Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn is a leader in education and parenting. He has controversially written over a dozen books and even more academic articles on issues pertaining to education and parenting.

In his book ‘Punished by Rewards’ he states “Rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that does not buy very much” — [Punished by Rewards, chap. 4].

During a talk on positive reinforcement, Kohn goes on to talk about their side effects. 

Kohn makes these remarks because many educators and parents (and many of the rest of us) feel that it is definitely ok to reward children. Kohn argues that rewarding (or punishing) a child yields the same result–that children only complete (or not) a task for the external –being rewarded or punished. For example, if a parent asks the child to clean up their clothes and then is either praised for doing so or is punished for not doing so, that the child only learns to clean their clothes so that they can receive the reward/praise (or not receive the punishment). But what then happens when the parents aren’t around? Does the child still clean up his clothes?

Kohn would argue that the child would not, on average. Why? Because the child never learned the intrinsic value of cleaning up their clothes. That is, that cleaning up after one’s self is beneficial in its own right and should be done for its own value (i.e. I want to pick up my clothes because it’s easier to pick out my outfit that way).

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