My (Not-So-Mainstream) Position about Middle School Education

Nobo Komagata

October 1, 2016 (my favorite quotes added on the other side: November 23, 2016)

Goal

My view of the goal of primary and secondary education (both at home and at school) is to guide children to be peaceful. That is, I hope that all the children be free from fear and hatred, full of kindness and compassion, and willing to take part in building a peaceful community. Virtually all other areas, including academics, are important only in support of cultivating the children’s inner peace. If we are preoccupied with our own children’s “success” with respect to academic and other achievements, this can lead to a lot of suffering in this world.

Motivation

The most important point of education must be to respect students’ intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivators, such as fear of punishment, attraction to prizes, and winning a competition, would undermine their intrinsic motivation. Unfortunately, since the current practice of using extrinsic motivators is so deep-rooted, many teachers and parents are not even aware of their detrimental effects. For example, the systematic use of material rewards employed in PBS/PBIS would ruin students’ intrinsic motivation and help encourage obedience, as discussed in one of my essays (http://nobo.komagata.net/pub/Komagata13-PBS.html). I also believe that learning occurs only when students are in charge. Even various adolescent and youth problems, including drug addiction, seem to stem from excessive control by adults and not letting children practice good decision making on their own. Then, the best tool during this transitional period must be our trust towards children, not our agenda forced on them.

Homework

Especially at the elementary and middle school levels, I am against giving homework. Research shows that homework does not enhance students’ academic ability at these levels. Rather, homework can permanently damage students’ inherent interest in the subject by forcing children to do the work when they are not willing. I occasionally say to my daughter, “If you don’t feel like doing homework, you don’t need to do it. I will write a note to the teacher.” Note that by not doing homework, we will accept the consequences (e.g., lower grades or even harsher ones), which are not at all our concern. It seems to be more important to save children’s genuine interest in the subject so that when the time comes, they are still willing to learn it with interest.

Standardized Tests

As I believe that high-stake standardized tests are obstacles to students’ intrinsic motivation to learn, I am strongly against them. I actually say to my daughter, “when you take a test, don't’ take it seriously.” I have been discussing this point with my daughter and she makes her own decision regarding to whether to take such tests (she did take those tests in the previous years).

Sample references: Beyond measure by Vicki Abeles; Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn; On becoming a person by Carl Rogers; The happy child by Steven Harrison.

My farorite quotes: