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"One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time." Carl Sagan
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Monday, July 13, 2009

How do you apply the alternative in the real world.

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
By Alfie Kohn

The alternatives to rewards that Kohn suggests are based in creativity and care. What he basically suggests is to treat all people with respect by giving them control over their education or their work. The foundation of rewards seems to be a matter of control and Kohn says the epitome of this is that even a 5 year old child can see right through it. If the phenomena of reverse psychology and the placebo effect have taught us anything; it is that people just simply don't like to be told what to do.

With these thoughts in mind Kohn suggests that:

1. In the workplace: people be given a fair salary for their work and assigned work but given as much freedom and control to complete it. Without competitive driving incentives the workers begin to work as a team and stop working against each other. Workers are more likely to come forward to honestly report problems when they know it is for the better of all and not just going to reduce their bonus. The workers will keep a more open mind. He also makes a social statement that we need to question the ethical responsibility of buying products that have been produced by putting workers through mind numbing repetitiveness. If it is produced this way we shouldn't buy it. Another side theory emerges that points the finger at rewards for producing a society afflicted with rampant consumerism. Keeping up with the Joneses so to speak.

2: In the schools: Here is a dilemma indeed. Kohn explains that thoughtful teaching where students are provided with opportunities to give meaningful important input to the course curriculum is paramount to providing students with an inherent interest in what they are learning. The decisions must be important issues that are gently directed by the teacher. In effect they must be allowed to make mistakes. I don't think anyone would disagree with the power of learning from your mistakes. (Scouts: learn while doing philosophy). Also the grades are important but they should be kept at arms length from the students. An example is "you are doing just fine in all areas; this area needs improvement specifically with this issue". In study after study it was shown that kids focusing on grades damaged and poisoned learning environments by creating a me against you; divide and conquer; competitive atmosphere as opposed to the powerful efficient team spirited learning and discovery machine it needs to be.

3. At home raising kids: This is the toughest issue yet I think. Again the control issue seems to be at the heart of the problem of giving rewards or punishments. According to Kohn and the literature children should be give choices and be allowed to make mistakes. Safety trumps all however careful explanations are needed so that what may be obvious to an adult can be made clear to the child. Saying listen to me because I am the parent and you are the child without explanation teaches a dangerous lesson. Kohn reiterates that at home and at school our goal should be to raise creative people who can make decisions and think for themselves. The result of blind obedience seems to be mindless automatons or robots. I think everyone will agree with Kohn on the fact that these types of kids can get into a lot of trouble when they listen and obey the wrong people.

The book closes with an interview with B.F. Skinner the father of modern behaviorism. This is an invaluable insight into the mind and theories of Skinner. He apparently was a troubleshooter at heart. He saw everything as a problem to be solved and even is credited for inventing things. The questions Kohn asks of Skinner are very pointed yet Skinner patiently answers to each one with a careful and thoughtful response. Stay tuned for the conlusion. -sak.
11:14 am edt 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Yea but what is the alternative!!!

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
By Alfie Kohn

I am glad to see I am not the only one thinking about a plan-b when rewards or punishments just don't work. It seems that everyone agrees that they never do! When the author presents his findings at conferences and meetings the three words he hears the most are "what's the alternative".

This Kohn says is a fair question. Essentially he is saying that rewards and punishments are a no-brainer to administrate and doing the right thing is. That is it takes a lot of brain power, work, and practice to do the things that will get results.

An example in the work place is to pay people fairly and give them a job to do and let them do it. Over supervising is the same thing as using rewards and punishments. When the worker doesn't
have money pushed in their face continuously they will do a better job. The underlying control strategies of rewards and punishments are so transparent Kohn says that a 4 year old can see through them. When the worker is not afraid of making a mistake for fear of losing a reward or recieving a punishment they will communicate honestly about what problems are occurring in the work place.

The same essential message is there for kids in school. Learning is a multi-dimensional experience. It involves communicating with others, moving around the class, testing ideas, and not being afraid of being wrong. These unfortunately are all things that get discouraged in the classroom. -sak

11:04 am edt 

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