When teachers or parents make success, rewards, gifts, excellence, treats, fun, grades or opportunities artificially scarce, we alienate and marginalize the very children who need us the most.
When teachers and parents treat kids like pets by bribing and threatening them in an attempt to garnish control, children start to see the adults in their lives less as safe and caring allies and more like judges in-waiting. In other words, kids learn that it is in their best interest to keep their distance from these adults.
Manipulation that is driven by bribes and threats is built on a foundation of conditional acceptance; that is, one person uses power over another to garnish compliance. All relationships are eroded by such treatment. That means the adult-child relationship is poisoned as much as the relationship between one child and another.
Did you see how the red-headed child looked at the adult? We probably can all imagine how little the child thinks of the ice-cream man, but did you see how that same boy looked at the new boy? If looks could kill...
Behavior systems based on rewards and punishment pit children against their peers as much as they pit children against adults. In an age when we should truly understand that good teaching and good learning are inseparable from good relationships, far too many teachers and parents are willing to sacrifice their long-term goals in favor of short-term compliance.
What's more, we should all understand how a classroom built upon collaboration and cooperation is infinitely more productive than one built on competition. Alfie Kohn explains:
The central message of all competition is that other people are potential obstacles to one's own success. Competition creates envy for winners, contempt for losers, and hostility and suspicion toward just about everyone. Not only is it irrational to help someone whose success might require your failure, but competition creates a climate in which such help is unlikely to occur in any case. Researchers have found that competitive structures reduce generosity, empathy, sensitivity to others' needs, accuracy of communication, and trust. These results follow naturally and logically from competition itself; the problem does not rest with the individuals involved and the way they approach a contest. Moreover, contests between teams teach that the only reason to work with others is to defeat another group of people who are working together. Cooperation becomes the means; victory is the end.Bribes, threats, rewards and punishments are built on manipulation, and manipulation is built on mistrust. If we are to truly believe in our children and their pursuit of life long learning, we have aspire to something better than this.