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The “rewards” of learning? November 14, 2008

Filed under: Education — Ms.M @ 9:08 am

The view of schools is so increasingly negative, it’s amazing that they still get any funding whatsoever. I’m surprised they are still venerated at all. School is no longer a privileged step to a fulfilling future, but a necessity of childhood, one of those hurdles to jump over, like entry level jobs and wisdom teeth removals; painful, but necessary. I came across an article in BusinessWeek by Newt Gingrich, of all people, that proposes an end to adolescence. That got my attention right away. That’s something I actually believe in, and coming out of the mouth of Newt it baffled the hell out of me; I wanted to know why Newt had any interest in education. And then I saw this line, and thought seriously(?), not that again:

“And experiments such as the one my daughter, Jackie Cushman, is running in Atlanta—where poor children are paid the equivalent of working in a fast-food restaurant to study and do their homework—are examples of a more dynamic future.”

Great idea Newt; let’s put learning in the same category as a low paying fast food job; that’s where so many of those kids are headed anyway. Let’s ignore everything ever written about how those types of incentives for learning work to undermine any person’s internal and some would say higher motivations. Let their whole lives be attempts at acquiring external reward. Forget about empowering students with more personal responsibility, and help them instead to see that life really is all about that paycheck. Fab!

I quickly realized that Newt’s views did not match my own. His argument is for making schooling a “money-making profession” and therefore changing dramatically the reasons for acquiring an education, directly tying education to money as apposed to personal fulfillment, eye-opening realizations, or team-work amongst a group of people.

Yet there was one aspect of this article that I could agree with, encapsulated in this quote:

“The fact is, most young people want to be challenged and given real responsibility. They want to be treated like young men and women, not old children.”

Unfortunately, Newt doesn’t think that “adolescents,” or possibly even adults, are capable of that level of challenge and real responsibility without monetary reward. I guess that says something about Newt’s views on his own education. Maybe he’s never experienced a fulfilling learning experience outside of rewards and incentives.

I do think that adolescence is a failed experiment, as Newt calls it. I do agree that even young children want to feel empowered, and that schools weren’t necessarily designed for that particular learning experience. I do agree that we have failed to consider students’ own views about themselves as learners and potentially active members of their community. I don’t think rushing students to get into colleges, who hold similar views of education as their secondary counterparts is the answer. It implies faster learning over deeper learning. It implies external rewards are more important than internal rewards. I’m sorry Newt, but I wholeheartedly disagree.

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