Sunday, December 8, 2013

Taking the rewards out of education

Another enlightening talk with Alfie Cohn on CBC Radio's Ontario Today.  This time the discussion was about taking awards (sports trophies, honour roll) out of schools.  I couldn't agree more.  He presented several compelling reasons why these hurt our children's education.  When we offer rewards:
  • we are saying that in order to excel, you have to do so at the detriment of your peers; why can't more than one person learn?
  • we see each other as adversaries: it becomes very difficult to cooperate, learn from each other, develop empathy and form a connection
  • we begin to see the task as a means to an end instead of getting the most out of the experience
  • children try to secure a win by choosing an easier task rather than push themselves to learn more.
  • we create children who become addicted to praise.
  • we don't see the task as 'fun' if we loose
I also really like this point that Alfie Cohn made:  praise and awards are not feedback, they are judgements.  Children need an engaged curriculum in a learning-centered environment.  Instead of passively listening to lectures, and filling out worksheets, they need to be given context and purpose as well as an opportunity to explore and lead.

A lot of people are angered by his viewpoint.  They claim that the world is competitive -- in the workplace and even in nature.  Competition motivates people to achieve.  The speaker's rebuttal was that in fact nature is a lot more cooperative than we think because unfortunately our view of nature is biased -- it's based on what's fed to us through the media.  Animals cooperate so that there is enough for everyone.  However this does not make for good TV.  Alfie Cohn also said that competitiveness is not the same as excellence, which is a very good point because many believe they are synonymous.

I don't feel good about delving out praise and commenting on my children's achievements.  I feel that it takes away from their moment and how they might feel about it.  I want them to be intrinsically motivated as well because I won't always be there to offer up an external prize.  The world does not owe them anything. Yet there a lot of people who are accustomed to praise and expect their partners and bosses to continue what their parents and teachers started.  I defintely don't want my kids to end up being attention-seekers or praise-junkies. It's a terrible feeling, to have your self-worth defined by someone else's opinion of you.

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