Tag Archives: intrinsic motivation

#367: For Its Own Sake

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Here’s a question.
What motivates a person to do a thing,
especially a thing that is purported to be
good for a person–let’s say, eat right,
exercise, learn an instrument, learn
an instrument well, dance, sing, paint,
or act well, and while we’re at it, add into the mix
all the academic endeavors:
write well, read well, understand
history, compute effectively, think
scientifically, abstractly, metaphorically,
not to mention the soft skills (a phrase
I hate), of building and fostering
strong and healthy relationships
to self and others?
Why would anyone do these,
all, admittedly, difficult things?
Our system of education is
designed to reward individuals for
doing these things with gold stars,
praise, and grades. We have conditioned
generations of students to do
purportedly good things for themselves
so that they can achieve a carrot
or avoid a stick. But we all know,
there are healthy people, musicians,
dancers, singers, painters, actors,
writers, historians, mathematicians,
scientists and philosophers who did
not get where they are because
they were afraid of the dunce cap
or the chair in the corner or the
C minus. They got good at their craft,
whatever that craft may have been,
because they wanted to, for its own
sake, because they knew it to be good
without anyone ever telling them
it was good. And here we are,
in Oregon, about to embark on
the grand experiment: learning
for the sake of learning. And we’re
doing it now, not because we have
had some grand epiphany about
the supremacy of intrinsic motivation,
but because we have no other
choice if we are to make the end
of the pandemic school year as
equitable and as fair as we can make it,
so as not to make a terrible situation
more heinous than it already is.
Some people will be helped
more than others or will grow
more than others, but no one will be
punished or hurt by frowny faces
and failures, and maybe, without
the kind of risk or peril they typically
experience in schools, they may plug in,
not because they have to,
but because they choose to,
because they see the value of the thing,
in this case learning, for its own sake.

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#97: Doing the Extra Soul Credit

Is this worth any points? they ask.
And I say, of course, but you won’t
see them in the grade book; instead,
you’ll feel them somewhere inside
your head or your heart–that’s why
we call it extra soul credit.
Very few students are motivated
by this. I don’t care. While I’m not
opposed to enrichment work, I am opposed
to extra credit, in principle,
because the work we do in class
is the work for the class.
You don’t build a thing for someone,
do a terrible job at it,
and then ask for something else
to do better.  No, the person
will either fire you or make you
build the thing correctly that
you were originally supposed to build
in the first place.  However,
you might go the extra mile for someone,
or, more importantly, for yourself,
ad that little something special at no charge,
or just be super cool and caring and understanding,
and at first, you get absolutely no compensation for that
except the warm fuzzy you feel and they feel for having
shared something positive with other humans
or for having created or accomplished
something unique, worthwhile, good.
You do the extra thing because it is worthwhile doing
in and of itself.  You’re doing the extra soul credit.
It’s good for you.  And, eventually, maybe,
even in some tangible way, it pays off.

ExtraCreditSign

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Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching