A very pleasant mother remarked to me that she was trying to condition her son to do a little more work on the eleven plus. When I was a child our family used to visit the home of a headmaster. This is the man who threw his child into the swimming pool to encourage the mite to start swimming. The family had antimacassars because the headmaster (father) used brilliantine on his hair. Brilliantine was used as a hair conditioner – but also by men in an attempt to make them look `brill’.
Early work on conditioning was done with animals when an animal was placed in a box. When the animal pressed a lever food was offered. This idea was developed to allowing the food to be produced at certain times of the day. (A bit like when parents say no T.V. or computer games before school.)
In other experiments animals were only rewarded, having been conditioned, to be fed on the tenth press of the lever. Sometimes a rather diabolical experimenter would only allow a pellet to be expressed every ten minutes. Of course some experiments allowed food to be offered whether the lever was pressed or not.
The mother and I were talking outside an aerobic room where thirty young women were intent on conditioning their bodies through a series of contortions. Poor bodies! What an instructor! Did the word `condition’ enter the mind of our eleven plus mother because she could see the writhing of bodies?
It was suggested, very gently, that it was not necessary for a child to do eleven plus work every day. The conversation also covered the point that rewards could be given at any time – and not just for eleven plus work. There was also a mention that excess hair conditioner would not necessarily help with stimulation of the eleven plus brain. We also touched on the point that it was no good throwing a child into the deep end of eleven plus work. Gentle coaxing could play dividends!