We didn’t have writing class last week, so this thing I wrote about Easter is due this week. I just finished it, so I’ll post it now because, um, it’s Easter Sunday. The assignment was to use internet sources to put together an account of how Easter started. Now that I look back at the written description of the assignment I’m not sure if I was supposed to copy and paste from other websites or write it myself… oh well. Fuck it. I wrote it myself, and if the professor has a problem with that then tough shit! I’ve been kicking ass in that class (it’s pretty easy) so if I get dinged on this then so be it. I’m not doing this again.
The Surprisingly Pagan Origins of Easter
Easter Sunday is one of the most important religious holidays on the Christian calendar and, every spring, Bible School teachers around the world dutifully explain to their young pupils how Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and was resurrected three days later. Special emphasis is placed on Christ’s rebirth as being the true reason for celebrating the Easter holiday. What the Bible School teachers don’t explain, however, is how this holiday came to be known as “Easter” and how the holiday has evolved into a time-honored tradition of filling baskets with candy and brightly colored eggs that have ostensibly been delivered by a mythical egg-laying rabbit.
While there is much debate over the origins of the word “Easter” it is interesting to note that the word is all but absent from the Bible. The King James version of the Bible, for instance, mentions Easter by name only once and many other versions omit the word entirely (Aust, n.d.). Most authorities on the subject, including Christians themselves, acknowledge that the naming of the Easter holiday originated from paganism. A widely accepted theory is that Easter’s etymology is derived from Eastre, the Teutonic Goddess of Spring, while there is also evidence to suggest that the name comes from a Babylonian Queen named Semiramis, also known as Queen Ishtar. The association is due to “Ishtar” being a homophone of “Easter” (ChristianAnswers.net, n.d.). Other sources claim that the Easter name is the product of an Anglo-Saxon “goddess of the dawn” named Eostre (D’Costa, 2013). Regardless of which version is most accurate, the fact that Easter predates Jesus Christ’s crucifixion (Aust, n.d.) is fairly convincing evidence that it originally had little to do with Christianity.
The truth regarding the naming of this Christian holiday may be lost to the ages, and the origins of the Easter Bunny and other fun Easter traditions that children have come to love are also widely contested. Possibly the only aspect of Easter’s backstory that is generally agreed upon is the influence of paganism. As theguardian.com’s Heather McDougall (2010) puts it, “all the fun things about Easter are pagan.” Although many Christians may have been conditioned to believe that paganism is synonymous with devil worship, it is actually a “polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion” (Pagan Federation International, n.d.). Taking into account the pagan emphasis on nature, it comes as no surprise that many explanations of Easter traditions are framed in ways that are unrelated to Christ’s resurrection from the grave. Not only is Queen Semiramis (“Queen Ishtar”) often credited with the naming of Easter, many believe that the holiday itself “was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex” (D’Costa, 2013).
The rabbit’s reputation for fertility is frequently referenced in certain colloquial expressions that have become commonplace in casual English conversation, and some sources trace the origin of the Easter Bunny to Babylonian times (Allaboutjesuschrist.org, n.d.), again implicating Queen Ishtar. Not only did she represent fertility and sex but, according to Christian minister Alexander Hislop, she also invented polytheism (Wikipedia, n.d.). Others claim that the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre is the source of the bunny, as she once transformed a bird into a hare, hence the modern translation of an Easter Bunny who lays eggs. The decorating of those Easter eggs may have been started as far back as the 13th century when churchgoers were instructed by the church to abstain from eating eggs during Lent, and there is also speculation that German immigrants may have brought the tradition with them to America in the 1700s. In their tradition of “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws,” children would build nests for an egg-laying hare to leave them colored eggs, and this tradition could have spread and evolved into the modern-day iteration that we are now familiar with. In other countries, similar traditions are observed with different animals in the role of the bunny, such as a cuckoo bird or a fox (time.com, 2015).
Disagreements abound regarding Easter and all that is associated with its genesis, but at least it is widely agreed that paganism has played a major role in its inception. It is also widely agreed that Easter predates Jesus Christ which would suggest that the holiday may have been revised to carry Christian significance after Constantine “Christianized” the Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D. (D’Costa, 2013). Easter, its eggs, and the holiday’s occurrence at the height of spring, after all, do make an apt metaphor for rebirth. Regardless of where modern Easter traditions come from, the Easter holiday is recognized worldwide as a time of peace and, for children, it is an annual ritual that many will cherish for a lifetime. These reasons alone are, perhaps, the most important aspects of the Easter celebration.
Allaboutjesuschrist.org (n.d.) Origins of Easter. Retrieved from http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/origin-of-easter.htm
Aust, J. (n.d.) What Are the Real Origins of Easter? Retrieved from http://www.ucg.org/doctrinal– beliefs/what-are-real-origins-easter/
Brumfeld, B. (2015). cnn.com. Easter: Vatican Mass, the Easter Bunny and that blood moon. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/05/world/easter-bunny-astronomy/
ChristianAnswers.net. (n.d.) Where did “Easter” get its name? Where did the concept of an Easter egg and bunny originate? Retrieved from http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn- t020.html
D’Costa, K. (2013) Scientific American. Beyond Ishtar: The Tradition of Eggs at Easter. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/2013/03/31/beyond- ishtar-the-tradition-of-eggs-at-easter/
McDougall, H. (2010). theguardian.com. The pagan roots of Easter. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/apr/03/easter-pagan-symbolism
Pagan Federation International. What is Paganism? Retrieved from http://www.paganfederation.org/what-is-paganism/
prime.org (n.d.). The Easter Story. Retrieved from http://www.prime.org/easter.htm
time.com (2015). What’s the Origin of the Easter Bunny? Retrieved from http://time.com/3767518/easter-bunny-origins-history/
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Semiramis. Retrieved April 6, 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiramis
Brain class homework. This took fucking forever.
Klein (2002) Chapter 10, Biological influences on learning
1. What is the behavior systems approach to learning and how is it reported to work?
Klein (2002) describes Timberlake’s (2001, as cited on p. 300) behavior systems approach as a construct in which animals have existing behavior systems and that those systems are modified by learning. Rats, for example, have existing behavior systems that include feeding, mating, defense, and others. The feeding system includes a predatory subsystem that allows a rat to switch “modes” that meet the needs of each predatory stage; general search includes modules and actions that, upon learning that a potential food source is near, leads to focal search mode which, in turn, ends with the rat eventually using the handle/consume mode to meet its feeding requirements (p. 300-301). Each of these modes, modules, and actions are part of a learning process that makes feeding more effective and more efficient for a rat who might otherwise starve to death as a result of less-refined predatory techniques. It could certainly be argued that humans have existing behavior systems as well and, in the context of the classroom, it is important to guide students through the learning process. Just as a rat would gain little from lying in wait before locating its prey, a student will gain little from attempting to do worksheets and exercises before the target language has been taught and the activities explained. A less obvious but perhaps more valuable application of Timberlake’s observations would be to consider the vast differences between students whose progress may be tied to certain predispositions in the way they learn or, as Timberlake put it, constraints that conflict with their instinctive behavior (p. 303). I think it would be fair to say that some students seem to be predisposed to the classroom environment and thrive in it while others do not. For those students who lack the predisposition of their more successful classmates, possible constraints to their learning need to be identified and addressed wherever possible. Whether those constraints are manifested in something as simple as a seating arrangement, an aspect of their personality such as shyness, or a behavioral tendency to be disruptive, teachers should look for ways to deal with these constraints and, hopefully, condition the student to respond in a way that is more conducive to learning.
2. Putting the idea of animal misbehavior in to the classroom, what are some of the student misbehaviors we see in the classroom and how can they be explained?
Examples of student misbehavior, in the most literal sense of the term, include speaking out of turn, failing to complete in-class assignments, not paying attention, being combative or disrespectful, deliberate lack of effort, and general horseplay, to name a few. Breland & Breland (1961, as cited in Klein, 2002) describe instinctive drift as “the deterioration of an operant behavior with continued reinforcement,” with the ensuing misbehavior being the cause of the decline in the reinforcement’s effectiveness (p. 304). When pigs were conditioned with food reinforcement, that food reinforced the desired behavior but also strengthened more instinctive behaviors that were associated with eating and, ultimately, misbehavior was the result (p. 305). My interpretation of these results, in more simple terms, is that the food reinforcement lost its effectiveness because the pigs became preoccupied with being rewarded yet again and naturally lost focus on the task at hand. Timberlake, Wahl, and King (1982, as cited on p. 305) found similar results with rats handling a ball bearing. Students, when they first begin attending school, are conditioned to behave in certain ways that are required in most classroom environments and this conditioning is reinforced repeatedly throughout a student’s academic career. While I don’t believe that all student misbehavior can be explained in the terms that have been laid out by Klein, I do see certain misbehavior patterns to which this research can be applied. One of those misbehaviors is speaking out of turn; even the best students may be unable to resist the urge to call out an answer when another student hesitates or struggles, and quite often students will say something in a disruptive way just to get a reaction of laughter or some other form of reinforcement from the rest of the class. Where pigs and rats were being reinforced by food, students are reinforced with various forms of attention from either the teacher or from classmates. Positive attention in the form of a teacher’s praise or a classmate’s laughter is reinforcement indeed, and many students are prone to forgetting the classroom rules that they have been taught since preschool as they seek to gain this reinforcement again. Some students may even welcome negative attention if they aren’t getting the attention they need from other people in their lives, such as parents. Most students begin their academic lives being at least somewhat obedient to authority and the expectations that come with attending school, but that obedience can easily wear off and give way to misbehavior as the student begins to actively seek out the reinforcement they desire.
3. Do you think there are aspects of schedule-induced behavior in the classroom? Explain why or why not?
I see schedule-induced behavior of the terminal variety (Staddon and Simmelhag, 1971, as cited in Klein, 2002, p. 307) several times a day when a class becomes aware that it is almost time to pack their things and go home. I believe this is one of the reasons that my academy’s classrooms don’t have clocks, but students are clever and, even if they don’t actually know what time it is, they can sense when freedom is just minutes away. It is not unusual to be in the middle of wrapping up a lesson when a student suddenly stands up and puts on his coat or starts putting his things in his backpack. My natural inclination would be to delay or remove the reinforcement of the dismissal bell ringing, but unfortunately that is neither practical nor possible. Other than this daily occurrence, I don’t see a lot of behavior that I can really label “schedule-induced” because such behavior requires reinforcement being provided at fixed intervals (Klein, 2002, p. 308) and, save for the regular schedule of classes beginning and ending at prescribed times, reinforcement during actual class time does not follow any interval schedule at all. Classes are fluid and are different in some way every single time. There are instances that might appear to be schedule-induced on the surface, such as when a student who has eaten a salty snack during break time asks to be excused to get a drink of water, but I think that is more the result of saltiness than anything else. I might change my stance if I see students gorging themselves with excessive water intake in the future.
4. Imprinting has been observed in animals. How do you think this functions in humans and why?
Based on Klein’s (2002) descriptions of imprinting as a function of associative learning (p. 321) and instinct (p. 323), my unqualified opinion is that the type of imprinting that occurs in humans is largely based on survival. This may seem like a sweeping generalization but, if evolution has taught us anything, it is that survival is the key motivator in quite a few species developments and behaviors. Blehar, Liebermann, and Ainsworth (1977, as cited on p. 321) showed that infants will associate security with a mother who is caring rather than one who is more distant, and the motivation of these infants to stay with their mothers in unfamiliar circumstances (p. 322) would seem to indicate that babies are innately aware of an association between caring behavior and safety and protection. These results stand in stark contrast to babies who did not make this association with their less-concerned mothers and were not comforted by their presence and even tried to avoid them (p. 323). If those babies had seen their mothers as a source of safety or protection they might have reacted differently. On the other hand, Klein notes that Harlow’s (1971, as cited on p. 324) “monster mothers” experiment parallels the desire of abused children to return to their abusive parents. Although children in abusive households can clearly associate an abusive parent with pain or fear, they instinctively cling to their relationship. Perhaps those children fear dangers unknown more than dangers they are already familiar with. Other types of imprinting, such as food and sexual preferences, may be less related to pure survival in a practical sense but, if such preferences are formed as a means of fulfilling one’s emotional needs, those, too, could potentially be categorized as a type of survival need. Students (thankfully) don’t imprint on teachers, but I think it is important for them to see teachers in a way that is more similar to the terry cloth mother that rhesus monkeys clung to rather than the cold, wire figure that they failed to connect with. It stands to reason that students will learn more readily from a teacher who shows interest and concern in the classroom.
5. How can we use the natural properties of the medial forebrain bundle to help our students learn and behave better in the classroom?
According to Stein & Wise (1969, as cited in Klein, 2002), the medial forebrain bundle is where reinforcement occurs in the brain (p. 327). It is what causes rats to starve themselves to death while they choose to press a lever that stimulates the MFB rather than press another lever that results in the presentation of food (Routtenberg & Lindy, 1965, as cited on p. 329). The MFB is powerful. Klein describes it has having four main characteristics, the most important of which are that it provides reinforcement, that it motivates behavior, and that it is activated by the presence of reinforcers (p. 329). All of these factors together indicate that our students’ brains are receptive to reinforcement which, in classroom terms, can mean anything from good grades to verbal praise to some type of classroom privilege that is given as a reward. Not all students respond to positive reinforcement in the same way but they do, in general, respond. Keeping in mind the ideas of instinctive drift and misbehavior it would seem prudent to vary the ways in which reinforcement is provided, but I think the main idea here is that it should be provided when earned. Giving a specific compliment or an unexpected high-five would seem to go further than uttering a generic “good job” when a student performs well or is uncharacteristically well-behaved in class. At the same time, I don’t think praise and rewards should be handed out for every little thing a student does right; Brady (1961, as cited on p. 331) and Olds (1962, as cited on p. 331) both demonstrated that deprivation of food or water in rats resulted in brain stimulation that was more highly valued. This is not to suggest that students should be deprived of that which they have earned, but some moderation of reinforcement would seem to be in order.
Klein (2002) Chapter 11, Complex learning tasks
1. What is a concept and what are some of the theories that have been posited for how they are composed?
A concept can be a representation of an object or an event, or a group of objects and events that share common characteristics (Klein, 2002, p. 340). A concept can be as simple as a single word such as “animal” or “wet,” and it can be as complex as things such as nuclear fission or the laws that govern quantum mechanics. Concepts also have different attributes. Attributes are variations between instances of objects or events, such as the difference in size, color, and other qualities found in dogs of different breeds. One theory on the way concepts are composed is rules-based, meaning that when we attempt to understand a concept, we tend to look for rules that define it. Rules dictate whether an object or event is a representation of a concept and may be negative, conjunctive, or disjunctive (p. 341-342). Each of these rules define specific criteria that help the learner determine whether an object or event should be considered an example of a concept. By the negative rule, for example, an animal with wings would be excluded from the concept of “dog” while another animal that has four legs and a tail may be considered to be a dog by the conjunctive rule unless, of course, it meets additional criteria (e.g. a trunk) that place it with another concept (“elephant”). Rosch (1978, as cited on p. 343) took a different view of the formation of concepts with her prototype theory that identifies the “most typical member of a category” (p. 343) based on an object or event possessing the greatest number of shared attributes with other examples of the concept. A golden retriever, for instance, might be considered by many to be the prototypical representation of “dog” as opposed to a bulldog with its stocky build and short stump of a tail. Another view of concepts is the exemplar theory which allows categorization of an object or an event based on comparisons with other known concept examples (Medin & Smith, 1984, p. 118). In other words, if it looks like a dog and barks like a dog, it’s a dog. Every teacher has most likely witnessed students employing their own strategies in learning language concepts. Many students will erroneously determine that all adverbs end with the -ly suffix, and they will continue to believe that they understand the concept fully until they are given additional criteria for identifying adverbs. Teachers need to be aware of this tendency and actively work to ensure that students truly understand the concepts being taught.
2. How do we learn concepts?
The two dominant theories on how concepts are learned are Hull’s (1920, as cited in Klein, 2002, p. 348) associative theory and Austin, Bruner, & Goodnow’s (1956, as cited on p. 350) cognitive theory. Hull’s associative theory works on the assumption that learners are linking attributes with concepts, and those attributes may be relevant or irrelevant (p. 348-349). Meanwhile, exemplar theory draws on the resemblance between stimulus and concept examples stored in memory (Posner, 1973, as cited on p. 350). According to Hull’s view, a person may identify an animal as a dog because it possesses certain attributes that have been associated with dogs, while exemplar theory requires only that an animal bear a close resemblance to examples of dogs already known. Austin, Bruner, & Goodnow’s cognitive view, on the other hand, posits that learners engage in hypothesis testing to learn concepts with a “win-stay” and “lose-shift” strategy (p. 351). For instance, a child might see images of numerous animals with dogs appearing at random intervals and, each time a wrong answer is given for the “dog” concept, the child will continually adjust the hypothesis (lose-shift) until success is achieved. The child will then continue to use that hypothesis to identify dogs (win-stay) until another hypothesis adjustment is required, such as when an image of a wolf is presented. Klein suggests that, although concepts can be learned with both associative and cognitive strategies, learning is best served when both methods are employed (p. 353). As with most situations where two competing views hold validity, it would certainly seem to be a mistake to completely dismiss one in favor of the other. I think there may be instances where the associative view might be most efficient, such as when a student is learning the meanings of new words. Hypothesis testing, on the other hand, might be better suited to more complex concepts such as grammar and syntax. Indeed, employing both strategies may be a necessity when learning how to use vocabulary words correctly or in what situations certain grammar and syntax rules should be applied.
3. What do we do with concepts?
We use concepts to solve problems and, like concepts themselves, those problems can range from the utterly simple (how do I open this door?) to the utterly confusing (when does the ‘i before e except after c’ rule not apply?). In the classroom, we use concepts to help students solve language problems, build their skill sets, and form rules, associations, and hypotheses that will empower them to advance their understanding of ever-more challenging ideas. Concepts are the tools that we equip students with so that further concepts can be built around them, much like a single dandelion sprouts seeds that eventually result in a field dotted with yellow. Without concepts we have no language.
Austin, G. A., Bruner, J., & Goodnow, J. (1956). A study of thinking. New York.
Blehar, M. C., Lieberman, A. F., & Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1977). Early face-to-face interaction and its relation to later infant-mother attachment. Child Development, 182-194.
Brady, J. V. (1961). Motivational-emotional factors and intracranial self-stimulation. Electrical stimulation of the brain, 413-430.
Breland, K., & Breland, M. (1961). The misbehavior of organisms. American Psychologist, 16(11), 681.
Hull, C. L. (1920). Quantitative aspects of the evolution of concepts: An experimental study. Princeton, N.J: Psychological review Company.
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Medin, D. L., & Smith, E. E. (1984). Concepts and concept formation. Annual review of psychology, 35(1), 113-138.
Olds, J. (1962). Hypothalamic substrates of reward. Physiological reviews, 42(4), 554-604.
Posner, M. I. (1973). Cognition: An introduction.
Rosch, E. (1978) Principles of categorization. In E. Rosch and B.B. Lloyd (eds.), Cognition and
Categorization. Hillsdale, NJ, Erlbaum.
Routtenberg, A., & Lindy, J. (1965). Effects of the availability of rewarding septal and hypothalamic stimulation on bar pressing for food under conditions of deprivation. Journal of comparative and physiological psychology, 60(2), 158.
Stein, L., & Wise, C. D. (1969). Release of norepinephrine from hypothalamus and amygdala by rewarding medial forebrain bundle stimulation and amphetamine. J. comp. physiol. Psychol, 67, 189-198.
Timberlake, W. (2001). Motivational modes in behavior systems. Handbook of contemporary learning theories, 155-209.
Timberlake, W., Wahl, G., & King, D. A. (1982). Stimulus and response contingencies in the misbehavior of rats. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 8(1), 62.