Beth A.'s Reviews > Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes

Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn
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Apr 19, 2009

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bookshelves: nonfiction, parenting
Recommended to Beth A. by: Laura Dotson
Read in May, 2009

I love parenting books, and I love exploring different ideas on how to parent , but this one was more difficult for me. The first few chapters are based on the assumption that no one human has the right to control another person. The idea is abhorrent to Kohn. This may be true in the workplace, but for parenting and to a lesser degree schooling, there are times when even the most lenient parent must have some control. You can’t exactly reason with a two year old that running in the street isn’t safe and expect them to comply. Some control is necessary. Preferably some sort of physical boundary.

The book became more interesting to me when he started discussing intrinsic and extrinsic boundaries. Kohn presented research that proves that when rewards are used to mold behavior (he calls it pop-behavioralism), although there may be an immediate change in behavior, when the rewards are removed, the behavior returns to pre-reward or worse. There are also many studies that show that when people are offered an award for a doing a difficult task they take longer or are less likely to accomplish the task than people not offered the reward. And when children were paid for doing a puzzle, they were less likely to play with it when they thought the study was over than someone who was not paid or rewarded. So his points were that rewards (and punishments) don’t work, and that they cause our motivation to become extrinsic. That is, instead of learning for enjoyment, one learns to please the teacher, get a sticker, or a grade. Instead of sharing because of an inner compassion, we share to please a parent or because we are praised for sharing. This makes sense to me. I want my children to be motivated by intrinsic motivation, to have and act upon values deeply rooted within themselves. But as a parent, trying to teach these values, when you take away rewards and punishment (which he states is even worse than rewards), what is left? Kohn seems to suggest discussing values and reasons with children. My son is not very verbal. I think I could talk all day and still not persuade him or get any idea why he objects to my request. I really feel that Kohn has taken away my parenting tools without giving me an adequate replacement. I don’t think that he provides enough examples of solutions that do work.
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Reading Progress

04/22/2009 page 56
14.07%
04/23/2009 page 42
10.55% "I don't know that I agree with the author's assumption that trying to control another person (your kids) is inherently wrong."
04/27/2009 page 100
25.13% "Interesting...the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation."
05/01/2009 page 398
100.0% "This leaves me discouraged"

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Kevin (new) - added it

Kevin Jackson As a teacher and parent I really do see how people are motivated just for the sake of the reward and that bothers me. I am also bothered by the lack of "adequate replacement" and so am not convinced that extrinsic motivation is as evil as it's made to seem sometimes. I'll read this book with interest. I would also like to read something that solves the 'two year old wants to run into the street' problem, or something that argues for the benefits of extrinsic motivation eventually producing something worthwhile. Thanks for your review!


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