Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rewards Undermine Interest

From How Not to Teach Values, by Alfie Kohn:

In general terms, what the evidence suggests is this: the more we reward people for doing something, the more likely they are to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Extrinsic motivation, in other words, is not only quite different from intrinsic motivation but actually tends to erode it. This effect has been demonstrated under many different circumstances and with respect to many different attitudes and behaviors.

Alfie Kohn has an entire book on this subject, Punished by Rewards.

One of the reviewers writes: "Love is its own reward. Meaningful debate/discussion is its own reward. Generosity is its own reward." And, I would add, learning is its own reward.


  1. I just discovered your blog and have just finished reading all the way through it (though I have yet to bring myself to watch those Whole Brain videos). I am also a parent who has been driven to blogging by what I see going on in my kids' school, and you are basically writing about all the same things. (I started commenting on your posts and realized that I would be tempted to comment on every one of them.) My rants are here.

    I think what bothers me most (and I touched on this in one of my other comments) is how undemocratic educational policy now is. If my opinions put me in a numerical minority, I might still rant, but I could deal with being outvoted. Instead, it's as if educational policy just somehow descends from above, not decided in any meaningful way by voters. Most of the important decisions are made not at the local or school board level, where parents might actually be able to have some influence, but at state and federal levels, where educational issues take a way-back seat to other issues. I've never felt, in any Congressional election, that I was offered a real choice about educational policy, and even if I were, there are so many other issues I care about that it's hard to imagine that one predominating.

    I don't think it's a coincidence that, as educational policy is getting further removed from actual citizen control, educational practices are getting more and more authoritarian. I'm increasingly of the opinion that the only way to bring humane values back into the public schools is to bring educational policymaking back down to the local level, where the people who have the most interest in having kids treated humanely -- i.e., parents -- have the most influence. I hope to write more about some of these issues on the blog this year (when I have time -- blogging is exhausting!).

    Anyway, I'm always pleased when I see another parent speaking up about some of the craziness that is being imposed on kids in our schools. I love the democratizing potential of the blogosphere. I don't really blog for an audience (I have virtually none), but to vent and to work out my thoughts -- but the more people actually think about these issues, rather than just go along with whatever gets dished out, the more potential there is that things might actually change (or at least that things might not get *quite* as bad as they otherwise would . . .). I'll be tuning in to your blog on a regular basis!

    P.S. On the issue of rewards, you might also enjoy the blog of this parent, who attempted (apparently unsuccessfully) to dissuade her school district from adopting a behavioral rewards system (which happens to be the same system that prompted me to start blogging).

  2. Chris, thanks so much for your comments! Keep 'em comin'.

    I have linked to your blog in my Links list on the right.

    And now for another post ...

  3. Chris, Welcome! and thanks for your very thoughtful post. I look forward to reading your rants. Bring them on!

    I met FedUp on StopHomework (Sara Bennett's blog, now sadly defunct although it's still up there for discussion) and was a regular contributor.

    FedUp and I(including many others) have been increasingly concerned over the rise of authoritarianism in the school system. Since public school is the government entity we deal with the most, that loss of democracy is a very scary prospect indeed.

    It's like the frog that will hop out if you plop him in boiling water but will not notice and boil to death if you turn the heat up slowly. Educational policy has been turning up the heat slowly but the steady march really kicked up with NCLB and now The Race Shmace to the Top. Parents largely seem asleep at the wheel or at best just feel impotent.

    Chris, yes, blogs of dissent are beginning to proliferate and that's a very healthy sign. But as you say, many have scant audiences. When I realized I couldn't change a thing at my daughter's school, at least StopHomework allowed me to vent. And brought back some small semblance of democracy.

    "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any" ~ Alice Walker

  4. Uh,oh, Chris. I just clicked on your blog and read your introductory rant. Then I linked to Alfie's response. I cut my parenting teeth on Alfie Kohn, read Punished by Rewards when DD was three and it changed my life. I was headed in that direction and when it was recommended, I just gasped, it was that straight on.

    Uh, oh, Chris. You have me hooked. You can't do this to me. I have to pack for a trip. I have to get my daughter ready for a year overseas.

    I will resist the urge to keep reading your blog. As for others here, go read Chris. It's dynamic and wonderful. And keep coming back here too.

    As for me, I keep practicing that elusive state of balance. How to keep reading (my love) and still get some chores around the house done (my hate).

    Live long and prosper.

  5. Thanks, J! I'm trying to get ready for our vacation too, and lost some crucial sleep time last night as a result of those awful "Whole Brain" videos! I think a few weeks away from this stuff can only do us some good. Enjoy your trip!