Saturday, November 14, 2009

Just another rant...

The following is a two-fold response to the synchronicity that occurs in life from time to time.

This week both my masters class and my Administrators Discussion group asked for reactions to Dan Pink's Ted Talks video...

Be forewarned, the rant begins..

I must admit that I am not feeling the love for this week's video by Dan Pink. Here's why.

Pink, in his 2009 Ted Talks video, begins by explaining that we need to think outside the box to solve the issues that are plaguing the business world today. He carefully lays out for the audience the idea that the “sweeter carrot” and “sharper stick” motivation currently in wide spread use, cannot, and will not, work in today's economy. Further, Pink declares, at 12:27 of his video, that the solution to the aforementioned crisis is to be found within “a whole new approach”, one given to us by 'scientists'. Pink then outlines his three elements of this grand, magnificent “new operating system”.

He's kidding right?

No, I am not disagreeing with Pink's assertion that intrinsic motivation is certainly a desirable attribute for all learners in the classroom. No, the difficulty I have with Punk's sales pitch is twofold: Intrinsic motivation is not new nor is it as simplistic as Pink portrays it to be!

The study of factors of motivation with which an educator can inspire students to be masters of their own learning has been around since the 1970's, as educational psychologists began to combine the theories of Weiner, Bandura and others(“Intrinsic,” 2006). Indeed, by the late 1970's researchers such as Howard S. Adelman were beginning to take the concept of a student's innate need to feel competent and applying that theory to learners with special needs. The notion that intrinsic motivation is a new fangled 'fix' annoys me to no end.

Distressing as Pink's claim of a 'new panacea' may be, it is his assertion that the 'new operating system' is so very easy to implement that truly sends me around the bend. If simply knowing that we should find our motivation from within was all that was required, educators would most certainly have told the students seated before them this fantastic piece of information, thereby avoiding the last thirty years spent disciplining students, imploring learners to reach for new heights and repeatedly insisting that 'Yes, this assignment really does need to be completed'!

The notion that simply by releasing individuals from their required duties and creativity will spring forth, that unbridled passion will be the result of free time, leaves me, well, utterly gob-smacked. Engaging students takes time, effort, and lots of planning. It is a grave injustice to all hard working teachers to claim that intrinsic motivation can come simply and easily to the classroom. This notion undermines the effort required as anyone who has spent any time in the education of children will tell you that the factors that contribute to the ability to motivate children is truly mind boggling. Each student brings with them into the classroom a unique background, both culturally and genetically. No two children are really alike, no one motivational strategy will work for all learners.

The harsh reality of the current educational system in place today is that confined within the walls of the average classroom is a wide divergence of student abilities combined with an overwhelming amount of curriculum that must be taught, a truth that is neither pleasant nor preferred. Yes, teachers strive daily to encourage and enable all their students. Yes, many strategies are implemented with internal motivation as the ultimate goal. No, unfortunately, not all learners will ever share the same drive and determination as others in the classroom. No matter what the salesman declares, snake oil is just that, snake oil...

Adelman, H. (1978). The Concept of intrinsic motivation: implications for practice and research with the learning disabled. Learning Disability Quarterly, 1(2), 43-54.

Intrinsic Motivation. (n.d.) Retrived November 12, 2009, from the Psychology Wiki:

TED Talks. (2009, August). Dan Pink on the Surprising Science of Motivation. Retrieved November 8, 2009, from