Tom Sawyer does what behaviorism, such as PBIS, can never accomplish

Tom Sawyer was a better psychologist than any behaviorist. Behaviorism relies on external approaches to control. In contrast, Tom inspired others to whitewash Aunt Polly’s nine feet high, 30 yards long fence. Here is how he did it—using an approach that behaviorism NEVER considers.

On the Saturday morning Tom was engaged in the project, Ben was on his way to the swimming pool and commented to Tom, “What a shame you have to work on Saturday.”

Tom replied, “This is not work. Work is something you are obliged to do.

Besides, I don’t think there may be one, maybe two in a thousand who can do the work the way Aunt Polly wants it done. She’s not too particular about her back fence, but the front fence is something different.”

Ben asked, “Can I try it?”

Tom replied, “I don’t know. I’m not sure Aunt Polly would like it.”

Ben said, “Please!”

“Well,” said Tom, “What do you have?”

Ben pulled out a frog and gave it to Tom.

Tom pulled the same procedure for the next dozen boys on their way to the swimming pool.” Pretty soon, Tom had a dozen boys whitewashing Aunt Polly’s front fence while Tom was eating an apple and counting his goodies under a nearby tree.

How did he do it? He enticed the boys by having the want to be engaged in the project. He knew what super salespeople know: The best way to influence someone is to have the person influence himself.

In contrast to Tom Sawyer’s approach, behaviorists believe that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning.

They rely on external sources to actuate change. They completely neglect the internal, which is a prime reason that neuroscientists do not rely on these approaches for humans.

Unfortunately, a carrot and stick approach—used to train rodents, birds, and animals—is employed in much of today’s education and parenting. Although behaviorism is touted for special education students who are given tangibles to reinforce desired behaviors, this approach is often used now (and in some cases mandated) for all students.

In addition, external sources focus on obedience, but obedience does not create desire or commitment.

Although external sources can control, they cannot change people. People change themselves.

Additional information on how to promote responsibility using a totally noncoercive approach is available at Resources.