Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Must Read for newbie unschoolers

A few weeks ago, Chloe and I attended a talk by Blake Boles. He's a staffer at NBTSC and an advocate for unschooling and teen (ad)ventures of any stripe. During his talk, he recommended Drive by Daniel H. Pink. I put a hold on it at the library and have been waiting my turn.

Well, I started reading it tonight, in between trick-or-treaters and football plays. In the first few pages, I found all the reassurance I would have needed back when I was a newbie unschooling mom.

You should read the book. But I think this is too important not to summarize.

In the 40s, Harry Harlow and a couple of other researchers gave some rhesus monkeys some mechanical puzzles to play with. Their intent was to give the monkeys time to get acquainted/comfortable with the puzzles before they began testing their ability to learn to work the puzzles. They thought that without basic-needs motivation (food, water, sex) or extrinsic motivation (punishment or rewards), the monkeys wouldn't learn. What happened instead was that the monkeys learned to work the puzzles just fine, thank you very much. Just because it was fun to work the puzzles. Just because they were curious.

This was a major psychological and cognitive discovery: intrinsic motivation not only exists but works.

But what really surprised the researchers, and what would have made a big difference to my nervous newbie self, was that when they began their formal study of the monkeys' learning and began to introduce rewards, the monkeys' performance got worse. Harlow wrote, "Introduction of food in the present experiment served to disrupt performance..."

For some reason (and maybe Pink attempts to explain it later in the book), our educational system has completely ignored this research. Our educational system is entirely based on extrinsic motivation.

But unschooling? Unschooling is entirely based on intrinsic motivation.


Update 11:09 p.m. -- A friend directed me to this cool animation based on Drive.


Penta Mom said...

Sweet! I had never heard of that book. Will see if our library has it. Mostly so it will sit with my huge pile of "want to read" books! :)

Lylawolf said...

awesome. and alfie kohn talks about the same results from similar studies of humans, as well, in "punished by rewards"

Cynthia said...

Going to check that book out. This is the second time Harry Harlow has been in my attention span in the past few days.

I just listened to the latest episode of This American Life. This weeks episode was about love, specifically love between and parent and a child. The opening segment was about Harry Harlow's research to determine that children need love more than they need sustenance.


Wendy Priesnitz said...

I have been pointing unschoolers to this book for awhile now. I think it's a really important book, partly because it connects the life learning philosophy with people and ideas that would normally be outside its realm. Am seeing this happen a lot these days, which makes me very positive for the future. Also check out Seth Godin's work. Life learning people are so well positioned to thrive!

~Tara said...

"Introduction of food in the present experiment served to disrupt performance..."

this line made me smile. reads a little like feeding them was the issue (instead of bribing them with food). lol

denise said...

Too funny --- we are actually (my husband and I) reading that RIGHT NOW! :)

Robin B. said...

Shonna, if I'd read this before I left the house, I would've brought my copy for you to read!

"Drive" has a link to Sandra's radical unschooling site, too .