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The Motivation Theory of Alfie Kohn

The motivation theory of Alfie Kohn sits well with me. This is my sort of guy. He is one of the few academics that, talks out of the right end of his body! He is outspoken, sharp and straight to the point. His practical no-nonsense approach to education is refreshing.

I imagine the motivation theory of Alfie Kohn has ruffled a few feathers within the hierarchy of the education system. Although, as with so many straight-thinkers, I wonder if his wisdom is being heeded or like so many others, is it falling on stony ground!

Some points he makes on the American educational ethics fly in the face of traditional American ideas of ‘win-at-all-cost’. Naturally we all want to succeed but does that mean that we must beat everyone? Should we be teaching children to compete so frantically? Competition can actually be damaging to self-esteem and relationships within families as well as business and schools. Declaring one person as the winner may imply that the rest are losers! So declaring one to be ‘head boy/girl’ may not produce constructive results in the rest of the class or team.

On one of my first visits to the United States a kindly friend took me to a football game. The home team, the Spartans, had cheer-leaders dressed in Roman outfits, and at every interval a Spartan warrior wielding a sword, and mounted on a white horse, would charge along the stadium and rear-up to the chants of “Kill ‘em, kill ‘em, kill ‘em!” The frenzied crowd responded and great motivation was generated.

The Spartans were soon well in front. Indeed they were winning by a clear ten touchdowns . . . but still the relentless, “kill ‘em, kill ‘em, kill ‘em,” continued to the end of the game! The opposing team were totally wiped-out, destroyed, by the merciless Spartans. I remember wondering if this was the true meaning of sport! The victorious team proudly left the field in a blaze of glory, while the losers slunk away as though they were shamed by conceding defeat! “The alternative to being Number One is not being Number Two; “says Alfie Kohn, “it is dispensing with rankings altogether.”

The motivation of Alfie Kohn declares that such competition is overdone, and counterproductive. The alternative of no competition does not work either, but in a society that teaches caring, in which people look out for one another and community spirit, extreme competition does not fit well! We would do well to listen to the logic and progressive views of Alfie Kohn.

Among the many other interesting educational topics the motivation of Alfie Kohn covers is the subject of children’s homework. Research shows that homework does little, if anything, to improve a child’s grades or knowledge. It doesn’t make them smarter or improve their marks, says Alfie! Wow, he claims that six or seven hours a day is enough time to teach children what they need to know. Homework demands ignore the fact that children may benefit more from the rest, exercise and fun time that ‘working a second shift’ denies them. He says that, ‘the assumption that kids will be up to no good unless they have their free time structured for them, represents a very dark and cynical view of our children, and helps explain why so much extra work is given to them.’

Alfie Kohn believes that learning should be organized around ‘problems, projects, and questions rather than around lists of facts, skills, and separate disciplines.’ He firmly believes ‘that students need to be taught how to be responsible and respectful. Once this is accomplished, all other "content" can be learned at a more "reasonable" rate, with a greater threshold of proficiency.’

For more enlightenment the educational motivation of Alfie Kohn visit his web site www.alfiekohn.org

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