Since I have a little extra read these days, I recently picked up Daniel Pink‘s book entitled Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
I was interested in this one more from a business perspective, however as with many of the excellent new books addressing education, motivation and trends in business by such authors as Sir Ken Robinson and Lisa Gansky, Pink’s ideas are rife with application for homeschool families.
The thesis of Pink’s book is that the traditional notions of what motivates people, namely a use of external rewards and punishments to achieve results, often do just the opposite and may lead to behaviors that are unhealthy and potentially destructive. Citing a number of studies in behavioral science (don’t let that scare anyone off!), Pink builds the case that people inherently have intrinsic motivation and that by creating environments that encourage people’s innate desires for autonomy, mastery and purpose, we can tap into and foster that motivation.
Pink makes a distinction in types of work as it relates to motivation and this, in my opinion, is where it gets interesting for homeschoolers. Bear with me on this.
As our economy is changing, the nature of work is. There is more job growth in activities that require creativity, experimentation and novel solutions to problems than there is in “algorithmic” work, tasks that are routine, predictable and don’t really require much thinking (and when our children get into the workforce many of those jobs will have already been outsourced somewhere!).
When thinking about my own family, there’s a level of education that is algorithmic: things like basic obedience, doing chores, being kind to one another, consistently completing their assignments without arguing and complaining, and a host of things that are non-negotiables.
But I have also found, particularly as my own children have gotten older, that the real hard part of parenting is more heuristic (how’s that for a word!), things like teaching children to think independently and creatively, to take all of the stuff we’ve been learning and apply it in order to solve problems and accomplish things in the world.
And that’s where learning about motivation gets important.
As a homeschool dad that spends a lot of time at the office, ingrained in old school corporate ideas of motivation, it’s easy for me to carry the carrot and stick philosophy home and apply it across the board. Did you do your chores this morning? Yes = reward, No = discipline. No-brainer, right?
But does that always work? I know from experience that one of the biggest frustrations that dads have is how do we get our children motivated. Sure, we totally get behavioral modification, and at one level that’s fine and good. But we don’t want to raise robots, we want to train sons to be men and daughters to be ladies, and to that end, the carrot and the stick will only work as long as the environment is adequately controlled. But the older our children get, that harder that becomes.
We want our children to think for themselves, to think critically when they do, and engage in productive things that they are passionate about. Sometimes we have a tendency to believe that our children won’t do a thing unless they are prodded along with a whole host of carrots and sticks, and at times that’s true. Laziness is certainly a character issue many parents have to deal with. But then there’s our boy with whom we struggle to get to do the dishes on Thursday nights, but will immerse himself in figuring out how to build websites and stay up all night doing it if he could. Or our daughter who won’t clean up after herself to save her life, but will work on crafts for hours on end. Or the other child who will choose to figure out puzzles instead of watch TV?
I certainly agree with Pink that children are born with an innate sense of wonder, curiosity and creativity, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Not to mention the hard-wiring of personality. It’s our job as parents (a job that intensifies as we take on the responsibility of homeschooling) to create an environment that stimulates our children’s unique personality and intrinsic motivation.
That’s a major challenge in today’s culture. Not only must we work hard to be perceptive enough to understand what kind of environment our children thrive in, but we also need to be aware of what gets in the way. We need to think critically of how computers, televisions, iPods and Pads, media, gaming systems, extracurricular activities, family commitments, etc. impact that environment.
This is where traditional educational models that apply a one-size-fits-all methodology to everyone fail us. They tend to fall into error on either side of the motivation spectrum, that is they use the carrot and stick for everything or if they are particularly progressive, they do nothing more than placate children, offering no guidance or accountability whatsoever.
And if we’re honest, we homeschoolers may find that the traditional models in which many of us were raised exert a strong influence on how we approach educating and motivating our children. If my homeschool experience is anything like yours, we spend as much time unlearning old habits as we do implementing new ones. And this is where books like Drive can help us.