Rewards & Punishments

As adults, we spend a lot of time trying to think of ways in which we can handle or control a situation or a child. Often, we resort to tricks and techniques, little exercises that involve rewards and punishments. It's hard not to go down that path. It feels so easy and natural. Our society seems to be predicated on this model. It exists in schools and sports. Music too. So many systems employ these procedures: if you do x you will get y. Yet, there must be another way, a way that makes it less about us and more about the child. A system where motiviation is internal, not based on external prompts.

In her 1913 Rome Lectures, Maria Montessori points the way: "Serving children in a way that robs them of their independence has been shown to be a kind of seduction which almost imperceptibly leads away from the true paths of life - and for this very reason it can be seen as the first fundamental injury to freedom. In society we find something less subtle, something brutal, which also acts in the same way. It is the outward sign of a kind of slavery, namely, prizes and punishments, which our schools employ to lead children to do what we think is best for them."

Montessori takes rewards and punishments very seriously. She even calls them an assault on our freedom. Why? Well, because it shifts the focus. It imprisons us, she says. Instead of engaging in an activity because you are interested in learning about it, you are now pursuing the work because you were instructed to or because you were conditioned to anticipate the judgement of praise when you finish the task. It no longer becomes a passion, it becomes a chore. Imagine, instead, that you engage in and accomplish a task because it's something you love. What a different world....