Adult Learning Fodor 1987 Offers Term Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 1 Subject: Psychology Type: Term Paper Paper: #14163239 Related Topics: Adult Development, Lifelong Learning, Behaviorism, Bf Skinner
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Second, it suggests that once an appropriate curriculum has been compiled -- one that produces the appropriate results -- then this very same curriculum should produce the same results every time it is employed properly. And third, it suggests that language itself cannot be conceived of as anything other than a response to an external stimulus; therefore, we, as teachers, should not be concerned with the internal, conceptual aspects of learning a language, and only with the observable, verbal responses that our teaching techniques produce. Of course, these stand as direct consequences of accepting the theory of behaviorism within the context of teaching ESL; however, my experience has shown that, if anything, the version of behaviorism that allows for consciousness is the most beneficial for developing an efficient and successful approach towards teaching.

Unfortunately for the theory of behaviorism, this phenomenon is not easily explained without the existence of internal thought mechanisms or the students' ability to freely choose to not resist learning. Without the existence of this free choice, we would expect that any approach towards teaching would have produced the desired output. In other words, if human behavior is deterministic, then there is little to suggest that my students would choose to resist attempts to teach them English. Yet, Skinner explicitly embraces these apparent consequences of hard determinism: "Unlike the soft determinists, however, Skinner agrees with his critics. His kind of determinism permits no freedom or dignity, but that is a small price to pay, he says, since freedom and dignity, as they are usually understood, are overrated goods," (Feinberg 414). Skinner, and others, is willing to break the commonplace perceptions of reality to extend the notion of direct cause and effect to everything in the universe, and thus eliminating the possibility of free will. So overall, it may not be the case that this experience in the classroom can simply be characterized as a very complex interplay of input and output, but may in fact have possessed an aspect of conscious decision-making.

My experience has provided an objection to behaviorism as a comprehensive theory of language: even if there is a direct correlation between an input and an output, this does not automatically imply that a language has been learned. Searle provided a similar objection based upon what he called the "Chinese room" thought experiment. Essentially, "The argument centers on a thought experiment in which someone who knows only English sits alone in a room following English instructions for manipulating strings of Chinese characters, such that to those outside the room it appears as if someone in the room understands Chinese," (Cole). We are to imagine that Searle is sitting in a room that represents a computer, and a series of instructions for manipulating Chinese characters, given a certain input, are provided for him. So, when he sees one specific character located in one place, he is supposed to supply another specific character located in another. In the thought experiment we are to believe that the algorithm for Searle in his room is detailed enough that Chinese speaking people outside the room can slip any phrase under the door, and Searle is capable of generating a coherent response -- it appears as if he understands Chinese.

This is a direct challenge of the behaviorists' claim that anything that performs a certain function must be assumed to understand that function in a way analogous to how human being do -- known as functionalism. After all, Searle understands not a word of Chinese, but behaviorists would be forced to conclude that he was fluent in the language. Accordingly, I have also been led to believe that simply eliciting the proper responses from my students is not at all the same as teaching them the English language; in this respect, behaviorism is a severely insufficient tool towards teaching.

So, while the fundamental concepts underlying behaviorism are doubtlessly beneficial in teaching ESL, it should, under no conditions, be interpreted to be the definitive and decisive approach towards teaching. Its most direct application must be the concern for the learning environment, and in paying close attention to the physical inputs that are required for any particular class of students. Although this is a key aspect of teaching, a teacher must be concerned with more comprehensive and internal theories of learning.

So, within the context of language awareness, we should be inclined to accept the notion that the human being cannot simply be characterized as an input-output mechanism, though in many isolated cases this may be beneficial. One of the main observational considerations...


Piaget is the researcher credited with devising cognitive theories about child development. Based in part upon his observations of his own children, he determined that all development follows a four-stage process: sensorimotor (birth - 2 yrs), preoperational (2-7 yrs), concrete operational (7-11 years) and formal operational (adolescent and adults). According to Piaget, language development first starts in the sensorimotor stage, and it becomes more fully developed in the preoperational stage. By the age of seven, it is assumed that all children (barring those with language disabilities) will be fully developed in terms of language usage and language awareness (Driscol 2000). What is interesting in the context of this paper is that although Piaget does believe that intelligence development is a lifelong process, his theories presupposes the idea that in terms of learning a second language as an adult is the result of intelligence development rather than language awareness and/or development -- something that Piaget believes occurs during childhood alone. Likewise Piaget did not believe that language development was crucial to children in relation to the development of their intellect, and indeed he believed that language development was simply the means a child would use to express himself and not a crucial element of cognitive development overall (Duncan 1995).

Researchers Huitt and Hummel (1998) determined that only about one third of high school graduates in developed countries have reached the formal operational stage of development that is based on the ideas of abstract concepts and symbolism. In other words, even at the age of about eighteen, most individuals have not fully developed their abstract linguistic skills, according to their study. This point is useful in terms of this paper in that it suggests, first, that it is possible to further increase cognitive development as an adult, and second, that through the use of different tools a teacher can instruct adult learners in new skills, such as learning a second language. Huitt and Hummel (1998) suggest using items such as visual aids and models, informal discussions and the teaching of broad rather than focused concepts as the keys to successfully teaching an adult student, which has not achieved formal operational development as described by Piaget.

Chomsky was the theorist attributed with considering linguistics as a cognitive science and a part of cognitive psychology. Chomsky drew on the theories formed by Rene Descartes; specifically those dealing with the nature of knowledge and language acquisition. Chomsky believed in what is known as "universal grammar." This concept is defined as, "the system of principles conditions and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages not merely by accident but by...biological...necessity" (Chomsky 29). Like Piaget, Chomsky believed that language development was the key to expressing thought rather than an integral part of the thought process, but he also held that language development and expression was an individual process rather than a part of the culture or expression of a group of people. Furthermore, Chomksy's ideals were in direct conflict with many prominent behavioral scientists, Skinner most of all. Skinner held that language is a responsive process; meanwhile, Chomsky believed that language was a complex and creative element that went beyond basic communication and action responses.

Stephen Krashen's (1981) theories are based on the fundamental ideas of learning a second language. The central tenant of his theories is based on the idea that second language acquisition is a slow process of assimilation rather than something that can be drilled into a student or a process that requires excessive rote learning and repetitions. He writes,

The best methods [of teaching a second language] are those that supply comprehensible input in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allows students to produce when they are ready, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input and not from forcing and correcting production," (Krashen 6-7).

Krashen (1981) was a great believer in that second language teaching requires the use of acquisition theory as well as applied linguistics research.

However, he also maintained that second language teaching extends beyond theories or teaching approaches, and includes the use of…

Sources Used in Documents:


Cain, M.J. (2002). Fodor: Language, Mind and Philosophy. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Chomsky, N. (1975). Reflections on Language, New York: Pantheon.

Cole, David. (2004). "The Chinese Room Argument." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March. Available:

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