What is wrong with encouraging students to put "how well they're doing" ahead of "what they're doing." An impressive and growing body of research suggests that this emphasis (1) undermines students' interest in learning, (2) makes failure seem overwhelming, (3) leads students to avoid challenging themselves, (4) reduces the quality of learning, and (5) invites students to think about how smart they are instead of how hard they tried.
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Each time I visit such a classroom, where the teacher is more interested in creating a democratic community than in maintaining her position of authority, I'm convinced all over again that moving away from consequences and rewards isn't just realistic - it's the best way to help kids grow into good learners and good people.
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In short, with each of the thousand-and-one problems that present themselves in family life, our choice is between controlling and teaching, between creating an atmosphere of distrust and one of trust, between setting an example of power and helping children to learn responsibility, between quick-fix parenting and the kind that's focused on long-term goals.
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Students get the message bout what adults want. When 4th graders in a variety of classroomswere asked what their teachers most wanted them to do, they didn't say, "Ask thoughtful questions" or "Make responsible decisions" or Help others." They said, "Be quiet, don't fool around, and get our work done on time.
Even before i had children, I knew that being a parent was going to be challenging as well as rewarding. But I didn't really know. I didn't know how exhausted it was possible to become, or how clueless it was possible to feel, or how, each time I reached the end of my rope, I would somehow have to find more rope. I didn't understand that sometimes when your kids scream so loudly that the neighbors are ready to call the Department of Child Services, it's because you've served the wrong shape of pasta for dinner. I didn't realize that those deep-breathing exercises mothers are taught in natural-childbirth class dont really start to pay off until long after the child is out. I couldn't have predicted how relieved I'd be to learn that other peoples children struggle with the same issues, and act in some of the same ways, mine do. (Even more liberating is the recognition that other parents, too, have dark moments when they catch themselves not liking their own child, or wondering whether it's all worth it, or entertaining various other unspeakable thoughts). The bottom line is that raising kids is not for whimps.
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Non-cooperative approaches, by contrast, almost always involve duplication of effort, since someone working independently must spend time and skills on problems that already have been encountered and overcome by someone else. A technical hitch, for example, is more likely to be solved quickly and imaginatively if scientists (including scientists from different countries) pool their talents rather than compete against one another.
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In some suburban schools, the curriculum is chock-full of rigorous A.P. courses and the parking lot glitters with pricey SUVs, but one doesn't have to look hard to find students who are starving themselves, cutting themselves, or medicating themselves, as well students who are taking out their frustrations on those who sit lower on the social food chain.
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Strip away all the assumptions about what competition is supposed to do, all the claims in its behalf that we accept and repeat reflexively. What you have left is the essence of the concept: mutually exclusive goal attainment (MEGA). One person succeeds only if another does not. From this uncluttered perspective, it seems clear right away that something is drastically wrong with such an arrangement. How can we do our best when we are spending our energies trying to make others lose--and fearing that they will make us lose?
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In a word, learning is decontextualized. We break ideas down into tiny pieces that bear no relation to the whole. We give students a brick of information, followed by another brick, followed by another brick, until they are graduated, at which point we assume they have a house. What they have is a pile of bricks, and they don't have it for long.
If I offered you a thousand dollars to take off your shoes, you'd very likely accept--and then I could triumphantly announce that 'rewards work.' But as with punishments, they can never help someone develop a *commitment* to a task or action, a reason to keep doing it when there's no longer a payoff.
Some who support [more] coercive strategies assume that children will run wild if they are not controlled. However, the children for whom this is true typically turn out to be those accustomed to being controlled"" those who are not trusted, given explanations, encouraged to think for themselves, helped to develop and internalize good values, and so on. Control breeds the need for more control, which is used to justify the use of control.
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It's not just that humiliating people, of any age, is a nasty and disrespectful way of treating them. It's that humiliation, like other forms of punishment, is counterproducti ve. 'Doing to' strategies -- as opposed to those that might be described as 'working with' -- can never achieve any result beyond temporary compliance, and it does so at a disturbing cost.
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The difference between a good educator and a great educator is that the former figures out how to work within the constraints of traditional policies and accepted assumptions, whereas the latter figures out how to change whatever gets in the way of doing right by kids. 'But we've always...', 'But the parents will never...', 'But we can't be the only school in the area to...' - all such protestations are unpersuasive to great educators. If research and common sense argue for doing things differently, then the question isn't whether to change course but how to make it happen.
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