Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

PUNISHED BY REWARDS: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn. (Houghton Mifflin, $22.95.) For several years, Pizza Hut has been serving free pizzas to students who read--or at least dutifully list--a requisite number of books, causing one researcher quoted by Kohn to suggest that the program would most likely produce "a lot of fat kids who don't like to read.'' Facetious as the comment is, it has about it, if we are to believe Kohn, more than a little truth. Marshalling impressive evidence, Kohn demonstrates that rewarding people for compliance or perceived success--exactly what we do in many of our nation's classrooms--is not only ineffective but also insidiously destructive. In the early 1970s, for example, Stanford researcher Mark Lepper discovered that preschoolers who were rewarded for drawing faces with Magic Markers lost interest in the activity much faster than did unrewarded children. Other studies had similar results: Regardless of the participants' age or the nature of the activity--losing weight, memorizing information, etc.--those rewarded performed, over time, less well than did unrewarded individuals. It's almost as if people develop an unarticulated scorn for activities tied to rewards. To those of us with an unexamined faith in behaviorism--surely incentives make us work harder, we think--the results are surprising but in fact make good sense. Rewards, Kohn points out, are addictive--withdraw them, and we are likely to do no more or no less than what the reward requires. Furthermore, a reward, like its close relation praise, causes us to concentrate on how well we're doing when what's needed is nonjudgmental attentiveness upon the task at hand. Beyond these practical consequences, Kohn claims that rewards also rupture relationships: To hold forth an award is to assert power over the one who must perform in order to receive it; the teacher who is dependent upon dispensing rewards is in effect telling students that their efforts have meaning only insofar as they meet with "official'' approval. While Kohn's case is occasionally overstated--are people never motivated by money and power, vulgar as they may be?--Punished By Rewards is valuable in that it convinces us that "extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation,'' causing us to re-examine an educational system predicated upon inducements.

THE QUALITY SCHOOL TEACHER, by William Glasser, M.D. (HarperPerennial, $11.) In this book, a follow-up to the well-received The Quality School, Glasser strives to show us how teachers can successfully implement W. Edwards Deming's management techniques, which have been so influential in business circles. Essentially, the teacher, like the corporate executive, must give up "boss-managing'' and start "lead-managing,'' that is, he or she must relinquish the old "teach, test, reward, and punish'' system in favor of establishing a healthy cooperative spirit that will inspire quality. Once students understand the importance of quality, they will no longer have to be coerced, as producing quality is its own reward--"Quality work always feels good for everyone.'' Of course, this begs the question: Just what is quality? According to Glasser, it's that which meets one or more of the basic five needs set forth in his control theory: love, power, freedom, fun, and survival. Work that meets these needs is useful, and what is useful is always indicative of quality. The quality school teacher, then, has a "professional responsibility to explain what is useful about everything he or she asks students to learn.'' Glasser's theory is neat, so schematically neat that one wonders if it can endure the classroom's messy reality. And while his emphasis upon usefulness is enticing-- who wants to memorize meaningless information?-- it also raises more questions than it answers. What do we do with those students who refuse to see Shakespeare as useful? Is algebra useful to a budding fine artist?

THE GAME OF SCHOOL: Observations of a Long-Haul Teacher, by Robert L. Tripp. (Extended Vision Press, $19.95.) "Pretense, boredom, and cynicism,'' Tripp writes, "are central elements in the destructive game that is the norm in American public high schools.'' While no one enjoys the game, it endures partially on account of the fact that it allows teachers and students to avoid engagement with ideas and with each other. Rather than confront a student over repeated lateness, we insist upon a pass; rather than give a student a genuine evaluation, we send him or her home with a grade. Breaking these distancing rituals is no easy matter, but we can begin, Tripp suggests, by dispensing with superfluous rules, tests, and grades, implementing instead something he calls a "Grow/Learn System.'' This system, modeled after a program at Antioch College, hinges on establishing a "close correlation between what happens in school and in the rest of the world.'' In essence, the student, with the guidance of a teachermentor, determines his or her own day, which is hopefully a relevant mixture of classes, field trips, apprenticeships, and volunteering. While these ideas are not new, The Game of School is helpful in that Tripp shows how he has integrated them into his own teaching.--David Ruenzel

Vol. 05, Issue 03, Page 1-24

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories