Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rewards, Bribes and Incentives, Oh, MY!

For some time now, I have been reading the book Punished by Rewards:  The Trouble with Gold Stars, Inentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn.  In short, the author throws the book at behaviorism and suggests that the above named methods actually ruin kids in school and shatter productivity and creativity at work. 

It has taken me forever to read this book because it reads like the research compilation it -- in fact -- is.  Kohn is a fine writer; there is just a lot of information in this book.  Nonetheless I cannot seem to give up on it because even the title begs the question, "So what is the alternative?"

I agree in principal with Kohn's statements.  As a parent, a homeschooling educator, a former employee, a former boss, and a long time student, the assertions in the book ring true.   Most educational institutions can defend grades, yet I've known educators who put little stock in them.  The best learning of my life came in a university program that allowed me to choose subjects of interest to me and to passionately pursue them.  I was awarded grades at the end of these contracts, but I did not care about them; the experience of learning provided the true value.

On the other hand, as the mother of three young children who do not seem prone to reason, it seems impossible to leave out the bribes, rewards, praise and-- let's face it-- punishment.  I notice a lack of creativity  in me at times when it comes to the little kids and how to survive without these things.  While I understand Kohn's research and conclusions, it all seems a little "pie in the sky."  I think most teachers would agree. 

We survived our first two kids with very few timeouts, bribes and rewards, but that was due -- I now realize -- as much to their personalities as to my amazing facility as a parent.  This group of youngsters is cut from a different cloth.  I am not saying I've given up on finding another way.  To the contrary, I am simply admitting that I sure haven't found it yet.

I am still struggling through the end of this book but since it's focus is not young children, I think I am going to have to find the answers within myself.  In fact, I have an inkling about them already.  When the "bigs" were little, we had an unhurried life.  We spent long hours at home, we played a lot, we cleaned little and life was simple.  We cooked, we learned, we dabbled, we sang, we had leisurely hours with friends.

Life with 5 children including two teens, two toddlers with attachment issues and a suddenly clingy 2-year-old  is no longer simple.  We spend long hours away from home and cleaning . . . well, it's a major focus.  Some of this, though, is in my control. We can plan more time before events so we can hurry less.  We can build in extra fun and extra relaxation when we are at home.  I can be more cognizant of keeping the stress on my side. I can take the time to explain to my youngsters the issue at hand.   I can practice saying "no" a little more often.  I can take time every day for prayer and meditation, time to be quiet and remember my purpose and let that flow into our days.  I can't quite reach that pie in the sky but I sure have time for pie on the table.  I'll go for that this week!

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