Extrinsic Motivation, A Myth?
Sometimes I wish I had a PhD in something so I could just say stuff and people would listen to me. Or at least quote me.

Dr. Steven Reiss, for example, suggests that there really is no such thing as intrinsic motivation. This comes in response to the research coming out which suggests that extrinsic motivators, while improving performance in the short run, decrease intrinsic motivation leading to decreased performance in the future. He also questions the validity of making "value judgments" such as that one type of motivation is better than another.

So I guess we are completely environmentally controlled. The more I thought about this, the more it made sense to me. And the more sense it made, the more I got that queezy feeling of cognitive dissonance that causes me to think that much more. I have seen extrinsic motivation work. I have seen the behavior of troubled children transformed due to effective and consistent use of of such motivators. Boys' Town is a testament to this as is their Common Sense Parenting model which has been adopted by group home facilities and parent education facilities across the nation.

I guess I like to think backwards and turn things upside down, I don't know. But somehow I got from there to wondering if there really was such a thing as extrinsic motivation at all. Isn't it all intrinsic? In my last post on motivation, I decided (because it is my blog and I can quote myself as an authority on anything I want):

The infant is motivated by few desires: nourishment, comfort, mental stimulation and physical touch. As a child ages, his motivations become more complex, yet they still fall under these categories.

These are all internal desires strong enough to motivate a person to action. If I want a glass of milk, I will go get one. If I have to ask permission nicely to be granted this satiation of my thirst, I will do so. The existence of the milk and the offering of the milk did not motivate me...it was an internal desire that I was willing to exert some effort to meet.

Right now, I am thinking that the short-comings of extrinsic motivations is that we put far to much value on them. Schools are now offering cars to graduates based on academics and attendance. High-stakes testing is pushing educators to try to find more and more ways to motivate children, including merely paying them off for grades, as if it were their paycheck.

But I have not seen any of these programs turn out success stories like this:

At the Met School in Providence, Rhode Island, 70 percent of the students are black or Hispanic. More than 60 percent live below the poverty line. Nearly 40 percent come from families where English is a second language. As part of its special mission, the Met enrolls only students who have dropped out in the past or were in danger of dropping out. Yet, even with this student body, the Met now has the lowest dropout rate and the highest college placement rate of any high school in the state.

--Bill Gates at the National Education Summit on High Schools

And these kids don't get cars. They come in as "failures" of our public schools, are asked to work harder, prepare more and learn more than they ever have and they succeed. Why? It is not because of the extrinsic motivations. It is because teachers and staff take the time and energy to find out what each student's internal motivations are and match an educational program specific to him. Education for these students is not passing a test to get a good grade and a free pizza at Pizza Hut. It is meaningful, relevant and personal.

This reminds me of the verse, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it." Each child is created with unique talents and abilities. We as parents have the difficult task of "learning to know" our children, discovering their God-given talents and interests and guiding them to see God's plan for their lives. But if we are truly seeking the path that he should go and not the path that we would have him go, I think we might find that the issue of motivation becomes secondary.

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