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Alfie Kohn

"Kids respond to genuine care"

The average American High School is excellent preparation for the real world…if you live in a totalitarian society -- source


New Alfie Kohn book The Myth of the Spoiled Child

Notes and Quotes from Punished by Rewards - under construction


Source. AK2011 MAAAP Conference (Video Around 20 minutes into talk. For audio see below)


Videos -

On punishment

Clip - On Education, Parenting - 2 Opposing Questions

I will summarize Alfie's 2 questions in this way: How can we get children and teens to do what we want vs. what do they need and how can we get better at filling their needs.

At MAAP Education conference

Five Reasons To Stop Saying “Good Job!”

The Case Against Gold Star

How Not to Teach Values

My comments on the "Five Reasons..." article

How "time out" is still punishment and can be used to threaten and humiliate.

The Folley of Merit Pay

Kids respond to genuine care

“Well, Duh!” -- Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring

His website is: http://alfiekohn.org

A few of his books

Other Things By or About Alfie

Punishment Lite - Chapter on Consequnces and "Pseudochoices"

Suggestions for Building Community


I also suggest spending time reading his guestbook


Audio Copy of Mapp Conference Presentation - Temporarily unlinked for moving hosting services - audio/Alfie_Kohn_2011_MAAP_Conference.MP3

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The Myth of the Spoiled Child

Somehow, a set of deeply conservative assumptions about children–what they're like and how they should be raised–have congealed into the conventional wisdom in our society. Parents are accused of being both permissive and overprotective, unwilling to set limits and afraid to let their kids fail. Young people, meanwhile, are routinely described as entitled and narcissistic…among other unflattering adjectives.

In The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Alfie Kohn systematically debunks these beliefs–not only challenging erroneous factual claims but also exposing the troubling ideology that underlies them. Complaints about pushover parents and coddled kids are hardly new, he shows, and there is no evidence that either phenomenon is especially widespread today–let alone more common than in previous generations. Moreover, new research reveals that helicopter parenting is quite rare and, surprisingly, may do more good than harm when it does occur. The major threat to healthy child development, John argues, is posed by parenting that is too controlling rather than too indulgent.

With the same lively, contrarian style that marked his influential books about rewards, competition, and education, Kohn relies on a vast collection of social science data, as well as on logic and humor, to challenge assertions that appear with numbing regularity in the popular press. These include claims that young people suffer from inflated self-esteem; that they receive trophies, praise, and As too easily; and that they would benefit from more self-discipline and "grit." These conservative beliefs are often accepted without question, even by people who are politically liberal. Kohn's invitation to reexamine our assumptions is particularly timely, then; his book has the potential to change our culture's conversation about kids and the people who raise them.

From the Publisher

"A wise and passionate book–by one of the best friends our children have today–that is also a delight to read."–Jonathan Kozol, author of Fire in the Ashes
"Splendid….Kohn's analysis is incisive, witty, and fun to read. In a manner that reminds me of Voltaire, Kohn brings clear and profound social criticism to a topic of great contemporary importance."–William Crain, author of Reclaiming Childhood

"An insightful, well-informed, thorough analysis of the many false and hostile claims made about parents and children today. Kohn patiently dismantles myths about 'helicopter parenting,' every kid getting a trophy in every endeavor, and parents allegedly inflating their kids' self-esteem, and shows the myths to be not just without merit but destructive. Then he goes beyond the critique to provide a positive vision of parenting for our time, 'working with' kids rather than 'doing to' them. It's a vision that should be heeded."–Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, coauthor of When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?

Kirkus Reviews, 4/1/14
“Kohn attacks the status quo on child-rearing and parenting?Via research and interviews, Kohn closely examines the current media-backed perceptions of permissive and controlling parenting and contrasts them with actual data, deflating popular beliefs that children are now more spoiled and unruly than ever?A thought-provoking, semicontroversial scrutiny of modern parenting practices.”




Alfie Kohn is a critic of the US educational system. I feel encouraged when I read his writing and see how many people, including teachers in the USA, agree with him. Here is just a little from him. Please visit his website to read more.

Time out

I used to have a link to an article about "time out" for parents, but that page is down now from Alfie's site. So here I have a link to help you search for all the things he has written about time out.


Five Reasons To Stop Saying “Good Job!”
by Alfie Kohn

Hang out at a playground, visit a school, or show up at a child’s birthday party, and there’s one phrase you can count on hearing repeatedly: “Good job!” Even tiny infants are praised for smacking their hands together (“Good clapping!”). Many of us blurt out these judgments of our children to the point that it is becoming almost a verbal tic.

Plenty of books and articles advise us against relying on punishment, from spanking to forcible isolation (“time out”). Occasionally, someone will even ask us to rethink the practice of bribing children with stickers or food. But, you’ll have to look awfully hard to find a discouraging word about what is euphemistically called “positive reinforcement.” After all, what could be wrong with telling kids we like what they’re doing?
In fact, there’s nothing objectionable about supporting and encouraging our children. On the other hand, surprising as it may seem, praise can often do more harm than good. Here’s why.

1. Manipulating children.

Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who gets ready for school without dawdling. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling our children they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?

Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, refers to this as “sugar coated control.” Very much like tangible rewards–or for that matter, punishments--it’s a way of doing something to children to get them to comply with our wishes. It may be effective at producing this result (at least for a while), but it’s very different from working with kids – for example, by engaging them in conversation about what makes a family function smoothly, or what makes more work for a very busy Mommy. The latter approach is not only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.

The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But, we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A “Good job!” to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they can’t quite explain why.

2. Creating praise junkies.

To be sure, not every use of praise is a calculated tactic to control children’s behavior. Sometimes we compliment kids just because we’re genuinely pleased by what they’ve done. Even then, however, it’s worth looking more closely. Rather than bolstering a child’s self-esteem, praise may increase kids’ dependence on us. The more we say, “I like the way you...” or “Good ______ing,” the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good or bad, rather than learning to form their own judgements. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will led us to smile and dole out some more approval.
Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida, discovered that students who were praised lavishly by their teachers were more tentative in their responses, more apt to answer in a questioning tone of voice (Um, seven?”). They tended to back off from an idea they had proposed as soon as an adult disagreed with them. And they were less likely to persist with difficult tasks or share their ideas with other students.
In short, “Good job!” doesn’t reassure children; ultimately, it makes them feel less secure. It may even create a vicious circle such that the more we slather on the praise, the more kids seem to need it, so we praise them some more. Sadly, some of these kids will grow into adults who continue to need someone else to pat them on the head and tell them whether what they did was OK. Surely this is not what we want for our daughters and sons.

3. Stealing a child’s pleasure

Apart from the issue of dependence, a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do. She also deserves to be able to decide when to feel that way. Every time we say “Good job!”, though, we’re telling a child how to feel.
Sure, there are times when our evaluations are appropriate and our guidance is necessary. But, a constant stream of value judgements is neither necessary nor useful for children’s development. Unfortunately, we may not have realized that “Good job!” is just as much an evaluation as “Bad job!” The most notable feature of a positive judgement isn’t that it’s positive, but that it’s a judgement. And people, including kids, don’t like being judged.
I cherish the occasions when my daughter manages to do something for the first time, or does something better than she’s ever done it before. But, I try to resist the knee-jerk tendency to say, “Good job!” because I don’t want to dilute her joy. I want her to share her pleasure with me, not look to me for a verdict. I want her to exclaim, “I did it!” (which she often does) instead of asking me uncertainly, “Was that good?”

4. Losing interest

“Good painting!” may get children to keep painting for as long as we keep watching and praising. But, warns Lilian Katz, one of the country’s leading authorities on early childhood education, “once attention is withdrawn, many kids won’t touch the activity again.” Indeed, and impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Now the point isn’t to draw, to read, to think, to create–the point is to get the goody, whether it’s an ice cream or a “Good job!”

In a troubling study by Joan Grusec at the University of Toronto, young children who were frequently praised by the mothers for displays of generosity tended to be slightly less generous on an everyday basis than other children were. Every time they had heard, Good sharing!” or “I’m so proud of you for helping,” they became a little less interested in sharing or helping. Those actions came to be seen not as something they had to do to get that reaction from Mommy again. Generosity became a means to an end.
Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Unfortunately, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.

5. Reducing achievement

As if it weren’t bad enough that “Good job!” can undermine independence, pleasure, and interest, it can also interfere with how good a job children actually do. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next task–and they don’t so as well as children who weren’t praised to begin with.

Why does this happen? Partly because the praise creates pressure to “keep up the good work” that gets in the way of doing so. Partly because their interest in what they’re doing may have declined. Partly because they become less likely to take risks—a prerequisite for creativity–once they start thinking about how to keep those positive comments coming.

More generally, “Good job!” is a remnant of an approach to psychology that reduces all of human life to behaviors that can be seen and measured. Unfortunately, this ignores the thoughts, feelings, and values that lie behind behaviors. For example, a child may share a snack with a friend as a way of attracting praise, or as a way of making sure the other child has enough to eat. Praise for sharing ignores these different motives. Worse, it actually promotes the less desirable motive by making children more likely to fish for praise in the future.

Once you start to see praise for what it is—and what it does–these constant little evaluative eruptions from adults start to produce the same effect as nails being dragged down a blackboard. You begin to root for a child to give his parents a taste of their own treacle by turning around to them and saying (in the same saccharine tone of voice), “Good praising!”

Still, it’s not an easy habit to break. It can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though you’re being chilly or withholding something. But that, it soon becomes clear, suggests that we praise more because we need to say it than because out children need to hear it. Whenever that’s true, it’s time to rethink what we’re doing.

What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. That’s not just different from praise–it’s the opposite of praise. “Good job!” is conditional. It means we’re offering attention and acknowledgment and approval for jumping through hoops, for doing things that please us.

This point, you’ll notice, is very different from a criticism that some people offer to the effect that we give kids too much approval, or give it too easily. They recommend that we become more miserly with our praise and demand that kids “earn” it. But the real problem isn’t that children expect to be praised for everything they do these days. It’s that we’re tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values.

So what’s the alternative? That depends on the situation, but whatever we decide to say instead has to be offered in the context of genuine affection and love for who kids are rather than for what they’ve done. When unconditional support is present, “Good job!” isn’t necessary; when it’s absent, “Good job!” won’t help.
If we’re praising positive actions as a way of discouraging misbehavior, this is unlikely to be effective for long. Even when it works, we can’t really say the child is now “behaving herself”; it would be more accurate to say the praise is behaving her. The alternative is to work with the child, to figure out the reasons she’s acting that way. We may have to reconsider our own requests rather than just looking for a way to get kids to obey. (Instead of using “Good job!” to get a four-year-old to sit quietly through a long family dinner, perhaps we should ask whether it’s reasonable to expect a child to do so.)

We also need to bring kids in on the process of making decisions. If a child is taking forever to get out the door in the morning, them sitting down with him later and asking, “What do you think we can do to solve this problem?” will likely be more effective than bribes or threats. It also helps a child learn how to solve problems and teaches that his ideas and feelings are important. Of course, this process takes time and talent, care and courage. Tossing off a “Good job!” when the child is on time takes none of those things, which helps to explain why “doing to” strategies are a lot more popular than “working with” strategies.

And what can we say when our kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

Say nothing.

Some people insist a helpful act must be “reinforced” because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But, if that cynicism is unfounded–and a lot of research suggests that it is–then praise may not be necessary.

Say what you saw.

A simple, evaluation-free statement (“You put your shoes on by yourself” or even just “You did it”) tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback–not judgement–abut what you noticed:”This mountain is huge!” “Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!”
If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: “Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your cookie.” This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing.

Talk less, ask more.

Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you the most when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking “What was the hardest part to draw?” or “How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?” is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying “Good job!”, as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child’s future behavior) as will as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life–or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she’s doing in its own right–or turning into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head?
It’s not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mind out long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn’t so positive. The good news is that you don’t have to evaluate in order to encourage.

See my comments on this article


On Punishment

In this video, Alfie talks about what a child might be thinking. In my version of the video, I also address how she might be feeling.

Direct link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiV7bVFNO0k


Wanting to Help Alfie

I want to help Alfie. I feel inspired by him. I admire him. I support him. I support him 10 out of 10. I want to offer him some helpful feedback. Some feelings feedback.

I am afraid he is turning off some people by sounding judgmental.

I am afraiid he is putting some people on the defensive.

I am afraid some or many people, don't feel understood by him.

I am afraid he is losing some of his potential influence by alienating people, judging them.

As he says, what matters is their perception of him.

I am afraid some people feel guilt-tripped, for example when he talks about teachers who don't fight things and say there is nothing they can do.

I am afraid some will feel mocked. Again, not understood.

I offer him my article on "why" - in other words the two motivations for asking why.

1) Because you feel curious, want to understand. 2) Because you want people to change something.

Another note is that I would like to understand Alfie's position on compusorly schooling.

Well duh

“Well, Duh!” -- Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring

By Alfie Kohn

The field of education bubbles over with controversies. It’s not unusual for intelligent people of good will to disagree passionately about what should happen in schools. But there are certain precepts that aren’t debatable, that just about anyone would have to acknowledge are true.

While many such statements are banal, some are worth noticing because in our school practices and policies we tend to ignore the implications that follow from them. It’s both intellectually interesting and practically important to explore such contradictions: If we all agree that a given principle is true, then why in the world do our schools still function as if it weren’t?

Here are 10 examples.

1. Much of the material students are required to memorize is soon forgotten

The truth of this statement will be conceded (either willingly or reluctantly) by just about everyone who has spent time in school -- in other words, all of us. A few months, or sometimes even just a few days, after having committed a list of facts, dates, or definitions to memory, we couldn’t recall most of them if our lives depended on it. Everyone knows this, yet a substantial part of schooling – particularly in the most traditional schools – continues to consist of stuffing facts into students’ short-term memories.

The more closely we inspect this model of teaching and testing, the more problematic it reveals itself to be. First, there’s the question of what students are made to learn, which often is more oriented to factual material than to a deep understanding of ideas. (See item 2, below.) Second, there’s the question of how students are taught, with a focus on passive absorption: listening to lectures, reading summaries in textbooks, and rehearsing material immediately before being required to cough it back up. Third, there’s the question of why a student has learned something: Knowledge is less likely to be retained if it has been acquired so that one will perform well on a test, as opposed to learning in the context of pursuing projects and solving problems that are personally meaningful.

Even without these layers of deficiencies with the status quo, and even if we grant that remembering some things can be useful, the fundamental question echoes like a shout down an endless school corridor: Why are kids still being forced to memorize so much stuff that we know they won’t remember?

Corollary 1A: Since this appears to be true for adults, too, why do most professional development events for teachers resemble the least impressive classrooms, with experts disgorging facts about how to educate?

2. Just knowing a lot of facts doesn’t mean you’re smart

Even students who do manage to remember some of the material they were taught are not necessarily able to make sense of those bits of knowledge, to understand connections among them, or to apply them in inventive and persuasive ways to real-life problems.

In fact, the cognitive scientist Lauren Resnick goes even further: It’s not just that knowing (or having been taught) facts doesn’t in itself make you smart. A mostly fact-oriented education may actually interfere with your becoming smart. “Thinking skills tend to be driven out of the curriculum by ever-growing demands for teaching larger and larger bodies of knowledge,” she writes. Yet schools continue to treat students as empty glasses into which information can be poured -- and public officials continue to judge schools on the basis of how efficiently and determinedly they pour.

3. Students are more likely to learn what they find interesting

There’s no shortage of evidence for this claim if you really need it. One of many examples: A group of researchers found that children’s level of interest in a passage they were reading was 30 times more useful than its difficulty level for predicting how much of it they would later remember. But this should be obvious, if only because of what we know about ourselves. It’s the tasks that intrigue us, that tap our curiosity and connect to the things we care about, that we tend to keep doing -- and get better at doing. So, too, for kids.

Conversely, students are less likely to benefit from doing what they hate. Psychology has come a long way from the days when theorists tried to reduce everything to simple stimulus-response pairings. We know now that people aren’t machines, such that an input (listening to a lecture, reading a textbook, filling out a worksheet) will reliably yield an output (learning). What matters is how people experience what they do, what meaning they ascribe to it, what their attitudes and goals are.

Thus, if students find an academic task stressful or boring, they’re far less likely to understand, or even remember, the content. And if they’re uninterested in a whole category of academic tasks -- say, those they’re assigned to do when they get home after having just spent a whole day at school -- then they aren’t likely to benefit much from doing them. No wonder research finds little, if any, advantage to assigning homework, particularly in elementary or middle school.

4. Students are less interested in whatever they’re forced to do and more enthusiastic when they have some say

Once again, studies confirm what we already know from experience. The nearly universal negative reaction to compulsion, like the positive response to choice, is a function of our psychological makeup.

Now combine this point with the preceding one: If choice is related to interest, and interest is related to achievement, then it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that the learning environments in which kids get to make decisions about what they’re doing are likely to be the most effective, all else being equal. Yet such learning environments continue to be vastly outnumbered by those where kids spend most of their time just following directions.

5. Just because doing x raises standardized test scores doesn’t mean x should be done

At the very least, we would need evidence that the test in question is a source of useful information about whether our teaching and learning goals are being met. Many educators have argued that the tests being used in our schools are unsatisfactory for several reasons.

First, there are numerous limitations with specific tests. Second, most tests share certain problematic features, such as being timed (which places more of a premium on speed than on thoughtfulness), norm-referenced (which means the tests are designed to tell us who’s beating whom, not how well students have learned or teachers have taught), and consisting largely of multiple-choice questions (which don’t permit students to generate or even explain their answers).

The third reason is the problems inherent to all tests that are standardized and created by people far away from the classroom -- as opposed to assessing the actual learning taking place there on an on-going basis.

This is not the place to explain in detail why standardized tests measure what matters least. Here, I want only to make the simpler -- and, once again, I think, indisputable -- point that anyone who regards high or rising test scores as good news has an obligation to show that the tests themselves are good. If a test result can’t be convincingly shown to be both valid and meaningful, then whatever we did to achieve that result -- say, a new curriculum or instructional strategy -- may well have no merit whatsoever. It may even prove to be destructive when assessed by better criteria. Indeed, a school or district might be getting worse even as its test scores rise.

So how is it that articles in newspapers and education journals, as well as pronouncements by public officials and think tanks, seem to accept on faith that better scores on any test necessarily constitute good news, and that whatever produced those scores can be described as “effective”? Parents should be encouraged to ask, “How much time was sacrificed from real learning just so our kids could get better at taking the [name of test]?”

6. Students are more likely to succeed in a place where they feel known and cared about

I realize there are people whose impulse is to sneer when talk turns to how kids feel, and who dismiss as “soft” or “faddish” anything other than old-fashioned instruction of academic skills. But even these hard-liners, when pressed, are unable to deny the relationship between feeling and thinking, between a child’s comfort level and his or her capacity to learn.

Here, too, there are loads of supporting data. As one group of researchers put it, “In order to promote students’ academic performance in the classroom, educators should also promote their social and emotional adjustment.” And yet, broadly speaking, we don’t. Teachers and schools are evaluated almost exclusively on academic achievement measures (which, to make matters worse, mostly consist of standardized test scores).

If we took seriously the need for kids to feel known and cared about, our discussions about the distinguishing features of a “good school” would sound very different. Likewise, our view of discipline and classroom management would be turned inside-out, seeing as how the primary goals of most such strategies are obedience and order, often with the result that kids feel less cared about -- or even bullied -- by adults.

7. We want children to develop in many ways, not just academically

Even mainstream education groups have embraced the idea of teaching the “whole child.” It’s a safe position, really, because just about every parent or educator will tell you that we should be supporting children’s physical, emotional, social, moral, and artistic growth as well as their intellectual growth. Moreover, it’s obvious to most people that the schools can and should play a key role in promoting many different forms of development.

If we acknowledge that academics is just one facet of a good education, why do so few conversations about improving our schools deal with -- and why are so few resources devoted to -- non-academic issues? And why do we assign children still more academic tasks after the school day is over, even when those tasks cut into the time children have to pursue interests that will help them develop in other ways?

Corollary 7a: Students “learn best when they are happy,” as educator Nel Noddings reminded us, but that doesn’t mean they’re especially likely to be happy (or psychologically healthy) just because they’re academically successful. And millions aren’t. Imagine how high schools would have to be changed if we were to take this realization seriously.

8. Just because a lesson (or book, or class, or test) is harder doesn't mean it's better

First, if it’s pointless to give students things to do that are too easy, it’s also counterproductive to give them things that they experience as too hard. Second, and more important, this criterion overlooks a variety of considerations other than difficulty level by which educational quality might be evaluated.

We know this, yet we continue to worship at the altar of “rigor.” I’ve seen lessons that aren’t unduly challenging yet are deeply engaging and intellectually valuable. Conversely, I’ve seen courses -- and whole schools -- that are indisputably rigorous . . . and appallingly bad.

9. Kids aren’t just short adults

Over the past hundred years, developmental psychologists have labored to describe what makes children distinctive and what they can understand at certain ages. There are limits, after all, to what even a precocious younger child can grasp (e.g., the way metaphors function, the significance of making a promise) or do (e.g., keep still for an extended period).

Likewise, there are certain things children require for optimal development, including opportunities to play and explore, alone and with others. Research fills in -- and keeps fine-tuning -- the details, but the fundamental implication isn’t hard to grasp: How we educate kids should follow from what defines them as kids.

Somehow, though, developmentally inappropriate education has become the norm, as kindergarten (literally, the “children’s garden”) now tends to resemble a first- or second-grade classroom -- in fact, a bad first- or second-grade classroom, where discovery, creativity, and social interaction are replaced by a repetitive regimen focused on narrowly defined academic skills.

More generally, premature exposure to sit-still-and-listen instruction, homework, grades, tests, and competition -- practices that are clearly a bad match for younger children and of questionable value at any age -- is rationalized by invoking a notion I’ve called BGUTI: Better Get Used To It. The logic here is that we have to prepare you for the bad things that are going to be done to you later . . . by doing them to you now. When articulated explicitly, that principle sounds exactly as ridiculous as it is. Nevertheless, it’s the engine that continues to drive an awful lot of nonsense.

The obvious premise that we should respect what makes children children can be amended to include a related principle that is less obvious to some people: Learning something earlier isn’t necessarily better. Deborah Meier, whose experience as a celebrated educator ranges from kindergarten to high school, put it bluntly: "The earlier [that schools try] to inculcate so-called 'academic' skills, the deeper the damage and the more permanent the 'achievement' gap." That is exactly what a passel of ambitious research projects has found: A traditional skills-based approach to teaching young children -- particularly those from low-income families -- not only offers no lasting benefits but appears to be harmful.

Corollary 9A: Kids aren’t just future adults. They are that, of course, but they aren’t only that, because children’s needs and perspectives are worth attending to in their own right. We violate this precept -- and do a disservice to children -- whenever we talk about schooling in economic terms, treating students mostly as future employees.

10. Substance matters more than labels

A skunk cabbage by any other name would smell just as putrid. But in education, as in other domains, we’re often seduced by appealing names when we should be demanding to know exactly what lies behind them. Most of us, for example, favor a sense of community, prefer that a job be done by professionals, and want to promote learning. So should we sign on to the work being done in the name of “Professional Learning Communities”? Not if it turns out that PLCs have less to do with helping children to think deeply about questions that matter than with boosting standardized test scores.

The same caution is appropriate when it comes to “Positive Behavior Support,” a jaunty moniker for a program of crude Skinnerian manipulation in which students are essentially bribed to do whatever they’re told. More broadly, even the label “school reform” doesn’t necessarily signify improvement; these days, it’s more likely to mean “something that skillful and caring teachers wouldn’t be inclined to do unless coerced,” as educational psychologist Bruce Marlowe put it.

In fact, the corporate-style version of “school reform” that’s uncritically endorsed these days by politicians, journalists, and billionaires consists of a series of debatable tactics -- many of them amounting to bribes and threats to force educators to jack up test scores. Just as worrisome, though, is that these reformers often overlook, or simply violate, a number of propositions that aren’t debatable, including many of those listed here.



April 2011

This essay is an abridged version of the introduction to Feel-Bad Education…And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling (Beacon Press, 2011)

Suggestions for Building Community

By: Alfie Kohn

“Make the classroom a community where students feel valued and respected, where care and trust have taken the place of restrictions and threats …”

“Children need classroom community – created by themselves and guided by an adult.”

Relationship with the adults

  • Children are more likely to be respectful when important adults in their lives respect them.
  • They are more likely to care about others if they know they are cared about
  • If their emotional needs are met, they have the luxury of being able to meet other people’s needs – rather than spending their lives preoccupied with themselves.

Connection between students

  • Community rests on the knowledge of, and connections among, the individuals who are part of it
  • Help students imagine how things appear from another person’s point of view through “perspective taking”
  • Exercises designed to promote an understanding of how other people think and feel

Class wide and school wide activities

  • While teacher student and student to student relationships are important it is important to have whole class collaboration as well
  • Class murals, collages, quilts, songs, or community service projects are good suggestions
  • Class meetings discussing broad questions
    • What makes school awful sometimes
    • Try to remember an experience during a previous year when you hated school, what was going on when you were felling that way?
    • What can we do to make this year go better than last year?
  • School wide events include: advisory groups of multi-age kids, morning meetings in smaller communities, cross-age interactions

Using academic instruction

  • Class meetings can be about how to approach unit organization
  • Integrate life lessons with class lessons
  • Academics can be pursued cooperatively and thus connections form through students working in groups
  • Elements of curriculum can be selected with an eye to supporting social and moral growth indirectly (works of literature)


“If we are committed to moving beyond discipline, we need an engaging curriculum and a caring community … But we need something else as well, the chance for students to make meaningful decisions about their schooling.”

10 Tips for Classroom Management

1.   It’s hard to work to solve a problem with a student unless the two of you already have a relationship.

2.   If a caring relationship with each student is a prerequisite for solving problems or resolving conflicts effectively, it in no the only one. Also required is a certain set of skills.

3.   The adult’s role in dealing with an unpleasant situation begins with the need to diagnose what has happened and why.

4.    It is even more difficult to consider causes and contexts when that process raises questions about our own practices. We must be willing to look beyond the concrete situation in front of us.

5.   When problems happen it is just as critical that we maximize student involvement in deciding how to resolve the conflict.

6.   The questions we ask must be open ended, with students encouraged to explore possibilities, reflect on their own motives, disagree, and, in general, construct an authentic solution.

7.   We don’t need to ignore what the student has done. Instead, she can be assisted in thinking about ways to make restitution or reparations.

8.   It is often useful to arrange to check back later to see how a plan worked, whether the problem got solved, whether additional or entirely new strategies may now be needed.

9.   Problem solving requires flexibility.

10.  Everything should be done to minimize the punitive impact.





Punished By Rewards  

A few of his books

Unconditional Parenting : Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason   Amazon page
The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting   Amazon page
Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community Most parenting guides begin with the question "How can we get kids to do what they're told?" -- and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them. In this truly groundbreaking book, nationally respected educator Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking "What do kids need - and how can we meet those needs?" What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.

One basic need all children have, Kohn argues, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. Yet conventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including "time-outs"), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us. Kohn cites a body of powerful, and largely unknown, research detailing the damage caused by leading children to believe they must earn our approval. That's precisely the message children derive from common discipline techniques, even though it's not the message most parents intend to send.

More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from "doing to" to "working with" parenting - including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.
(From http://www.alfiekohn.org/up/index.html)
Amazon page
No Contest : The Case Against Competition   Amazon Page
    Amazon page