has been overturned. This is an example of a human organisation having within itself the seeds of its own destruction.

(b) As men are made bad by the environment, they cannot be blamed for their actions. This removes any responsibility that they should have for their unsocial actions. Freud has allowed man to evade this by blaming his parents, etc. However, his ''case histories'' on which he built his theories have been shown to have been faked, and his method found to not only to be useless but actually damaging to those who undertake the long expensive course of therapy.

[Apart form criticising his theories of how children should be educated, Rousseau's attitude to his own offspring is surely relevant. He had five children by his common-law wife, and after their birth immediately packed them off to the foundling home. Here was one who, whilst teaching love and care in the raising of children, treated his own with utter contempt. In a very interesting article, Conner Cruise O'Brien claims he was most villainous man - with which I would agree. (The Independent Magazine p 62 12 December 1992).]

The Christian view of man will be set out later.

3. DARWIN'S VIEW OF MAN

Darwin wrote that ''there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals..''. Yet in this book on teaching, it is admitted that he later qualified this by saying that the ''difference is immense..''. The writer of the book glosses over this discrepancy by saying ''However, despite this qualification, Darwin appears to maintain..'' that they were much the same.

Now there is no justification for this important issue to be bypassed. Either man is just a clever animal, or he is really very different such that he should be treated in a special way and not likened to animal behaviour. There is abundant evidence that man really is so much greater than animals that to extrapolate animal behaviour to that of humans is both foolish and potentially very dangerous. What animals have the ability to appreciate beauty, duty to a group, loyalty, and above all, a sense of religion and a desire to worship. To completely ignore these aspects is to propound a theory that comes complete with self-imposed blinkers.

Note also how the words of Darwin are taken as though they were the absolute truth. Any statement by a notable authority is considered enough to prove the point. There is no questioning of them or attempt to provide any proof. There is clear evidence that man is different; where is their contrary evidence? Note also how an ''idea...gains in popularity'', Flourens "..proposes.." and Pavlov "..makes an assumption.." - not a very sound basis on which to change the education system of a whole nation!

4. PAVLOV'S EXPERIMENT - AND CHILDREN

The comment is made that in Pavlov's dogs, the salivation is said to have changed from an unconditioned response to a conditioned response. But they are all the same responses - conditioned. The dogs salivated when food was presented, when the person with the food appeared and when a bell was rung. The form of stimulus changed, but the response was the same. Too much has been drawn from this one experiment that really teaches us only that we can be made to respond to varying stimuli under artificial conditions - a fairly obvious conclusion.

What the frequent quotation of this experiment really does is to continually bring man down to the level of being only a machine that obeys external stimuli - and if he is only a machine, then he has no responsibility to change his behaviour for the better. A responsibility to God is yet again bypassed.

5. NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT

It is specifically noted that negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment!

If positive reinforcement is to reward (to please), then negative is to surely the opposite - to do something which displeases. To withhold a reward is not negative - it is neutral. It may have an effect but it is certainly not negative reinforcement.

It is noticeable that as soon as the phrase ''negative punishment'' is used, the writer very quickly emphasises that it is not punishment. His hasty refutation shows his concern lest any reader should come to the most obvious conclusion.

Strong propaganda has been used to remove the use of corporal punishment from our schools. The result is chaos in many classes and the loss of morale in the teaching profession.

6. THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

Of all the various religions, only Christianity has a realistic view of mankind. All other religions are the philosophical attempts by men to rationalise their present existence. Only Christianity has the temerity to claim that God himself has come to this earth to show mankind the sorry state in which he is and has given instructions on what man has to do to restore the lost bond of fellowship with God.

God requires us to humble ourselves before Him and this is totally unacceptable to the pride of the natural man who insists on being master of his own life. It is made abundantly clear that man naturally is ultimately selfish. Often, good actions are done for the feelings of satisfaction we get from them, not for the act itself.

If man is naturally proud and selfish, as the Bible makes very clear, then this totally overthrows Rousseau's claim that man is only made bad by his surroundings and can be made perfect by changing his circumstances. The most obvious disproof of this is to consider an ordinary family. All the children can be treated the same by the parents, yet one or more of them can become completely unsociable in their behaviour. This is a deliberate choice to do evil as against good. The whole point is that no one ever has to teach a person to be sinful, it comes to us all perfectly naturally. We are all tainted by original sin (a word much hated by sociologists et al.) and therefore society needs to be protected from the very worst of criminal offenders.

It is only when we have this this accurate (yet somewhat depressing) understanding of fundamental aspects of human nature, can we have a realistic approach to teaching. We need to encourage those who are seeking to improve their knowledge of the world (love thy neighbour as thyself) and actively discourage those who are behaving in a selfish manner that upsets others.

All other approaches to education and indeed to life itself will ultimately be found to be self-destructive. A classic example of this is the Godless political theory of Marxism, which was founded on mechanistic evolution. This society has become so corrupt and inefficient that eventually it rapidly fell to pieces of its own accord - with no external pressure whatsoever. This is because there were no inbuilt checks or balances to the total power that men can wield under this system.

The same goes for other nations that are eventually governed by fanatical religious or secular leaders who then begin to act in a way that is the exact opposite of their professed aims of establishing a perfect society. Many examples can be given of this situation around the world today. Man's original sin, will always come to the surface eventually. Only direct restraint by God himself or more usually the pressure and influence of a sufficient number of Godly people (a Christian nation), can a sense of justice and ''fair play'' be brought into the Laws and general conduct of a society.

It takes only a moments thinking to see that true democracy can only really operate in a Christian society. It may have a resemblance in other nations but it will eventually be subverted by power groups intent upon controlling the nation for their own benefit. All other religions profess righteousness, but they do not have the power to change the ways of the human heart as Christianity does. One has only to look at the conduct of non-Christian nations to see this.

As our nation becomes less Christian, the rise of ungodly forces is precisely what is happening in our country today.

Only Christianity has built within it the appeal to a sense of fairness and justice to all - because God himself is fair and just. This stems from the certainty that one day we will all have to give an account of our lives to a Holy God who will judge with perfect justice. Once we realise this and truly believe it and take it to heart (not just say it because it is written in a book), this really affects our behaviour and therefore the way in which we treat other individuals. It imposes a sense of responsibility to God and concern for the welfare of others. It is not for nothing that all the major benefits of the world have come from those nations professing the Christian faith.

With all this in mind, our attitude to the education of the nation's children cannot but be affected by our basic religious assumptions and beliefs.


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