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The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes


Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-65028-3
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

 A compelling argument that the use of rewards is counterproductive in raising children, teaching students, and managing workers. Kohn (The Brighter Side of Human Nature, 1990, etc.) contends that rewards, like punishments, are methods of controlling people--perhaps a morally objectionable goal--and that, at best, they produce only temporary compliance. He begins by tracing the development of behaviorist doctrine and the widespread acceptance of its popular version, encapsulated in the idea ``do this and you'll get that.'' Kohn examines the effect that rewards have on behavior, concluding that rewards fail for many reasons: They punish; rupture relationships; ignore underlying reasons for behavior; discourage risk-taking; and undermine interest in the task at hand. The author looks carefully at three places in which rewards are used extensively- -the workplace, the classroom, and the home--and demonstrates in turn why incentive plans and other reward-based systems employed, first, by managers fail to improve the quality of work; why outward motivations undermine students' intrinsic motivation to learn; and why children whose parents use rewards to motivate them are less likely to develop a sense of responsibility and the ability to make ethical judgments. Having shown that rewards don't work, Kohn undertakes the more difficult task of developing a strategy that does. His solution is based on what he calls the ``three C's''--``content,'' ``choice,'' and ``collaboration''-- and he illustrates how they can be applied by managers, teachers, and parents. Three appendices round out his well-documented study: excerpts from a 1983 interview with a rather crotchety B.F. Skinner; a reflective essay on intrinsic motivation; and Kohn's prediction of how behaviorists will respond to his arguments. A clear, convincing demonstration of the shortcomings of pop-behaviorism, written with style, humor, and authority.