237. The Carrot on the Stick

Ideally, people learn because that’s what they want to do. The work they need to do in order to learn may not even feel like work; the learners may enjoy the process about as much as they enjoy the product. Teachers have strategies to motivate learners, but there are sublime times when those strategies prove unnecessary. The subject matter, the materials, and/or the activities are so interesting, practical, and/or fun that learners are raring to go.
That’s the ideal, and it often happens. Occasionally, one or two children don’t feel motivated while the rest of the class does, but it’s easier to deal with them than to convince a larger reticent group that a lesson is going to be fun; when peer pressure works for a teacher, it can be a formidable ally. Either the mavericks will join the herd, or they can stand on the sidelines and watch the party. Either way, some learning happens, at least through osmosis.
But sometimes, more is needed. I’ve bribed classes to learn some things I couldn’t figure out how to make fun. Sometimes I told them we’d have a party the day after everyone had learned certain multiplication facts. When I directed a play, I said I’d order pizza for the cast the day after everyone knew their lines. These bribes were not examples of the best in educational theory, and I tried not to use bribes too often, but they worked.
Yesterday, I bribed myself. Maybe “blackmailed” is a better word for what I did. Knowing how much I enjoy writing these articles, and how little I enjoy thinking about and tending tn o practical matters, I told myself and several friends that I would not write another article until I had read twenty pages of The 1996 Guide to Literary Agents. It took me a day of pouting to get to it, but I read the twenty pages, and now I can write again.
It would be better if my motive for reading the book were a little more pure – if I honestly wanted to read it so that I’d know more about the things I’d need to do to get my book published. But I have a mental block about that kind of practical thinking; I have built a better mousetrap, and I want the world to beat a path to my doorstep. If the world isn’t ready to do that, it’s the world’s loss.
We all learn some things that we don’t necessarily start out intending or even wanting to learn. The learning process isn’t necessarily fun, and so we have to have reasons for doing it anyway. Sooner or later, (sooner, for young children) there has to be some reward for the work we do, or we’ll stop doing it, and be wary about even starting next time.

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