EDUCATION, DEMOCRACY, AND MACHIAVELLIAN MOTIVATION Patrick J. Finn School learning usually requires engagement and often-considerable effort on the part of the learner. That takes motivation. Educators have long recognized that there are at least two kinds of motivation. Students have intrinsic motivation when they want to learn because they are interested in a topic the way some people are interested Civil War history or chess. The reward comes from the learning itself. Students have extrinsic motivation when they want to learn because they want passing grades or go to a good college (or in the Traditional Era to avoid corporal punishment); but otherwise, they’re not that interested. The reward comes from outside the learning itself. Nearly everyone agrees that intrinsic motivation is preferred, but extrinsic motivation is much more common and it is quite effective particularly with middle-class and more affluent students. Motivation plays an interesting role in working-class schools. Most teachers in these schools do not think much about intrinsic motivation (except, perhaps, to wish the students had it), but they talk a lot about extrinsic motivation (and also wish the students had it). They repeatedly refer to learning things because they will be on the test. When they find outstanding students they encourage them with the promise of going to college and by inference joining the middle class. These are, of course, potential border crossers, students who are willing, perhaps eager, to adopt middle-class values, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, and ways of communicating and more or less abandon their own. After the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s a third kind of motivation was suggested— Machiavellian motivation. Take students who go to an overcrowded high school where fewer than half the teachers are fully certified and where barely half the students graduate and who live in a part


of town where unemployment is double the regional average, and where housing is substandard and nearly everyone is without health insurance, where they paved the local elementary school playground for a teachers parking lot. Such students are probably not going to be motivated to read Macbeth or learn algebra because they are interesting or even to get more than a passing grade, but they might be motivated to become better educated and learn the discourse of power—perhaps becoming a union member or activist or organizer or teacher or lawyer or office holder with a passion for social justice— so you can fight to get families like yours a better deal. That’s Machiavellian motivation. However, the kind of motivation described here has more to do with Freire than with Machiavelli. I prefer to call it Freirean motivation but I do like the “attitude” that Machiavelli invokes. Working-class students with Freirean motivation may learn middle-class values, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, and language, but not to replace their own. Instead, they learn to operate in middle-class or even executive elite cultures in order to beat the middle-class and executive elite at its own game and thereby address the inequities and injustices suffered by their own communities, the way organized labor and the old Democratic Party once did in order to effect government policy and to stand up to corporations and big money interests.

Discuss the concepts of intrinsic, extrinsic, and Freirean motivation in connection with the Corresponding Societies, schools of the earliest advocates of reading instruction for working-class children (Hannah More and Patrick Colquhoun, for example), schools in the Traditional Era, and schools in the Progressive Era.


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