Motivation, Part 2
Last time, I described the "all day recess" approach of Waldorf-type schools to the issue of motivation, which have children engaging in wood carving, finger-knitting, and movement games rather than learning to read or write because they find the former activities more "personally engaging." This is akin to a mother motivating her picky eater by letting him eat cookies.
This approach is irrelevant to a meaningful discussion of motivation. These educators are not solving the problem of motivation; they are evading it by pandering to the spontaneous impulses of the child. The real issue of motivation is: how do we inspire children with the ambition to master real academic content, to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for mature life? How do we help them to develop a deep and lasting interest the subjects they must study if they are to become informed, intelligent, efficacious adults? How do we encourage in them a love of math and history and literature and English and science?
To this question, today's educators offer two basic answers. The first is the one put forth, implicitly or explicitly, by advocates of classical or traditional education. And their answer as to how you motivate children to master the academic curriculum is, in essence: you can't. The classical educators regard learning as a noble, lofty pursuit that appeals to man's higher nature. It does not appeal to his desires and interests, which are this-worldly and base, but to his intellect, which is above selfish and material concerns. Because the idea of motivation is that the child must be given a personal reason for putting forth the effort to learn, because it suggests that there must be something in it for him, the very concept of motivation would be regarded by such educators as a selfish concept, and as such, at odds with the purpose of education.
The spirit of the traditional, classical movement in education is one of duty. The student is bound by obligation, to his community, his country or God, to develop his character and intellect through the study of mankind's accumulated wisdom. His goal in becoming educated is not a personal, selfish one; on the contrary, the very purpose of education is to help him rise above his childish selfish impulses. In Norms and Nobility, by David Hicks, a popular treatise on classical education, Hicks condemns modern public schooling, saying, "In its utilitarian haste, the state often peddles preparation for the practical life to our young as the glittering door to the life of pleasure; but by encouraging this selfish approach to learning, the state sows a bitter fruit against that day when the community depends on its younger members to perform charitable acts and to consider arguments above selfish interest." By contrast, classical education, he says, aims to "satisfy man's deepest longings to belong, to transcend his disconcerting self-centeredness, to serve the whole, and to know his purposes and meaning within the context of the whole." It is this spirit of duty that yields as the image of traditional, classical education the military taskmaster or the nun with a ruler.
This view of education falls in the intrinsicist tradition. Education, like all other values, is not a value to an individual for a certain purpose, but is intrinsically good-good in itself. Values are severed from reason and from reality, so the child can be given no explanation as to why he should develop his intellect, no this-worldly purpose for doing so. Education is simply a moral obligation detached from his life and his interests.
We have heard the intrinsicists' answer to the question of motivation; next week, we will hear from the subjectivists.