Our entire culture is driven by reward and punishment. In our quest for control and perfection, we, as a society, spend enormous amounts of time and energy coercing others to do what we believe they should be doing. And, then, we have the gall to berate and criticize young people for relying on external stimuli. Yes, ironically, and, hypocritically, intrinsic motivation is touted as the ultimate educational goal, while we model the exact opposite.
This past week I witnessed two examples of this, one of which I let play out on its own to see which direction it would take and the other I was asked to step in and redirect.
In the first case, a college student was cooking breakfast for everyone at DRC and wanted to get the Seedlings to try something new. He tried to convince these two kids to make it into a competition. The one who tried it would get a prize, etc. I was delighted to hear them flat out refuse the offer. Yes, of course, I would like them to try new things, however, not at the expense of their individuality and desire to learn things on their own. These guys were not going to be conned into trying something they obviously had no interest in tasting.
Another volunteer asked me to intervene and provide an undesirable task when the student he was working with wouldn’t participate in the group lesson. I should mention that this St. Lawrence student has an excellent relationship with our kids and is an inspiring teacher. However, on this particular day, he was clearly frustrated with the behavior of this student and was not able to solve the conflict on his own. I didn’t go into the whole explanation of why we don’t utilize punishment or reward at DRC; however, I was able to bring the conversation to a place of personal responsibility and respect for others and asked the child if he would be willing to uphold his commitment to the class and continue with a good heart for ten minutes. In this case, the volunteer was able to learn (I can only hope) as much from that interaction as the eight-year-old.
You are probably thinking --- what’s the big deal? No harm, no foul, right? No one really got hurt.
If the kids, in the first example, had competed to try fruit in the oatmeal, one of them would have gotten a silly little prize. If the student in the second story had to sit in the office doing a sight word worksheet, he would have been unhappy for a couple minutes, but no biggie. He probably would have shaken it off after a few seconds of pouting.
These methods of manipulation are so second nature, so ingrained in our collective consciousness, that we do not recognize them for what they truly are --- insidious forms of bullying.
What do we really learn from coercion? Over time, we understand that we are powerless and that there are no real choices. We intuit that we are blameless, because, we, essentially, have no control over our own lives. Ultimately, we discover that our desires, interests, and passions are not important or worthy, because, conformity, obedience, and compliance with societal norms are the only means of achieving "real" success.
Carrots and sticks, not nearly as innocuous as we have been led to believe.
We are on Spring Break this week. However, if you are interested in learning more about our programs, please get in touch.