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Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

Chapter 14-16

Chapters 10-13

Chapters 17-19

Summary

Chapter 14

The group sits down near the children's building and Frazier begins to talk. Society, he says, is always in conflict with the individual. From the moment a child is born, society tries to shape its desires so that it will act in the best interest of the community. At Walden Two, this kind of shaping has been put to experimental test. Frazier and an early planner named Simmons studied classical ethics and modern psychology in order to design an environment in which children would grow up to be self-controlled, happy contributors to society. For example, in Walden Two, children at the age of three are given a lollipop to wear around their necks; the lollipop is coated with powdered sugar so that any lick of the tongue can be detected. The children are told that they can eat the whole lollipop later in the day if they have not licked it in the meantime. Or, the children are called to a dinner table stocked with food and then prevented from eating. This training is combined with exposure to annoying situations: children are given stronger and stronger shocks, or increasingly bitter cocoa to drink.

Castle reacts to Frazier's description with shock and calls him a sadist. Frazier angrily replies that this training teaches the children tolerance and gives them freedom from petty emotions like envy. In the outside world, these kinds of annoyances and frustrations, and worse, are thrown without warning at a child, who is often not ready to deal with them. In Walden Two, every step is carefully monitored and designed to help the child to develop. Although Castle is not convinced, Frazier decides to give up the argument for the moment.

Chapter 15

The group moves to the living quarters of the older children. From ages five to thirteen, the children live in progressively more adult-like quarters; at age thirteen they move into the adult quarters. The group visits the educational facility, which consists of a group of classrooms and workshops. At Walden Two, children of high school and college age are allowed to study what they like. They work in real laboratories, on real problems, and they can continue studying as long as they want. Castle argues that the children cannot possibly be motivated to learn as much as they would in a traditional school, but Frazer retorts that the traditional motives, such as fear of one's parents and the desire to dominate over other students, are hardly admirable. At Walden Two, children are motivated to study what is truly important to them.

Chapter 16

In the gardens, the group sees a teenage boy and girl playing with a baby. Frazier points out that the baby is the couple's first child. At Walden Two, men and women are encouraged to have children early. In the outside world, the adolescent years are made even more difficult than they naturally are by the prohibition of sex. But at Walden Two, the usual teenage love is encouraged and supported. Women are often done with childbearing by their mid-twenties, leaving them as free as men to pursue active careers. At the end of the chapter, Frazier mentions the possibility of genetic experiments and the current Walden Two practice of discouraging childbearing by the "unfit."

Commentary

In Chapter 14, Frazier describes in detail the practices that are used to eliminate jealousy, frustration, and other negative emotions, and to create tolerance, in the children of Walden Two. These practices were hinted at in Chapter 13, but here they receive a full treatment. This is the controversial chapter for which Walden Two is best known; the image of children with lollipops hung around their necks captures both the goal of Walden Two--self-control--and its practice of shaping a child from the moment it is born. Castle disagrees violently with the practices Frazier describes; in doing so, he is in agreement with many people who have read and written about Walden Two. Regardless of the positive consequences, the things that Walden Two's children suffer to gain tolerance and freedom from envy, etc., seem beyond the pale. Although similar annoyances and frustrations might accidentally happen to a child raised outside of Walden Two, something seems wrong about intentionally inflicting them, even with the best of interests.

Chapter 15 illustrates how the children gradually make the transition into adult life. It also gives Castle and Frazier the chance to debate higher education. The important issue here is not the technique of higher education but the motivation behind it. Frazier argues that academia in the outside world is a self-perpetuating system based on many of the competitive emotions that Walden Two tries to eliminate. Although it may drive a few exceptional people to excel, it does so at an enormous cost. Castle is free to differ with Frazier because, in the end, their differences come down to different assumptions about the values and goals of education.

Chapter 16 brings up the issues of teenage sex and childbirth, but its most interesting segment is Frazier's casual mention of genetic experimentation at Walden Two. Although no such experiment has yet been implemented in the community, Frazier's comment demonstrates that there are few or no limitations on the aspects of the community that are within the reach of experimental control. This seems like perfect fodder for another tirade about freedom and autonomy by Castle, but for some reason he completely ignores it.

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May not be important, but...

by Funky-Train, September 03, 2013

On your character summary, you wrote that Barbara Macklin is Rodgers' girlfriend, but they're officially engaged. I think this is a significant detail, because Steve introduces his girlfriend, Mary Grove, informally as "my girl." This shows an immaturity in Steve, whereas Barbara and Rodgers view their relationship seriously.

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