Why Teaching Others May Be Our Greatest Legacy

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By: Beth Garrison, Senior Consultant

I have been thinking a lot as I finish my first term as a PhD student about my own personal mission and vision for my future.  I want to make a difference in this world, to “save the world with behavior analysis,” as they say, but have no clue where to start.  Thinking back on our own beginnings in the field, which started with B.F. Skinner’s work, I realized, it starts with teaching.

In 1958, Skinner published "Teaching Machines,” in Science magazine after being inspired by observing his daughter’s math class in 1953, to where he did not observe individualized learning, nor immediate reinforcement for correct responding (Barrett, 2002).  It was here that one of his great, but not well-known work started  in The Technology of Teaching (Skinner, 1968).  Skinner envisioned a world where learners could learn at their own pace, and receive immediate feedback on work.  Unfortunately, he never saw this vision turn to reality, and in 1993, right before he died, he stated in personal correspondence, “I think education is the greatest disappointment of my life (Barrett, 2002, p. 42).”

Thinking on this today, I thought about my own personal mission and vision to “save the world with behavior analysis,” and realized that we may be able to do so by teaching others.  As teachers, supervisors, and mentors of aspiring behavior analysts, and also the people we support through our field, we are leaving a legacy….but “with that power comes great responsibility.”  Though we are the generation making contributions to the field of behavior analysis and beyond (social justice, business, education, psychology, social work, diversity, machine learning, and politics), we are also shaping the behavior of those who will come after us, who will continue our work when we are gone.

It is in teaching others that we may leave our greatest legacy, and save the world with behavior analysis.

References:

Barret, B.H. (2002). The technology of teaching revisited: a reader’s companion to B.F.

Skinner’s book. Concord, MA: Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

Skinner, B.F. (1958). Teaching machines. Science. 128, 969-977

Skinner, B.F. (1968). The technology of teaching. East Norwalk, CT, US: Appleton-Century-

Crofts.