The Secret of Effective Motivation is a column in today’s New York Times that’s written by Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz.
They focus on recent research they’ve done on the difference between “internal” and “instrumental” motives. In a lot of ways, I think it’s similar to the idea of learning and performance goals, about which I’ve written a lot.
Here’s the part of the column that caught by attention:
There is a temptation among educators and instructors to use whatever motivational tools are available to recruit participants or improve performance. If the desire for military excellence and service to country fails to attract all the recruits that the Army needs, then perhaps appeals to “money for college,” “career training” or “seeing the world” will do the job. While this strategy may lure more recruits, it may also yield worse soldiers. Similarly, for students uninterested in learning, financial incentives for good attendance or pizza parties for high performance may prompt them to participate, but it may result in less well-educated students.
The same goes for motivating teachers themselves. We wring our hands when they “teach to the test” because we fear that it detracts from actual educating. It is possible that teachers do this because of an overreliance on accountability that transforms the instrumental consequences of good teaching (things like salary bonuses) into instrumental motives. Accountability is important, but structured crudely, it can create the very behavior (such as poor teaching) that it is designed to prevent.