A Quest

understanding reconstructions in life

2006: Skinner, Lagmay, Behaviorism…Life

June 16
This day was a day of reflections. Why? Because ideas and statements were spoken before me in the least expected moments-my Psych 140 class.

Psychology 140 is Learning. My class starts at one and ends at 2:30. We were just discussing behaviorism when certain points hit me hard. I was able to relate them to my life as a person and as a missionary.
My professor was talking about the late Prof. Alfredo V. Lagmay, the founder of our department. The whole class found out that he was a doctorate student of B. F. Skinner in Harvard. Whoa! The B. F. Skinner whose works we’re studying was the professor of the department’s founder. And there was a possibility that they were not just teacher and student. There was a possibility that they were close to each other because in one of Skinner’s book, he cited Dr. Lagmay’s work and then placed a footnote saying, “Alfredo V. Lagmay is currently teaching at the University if the Phillippines.” Double whoa!

So, okay, he talked about Skinner, how he thought, worked, etc. According to Skinner, “One student worth teaching is one who doesn’t need to be taught.” Kind of weird, huh? At first, I also found the statement weird. But on further discussion, I was able to see its true meaning. I remember a story Ate Noey told us. It was when they, the core group of YFC-De La Salle Zobel, held a parents’ day where their parents get to meet each other. Its goal was to let their parents know what they will be doing for the whole year. Kuya Noli was supposed to go there, but he was not yet there and it was late. To make the long story short, Kuya Noli arrived towards the end. He just told Ate Noey, “Noey, kailangan maintindihan mo na hindi kami laging nandito. Para matuto ka, sometimes you must be left alone.” That’s true. Skinner’s statement simply says no to spoon feeding.

Our professor also told us how Skinner worked. In a whole piece of manila paper, he would only write in the middle part. Then, he would encircle a word and then place a comment on the outer portions of the paper. It was “putting ideas into physical space.” In the same way, keeping a journal would really help in our growth.

So, we were talking about behaviorism. The behaviorists believed that “if you cannot see them, it doesn’t exist.” Then my professor told us about radical behaviorism. He told us an example. If there was a husband and a wife, then the wife cheats on the husband but hides her infidelity, then it doesn’t exist since the husband cannot observe it. Truly radical. But there is another kind of behaviorism-Methodological behaviorism-and my professor is in favor of it. It simply says “you can talk about anything but be sure that somewhere along the way, you should anchor it on observables.” I guess this is the scientific explanation of “walk your talk.” It also supports the saying, “the greatest manifestation of love is your availability.” Kasi, kapag available tayo, nakikita nila tayo, so they can ‘observe’ what we’re doing.

During our elementary and secondary education, we were taught about the scientific method. We were taught how to do things so we’ll learn. Actually, what we were doing was just verification. We weren’t actually learning. Genuine learning, he said, was achieved only through discovery. It was through discovery that Newton found out about gravity. It actually aligns to Skinner’s idea about a student. We should discover. In the same way, nobody can dictate how we’re going to learn about God. Yes, there could be guidelines, but with those guidelines, we could only verify the things taught to us. To be able to learn more about Him, we discover Him, in our own way, with the help of His love for us. While they can dictate the basic things we need to know, it wouldn’t work in discovery. Nothing and nobody can dictate how discovery will work.

Another thing about Skinner was that when the machine he’s working with broke down, he wouldn’t stop working and curse things. Instead, he would continue working, discovering, with that given situation. I realized that it should be the same way for us as well. When things don’t go the way we planned it, we should not retreat, sulk on the couch, and cry about it. Maybe we can cry a little because it would really hurt, but then, we should continue on the new situation because God planned it that way. It was supported by Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know what my plans for you are, plans to save you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and to give you hope.” Amazingly, God reminded me about this verse while I was riding a tricycle going to the house where we’ll have our household.

On my professor went about behaviorism, Skinner, Dr. Lagmay, and other personalities. Then we reached about research papers. (I totally forgot how we got there.) He said, “Research is a decision, it is not a method. Deciding what risks you are willing to make. It is not a question of doing the right things, but deciding what to do.” The third degree of humility by St. Ignatius de Loyola is the same. The “third degree of humility is choosing Christ. Choosing things beyond our comfort zones, choosing what is more self-giving, choosing to be more loving and forgiving, not because you are obliged to do so but because you love Christ and out of love for Him, you want to be like Him in choosing what He chose.”

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