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Scientific Control Vs. Humanistic Freedom: A Synthesis With Regard to the Discipline Problem

** NOTE: The plain-text version of this article, below, has been corrected by the author to remove typographical errors generated by an OCR (optical character reader). Page breaks have been indicated in [square brackets]. Footnotes originally indicated by half-sized superscripts have been entered in [square brackets].


Kenneth R. Conklin, "Scientific Control Vs. Humanistic Freedom: A Synthesis With Regard to the Discipline Problem," FOCUS ON LEARNING, IV, 2 (Fall/Winter, 1975), pp. 21-27.



Kenneth R. Conklin


In recent years the advocates of scientific control and the advocates of humanistic freedom have been battling to determine which ideology will become the new orthodoxy in education. This paper will attempt to show that neither can be complete without the other, and both together are still inadequate. A third element is needed. There are important things we know but cannot tell. Unless we are guided by faith that certain absolutes exist and are knowable, neither scientism nor humanism can provide complete or good answers concerning how to teach, what to teach, how to manage a school system, or how to do educational research.

After describing the two opposing ideologies of scientism and humanism, we shall analyze the meaning of a statement commonly made about education: "When a lesson is properly taught, there is no discipline problem." We shall see how that statement is interpreted according to each of the two ideologies. Polanyi's theory of tacit knowing, and the problem of ineffability, will demonstrate that scientism and humanism are both limited, but complementary. Faith in the existence and knowability of absolutes would synthesize scientism and humanism in a manner fruitful for educators. The "discipline problem" could then be understood in a new way.

Control vs. Freedom

Perhaps the most influential fad in recent educational history has been the development of a theory and technology of control. This fad has reached the point where scholarly debate and cautious experimentation are being replaced by widespread practical implementation, often mandated by state or local law and sometimes financed by federal seed money. The "control" fad may have reached its peak and may gradually wither into just another historical footnote. But in the meantime we must take it seriously.

Included within the ideology of control are the following: community control, accountability, performance contracting, systems management, the voucher plan, performance objectives, programmed instruction, behavior modiication. Each technique is designed to guarantee whatever results are desired by the people in power. In every case, the individual student is regarded as an object to be shaped or molded in accord with predetermined purposes and plans. The goals may be good for the student, and he may even be consulted in setting them up. But once goals are established, we seek to guarantee their achievement by using the techniques of control.

Most of these techniques are aimed at school programs and teachers, to make sure they do what is demanded by a community, parents, or some other outside group. The technique aimed directly at students is behavior modiication. Teachers under pressure to make students achieve speciied objectives, can use behavior modiication to guarantee student performance. Teachers begin with a list of the observable student behaviors that are defined as constituting achievement of the objectives. Then, all that is necessary is to reward students when their behavior is "correct," and ignore them otherwise. Rewards are praise, pats on the head, privileges, food, prizes, or tokens cashable for such things. Even the most recalcitrant students soon begin to do what the teacher wants.

The techniques of control are criticized by the advocates of spontaneity


KENNETH R. CONKLIN is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Boston University.

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and freedom. These people, sometimes called the "new romantics." claim that externally imposed controls stifle a student's creativity, and constitute an immoral infringement on his freedom and dignity. Each child should be free to encounter the environmeent and other people on his own terms, doing whatever makes him happy or satisfies his curiosity at the moment. Teachers interfere only if a child is in danger of seriously harming himself or others. Teachers set up a variety of environments that are arousing, and may sometimes call attention to things a child doesn't notice. Teachers may help facilitate learning or discovery when a child asks for help or seems obviously lost. But the advocates of spontaneity and freedom regard the teacher and school as a child's servants rather than his taskmasters. They would allow a child to wander aimlessly or commit painful (though not permanently harmful) errors rather than making him adhere to a path which they or others consider good for him.

The "humanistic" ideology of freedom and spontaneity in education has acquired popularity as a rebellion against the growing inluence of the ideology of control. These opposite movements in education can be regarded as offshoots of correspondingly opposite movements and reactions in some of the academic disciplines and in society itself. The ideology of control in education seems closely allied with logical positivism and linguistic analysis in philosophy; behavioristic psychology; assembly-line efficiency and systems management in business; and centralization in government. The ideology of freedom and spontaneity in education seems appropriately linked to existentialism and Oriental mysticism; humanistic psychology; worker control, humanized work routines, and increased leisure in business; and laissez-faire localism in government.

Each ideology criticizes the other, and each is able to explain in its own terms the apparent successes of the other. The advocates of behavior modiication claim that their technique of control is actually used all the time, although inefficiently. We smile at actions we approve, say "thank you" for favors received, and give gifts, rewards, or merit pay for service well done. Even the advocates of freedom and spontaneity administer smiles and rewards which influence the behavior of their students. No behavior is uncaused, so whatever success we achieve in helping other people to be creative or happy is due to the unavoidable use of behavior modiication. Why not use the technique deliberately and efficiently to maximize success?

The advocates of spontaneity and freedom point out that behavior modiication succeeds because of the free choice of the student who decides to seek the profferred reward. Behavior modiication makes it very clear for a student what behavior is desired and what the consequences of compliance or non-compliance will be; thus, in a sense, this technique of control increases the freedom of a student to choose intelligently. But the technique is bad because it teaches students to look for immediate and extrinsic material rewards or praise. Students get into the habit of working for these rewards and doing what the dispenser of rewards requires. This focuses their attention on mundane materialistic matters, makes them submissive to authority figures, and increases the likelihood that as adults they can be easily corrupted by bribes and honors. Behavior modiication requires a teacher to suppress his authentic feelings, and adopt a cynical attitude of using the tokens of love deliberately to manipulate the student. Not only is the teacher's humanism corrupted by this process -- the student is similarly affected. Research has shown that students learn by example to dispense the tokens of love deliberately and systematically in order to manipulate other people's behavior.[1] Such a result is obviously contrary to the humanistic ideology of spontaneity and freedom. The evil results of behavior modification might be tolerated when the method is used to cure or cope with even more severe problems, such as mental retardation, learning disabilities, or criminal tendencies; but the technique

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should not be used with normal people under normal circumstances.

When a Lesson is Properly Taught,
There is No Discipline Problem

The two ideologies provide radically different analyses of the "discipline prob¬ lem," corresponding to their different perspectives on behavior modiication. Consider the statement, "When a lesson is properly taught, there is no discipline problem." The people who say this usually intend it as a fact statement. They claim that the existence of a discipline problem is a symptom of improper teaching. Teachers with too many discipline problems find their professional competence called into question. New teachers are advised that by teaching properly they can avoid discipline problems. The statement could also be regarded as a partial deinition of "proper" teaching: i.e., teaching is "proper" only when it produces no discipline problems.

According to the ideology of control, a "discipline problem" is rebellious or apathetic student behavior which contradicts or ignores a teacher's command. Teaching is "proper" when the teacher is able to control student behavior. Proper teaching requires a teacher to be clear about his objectives and use the appropriate control tactics to achieve them. There will then be no discipline problems.

According to the ideology of spontaneity and freedom, teaching is "proper" when it remains flexible and adjusts to the changing felt needs of the student. Teachers must help students "get in touch with their feelings," formulate their wishes, and fulfill them. Teachers are resource persons, who help students find and use whatever is available. Teachers must arouse the student's curiosity and creativity, offering alternatives, encouraging exploration, and building self-conidence.

According to this ideology a "discipline problem" would be either a child's malicious interference with another child, or persistent apathy, or inability to exercise self-discipline in marshaling available resources to study and solve problems in which the child is interested. Rebellion against a teacher's commands is tolerated, and even encouraged when a teacher is not responsive to the student's felt needs: such rebellion is not considered a discipline problem, but rather is a creative exercise of self-discipline in objecting to the misuse of power by an authority figure. If a teacher teaches "relevant" subject matter (that meets the felt needs of the child), arouses curiosity, helps the child find what he wants, encourages exploration, and builds self-conidence; then the child will not wish to harm others, will be aroused and enthusiastic, and will work hard to complete the task at hand. According to the ideology of spontaneity and freedom, this last sentence is what it means to say, "When a lesson is properly taught, there is no discipline problem."

Both Ideologies Are Inadequate

We have now seen that the ideology of scientiic control and the ideology of humanistic spontaneity and freedom provide strongly conflicting interpretations of the concepts "proper teaching" and "discipline problems," and divergent explanations why proper teaching eliminates discipline problems. Each ideology criticizes the other. We can accept all the criticisms simultaneously, thus showing the incompleteness of both ideologies.

The ideology of freedom and spontaneity is obviously incomplete. Its advocates claim not to impose predetermined objectives; yet, in reality they seek to produce student behavior showing enthusiasm, curiosity, unusual responses (creativity), and planful activity. The techniques of behavior modiication are in evidence, as the "humanist" teacher greets these desired behaviors with praise, affection, or even material rewards; while apathy or routinized behavior is ignored or occasionally challenged. The advocates of control readily acknowledge their eforts to impose pre-speciied behaviors upon their students. But the technology of control seems to rely on the opposite ideology, since it succeeds only when the student, for his

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own reasons, chooses to seek the rewards proffered. The advocates of freedom and spontaneity point to the bad concomitant learnings associated with the technology of control; but the advocates of control point out that even the concealed objectives of the humanists are unavoidably pursued through use of behavior modiication.

The inadequacy of the ideology of control is particularly clear when we consider the relation between meaning's and the expressions designed to convey meanings. No meaning can be unambiguously expressed in a message such that a recipient of the message can be guaranteed to comprehend the intended meaning. Polanyi shows that understandings, feelings, and skills are never completely taught; rather, we always depend upon the learner to supply undelivered pieces of meanings and to integrate subsidiary clues into the totality that is intended.[2] What cannot be specified also cannot be controlled, and the learning or performing of what is not specifiable cannot be guaranteed. The present author has written elsewhere on the problem of ineffability, and the need for intuition in education.[3]

A Synthesis of the Ideologies,
Applied to the "Discipline Problem"

Although both ideologies are inadequate, both are also needed. We have already seen how each ideology is needed to account for the successes of the other. Behavior modification is always used, although usually inefficiently and without deliberate intent to manipulate. Students do behave spontaneously despite all attempts to control them, and the success of behavior modiication is due to the free decision of the student to "play along." Speciic objectives are needed to guide student progress efficiently and to help ensure that activity is worthwhile; but to impose objectives arbitrarily without regard for a student's felt needs or wishes seems both improper and unworkable.

A synthesis of the two ideologies would recognize the need for clearly stated objectives and the need for an effective set of influence tactics. At the same time, the synthesis would acknowledge the dignity, freedom, spontaneity, and wishes of the student. Independent judgment and creativity would be encouraged. School would be a happy place where curious and interested students work diligendy toward the achievement of worthwhile objectives under the skillful and firm guidance of sensitive and flexible teachers. What a paradise!

To achieve such a synthesis we need to use inluence tactics based on arousing a child's inspiration, rather than forcing him in the old-fashioned way or bribing him in the new-fashioned way. We also must recognize that there is a hierarchy of needs, and that low-level, spontaneously-generated felt needs of a child can be harnessed by appropriate inluence tactics that lead the child efficiendy toward meeting his high-level unfelt needs.

Most people agree that education should meet the needs of the student.[4] Indeed, this is part of what it means to say that education should be relevant. A need is a lack which must be filled to ensure the survival or well-being of an organism. There are unlearned biological needs (e.g., air and food). These may be met in various learned ways, and the ways become routinized into needs. Thus, there are learned needs to go to a grocery store, or to attend a cocktail party given by one's colleagues. Sometimes needs are stipulated by the rules of an artificial system: e.g., if a traffic light is red, the motorist needs to stop. Students need to pass certain courses in order to graduate. There are also higher-level needs for trust, peace, love, etc.

Some needs are recognized by students to be needs, while other needs are felt less keenly or not at all. Failure to meet the felt needs would result in felt frustration leading to aggression, which might then be construed as a "discipline problem" according to either ideology. However, failure to meet the long-range unfelt needs will eventually result in disaster. There are both felt and unfelt needs at all levels. For example, there are felt needs for food, success, love, and happiness; and there are corresponding

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unfelt needs for vitamin A, thorough knowledge of a specialty, sensitivity to the needs of others, and mystical consciousness of the Cosmic Unity.

Considerable support exists for the claim that there is a universal hierarchy of needs. That is, needs can be ranked in an order that is valid for all people regardless of heredity or environment. We may not know what all the needs are, and there are disagreements over how they should rank in the hierarchy; but the idea that a universal hierarchy exists seems to be gaining widespread acceptance. The need for air takes priority over the need for water, which in turn takes piority over the need for food. More importantly, the theoies of Freud, Maslow, Piaget, and Kohlberg point to the existence of universal and invariant sequences of stages in the development of affect, cognition, and moral reasoning: people need to master earlier stages before they can go further. Research over the last two decades has disclosed that each academic discipline can be "structured" so that students can study the important concepts and techniques in a logically and heuristically proper sequence (i.e., some concepts and techniques are needed before others can be dealt with). Psycholinguists have discovered universal patterns of language acquisition. Theologians argue that there are universal moral pinciples, some of which are more important than others.

Michael Polanyi's theory of tacit knowing might usefully be applied to any hierarchy of needs, whether the needs are biological, cognitive, affective, moral, scholastic, or spiritual. In any hierarchy the lowest-level, immediate needs (the ones which must be met first) are related to higher-level, more advanced needs in the same way as the parts of an entity are related to the whole entity.[5] Thus, there would always be a gap between the totality of all lower-level needs and a need at a higher level. Meeting lower-level needs does not guarantee that higher-level needs will be met. The fact that needs at a given level become felt needs does not guarantee that the needs at the next higher level will be felt. For these reasons the technology of control cannot guarantee that a student's higher-level needs will be either felt or met. At the same time, the technology of control can be used to achieve maximum efficiency in meeting felt needs and to ensure that a student pays attention to the possibility of integrating lower-level satisfied needs into awareness and achievement of higher-level needs. The gap between levels gives the teacher pedagogical authoity, and the fact that genuine needs exist which are not felt by the student gives the teacher moral authoity, to use the tools of reason and the technology of control in the best interest of the student.[6]

As mentioned before, a synthesis of the two ideologies would permit the use of the technology of control to deal with very low-level needs, especially when the student has cognitive, affective, or psychomotor disabilities or aberrations. But the technology of control cannot guarantee that the student will achieve higher-level needs, and its routine use carries bad concomitant learnings. We need to devise techniques for inspiring students.

One technique for generating inspiration has already been hinted at. We shall call it the "bait and switch technique." It consists of helping a student clarify his lower-level or felt needs and then using those needs, and the trust generated by the clarification process, to motivate the student's interest in studies or activities that will meet his higher-level or unfelt needs. A typical example is the case of the teacher who uses an adolescent boy's interest in cars to get him to read and write, and to study aithmetic and science. The boy in this example is being maneuvered and in a way deceived, but we acknowledged the teacher's authority to do this in the best interest of the student (who thereby meets his unfelt needs as well as his felt ones.) Kenneth Benne's distinction between power and authority[7] is helpful here: the teacher as knower of the internal logic of the subject matter has authority which the student will respect. We might add that the teacher as knower

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of the culture's values and knower of the student's unfelt needs has authoity to maneuver and deceive the student in the student's best interest by use of the bait-and-switch technique.

The psychological phenomenon of "modeling" provides an even more promising technique of inspiration. Students imitate their teachers. We saw earlier that when behavior modiication is used, students leam by example cynically to manipulate other people's behavior by deliberately and systematically dispensing the tokens of love. Presumably, a humanistic teacher's kindness, creativity, and spontaneity could also serve as models. Teachers who exemplify the achievement of higher-level needs can help students come to feel those needs; while teachers who arouse trust will ind their students willing even to do tasks which do not meet presently-felt needs.

Polanyi's theory of tacit knowing helps explain why inspiration succeeds. Polanyi says that we recognize the existence of a problem by recognizing a constellation of clues which we cannot yet integrate. We know we are making progress toward the yet-unknown solution by the fact that we feel the increasing tension of an approaching integration of clues. This essay has claimed that there are universal hierarchies of needs. Consider the student who has a need but does not feel it, sitting in class with a teacher who has achieved that need. The teacher's words and actions are a problem for the student: They are a constellation of clues exemplifying the achievement of needs not yet felt by the student. Through the teacher's words and actions the student comes to feel the need, and is motivated to achievement.

The process of coming to feel a need may be comparable to the process of Platonic recollection. According to Plato, there are universal Truths buried in every person's soul but forgotten, and a skillful teacher may help a student remember them. According to what we have shown in the present paper, there are universal hierarchies of needs, many of which are unfelt but can be brought into awareness by a teacher's words and actions which exemplify achievement of the needs. Achievement of low-level needs leads to awareness of higher-level needs in much the same way as Socrates uses low-level answers to initial questions to raise new, higher-level questions. The Platonic concept of "charisma" might help explain why a student can be inspired to do what a teacher asks even when the student does not yet have a felt need that would motivate the activity: somehow the teacher's humaneness and sense of mission call forth the student's loyalty.


Our synthesis between the ideology of scientific control and the ideology of humanistic freedom and spontaneity is based on the assumption that there are universal hierarchies of needs. Some of these hierarchies can be verified empirically, as in the case of biological needs, psychomotor development, language acquisition, and the developmental stages in afect, cognition, and moral reasoning. Some of the hierarchies are the internal logical structures of the academic disciplines. Perhaps the most important hierarchies are the metaphysical or theological needs, deriving from the Absolute which is present in every being, although concealed. Understandings and feelings at any given level cannot be achieved solely by any combination of lower-level understandings and feelings. There are things people know that cannot be communicated directly. Thus, the technology of control is limited. We are able to use it most effectively at the lowest levels, and are justiied in using it in the best interest of the student to deal with aberrant situations, to deliver low-level awarenesses, or to focus attention on the task at hand. But at the upper levels we must rely upon inspiration. Proper teaching requires a teacher who is aware of the hierarchies of needs and who uses the techniques of control and inspiration appropriate to the student's level. Proper teaching uses the tools of reason (logic, science, and the technology of control) and the tools of inspiration (bait-and-switch, modeling, chaisma) to lead students

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efficiently to the bink of awarenesses that lie beyond reason. Students would be neither rebellious nor bored: there would be no "discipline problem."


1. Henry Ellison Pusser, "Modeling and the Incidental Transmission of Teaching Behaviors in the Elementary Classroom" (Ph.D. dissetation, Emory University, 1972). Abstracted in Dissertation Abstracts, XXXIV, 2 (August, 1973), p.622A.

2. Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday Anchor Books, 1967). Also, Kenneth R. Conklin, "Wholes and Parts in Teaching," The Elementary School Journal, LXXIV, 3 (December, 1973), pp. 165-171.

3. Kenneth R. Conklin, "Knowledge, Proof, and Ineffability in Teaching," Educational Theory, XXIV, 1 (Winter, 1974), pp. 61-67. Also, Conklin, "Educational Evaluation and Intuition," Educational Forum, XXXIV, 3 (March, 1970), pp. 323-332.

4. A technical analysis of the concept "need" may be found in B. Paul Komisar, " 'Need' and the Needs Curriculum,'' Language and Concepts in Education, ed. B. Othanel Smith and Robert H. Ennis (Chicago: Rand McNally and Co., 1961).

5. Polanyi, The Tacit Dimensions; and Conklin, "Wholes and Parts in Teaching."

6. Kenneth R. Conklin, "Developmental Psychology vs. The Open Classroom," Educational Forum, XXXIX, 1 (November, 1974), pp. 43-47.

7. Kenneth D. Benne, A Conception of Authority (New York: Russell and Russell, 1971). An excellent review of Benne's work on authoity, and some other literature which that work inspired, may be found in Laszlo J. Hetenyi, "On Authority: The Thoughts of Kenneth D. Benne," Educational Theory, XXIII, 2 (Sping, 1973), pp. -177-184.

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