Alfie Kohn on making good choices

I just reread Alfie Kohn’s How Not to Teach Values.  It’s a long dense piece, but well worth the read in my opinion.  Here’s a highlight: “If you begin with the premise that ‘good conduct is not our natural first choice,’ then the best you can hope for is ‘the development of good habits’ – that is, a system that gets people to act unthinkingly in the manner that someone else has deemed appropriate.”

The same could be said of learning anything (he refers to the academic parallel earlier in the piece).  If we assume that people are naturally resistant to learning, the best we can hope for is to compel them to do it in spite of themselves (and usually in exchange for some reward that will undermine its benefit).

If we assume (and anyone who has watched a child learn to walk or talk has plenty of evidence to support this assumption) that people are naturally interested in learning, in navigating their surroundings and accumulating tools for further navigation and mastery, then a whole world of opportunity for depth and breadth of inquiry and accomplishment opens up that isn’t available in the context of an assumption of natural resistance.