Achievement Motivation and Engagement






Motivation as a Drive

Motivation in Terms of Goals


Need Achievement Theory

Attribution Theory

Self-Worth Theory


Motivational Equity

Frequency of Rewards

Thinking about one’s Future

Discipline and Freedom

Ability as a Learnable Resource

Future Survival





Motivation and engagement is the major challenge in educating K-12 students. Most teachers and parents recognize that motivation is the key to learning. Every learning theorist from Piaget to Gardner has stated that the learning process begins with motivation. Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation (Christensen, et al., 2010 p.1).

Without motivation, there is no learning and it was Steiner (1921) who said, “All learning is a three part process; first emotion, then reflection, and finally action.” Emotion is the key. In order to get a person thinking there has to be an emotional connection or attachment. Emotional engagement is age related. What engages a toddler can be entirely different than what engages a preschooler, an adolescent or adult – or not. It depends on the phenomenon and it depends on the person.

As a child develops and Executive Function skills mature (See: Executive Function and Academic Behavior) emotional attachments change. But what doesn’t change is human nature. At each stage of human development emotions play a strong part in motivation from the desire to be fed, clothed and housed to the desire to laugh, be surprised and entertained. As such, it is the responsibility of educators to craft pedagogical methodology which uses the emotions of human desire to assist in education contemporary preK-12 students.

There are many legitimate reasons why a student can lack motivation including:

  • Fear of failure,
  • Lack of understanding,
  • Learning disorders,
  • Frustration



Covington (1998) quoted an educational researcher as saying “American ghetto youngsters see studying as a sucker’s game and school itself as a waste of time. One sees in many of these children almost a determination not to learn, and a suppression of the natural impulse to understand, that cannot be entirely explained by the determinism of poverty;” and one ninth grader as saying, “Somebody is in charge of everything at the regular high school – attendance, schedules, lunch. But nobody is in charge of caring.”

As more schools buy into the research that shows that student mindsets and persistence are linked to academic success, researchers are working to develop more specific strategies for nurturing positive learning attitudes in areas like mathematics. The key, they say, is motivational in changing both the student’s ideas about learning and the way teachers approach math content.

As Lavoie (2007) observed, because we are unable to inspire many of the K-12 students and spark their intrinsic motivation, we try to motivate students extrinsically by establishing a complex array of tests, quizzes, evaluations, and grades. In effect, we attempt to force them to be motivated to master the targeted curriculum and earn the grades they need to progress through the grades. This unrelenting coercion seems to be a rather unfair use of our power over children (p. 7).

As Holt (1964) wrote, “In school, some students learn in order to earn gold stars and may stop when these rewards are no longer forthcoming. Other students strive to develop new skills for the sake of self-mastery and will not stop until they are acquired. Still others seek to demonstrate superior ability either by outperforming others or by achieving notable successes with little or no effort (Covington, 1992, p. 11). Teachers, parents, coaches, and instructors, will enhance their effectiveness by learning not only what motivates children but also how to maintain that motivation throughout the learning process.

Because there are many human personality types there is not one way to motivate all children. Just as there are different learning methodologies there are also just as many motivational strategies and techniques. In order to establish and maintain the motivation of a fellow human being, or a classroom filled with fellow young human beings, one must understand the complexities inherent in this elaborate motivation process. It is important that adults learn what motivation is! But it is equally important that they unlearn what motivation is not! (p.5)

The media bombards us incessantly with the bad news emanating from America’s classrooms. Test scores are down, dropout rates are up, and school violence is on the rise while school attendance declines. Students’ high-risk behaviors (drug use, sexual activity, delinquency) increase while SAT scores plummet in some communities. There are innumerable reasons for these statistics, many of which are beyond the control of parents and school personnel. But student motivation is clearly a factor in these upsetting educational trends. This fact should serve as a clarion call to America’s parents and professionals to focus time, energy, and other resources on the study and exploration of motivation (p. 6).

Covington (1998) explained that although we actually do know a good deal about motivation, our knowledge on closer inspection is quite uneven.  We know how to arouse people to greater effort, especially for short periods of time – how, for example, to arrange incentives for factory workers so that production improves and absenteeism falls, and even how to rearrange the social organization of schools so that students are more willing to learn for its own sake. But knowing how to motivate people is not the same as knowing what motivation is. Whatever is being aroused by the clever use of rewards and incentives – namely, motivation itself – remains mysterious and elusive. Motivation, like the concept of gravity, is easier to describe (in terms of its outward, observable effects) than it is to define. Of course, this has not stopped people from trying (p. 1).




Motivation and the future are closely linked.  As Harry Lauder once remarked, “The future is not a gift, it is an achievement,” and, it might be added, an achievement built in equal measure on discipline, realism, and joyful dreaming. Indeed, at its best, education should provide young people with a sense of empowerment that makes their futures “real” by moving beyond merely offering them a few plausible but limited alternatives to indicating how their preferred dreams can actually be attained. Since no one can know the future in preparing for the future, students need to develop viable occupational skills.  Learning a discipline – whether it means becoming a plumber, a rodeo performer, or a writer – and doing it well provides the foundation for a sense of purpose, security, and confidence in adulthood. It is confidence that propels the future and, conversely, feelings of incompetency that cause us to fall short of what is best in us.

Students should be prepared for change. As the saying goes, change is the future’s only constant. It is estimated that after students enter the permanent work force, they will change careers – not just jobs, but careers – an average of five times before they retire. Change is best handled, and even welcomed, when individuals possess a well-developed arsenal of mental skills associated with original, creative, and independent thinking. This suggests that schoolchildren should cultivate the capacity to deal thoughtfully with future circumstances that they cannot fully imagine. However, change should not be accepted uncritically. The greatest legacy of education is to encourage in our students a will to learn and to continue learning as personal circumstances change – in short, to promote a capacity for resiliency and self-renewal. This point was anticipated over a half century ago when John Dewey (1938/1963) remarked that, “the most important attitude that can be formed is that of the desire to go on learning” (p. 48).



When children enter kindergarten they are full of enthusiasm. Their first learning experiences are full of fun (Sesame Street, and the like) (p. 4) but all too soon things change, their enthusiasm, like that of previous generation, begins to dwindle and soon evaporates. Kati Haycock and M. Susan Navarro (1988) describe the “process of deterioration in this way:

For many, this process will begin very early in their school careers. Even in first grade, some youngsters will get the sense that something is wrong with them; that somehow they are not doing things right. . . . (Some children enter kindergarten never having used a pencil, others never having held a fork or spoon).

By the sixth or seventh grade, many will not be proficient in the basic skills. . . . Though still in school, they will have dropped out mentally. Before high school graduation, they, and many of their peers, will drop out altogether. (p. 1)

Indeed, three out of ten students entering the ninth grade today will not graduate from high school, a rate that has doubled since 1970 (Haycock & Navarro, 1988). Moreover, these figures are conservative when we consider Hispanics and blacks, whose comparable dropout rates in California are now close to 50 percent.



Motivation deals with the WHY of behavior.

  • Why do individuals choose to work on one task and not on another?
  • Why do they exhibit more or less energy in the pursuit of the task?
  • Why do some people persist until the task is completed, whereas others give up before they really start, or
  • Occasionally pursue more elegant solutions long after perfectly sensible answers have presented themselves?

In essence, the answer to all these questions is that different people have different reasons to achieve so, as mentioned above, people differ in what motivates them.

  • In school, some students learn in order to earn gold stars and may stop when these rewards are no longer forthcoming.
  • Other students strive to develop new skills for the sake of self-mastery and will not stop until they are acquired.
  • Still others seek to demonstrate superior ability either by outperforming others or by achieving notable successes with little or no effort.

Accordingly, what students learn; how much they remember; and how engaged they become in the process depends largely on which reasons for learning dominate so motives are the reasons for learning. Every classroom learning experience can be divided into three categories:

  • Individualized (personalized)
  • Cooperative, and
  • Competitive

Motivation as a Drive

Over the past several decades, two broadly different conceptions of achievement motivation have emerged (Covington, 1992). One (p. 12) perspective views motivation as a drive, that is, an internal state or need that impels individuals toward action (Heyman & Dweck, 1992). This motives-as-drive approach typically views motivation as an enabling factor – a means to an end, with the end being improved status or better test performance.  A drive perspective dominates popular thinking whenever schools are admonished by politicians or newspaper editorials to motivate (drive) students to do better.

The underlying assumption is that if we can provide the right rewards and enough of them, or threaten sufficient punishments, we can arouse (drive) otherwise dispirited, lazy students to higher levels of achievement. Then there is the corollary: that arousal is greatest when these rewards are distributed on a competitive basis, that is, with the greater number of rewards (e.g., high grades) going to those who perform best. Motives-as-drive mentality encourages largely negative reasons for learning, including the threat that if one does not perform well he or she will be punished.

Motivation in Terms of Goals

A second perspective considers motivation in terms of goals or incentives that draw, not drive, individuals toward action (Heyman & Dweck, 1992). This tradition assumes that all actions are given meaning and purpose by the goals that individuals seek out, and that the quality and intensity of their actions will change as their goals change (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995).

Considered from this perspective, motivation is a unique human resource to be encouraged for its own sake, not simply a means to increase school performance. Indeed, by this analysis, fostering meaningful, goal-directed behavior and positive reasons for learning becomes the ultimate purpose of schooling. These positive reasons are noncompetitive and intrinsic in nature, that is, they beguile and entice individuals into action for its own sake and generally for ennobling purposes or “for no reason whatsoever,” save perhaps curiosity.

And, (p. 13) finally, because goals are always the creatures of the future, the motives-as-goals tradition is heavily future oriented. The research that draws its inspiration from the drive-theory tradition helps clarify the basic causes of school failure today and their motivational roots. For example, whenever students are savaged by competition as a means to drive them to learn, they react in ways that characterize the current educational crisis:

  • Students become defensive
  • Resistant
  • Angry
  • Doubt themselves even despite doing well

Whenever students are drawn to learning out of:

  • Curiosity
  • To understand the world in which they live
  • For the sake of some valued personal goal

they act in ways we all admire and wish our students would emulate:

  • They become absorbed in learning
  • Committed
  • Oblivious to the passage of time



 Need Achievement Theory

The most sophisticated view of achievement motivation as a learned drive was developed initially in the 1950s and early 1960s by John Atkinson (1957, 1987) and by David McClelland (1965). This theory holds that human achievement is the result of a conflict between striving for success and avoiding failure. These two motives are couched largely in emotional terms:

  • Hope for success
  • Anticipation of pride at winning

On the other hand, a capacity for experiencing shame and humiliation is thought to drive failure-oriented persons to avoid situations where they believe themselves likely to fail. It is this difference in emotional anticipation (pride vs. shame) that (p. 14) was thought to answer the questions of why.

  • Why do some individuals approach learning with enthusiasm and others only with reluctance?
  • Why do some choose easy tasks for which success is assured, whereas others tackle problems for which the chances of success are exquisitely balanced against the chances for failure?

Attribution Theory

Beginning in the early 1970s researchers led primarily by Bernard Weiner and his colleagues (Weiner et al., 1971) posed a radical reinterpretation of Atkinson’s theory. Weiner reasoned that cognitive (thought) processes rather than emotional anticipation were the agents primarily responsible for the quality of achievement. In effect, what people think was given priority over how people feel as the prime mover of achievement. More specifically, Weiner proposed that how individuals perceive the causes of their prior successes and failures is the deciding factor in choosing whether to:

  • Work on a particular task
  • Deciding how long to persist once work begins
  • With what amount of enthusiasm

For instance, persons who attribute their past successes to their ability are more likely to undertake similar challenges in the future because they anticipate doing well again. By the same token, people are less likely to be optimistic about the future if they attribute their prior successes to good luck.

From a theoretical perspective, a subtle change occurred as the result of this cognitive reinterpretation. The classic question of why individuals achieve or not, which was answered originally in terms of feelings (pride vs. shame), was now treated more as a question of how – how people interpret events and attribute meaning to them.

Although this shift is admittedly subtle, it is immensely important, especially for its educational implications. For example, if the rational, cognitive side of our nature truly controls motivation, then educators would be well advised to put a premium on teaching students how to analyze the causes of their successes and failures in the most constructive, yet realistic ways possible.

One feature of attribution theory is its focus on the role of effort in achievement. This emphasis is justified if for no other reason than the widespread belief that student effort can be controlled by teachers through the application of rewards for trying and, when (p. 15) necessary, punishments for not trying. Whether this premise is true or not at least teachers act on it: students whom teachers see as having studied hard are rewarded more in success and reprimanded less in failure than students who do not try. From this pattern of rewards and punishments, attribution theorists have concluded that students should come to value effort and trying hard as a major source of their personal worth.

But if this is true, then why is it that so many students do not try in school? And why do other children hide their efforts or refuse to admit that they study hard? The answer to these questions lies in the domain of self-worth theory.

Self-Worth Theory

In our society human value is measured largely in terms of one’s ability to achieve competitively (See: Innovation Education and the Concept of Iteration) For example, researchers have found that nothing contributes more to a student’s sense of self-esteem than good grades, nor shatters it as completely as do poor grades (Rosenberg, 1965). Thus, it is achievement – and its handmaiden, ability – that dominates as the ultimate value in the minds of many schoolchildren.

On the one hand, attribution theory emphasizes as most important those sources of worth that come from complying with a work ethic – being dedicated and trying hard – whereas, on the other hand, self-worth theory emphasizes those sources of worth and pride that follow from feeling smart.

But why should there be any conflict at all?

Cannot students become competent by working hard and feel smart in the process? Yes, in theory, and sometimes even in practice – but all too often schools are arranged so that learning becomes an “ability game.” In this special game, the amount of effort students (p. 16) must expend to learn provides clear information about their ability. For instance, if students succeed without studying much, especially if the assignment is difficult, then estimates of their ability increase; but should students try hard and fail to do well anyway, especially at an easy task, attributions to low ability are sure to follow. Thus effort becomes what Omelich and Covington (Covington & Omelich, 1979) have called a “double-edged sword,” that is, trying hard is valued by students because teachers reward it, yet trying hard is also feared by students given its potential threat to their worth should they fail. (See: Academic Behavior)

This self-worth analysis is useful because it helps to understand what are (not) the causes of the massive default of the will to learn in schools today. Two non-causes can be mentioned in advance. First, blaming the failure of students to learn simply on a lack of motivation is not the answer. The absence of behavior:

  • Docility
  • Passivity
  • Listlessness

This is surely just as motivated as is a lively abundance of behavior. According to a self-worth analysis, the reluctant learner who may refuse to study is already motivated, driven by circumstances to protect his or her self-esteem. Thus, the failure to achieve is just as likely the result of being over-motivated but for the wrong reasons, as it is of not being motivated at all! This suggests that educators must alter these negative reasons rather than simply raising the stakes in what is already a losing game by increasing rewards for effort and punishing not trying more severely (p. 17).

Self-worth theory also makes clear that the present educational crisis is not merely a matter of poor performance. Slumping achievement scores are only symptoms. Rather, schools face a crisis in motivation. Once teachers transform the reasons that students learn, from negative to positive, the symptoms should coincidentally disappear, like the breaking of a fever. This is not to say that current proposals for school reform inspired by drive theory are irrelevant. But they are surely incomplete and certainly lacking in imagination:

  • More academic courses
  • More hours in school
  • More homework
  • More tests
  • More hurdles for prospective teachers
  • More units for graduation (Russell, 1988, p. 4).

The potential dangers inherent in following a policy of intensification are particularly great for the failure-prone child, the under prepared, and the disenfranchised youngster from an underclass ghetto or barrio. As things stand, simply adding days to the school calendar will condemn many of these youngsters to waste more time, often in depressing, dilapidated, and abrasive environments. Nor is the solution as easy as adding new course requirements or missing academic standards, as has been done recently by many states and local school districts.

If students cannot now measure up to old, presumably less demanding requirements, or pass the courses already on the books, then these increased demands would seem rather pointless. Effective solutions lie elsewhere – elsewhere being a paradigm shift in our thinking about schools (Wiggins, 1991). And what is doubly bad is the fact that the kinds of rewards typically associated with drive theory:

  • Praise
  • Applause
  • Gold stars
  • Grades

These are largely extrinsic in nature, that is, basically irrelevant (or external) to the act of learning. This means that once the need for recognition is satisfied or the threat of failure removed, there is no longer any particular reason to continue learning. Moreover, the pursuit of such rewards creates a highly noxious situation because the dominant reinforcers are negative – success is counted largely in terms of avoiding something that is bad, not necessarily achieving something that is good.

These circumstances detract from true learning and focus students’ attention on performance per se, without regard for what is learned or its meaning to one’s life. Self-worth theory is useful because it alerts us to these and other dangers of applying drive-theory notions to schooling.



The answer to school reform lies not so much in increasing motivation – that is, arousing existing drive levels – as it does in encouraging different kinds of motivation altogether. The key to this transformation is to view motivation not in terms of drives, but in terms of goals, and goals that are largely intrinsic in nature (Deci, 1975; Harackiewicz & Eliot, 1993).

Intrinsic motivation refers to the goal of becoming more effective as a person such as seeking out answers or information simply to satisfy curiosity. The key to understanding the concept of intrinsic motivation is that the payoff resides in the actions themselves – that is, the act of (p. 19) learning is its own reward. The repetition of an action such as satisfying one’s curiosity does not depend as much on external inducements such as praise or a good grade as it does on satisfying a personal interest.

Intrinsic reasons for learning have several special characteristics. Because intrinsic rewards arise from within the individual, they are:

  • Open to all persons
  • Inexhaustible in number
  • Largely under control of the individual

Unlimited and equal access to the rewards of learning is the essential condition needed for what is called an “equity game,” as contrasted to an “ability game.” In an equity game all students can approach success, and for positive reasons available to everyone.

Motivational Equity

 Obviously, not everyone is equally bright, nor can all children compete on an equal footing intellectually. But at least schools can provide all students with a common heritage in the reasons for learning. Everyone can experience:

  • Feelings of resolve and a commitment
  • To think more and to dare more
  • Being caught up in the drama of problem solving
  • Being poised to learn and ready to take the next step

Low ability is no barrier to this kind of excellence. In this sense, everyone can be equal – equal in terms of motivation. The challenge for schools is to create a motivational parity for all students, includes:

  • Everyone striving for positive reasons
  • Arranging payoffs that promote curiosity
  • Establishes meaningful rewards for self-improvement
  • Encourages increased knowledge

Frequency of Rewards

Encouraging motivational equity is not easy. Several questions arise whenever the notion of fostering intrinsic involvement is proposed. The first issue to be considered concerns the frequency of rewards.  If learning becomes its own reward with the happy prospect that, as Alice put it during her Wonderland adventures, “everyone has won and all must have prizes,” will not the value of (p. 20) these freely available rewards be cheapened? In short, who wants to play games in which everyone wins?

Second, sometimes it becomes necessary to reward students extrinsically (with praise or grades) in order to involve them long enough so that what they learn will eventually become valued for its own sake. This most often occurs in the early stages of learning, especially for tasks that are seen as chores (e.g., learning the multiplication tables). But how can students become truly involved if they were originally paid to learn? Will not students conform just long enough to win the prize, as many observers fear, and then disengage once these rewards are removed?

Thinking about one’s Future

Establishing motivational equity is only one ingredient for encouraging the proper reasons for learning. The other involves learning how to think about one’s future and addressing the question of what to teach – in effect, asking what is worth knowing as students begin to create their own futures. Two kinds of knowledge stand out:

  1. Knowing how to learn, that is, how to acquire specific facts and information – what can be called the raw material of thought
  2. Knowing how to think, that is, how to arrange this information in ways that permit solutions to significant problems

Discipline and Freedom

Encouraging intrinsic learning goals requires that students have considerable freedom – freedom to set their own learning objectives within reasonable limits and then to decide how best to achieve them. Such freedom requires:

  • Monitoring of one’s own progress toward these goals
  • The ability to plan

These qualities are rare enough, and they are particularly in short supply among children who see learning as a threat to their sense of worth. For these youngsters, something more is needed than simply providing an opportunity for unlimited rewards (p. 21). They must also be trained in the skills of intellectual self-discipline that form the essential complement to freedom.

Ability as a Learnable Resource

Improving one’s ability to think encourages the will to learn. Learning how to think fosters the view that ability is expandable through experience and practice – the “incremental” view of intelligence (Dweck, 1986, 1990; Dweck & Bempechat, 1983). Students who hold this view tend to tackle more difficult problems, for longer periods of time, and with greater resolve and confidence than do students who hold an ”entity” view of ability. An entity belief presumes that intelligence is a fixed, immutable factor likely of genetic origin that does not yield in effort or improve through the accumulation of knowledge.

Future Survival

Instruction in the skills of thinking is also critical to future survival. What is currently taught in schools can no longer safely assume that what is taught will:

  • Satisfy future job and civic responsibilities
  • Help children adapt to radically different life-styles and to a myriad of other changes

The future is overtaking our children at a rapidly accelerating pace. At the center of these changes is the knowledge explosion with its growing glut of facts. Robert Hilliard of the Federal Communications Commission estimates that “at the rate at which knowledge is growing, by the time a child born today graduates from college, the amount of knowledge in the world will be four tunes as great.

By the time that child is 50 years old, it will be 32 times as great and 97% of everything known in the world will have been learned since the time he was born.” Hilliard is serving notice that more information than ever before is needed to remain functional, literate, and adaptive, and that the range and breadth of such knowledge will continue to expand at a staggering pace. Worse yet, information itself is subject to increasing obsolescence at an astonishing rate.

As Alvin Toffler (1970) explains, “We are creating and using up ideas and images at a faster and faster pace –  knowledge, like people, places, things and organizational forms, is becoming disposable.” Indeed, the half-life of facts today can be measured in terms of months or weeks, even days (p. 22). Today schools largely grapple with only the first aspect of the “knowledge explosion” – that of mastering the sheer volume of ever increasing information – by trying to make learning more efficient (sometimes through computer-based instruction) or by requiring students to spend more time at their studies. These solutions are easily recognized as part of the intensification mentality. Merely spending more time will not solve the problem; there will never be enough time.

By far the more important challenge is the rapid turnover of information, an issue that has gone largely unaddressed by schools. Clearly, schools must do more than merely dispense facts to be memorized and reproduced later, so-called “reproductive thinking” (Covington, 1986). Schools must also instruct in broader, future-oriented skills that include “strategic forms of thinking and problem solving.”

Among other things, being strategic in one’s thinking in the twenty-first century – or in any age, for that matter – means having a keen sense for which information is relevant. As Krates the Elder remarked some twenty centuries ago, “One part of knowledge consists in being ignorant of such things as are not worthy of being known.”

Today as the computer age matures, individuals will be confronted more and more with virtually infinite amounts of information, only a fraction of which will be relevant to any given problem. Students must learn to cope with this information glut so that they, and not the machine, will be the master.



As FDR once said “Do something. If it works, do more of it – if it doesn’t . . .  do something else.” Often, we continue to repeatedly use traditional “motivational techniques” despite the obvious fact that these strategies are not working effectively. Because we are unable to inspire our students by igniting their intrinsic (internal) motivation, we try to motivate them extrinsically by establishing a complex tapestry of tests, quizzes, evaluations, and grades. In effect, we force them to be motivated to master the targeted curriculum. This unrelenting coercion seems to be a rather unfair use of our power over children. Lavoie has come to recognize that most teachers and parents adhere to a suspect set of beliefs related to motivation.

Motivation Myth #1

All human behavior is motivated. Every behavior that we manifest on any given day is motivated (p. 7).

Motivation Myth #2

The field of psychology recognizes motivation as a relative constant. The child’s performance, productivity, and progress may vary from day to day, but this generally does not reflect inconsistent motivation. (p. 10)

Motivation Myth #3

Most parents and teachers attempt to motivate children by giving rewards and incentives. This may have a temporary impact on child behavior, but they will do little to improve or enhance motivation (p. 11).

Motivation Myth #4

Recent surveys conducted by the University of Massachusetts’s in suburban American school systems indicate that competitive classroom activities (games, quizzes, tests, bees) occupy nearly 80% of the on-task time in elementary schools. It is by far the most widely used classroom approach. Teachers utilized competition in the belief that it motivates children to do their best. However, research and experience teach us that this belief is untrue and unfounded. The most widely held belief that most people do their best work when involved in head-to head competition with others is simply untrue (p. 14).

The rationale for constant competition is, “We live in a competitive society and we must prepare children for the dog-eat-dog work environment that they will be joining.” There are a number of flaws in this argument. First, the boy is only nine years old! He will not be entering the “real world” for a dozen years. Isn’t it a bit early to begin preparing him for the workplace by turning his fourth-grade classroom into a replica of a Wall Street boardroom?

Second, a 2003 governmental survey indicated that less than 20 percent of America’s workforce is paid according to individual performance (paid on commission) and only one percent of workers are in situations where their continued employment is exclusively determined by their accomplishments (sales quotas). Most employment situations are not competitive in nature. In fact, if the American workplace were as competitive as America’s classrooms, the result would, doubtless, be low worker morale. Most employees who lose their jobs are dismissed because of lack of motivation, poor interpersonal skills, incompetence, cyclical economic forces, and automation. The oft-repeated warning to children that “when you grow up, you will lose your job if you can’t compete” is simply false. The keys to success in the workplace are competence, cooperativeness, and motivation – not the ability to compete.

The third flaw in the “real world” argument is that the competition that we use in schools is totally dissimilar to the competition that the student will be facing as an adult. There are two criteria that characterize competition in the adult world. First, as an adult, you compete only when you choose to compete. I am not required or coerced to enter a golf tournament, join a tennis ladder, or apply for a new job unless I desire to do so. Second, when adults compete, they compete against peers with similar background, training, experience, and affinities (p.18).

Motivation Myth #5

In most cases punishment is an ineffective and short-lived solution to a motivation problem. Many children, who have had a history of academic difficulty, have been punished to the point where they are immune and desensitized to this approach.