Cessen's Ramblings

2008 - 01 - 13

Rewards Punish

I ran across this old New York Times article recently: For Best Results, Forget the Bonus

The article in general is interesting to me, but in particular I wonder how this applies to the most predominant schooling paradigms in use today. How many rely on reward systems?

For example, grades -- even if they serve a rating/gauging purpose -- also double as a reward system, even if only unintentionally. And in many (most?) cases, students are made acutely aware of the grading system. The goal quickly becomes getting a good grade rather than learning something. And even if the two are linked (i.e. learning something leads to good grades), making the grades the focus -- or even just something the students are aware of at all -- could very well be harmful.

I even wonder how much parents fall into this reward trap. What is their primary concern? What is the first thing that comes to their mind? Their child getting a good grade and passing the class, or their child learning something? Their child doing well in school, or their child progressing as an informed and intelligent human being? And how, then, does that translate into how they then try to motivate their child?

I really liked this last bit (emphasis mine):

If rewards do not work, what does? I recommend that employers pay workers well and fairly and then do everything possible to help them forget about money. A preoccupation with money distracts everyone -- employers and employees -- from the issues that really matter.

Even if grades are necessary for gauging purposes, it seems like it would be best to try to get students to forget about them, and focus on what matters.