Punished by Rewards: The
Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
Kah Ying Choo
book by Alfie Kohn
strikes at the heart of the conventional rewards system that is
entrenched in our schools and our society.
rewards require little effort to administer and yield
results, they do not address the underlying problems that will remain
unresolved in the long run. Kohn identifies five key problems with
the use of rewards:
The rewards system is basically used as
a controlling tool to elicit desirable behavior.
Students who feel that their teachers control them will not develop a
natural incentive to study.
system intensifies the imbalance of power, and thus increases the distance between teachers and
students. Knowing that their teachers are always judging their
work will generate feelings of anxiety and stress, thus lowering the
quality of their performance.
The use of the
rewards system does not address the underlying causes
of the problem.
rewards system undermines creativity and innovation by rewarding individuals who conform to
expected standards of behavior.
Ultimately, the rewards system destroys people's enjoyment of activities
and replaces intrinsic
motivation with extrinsic motivation. Essentially, when people are
intrinsically motivated to perform tasks, they do not need to be given a
reward for doing so.
||According to Kohn, even
praise may have a negative
impact on children's performances. Fundamentally, praise
cultivates the children's dependency on the opinions of others.
Children who are overpraised perform in order to please their parents or
other adult figures. In the long run, they lose their sense of
identity and intrinsic motivation for performing activities they once
In contrast to the tacit control imposed by the rewards system, the three Cs -
content, collaboration and choice - provide alternative guidelines for
dealing with non-compliance of children. First, educators and
other adults must consider whether the content is developmentally
appropriate. Such content should meet the needs and
|interests of the children. Second,
collaboration should be encouraged, thereby empowering children, and
encouraging their involvement in the learning experience. Finally,
choice is a component that enables children to take part in the
Ultimately, Kohn has painted a powerful
children who will grow up to become
responsible and intrinsically motivated adults. Their self-image
will not be dependent on rewards and praises from authority figures.
Rather, they will possess the passion and strength necessary for their
vocation in life. This future, however, can only be realized if
the current rewards system is replaced by an alternative perspective
that truly nurtures the growth of young children.
Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by
rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and
other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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