We recently looked at the work of the Brookings Institute
related to motivation and character. Do young people who understand, and have
experienced, rewards perform better than those who have not been taught that
work leads to recognition…money, status, influence, or a feeling of
Years of educational research (including some that I have
conducted) have offered different lessons. "Self concept" advocates believe
that if you teach a young person to feel good he will perform better.
reality, young people don't achieve more because they feel good; they feel good
when they have achieved.
When I learned to ride a bike or fly a plane, there
were many mistakes and some bumps, but one day the wheels rolled freely and the
wind lifted my wings…and this wonderful sense of achievement rushed through my
The bike was at six years old and the plane was at 40…but the feeling
was the same. I can also recall saying, "we don't want to teach young people to
feel good about living in the projects; we want to teach them skills that will
get them out of the projects."
What Brookings is highlighting is that young
people with skills may still not know the sense of rewards. Perhaps we should
think differently about education…and poverty. Teach young people skills…and
give them a chance to work. Let them experience the feeling of success!