Someday, I would like to go to a State Board of Education meeting and get myself a spot on the agenda.
I would bring brownies, I think. I make a mean chocolate chip cookie, the thin, crispy ones you get by adding too much butter and too much sugar. But I think for the purpose of my discussion I would go with the brownies.
I would set my platter of brownies on a table of to the side, with no note, no instructions, no invitation to try one. They would just sit there, and those who had the inclination or the appetite might try one. Maybe two.
Then, when it was my turn to speak, I would pick up the brownies and approach the board.
"Would you like a brownie?"
Think about it. Would you accept a brownie from a complete stranger? Someone you knew nothing about? Let's say nobody on the board does.
"Tell you what. If you eat one of my brownies, I'll give you five bucks." Would they try a brownie then? Would you? I'll bet a lot of people who might have partaken are going to pause, and those who did have one before the meeting started are wondering if that was such a good idea. I mean, if the brownies were any good, why would anyone have to bribe you to try one?
"Any takers? No? Well, let's try this. Eat a damn brownie, or I'm gonna punch you in the nose."
How you feeling about those brownies now? I'm pretty sure at this point many people in the room are going to be convinced that there's something wrong with those brownies. The folks who did eat a brownie earlier are wishing they had thought to put the Poison Control Center's number on their cell phone's speed dial.
Suppose I did manage to coerce everyone in the room into eating a brownie, and I made them eat brownies, or anything I chose for that matter, every day using either the promise of a reward, or the threat of violence. And let's say I did that for weeks or months on end. How do you think they'd feel about brownies after awhile? Do you think on those rare moments when they were given a choice as to what they could eat that they'd choose brownies?
And yet, our State Board of Education decided that making Algebra 2 a "required" course was a good idea. What utter idiocy. In fact, I cannot think of a better way to drive students away from something than by making it compulsory. The research backs me up on this:
"The more we try to measure, control, and pressure learning from without, the more we obstruct the tendencies of students to be actively involved and to participate in their own education. Not only does this result in a failure of students to absorb the cognitive agenda imparted by educators, but it also create deleterious consequences for the affective agendas of schools (that is, how students feel about learning)...Externally imposed evaluations, goals, rewards, and pressures seem to create a style of teaching and learning that is antithetical to quality learning outcomes, that is, learning characterized by durability, depth, and integration." - Richard Ryan and Jerome Stiller (quoted in Alfie Kohn's Punished By Rewards).
Or consider this:
"It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of education have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly." - Albert Einstein
I've gotta go with Einstein on this one. Godspeed.