Children have an innate need to experience themselves competent and self-determined and express this by curiously and interestedly exploring the things surrounding them and facing new challenges.They are characterized by a high intrinsic motivation . In the course of childhood, however, this is gradually destroyed and replaced by an orientation in which everything is only a means to an end. This is due to various aspects of the school environment, certain educational practices as well as societal beliefs in general.
School: the way does not matter, what counts is the goal
The loss of intrinsic motivation occurs, among other things, when events are considered to be controlling be perceived. At school, where emphasis is placed on regular performance reviews, this becomes a big problem. Thus, it is not surprising that the intrinsic motivation gradually declines as the school classes progress, ie, as children grow older, they are less interested in intellectual challenges and are less likely to be motivated by curiosity to learn. At the same time, negative attitudes towards school learning are increasing. Responsible for this is the fact that the school environment becomes more impersonal, evaluative, and competitive as classes progress. Social comparisons are becoming increasingly important because students are graded in standardized tests compared to their classmates, and because information about truncation in these tests is made more public. The children are learning so much that they are rewarded for the products of their efforts and not for their actual interest in the learning material.
While the Anna, who is interested in numbers, still thinks up creative ways of solving mathematical problems in elementary school, at the latest with the transition to grammar school, she will lose any sense of experimentation. Because although she has more interest in math than her classmates and understands the material much better, her approach does not guarantee her the best grades. And that it depends on them, she learns through the reactions of her teachers and parents, through malicious comments of her classmates and at the latest when it comes to admission to the Abitur. Therefore, she will only do exactly what is required of her here. Use the default solution for task xy. Because if she does that, she gets a good grade, and if she has them, she can study and with a college degree, she gets a well-paid job …
Parents: if-then rules as the most popular parenting measure
But not only the demands of school culture make us pass the joy of learning. With well intentioned but misguided parenting practices, parents often do the rest. For example, when asking parents about effective techniques to increase children’s interest in academic activities, rewards rank first. The bigger the reward, the better the learning, according to many parents.
A classic in the educational inventory are therefore “if-then phrases” of any kind. Who did not hear the momentous phrase in his childhood: “If you do your homework, then you can play football” or “if you have practiced piano, then you are allowed Watch TV”. Paradoxically, these sentences achieve the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do. Because whenever you put two activities in an “if-then” order, the “then” activity becomes more attractive, while the interest in the “if” activity declines. The bit of residual interest that Anna still feels in mathematics, she loses now by the promise of football games and television.
Society: the means to an end governs the world
Now you can not blame the parents for thinking so, because most of us live in an environment where just about every activity is enhanced by an incentive. “If your grades are good enough, you can go to college”; “If you sell enough, you get a permanent position”; “If you do a lot of overtime, you will be promoted”; “If you bring enough new customers ashore, you’ll get a bonus.” In a world in which everything is seen as a means to an end, no distinction is made between interesting and uninteresting tasks. The understanding that learning can also be fun or that one likes to do certain work has been completely lost.
“Work before pleasure”. With these and similar sentences we are taught from an early age that work is exhausting and not fun, but must be done. This leads to an artificial separation of work and leisure, in which work is annoying and negative, while leisure is beautiful and worth striving for. And so millions of people toil every Monday through their work week. Another five days, four more days, eight hours, two more hours. Last weekend!
Anna will hopefully start her first job after completing her studies in which she has read exactly the required book and attended exactly the prescribed event that guarantees her graduation, and meticulously fulfill every task in exactly the same way again. which will take her to the next promotion. Perhaps she secretly wonders if it’s normal for her to be bored with the work routine or to lose her grasp of mathematics, but family and happiness reinforce her needing to do the same. After all, who among us has not heard of the phrase “Welcome to the world of work” when it comes to a complaint about working conditions or working frustration. As if of course it was part of life that all of us in this miserable juggernaut called labor had to spend our time. “Work is hard”, “Work should not be fun”. These beliefs we get implanted as a child and they continue into adulthood. So it is not surprising that we come to the view that life means having to do certain things. “Life is not a pony farm!”.
And what do we learn from this?
We should be careful not to transfer the negative attitudes towards work that many of us have to our children. We should be attentive in order to recognize real interest and intrinsic motivation, where it occurs, and suppress our urge to reward any activity with money or other extrinsic incentives . Otherwise, we will achieve exactly the opposite of what we intend to do: we destroy the innate interest of our children and their enjoyment of new challenges, worsen their performance, and educate them to the same unwilling robots who count their hours to after-work, many of them are already us.