This quote could be used to describe any idea that we come to mindlessly accept as a given truth, but when Alfie Kohn wrote these words in his book Punished by Rewards, he was referring to Behaviourism.
Behaviourism is the belief that everything we are can be reduced to our behaviours.
It has infected our homes and schools.
And, for the most part, we don't even know it.
When parents and teachers choose to do things to children, we are subscribing to behaviourism. For example, if I use bribes or threats (rewards and punishments) to make children do their homework, their chores, be polite or even to learn - I am really saying that I don't care why they do what I want them to do - it is good enough if they just behave it.
Alfie Kohn, and many others, including me, propose a better way. Rather than doing things to children, we would rather see parents and teachers work with their children.
Rather than ripping my child away from the play area after they stole another child's toy, I might sit with them for a moment and model or discuss the proper way of sharing. Rather than giving my students zeroes or deduct late marks from their late assignments, I would work with them to find out why it was late and then help them to actually learn whatever it was that I found important enough to make into an assigment.
For more on how to work with children, rather than just doing things to them, I have a couple books to suggest to you:
- Unconditional Parenting, Punished by Rewards and Beyond Discipline by Alfie Kohn
- Drive by Daniel Pink
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- Hold on to your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate
- Kids are Worth It! by Barbara Coloroso
Working with > Doing things to. Period.