Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What will you get? You get nothing!

Last week I finished reading The Devil Came on Horseback, a chilling and provocative book about genocide in Darfur. A former marine, Brian Steidle, describes witnessing genocide while serving as a U.N. monitor in the Darfur region of Sudan. His narrative is authentic as it is written in a very readable and personable style. It is very easy to see how this haunting situation played on his emotions and conscience. If you are interested in the history of the Darfur conflict, it is a great book that reads quick and is more than thought provoking.

In the Epilogue, Brian writes the following passage:

    "Sometimes when I am talking to people about Darfur, they ask me how they or the United States will benefit
       from getting involved in the issue. I can feel my anger rising. I tell them: You get nothing! You get nothing 
       from helping these people--except to know you did something good, that you did the right thing. You
       helped people who couldn't help themselves."

This small paragraph struck me in so many different ways. As a teacher, a learner, and a human how often do I do something just because I expect something in return. Alfie Kohn explains this extrinsic motivation as "Do this and you will get that." Regardless of how much I loathe this sort of idea, upon very short reflection I find myself guilty of this thinking on a daily basis. I do not want my students, myself, or my world to operate on this assumption. Yet how often do we? Whether it is the concept of "grade" on an assignment or "signing up" for extra curriculars, do we do it because we are intrinsically motivated or simply because we are waiting for a reward. Recently my school has been collecting water bottles in order to donate the proceeds to Japan. Over the past  week I have continuously heard students say that they wanted to be in the winning class, meaning the class that collected the most bottles. Whenever I here this, I say nobody wins or loses when we help people out. Students say they understand this--but do they? So until the rest of the school year I challenge myself as well as you to move beyond the "what do I get out of this" mentality. Let's work to move students to act because of the intrinsic worth of an action not because of the perceived reward.

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