Dear Dr. Muttillo,
High school is supposed to prepare us for the real world; it teaches us how to be successful adults and contributing members of society. School is also supposed to be a place where our students grow up to be a good citizen, economically self-sufficient and respectful of themselves and others. The honor roll breakfast, on the other hand, trains students to anticipate rewards for doing what’s expected, going against the values that school tries to instill in us.
In order to combat this mentality of extrinsic value, students must have the desire to learn and succeed in school for themselves, not for want of rewards.
The real world doesn’t reward us for doing what we are supposed to do. Your boss won’t award you a ribbon or a gold star for every good idea that you propose, you won’t receive a gift card every time you complete a project, and you most definitely will not receive a free breakfast every time you succeed. By having these honors breakfasts, you are building this expectation that when you do something right in the adult world you receive a reward when in fact you often receive little praise and admiration.
This brings up the problem of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards is defined as a behavior that is driven by internal rewards, such as personal achievement and sense of accomplishment. Extrinsic reward, on the other hand, refers to a action that is done because of a physical reward given, such as money.
Many people argue that having rewards is a motivator, but that in whole is the problem. Students shouldn’t have external motivations, whether it be money or praise it. Intrinsic motivation, or the internal satisfaction of doing well, helps. In fact, research shows that for most tasks, incentives don’t work. In a study called “The Candle Problem”, two groups of people must fix a candle to a wall in such a way that it won’t drip wax onto the surface below. The only other materials they could use were a box of matches and a box of thumbtacks. One group was offered a financial reward if they could beat a specific time, and the other group had no monetary reward. The group that had the financial reward on average did worse than the group that had no reward. This experiment goes to show that if you reward someone for doing the expected, they perform worse than those without a tangible incentive.
While everyone enjoys a Krispy Kreme doughnut every once in a while and celebrating their success, the overall implications and conditioning of expected rewards is damaging students ability to succeed as an adult. We have to teach our students the value of doing well because of the success it brings to themselves, not the extrinsic reward. Being able to look into the intrinsic reward and disregard the physical benefits will help students in the future.