For decades, educators have warned against teaching children to read, they say — many children who are taught to read become struggling readers who hate to read — so teaching a child to read instead of allowing them to learn to read naturally can undermine the joy of reading for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.
Clearly this is a ridiculous statement (though it comes extremely close to the logic propounded by whole-language ideologues). And, it is easily identified as based on faulty logic. The problem is faulty reading instruction is bad, not all reading instruction. The statement can be easily remedied:
For decades, educators have warned against faulty reading instruction, they say — many children who are taught to read poorly become struggling readers who hate to read — so faulty reading instruction can undermine the joy of reading for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.
That's much better.
Let's try the exercise again with the lede paragraph of this Times article:
For decades, psychologists have warned against giving children prizes or money for their performance in school. “Extrinsic” rewards, they say — a stuffed animal for a 4-year-old who learns her alphabet, cash for a good report card in middle or high school — can undermine the joy of learning for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.
This statement suffers from the same deficiencies as the first statement, but it's more difficult to understand why unless you know something about basic principles of behavior. The problem isn't that all "extrinsic" rewards can backfire, just poorly designed extrinsic reward systems. Let's fix the statement up.
For decades, psychologists have warned against giving children prizes or money for their performance in school when the children are already motivated to learn. “Extrinsic” rewards, they say in this situation — a stuffed animal for a 4-year-old who learns her alphabet, cash for a good report card in middle or high school — can undermine the joy of learning for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.
The basic rule is to never use a stronger motivational system than you need to get the job done. If praise and grades will do the job then there's no need to implement a token reward system, such as cash or rewards for grades. If a token reward system is needed to motivate a child, then use the least invasive rewards that'll motivate the child to engage in the desired behavior (i.e., learning) and fade out the system as soon as possible. For example, trying rewarding with free time or other reinforcing activities before offering cash, candy, treats, or other tangible rewards.
This is not exactly controversial. About the only person who might disagree with such a statement is Alfie Kohn, but then again he's not a psychologist.
The Times then goes on to use the faulty lede to set up a false dichotomy with the view of "economists" and "businesspeople":
But many economists and businesspeople disagree, and their views often prevail in the educational marketplace. Reward programs that pay students are under way in many cities. In some places, students can bring home hundreds of dollars for, say, taking an Advanced Placement course and scoring well on the exam.
The Times has framed the debate poorly for the reader to understand the real issues and the possible dangers of these kinds of reward programs. And do you really trust the Times as it butchers the statement of its lead "he said - she said" expert:
Whether such efforts work or backfire “continues to be a raging debate,” said Barbara A. Marinak, an assistant professor of education at Penn State, who opposes using prizes as incentives.
I question whether Dr. Marinak would support the paraphrase as written. Seems like they dug awfully deep to find someone who supports the unqualified "extrinsic rewards likely to backfire" position. Especially when it's pretty easy to find an article co-authored by Dr. Marinak that supports the use of rewards for motivating children to read:
If your reading program uses incentives, consider using rewards that are proximal to reading. The importance of reading-related rewards may go beyond recognizing the relationship between reward proximity and the desired behavior. It could be that the real value of reading-related rewards is that both the desired behavior (reading) and the reward (books, self-selection, time) define a classroom culture that supports and nurtures the intrinsic motivation to read.
And the Times wonders why it is slowly going bankrupt.