flickr photo via Kevan
I'm admittedly confused regarding the controversy in education surrounding behaviorism. It is highly arguable that most behavior is rewarded or punished. These punishments or rewards are often referred to as "carrots or sticks." In the context of the oft-used metaphor, (someone must dangle a carrot or threaten with a stick to get the proverbial mule to do what is desired,) there seems to be a suggestion that the reward or punishment must come from an extrinsic source. I don't think this is an accurate description of behaviorism.
All behavior elicits a response, and it seems to me, this response will be a naturally occurring one relative to the subjective, or perhaps unknown purpose of the behavior, (assuming that all behavior is purposeful.)
I'm not an operant behaviorist by any stretch... I just don't think that operant conditioning is natural or effective in nurturing positive behavior. Let's face it, engaging classrooms lead to engaged students... in the context of behaviorism, can we not call the engaging classroom the unconditioned stimulus, and the authentic, positive teaching and learning that takes place there the unconditioned response? If so, behaviorism is alive and well in North American schools, and thank heaven it is so.
Externally applied operant conditioning, (of which the effectiveness in schools is suspect,) is using positive and negative reinforcement to 'do to' in the effort to solicit a desired response, but there is so much more to a behaviorist approach than the cliche 'carrots and sticks' that opponents of what they refer to as 'behaviorism' allude to. I would assert that there is so much more to positive and negative reinforcement in general than many people realize, (positive and negative reinforcement can be unconditioned as well- e.g. if a teacher yells at a student to stop doing something he/she isn't supposed to do, and the student stops, the unconditioned cessation of the student's undesirable behavior has negatively reinforced the teacher's yelling.)
Educators need to explore the scope and context of behaviorism within a new and collaborative mindset if we are to be considered students of our own craft, which boiled down, is really just a very pure study of human behavior; is it not?