Reviewed by Cary Seidman
At first glance, the thesis of this book–that actions have consequences–seems self–evident. Whether one is training a pet or raising a child, the effects of specific behaviors on the future are powerful and pervasive. From Pavlov’s dogs to B. F. Skinner’s groundbreaking work in behaviorism, this concept has been well established.
So what is new about Schneider’s work? She casts a wider net than most readers will have considered, bringing together such diverse phenomena as light avoidance by the planarian worms to the world of politics. Teachers will find a number of short chapters in this book to be valuable. Schneider touches on the value of trying to improve self–esteem, especially in groups of disadvantaged children. She cites research that indicates little value in simply praising children for their intelligence, but positive outcomes when children feel valued for making an effort and demonstrating progress in solving a difficult problem. In a similar vein, she touches on the idea of “learned helplessness”, describing situations in which students who experience frustration with difficult, and, in one study, unsolvable, math problems, would not attempt another set of problems that were easily within their grasp.
For science teachers, the most compelling aspect of this book may be the relationship of behavioral science to epigenetics. Currently, several researchers have cast a positive light on some aspects of Lamarckian biology, the largely discredited idea that an organism’s behavior as can influence inherited traits. In a short chapter, Schneider acknowledges the tenuous nature of some claims by supporters of the concepts of epigenetics, but notes a firm basis for others. Here’s a case where a biology or psychology teacher might genuinely “teach the controversy.”
Schneider seems to have been so energized by the “science of consequences” that she brings an unwieldy compendium of topics together. Brain chemistry, epigenetics, education theory, behavioral psychology, brain imaging, and therapy techniques are just some of the topics she touches upon, so some readers may find her treatment superficial. However, a reader who wishes to study any topic in greater depth will find exhaustive and often interesting notes for each chapter and a well–organized bibliography.
The Science Of Consequences will be a fine jumping–off point for anyone interested in modern developments in learning theory and behavioral science.
Review posted on 3/11/2013