Monday, October 6, 2014

Carrots and other vegetables

The Finest Fruit and Vegetables On Display At The RHS Harvest Festival Show
(Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Giving elementary-school students small rewards, such as stickers and toys, helped encourage them to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, according to researchers. A study of students in 31 schools in England found that the incentives led students to consume on average 4.5% more fruits and vegetables than the control group, and even more was consumed when researchers turned the effort into a competition. The Conversation (Australia) (10/6)

Interesting.  Of course it works.  In the short term.  But what are the unintended consequences?

I turned to Dan Pink's 2009 book Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. In writing about the problem of parents trying to get their children to empty the garbage, Pink refers to the work of Russian economist Anton Suvorov:

"By offering a reward, the (parent) signals to the (child) that the task is undesirable.  If the task were desirable, the (parent) wouldn't need to prod.  But that initial signal, and the reward that goes with it, forces the (parent) onto a path that's difficult to leave.  Offer too small a reward and the (child) won't comply.  But offer a reward that's enticing enough to get the (child) to act the first time, and the (parent) is doomed to give it again in the second. There's no going back. Pay your son to take out the trash--and you've pretty much guaranteed the kid will never do it again for free.  What's more, once the initial money buzz tapers off, you'll likely have to increase the payment to continue compliance."

How much if I eat this carrot, mom?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Excellent Sheep?

Here's a reference from NAIS' "Education in the News:"

Colleges Make It Easier for Students to Show, Not Tell, in Their Applications
By Richard Perez-Pena, The New York Times (from September 27, 2014)

    (TOWSON, MD) – “Under the policy announced this month by Goucher, a 1,400-student liberal arts college near Baltimore, a prospective student may apply by submitting two pieces of work (at least one of them a graded high school writing assignment) and a two-minute video, rather than a high school transcript. José A. Bowen, Goucher’s new president, readily admits that he has no idea how many applicants will go that route, how many will be accepted or whether they will work out.
    Students, parents and academics have long complained that competition for admission to highly selective colleges has become an overwhelming ordeal that favors bright but conventional, privileged worker bees over peers whose trials or quirks have gotten in the way of school. That is one of the criticisms in a much-discussed new book, “Excellent Sheep,” by William Deresiewicz, and a growing number of colleges have tried to address it.”

Googling "Excellent Sheep" led me to Nathan Heller's intelligent rebuttal of Deresiewicz in his New Yorker article "Poison Ivy?"  ("I went to college early in this century when the drug of choice on campus was sleep deprivation.")

This is not the same argument as Denise Pope's 2003 book Doing School, whose subtitle is: How we are creating a generation of stressed out, materialistic and miseducated students., though all three works would be on the syllabus of the same Graduate-level M.Ed. course at a top-tier university. (Pope is a prof at Stanford; Deresiewicz graduated from Columbia and taught at Yale; Heller graduated from Harvard.) 

Connect the dots and their dialog is all about the pressure and the presumed value of entrance to elite colleges in the early 21st century, and the impact that has on individual students and ultimately, our culture.

All of this leaves me looking for an antidote. 

I went first to Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak.  Listen to your inner voice, he says, and find your vocation.  I suppose my own elite education in the last century encouraged me to seek meaning in my life; to contribute to the culture, to advance it, and in so doing to be of service.

That is my aspiration for our students at The Post Oak School.