Thursday, June 5, 2008

Color War & Controversy

I have been told that the topics covered on my blog have been too value neutral and could use a little dose of controversy (more like my newsletter messages, I am told). So, I figured I'd use our recent very successful Color War to raise a rather controversial issue. As a former Camp Director, I remember wistfully thinking year in and year out "if only we could have Color War every day..." After all, during Color War kids daven like never before, they participate in every activity, they discipline themselves, they give a maximal effort, exemplify leadership, teamwork, and sportsmanship, and that's only the beginning. Here in school, while on a lesser scale, it was no different. Our students rose to the occasion in the most impressive fashion.

So, what's controversial about that? Well, have you ever considered what motivates kids to perform during Color War? What prize, what reward, what incentive do they receive to give it their best? None. Sure, they get points or lose points but the objective is simply to win is known as intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic motivation. Some, such as the noted author Alfie Kohn have argued that intrinsic motivation is far more effective in producing meaningful and long lasting results than any means of extrinsic motivation could ever be. Perhaps, then, Color War should be a clarion call for us as parents and us as educators to think, and perhaps rethink, the means we use to motivate our children and our students to perform at their best.

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