Thursday, April 15, 2010

Time out

I suppose you know that behavioral rewards have made the big time when they land on the cover of Time magazine. The article, though, is a disappointment. It devotes five short sentences to a few of the actual objections that people (like me!) have to the use of rewards in school, then zeroes in on what it identifies as the crux of the debate: “But all this time, there has been only one real question, particularly in America’s lowest-performing schools: Does it work?”

The only problem is that that question has never been the crux of the debate at all. Even the most prominent opponents of behavioral approaches to education -- for example, Alfie Kohn -- admit that rewards can work to achieve short-term compliance with behavioral goals, and even to raise standardized test scores. They oppose the use of rewards anyway, because of its unintended long-term consequences and because of the values it embodies and conveys.

Time’s focus -- its suggestion that the “only real question” is whether rewards work -- thus completely misrepresents the debate. Leave it to Time to write a four-thousand-word article on the one aspect of a contentious debate on which everyone agrees.

..How can I comment?