Thursday, June 07, 2007

Punished by Curriculum That's Too Broad?

I just read this 1987 Boston Globe article by Alfie Kohn. Professor Kohn is the author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes in which he argues that all the praising and rewarding we do as parents and teachers in hopes of positive behavior modification is actually making kids' behavior worse, instead of better.

This Boston Globe article is twenty years old, but parts of it are ringing recognition bells for me. For example, Kohn writes:

"A related series of studies shows that intrinsic interest in a task — the sense that something is worth doing for its own sake — typically declines when someone is rewarded for doing it."

This directly relates to the problem we've had with "turning everything into school." Our virtual school is very forgiving and just about everything we do can be written up and submitted for credit. Great, right? Nope. The more I suggest applying for credit for things the boys are already doing, the more I get sour looks and dragging feet.

Most recently DH has insisted the boys clean their rooms thoroughly before summer starts, including sorting through old books left on bookshelves. Coincidentally, I found a story in the local newspaper about a couple in town who is collecting kids' books to send to English language learners in Congo. "Great!" I thought. "We can clean our bookshelves and do serving learning at the same time." Thinking this would make the onerous cleaning task worthwhile, I broke the good news to the boys. Xavier slumped like I had dropped the weight of the world on his shoulders. And he has stopped room-cleaning altogether.

Ditto Wolfie writing book reports on the books he's been reading this year. He's reading Don Quixote for fun, dangit. Thinking about it in terms of school would ruin it. And heaven forbid we refer to anything as a "project." "Project" = school = all the fun has been sucked right out of it. As Kohn says, "If a reward — money, awards, praise, or winning a contest — comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right." No wonder Xavier refused to participate in the Handwriting Contest as part of his art class!

I fear they may have gotten their contrariness from me. Kohn notes: "The key, then, lies in how a reward is experienced. If we come to view ourselves as working to get something, we will no longer find that activity worth doing in its own right." This plays right into whether or not I'm sticking to my diet. If I'm trying to "be good" because it's just time, I have no problems. If it's for any other reason--I'm trying to keep up with DH or impress the Class of '84 or change myself to fit my clothes--the cravings are unbearable and my general mood is crabby and deprived.

When my sister was 8, she told a school psychologist that she was "so stubborn even I can't make myself do things." I guess it runs in the family, huh? At least, now that I know what the issue is. No more turning things into school for me.


Zany Mom said...

By Jove, I think she's getting it. ;)

The Princess Mom said...

Apparently, I'm a slow learner. But my God, if I can run one campout for the Cub Scouts and get a bunch of different badges finished then, why shouldn't I? And why doesn't that thinking apply to doing something you have to do anyway, but for a good cause? I'm entirely too efficient for my own good. ;-)

Zany Mom said...

Nah, you just have more schoolishness in you than I did. ;) I see my kids enthralled with topics I thought totally dull and dry, asking questions I'd never thought of. Wicked cool. :D