Wednesday, August 22, 2018


As much of the rest of country is heading back to school, I'm seeing a number of articles and discussion threads about the latest and greatest ways to motivate students. This is not something play-based educators need to think about, of course, because the children we teach are, always, self-motivated.

Perhaps the trendiest of "motivators" is what folks are calling "gamification," which is essentially the idea that teachers who have boring things they must teach, which is to say, things most children have no interest in learning, are to figure out a way to make a game of it and, Ta-da! the children are tricked into learning it. What an alien concept for those of us who spend our days watching the children themselves create their own games, infusing them with the ideas and concepts they themselves want to explore.

Indeed, children have been gamifiying their learning for as long as there have been children. The hubristic notion that adults can devise better "educational" games that children is absurd, even if they are "video games." This is exactly what I'm writing about when I warn about those who try to disguise their distrust of children with phrases like "play with a purpose," attempting to steal play away from the experts, children, in order to exert their power over what, when, and how these young humans learn.

Gamification is just the latest, sweetest carrot in the control-freak game of carrot and stick. Carrots and sticks are for motivating stubborn mules to pull heavy loads. The fact that we've managed to turn learning, something that we do joyfully from the moment we are born, into a heavy load should tell us all we need to know.

Children are born to eager learn and they do that naturally, instinctively through their play. If you find you must "motivate" children to learn then you are simply doing it the hard way, the wrong way, the way that will ultimately burn them out and leave many, if not most, completely de-motivated by the time they hit middle school. "Eduction" that is not about freeing children to follow their curiosity, their interests, to ask and answer their own questions, isn't education at all, but rather as I wrote about yesterday, an exercise in institutional power, one designed not to educate children, but simply to make them "normal," a misguided (even cruel) attempt to fill all of their heads with the same pre-approved "knowledge."

I have been teaching young children for a long time, no two alike, each of them uniquely curious about their world, each of them motivated to satisfy that curiosity, and each of them fully capable of discovering their own truth without being tricked by a carrot or beaten by a stick.

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