The Reward Economy

It’s not just parents, but also many classroom teachers, who have sought to apply basic behaviourism to control and direct children’s behaviour in the direction they want. These days there are even Apps like Class Dojo that exist specifically for this purpose.

In the past I’ve written about New York educator, Alfie Kohn and his arguments against this approach, particularly those set out in his book ‘Punished By Rewards’. Here’s a good article that sets out the problems and why use of rewards can so often backfire in quite simple terms;

The Atlantic – The Dangers Of Using a Sticker Chart To Teach Kids Good Behaviour

The article draws quite extensively on the writings and work of Dan Ariely, professor at Duke University. When social norms and economic norms come together, the economic norms tend to win out thereby diminishing the likelihood of behaviour that is done for the right reasons socially.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that in an ever more cluttered life, parents and teachers are looking for the quick and easy routes to the outcomes they want. Sticker charts and other behaviour management tools have appeared to offer that as they get results and they get them in quite short time. However, as the article highlights, this can be at a heavy price in the longer term. If it results in children who have less empathy, less inclination to do anything for others without looking for an extrinsic reward, then we do a massive disservice to society.

I believe empathy grows most out of reflection and consideration of the kinds of reciprocity that all can value in their environment. For children to reflect on such things far more effective tools are open discussion through such things as ‘circle time’. When you take the longer, harder route, will children make mistakes? Will they forget or have lapses when they act in ways that are inappropriate?

Yes, of course? However, this is exactly the kind of struggle and falure that i highlighted in yesterday’s article. We need to accept that failure is necessary and a valuable constituent part of learning. Right first time and every time when manipulated through behavioural manipulation will rarely lead to the development of positive social skills that translate across environments and situations.


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