Debunking the Myth of Rewarding Students

One of the most common questions I receive from people has to do with rewarding students. In fact, a common thinking is that it is necessary to reward students to do what you would like them to do. Additionally, most people still compare rewarding students with adults receiving a paycheck to do a job. But the two concepts are completely dissimilar.

For working adults, money is a satisfier—not a motivator and not a reward. Your compensation is a binding contract between two entities. “You do this task and I’ll give you this much money.” If either party fails to do their part, the contract can immediately end. Either you quit the job (if you don’t receive your income) or you get fired (if you don’t do your work).

Now many people assert that the world operates on rewards and people would not work without them. Because effort is involved in work and effort is involved in learning, equating the two is rapidly taking its toll on education.

How Rewarding Students and Jobs are Different

Again, employment is a contract, a remuneration for service. Schools do not employ students to perform services. The purposes of school and business are different. The products are different. The people are different. The tasks are different. Funding and compensation are different. The success factors are different. The procedures and time factors are different. Leaning is not profit motivated. Learning is learning; it is not business.

To add an additional point that money is a satisfier and not a motivator (as assumed by merit pay plans), answer the following question to yourself: ‘If you received more pay for doing your current job, would you put in more effort than you are now?’ While most people would be happy to receive more money for doing the same job, they certainly wouldn’t put in more effort for the exact same tasks.

Using a business model of accountability for learning is counterproductive. The comic strip character Dagwood Bumstead eloquently described this approach when he said, ‘You know, that makes a lot of sense if you don’t think about it.’” (Quoted from the Epilogue of Discipline Without Stress).

Tip: Stop rewarding students for doing what they should be doing. Instead, focus on internal motivation using the Levels of Development rather than external rewards.


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