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    Social learning theorists agree with other cognitive theorists that:

  1. People CONSTRUCT reality, that is, they interpret information in the context of their previous experiences.
    In particular, people's beliefs about themselves affect how they react to possible reinforcement and punishment. If I truly believe that no matter what I do, it will make no difference in my life, then why should I go back to school, study, look for a job or go to work in the morning? How do I get these beliefs? One way is through my previous history of reinforcement and punishment - that is, having seen the outcomes of my efforts in the past. A child with a learning disability, who has repeatedly tried and failed to read may not be motivated to try to read in class, even if the teacher promises free time, toys, money or any other incentive. Similarly, if a parent has threatened a child over and over to send him to his room when he misbehaves, but never follows through on this threat, eventually, the child will misbehave regardless of any threat even if. for example, his teacher is threatening to send him to time out and she really means it. The threat has no effect because the child does not believe it will happen.

2. Learning also occurs through OBSERVATION.

    The concepts of vicarious reinforcement and vicarious punishment are very important to social learning theory. People learn through seeing others reinforced, what they can expect in similar situations. Bandura (one of the foremost social learning theorists) found that we are likely to pay particular attention to models who are high in status and similar to us. I read an interesting chapter on history which said that, before tribal colleges existed, many of the best-prepared students went to college off the reservation, but facing financial problems, homesickness, cultural differences, etc. soon dropped out and returned to the reservation. "Other students, observing this, concluded that college was not for them." In this case, there are two groups of students, the first of whom experienced the negative consequences (failure at college) directly, and the second experienced negative consequences vicariously, through observation of the first group of students. Both, however, were less likely to try, in the future, to attend college off of the reservation. This can work in the reverse direction as well. That is one reason that I believe minority teachers are extremely important in schools in minority communities, because they offer a role model for students of people like them who succeeded in the educational system.
       I once had a secretary about my age who had a four-year-old son. We often went out together after work on Fridays, and one day she mentioned that, after paying for day care, and losing her AFDC, Medicaid and housing benefits, she came out $40 ahead from working at her full-time job. I asked her why she bothered, because I really didn't think I would work for a dollar an hour. She replied very quietly and seriously, "When I was growing up in Wisconsin, I don't remember any adults on the reservation having a job. There was no place to work. So, people went to town, spent their money on alcohol, came home and got drunk. All my friends grew up to be the same way, and the only reason I turned out any different is that I married real young to someone from off the reservation and moved here. What this little boy is going to remember is seeing an Indian person get up every morning, dress up nice, and go to work in an office. That's why I do it, not for the $40 a week."
    Incidentally, this is the model the school where I had been working went to after behaviorism did not work. We found that behaviorism was in effective because, once students returned to the public schools, where there were not counselors, aides, timeout rooms,  and many of the other special characteristics of our school which made behavior programs work, why, they returned right back to their original behavior. The public schools kicked them right back out to us and we started all over again. I tried the humanistic approach with some of the students in my classroom, and it worked with some, who were able to see the problems their behavioral problems, such as fighting, swearing at teachers, were causing them, and were also able to realize that they COULD make a difference in what happened to them, set personal goals and reach them, etc. Many students, however, had no real models of appropriate behavior, and they didn't really believe that it mattered what they did, anyway. All of the students in my class had been severely abused. How would their parents handle a situation when they were frustrated? They would slap the person or push them into a wall. Many of the parents were mentally ill or had other problems, such as alcohol or drug abuse. Whether the child was beaten that day or not depended more on whether the mother had taken her medication for schizophrenia or how much dad had to drink than anything the child did. A major part of our job was changing students' beliefs to see that what they did, how they behaved DID matter in what happened to them. Another major part was modeling appropriate behavior. One of the counselors remarked that he found it really funny how he would walk in my room and a student would say,

"Stan you %^&(*^$, you're a ^%*&( and you're mother is a #%^@!#"    and I would say, very quietly,

"Now, Jon, that's not a very appropriate way to talk to Stan, he is a really good guy who has always been very nice to you."

    I explained that my reason was that the students already knew how to yell, swear at and insult someone, but that they had very little knowledge of how to speak politely to anyone. The humanistic model worked with some students, but the social learning model worked with more. I don't think this is an argument for social learning theory rather than humanism, but rather, for both. Our goal, I think, is not to pick the single theory which helps the most people, but to try to help as many people as possible, which explains why most psychologists favor the eclectic approach (using whatever part of each theory that might work).

This completes our course discussion of theories of development. Click here to goto the next section, GENETICS.

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