By Alfie Kohn, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999, 0-618-00181-6

This book was mentioned in the bib Extreme Programing 2 ed. I tried some of the ideas out, and some worked, but many didn’t. I’m not convinced you get past the “Little Adult” assumption by assuming kids are motivated intrinsically from the start. The book is thought-provoking, however.

The main theme is that external (dis)incentives don’t internalize motivation in children (or adults). Extrinsic motivation stays external, and when eliminated, sometimes causes worse performance than before it was introduced. Random rewards work better than constant rewards. Group rewards can penalize non-performing members. In summary, intrinsic motivation is hard, and shortcuts don’t help.

[p231] punishment teaches about the use of power, not about how or why to behave properly. The second rationale, reflecting as it does a value about what should be done, cannot be disproved by evidence. But it makes sense to probe this belief to see what it rests on. My impression that the commitment to punishing children typically reflects a fear that the failure to respond this way will mean that they “got away with something.”

If we dig still further, we find that this perception upsets us for two reasons. First, it implies that the child has “won.” Our authority has been challenged, and the more we construe a relationship as a battle for power, the more wildly we will lash out to preserve that power. Second, we are concerned the child will come away thinking he can repeat whatever it was he did. This concern, in turn, betrays a particular assumption about children’s motives, namely that a child is inclined to do what he can get away with and will keep doing it until forcibly restrained. Ultimately, our need to punish (or dread of not punishing) is predicated on a tacit theory of human nature.

[p239] Children are more likely to grow into caring people if they know they themselves are cared about. A warm, nurturing environment is the sine qua non of positive development. (It also turns out to be useful for the more limited goal of getting children to do what we ask.) If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow. If they are taken seriously, they can respect others. If their emotional needs are met, they have the luxury of being able to meet other people’s needs. Deprived of these things, however, they may spend their lives doing psychological damage control.

[p243] Attributing to a child the best possible motive that is consistent with the facts may set in motion another of those “auspicious” circles. We help children develop good values by assuming whenever possible that they are already motivated by these values, rather than by explaining an ambiguous action in terms of a sinister desire to make our lives miserable.