If We Judge a Fish on its Ability to Climb a Tree…

 Inspired by and co-authored with Williams Espericueta, a master’s student at the University of North Texas – Department of Behavior Analysis

“If we judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, then it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid” – a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein that Prince Ea argues is one of many weaknesses of the current approaches in education. Prince Ea is a spoken word artist, poet, filmmaker, and activist who at last count has over 12 million views for his comments regarding the school system.

Many behavior analysts would agree with Prince Ea. Kieta, Cihon, and Abdel-Jalil (2017) wrote that behavior analysts and educators need to create problem solvers, explicitly teaching students “reflective thinking, reasoning, and problem solving strategies that enable [them] to self-manage independent study and optimally rearrange their own environments” (p. 3). Dr. Kent Johnson, founder and executive director of Morningside Academy refers to this approach in his summer institute as students “engineering their own discovery learning”.

The Morningside Model promotes student learning by using generative instruction (e.g., Johnson & Street, 2004a; Johnson & Street, 2004b; Johnson & Street, 2012; Street & Johnson, 2014) or instruction that involves setting up conditions “that produce novel and complex behaviors, in new circumstances, without directly teaching [the students]” (Johnson & Street, 2004a, p. 1776). One example of generative instruction is Dr. Joanne Robbins’ (2011) Talk Aloud Problem Solving (TAPS). An extension of Whimbey, Lochhead, and Narode ’s (2013) Think Aloud Pair Problem Solving (TAPPS), Robins’ TAPS is a systematic reasoning process that allows students to work out problems in small steps and progress until an answer is found. It is a strategy that can be applied to any and all problems, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Others wanting to play a larger role in mainstream education might follow Johnson’s (2015) advice to “hitch a ride” (p. 146). Outside of behavior analysis, some are trying “flipped classrooms” and the use of instructional programs like Khan Academy. In flipped classrooms, students are taught concepts and skills through video lectures assigned as homework while class time involves interactive activities. Johnson (2015) suggests that behavior analysts can conduct research to evaluate the effectiveness of flipped classrooms and instructional programs like Khan Academy on student learning. Collaborative relationships can be formed with course designers and those researchers or instructors using the aforementioned technologies. He asserts that these popular movements can be combined with technologies derived from behavior analysis like “programmed instruction, personalized system of instruction, and a computer assisted personalized system of instruction” (Johnson, 2015, p. 136).

Prince Ea uses his internet platforms to ask important questions about the current state of the educational system. He highlights the need for change. Behavior analysts have the skills and know-how to heed his call. Johnson (2015) suggests using technologies that promote generative behaviors like problem solving and becoming involved with the key players advancing the current movements in education.

The time to act is now. As Prince Ea concludes students may only be “20% of the population, [but] they are 100% of the future”.