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4 The Road Not Taken: Skinner, Experimental Communalism, and Token Economies “almost from the moment the book appeared,” reports Skinner’s biographer Daniel Bjork, there were “scattered efforts to start a behaviorally engineered community” (160). In 1948, a group of young people in Minneapolis , where Skinner had taught from 1936 to 1945, tried to set up an experimental community. A group at Yale made an effort to live communally along the lines of Walden Two in 1949, while another group led by Arthur Gladstone, again in New Haven, tried around 1955 (Skinner, Matter 9; Bjork 160).However,all of these early efforts were short-lived and remained largely in the planning phase. Several readers wrote to Skinner to express an interest in living at a Walden Two community but never followed through (Skinner, Matter 8). During the first decade after the publication of his utopian novel, it appears that Skinner himself was the most committed Walden Two enthusiast around. In 1955, on sabbatical from Harvard, he seriously considered the feasibility of a real Walden Two: “I had time to dream, and a favorite theme was an experimental community. As a child I had particularly liked a song called ‘Beautiful Isle of Somewhere,’ which my grandmother and grandfather Burrhus played on their phonograph. It was the utopian dream—of an ideal world, not yet realized. Walden Two was different; it was, I thought, plausible here and now—more so,in fact,than when I had written the book” (Matter 83). Ten years after he wrote his utopian novel, Skinner was “brimming with enthusiasm,” feeling that Walden Two “‘can be done, and that it will be the most reinforcing experiment in the century’” (qtd. in Bjork 160). Skinner wrote notes to himself about various aspects of the community that was to be called Lifeguild, which he carefully collected in a folder labeled “Design of a Culture” (Klaw 50).In the early 1960s,with steadily rising sales of Walden 02.41-78_Kuhl.indd 43 3/29/05 4:01:03 PM 44 . walden two among behaviorists Two, Skinner gave a “sort of recruiting talk” at several colleges and universities . An increasing number of people wrote to him about wanting to join a Walden Two community (Klaw 46). Despite this rise in utopian activities, Skinner’s interests began to veer in a different direction.He became more and more interested in education and put most of his energy into the development of a teaching machine, a device that would encourage students to master educational material in a step-bystep process at their own speed, with positive reinforcement for each completed step. This concept of “programmed instruction” became Skinner’s “most ambitious attempt to apply positive reinforcement to society at large,” slowly pushing plans for a utopian community into the background (Bjork 166). In his autobiography, Skinner notes that the “utopian dreaming” during his sabbatical had been “short-lived” (Matter 251). By the mid 1960s, he felt sure that his place was in the university, not a utopian community: “After long consideration I have decided that it would not be well for me personally to undertake an experimental community.I have a great many things planned for the next five years of an intellectual nature all of which bear, I think, on the eventual success of a radical reform of our way of life, and I do not feel that I should jeopardize those plans on the chance that something of a much more practical nature could be put through” (Matter 254–55). Skinner’s waning interest in founding a utopian community based on behavioral engineering never failed to baffle the enthusiasts Walden Two attracted in the 1960s and 1970s. Skinner, however, maintained that his interests were firmly of an “intellectual nature.” Pressed about the topic, he usually added a more personal reason for not founding or joining a Walden Two community. “‘I’d have to get a divorce right away,’” he said, because his “‘wife doesn’t believe in community’” (qtd. in Bjork 151).And indeed, Skinner ’s wife Eve commented in the 1971 Time article that catapulted Skinner to public fame that she and her husband “‘had tremendous arguments about Walden Two. I wouldn’t like it; I just like change and privacy’” (qtd. in Heyman 53). In 1967, Skinner gave a rather interesting third reason for not embarking on a Walden Two venture: “‘Of course, I do need stimulation and a community of 1,000 would not be likely to have...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252091650
Related ISBN
9780252029622
MARC Record
OCLC
811409117
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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