Change. Change is good, change is a welcome addition to a stagnant pool of resources. "Life" as Dennis Miller put it "is like riding the bus, it requires change." But "change" is a misnomer; a fallacy when we discuss the education process and needs of our children. I was discussing this during one of our 'in-house' 'in-services'. Our goal was to put into simple and understanding words the philosophy of our school. The words that careened about the room all dealt with "changing" the behaviors of our children. "Our goal is to modify the positive/negative behaviors…" and etc. This disheartens me: being in a room of professional Special Education teachers who are practicing "experts" in the field and the believe that we are "changing" behaviors in these students.

Let me backtrack a bit: I teach in a school designed to educate youths with Emotional/Behavior and other Learning Disabilities. All of us here are educated and trained to do so. And here then lies the problem: we cannot "change" the behaviors of these children and to believe we can is doing them a disservice. But if a "school filled with Special Educators" believes in this myth - then what does that say about the rest of us teachers?

More history: a hundred years ago or so a researcher played with the concept of trying to discover what behavior was. This guy we remember as Pavlov noticed that when he rang a bell at feeding time that his dogs would salivate whether there was food or not. This was a conditioned response mechanism for behavior modification. This and a few decades of research later developed into a theory that we could modify the behavior sequencing of an organism by training it "salivate" during a conditioned response. We discovered this technique by researching on animals, mainly rats. We discovered that these animals could be conditioned to respond in certain manners to a point of incredible significance. It almost appeared that man modified the behaviors of these animals.

The theories abound and evolve on this pretext. But here is a misconception that has followed along. We "treat" animals and then claim that we can transfer these modification techniques to people and treat them as well.


"BUT" I say. It is a well known and often proved fact that animals when "treated" may "act" in accordance with their "natural" instinctive behaviors and "go against" their treatment.
"BUT" You say "People are not animals we have a higher consciousness …blah blah blah" and therefore they will not go against their treatment. Because people are inherently superior than animals…

This is "Western" thought: the concept that people have "consciousness" superior to all other of earth's creatures. This simple "fundamentalism" has wrought more evil and misapplication of thought than any other singular entity. For if we believe as many other cultures do that humans are an integral part of a greater "force" or consciousness we can then understand that we "may" salivate when you ring the bell but then again we may not. Keeping this in mind, that we are not of superior consciousness, we can then understand more readily that our students with emotional or behavioral learning disabilities cannot be "changed" nor "modified". More likely than not, they cannot adapt either.

What WE need to do is teach them to be aware of themselves and how their behaviors fit in the social fabric of their chosen society. We need to teach them the strategies to deal with their own difficulties in order for them to function in society. Did we change them? Is this modifying their behavior? Will they turn and bite the hand that fed their minds?

I was told I was "arguing" semantics. But this is not semantics: semantics is the difference between adapt-change-modify. As Behavior Specialists dealing with Behavior Management (notice it does not say Behavior Changers in the professional literature) we must remember that it is the management of behavior that we are teaching and not an end all cure or change of bad habits. Because yes, habits we can change, but behaviors we cannot.

It is with "knowing" our own limitations that we begin to know ourselves.