04 February 2004

TV Good. Bandura Bad!


Bandura's studies showed that
if the kids didn't beat the clown,
it would eventually eat them.
 Posted by Hello

Dear Greg:

Sorry I haven't been sending as many letters as of late. I've been trying to finish my personal statement for Brown, which is about like writing a novel, and I've been reading Albert Bandura's Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. It's 388 pages of way–the–hell–over–my–head. I got it from my professor, who I suspect was once a hardcore bruthah of the fist–in–the–air variety. He told me last week that he smoked a joint with Stokely Carmichael back in the early 70s. Or was it Huey Newton? One of those cats. Anyway, Bandura is the guy whose research was used to vilify television violence. To oversimplify social learning theory, the upshot is that people respond to environmental cues in order to model their behavior. We accept this as more–or–less common knowledge today[1], but in 1976, behaviorists had a dynastic stranglehold on psychology, and this was big news. It also made for great and alarming news bites: TV will make your kids violent. Of course, it's not nearly that simple, and in the end, the whole thing boils down to what the layman could infer from everyday observation. The more I study psychology, the more I adopt the viewpoint that we don't have the first goddamn idea how the human mind works, at least not through the use of psychological simile and metaphor. What's encouraging is that the whole of the science is insufficient to meet its aims, so it has morph and meld with the four other sciences of mind to become cognitive science if it's going to make any progress in explaining the human mind. And that is exactly what's happening. Some day far in the future, psychology will be to the science of thought what alchemy was to modern chemistry. You and I can meet up in 500 years to reĂ«xamine how correct I was.

But before I take leave of Bandura and the 70s, lemme just say this. Yeah, kids watch TV and freak out. They watch Bruce Lee and start screaming and kick each other in the nuts and whatnot and freak their parents right the shit out. Some people would point to that and say "See? TV makes kids violent!" And if you're a complete idiot douchebag numbnuts lip–strumming yokel pinhead, you'll investigate the issue no further. You'll just stick a Kill Your TV sticker on your bumper, happy that you done went and eddicated yo'se'f. Now, for the rest of us who actually think about things, here's a little more information. Even Bandura's famous Bobo Doll experiment showed a massive rate of extinction for the violent behaviors that were emulated by the child subjects – from 88% to 40% in a matter of a few months.[2] If I were conditioning somebody to be violent, I'd want a hell of a lot smaller rate of extinction than that. My take? Kids (and everybody else) attempt to reach cognitive equilibrium with a new stimulus and subjectify new information by kinesthet–izing their experience. In other words, we often act out what we don't understand as one means of understanding it better. Conditioning someone to be aggressive takes a lot more than watching cartoons. Now all you freaked out parents sit down and shut the hell up.

Since I've been spending so much time with Mr. Bandura, it's what is foremost on my mind. There have been other events in my life of course, like the abject drudgery of my daily job. The best thing to happen recently is that I got accepted as an AmeriCorp volunteer tutor. I had my orientation[3] last night, and start tonight helping a high school student with his homework. It's a pretty cool program. They've built tutor centers, essential one–room schoolhouses, in various public housing projects. Kids from the building sign up for help with their homework. It's a hugely popular program with a long waiting list of kids trying to get in. I'm really happy to be a part of it. I've been trying to volunteer with various social service agencies, and this is the first one that I've had success with, believe it or not. The other ones didn't get back to me, or just couldn’t seem to get it together for one reason or another. I'm happy this one worked out, and we can all thank President Bill Clinton for creating AmeriCorps. It seems to be one of the most efficient social service agencies out there. This is going to give me some very vital teaching experience. Not that I don't have it already, but I'm much more used to lecturing whole roomfuls of people, rather than working one–on–one. That's a whole different art form. Did you know that in order to teach in a college or university, you don't have to take any education classes during your college years? It's a ridiculous tragedy. To teach in the public schools, elementary through high school, you have to be trained specifically in education. To teach at a college or university, you don't have to know anything about teaching at all. You just have to have good academic and research records. How freakin' stupid is that? I want to teach at a university, but more than that, I'd like to know how to actually teach when I get there.

I'm off to crawl back into my volume of Bandura. Give my best to Marie.


[1] Strange how we accept it as common knowledge only because it was simplified and vomited at us by the news media.
[2] Children emulated violent behavior toward a clown doll after they saw an adult doing it on a television monitor. That's the experiment in a nutshell.
[3] Does that mean I'm Oriental now?