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A Lifetime Searching for More Rewards

By Amanda Hefner EDUC 6304 Fall 2005

“Life does not require us to be consistent, cruel, patient, helpful, angry, rational, thoughtless, loving, rash, open-minded, neurotic, careful, rigid, tolerant, wasteful, rich, downtrodden, gentle, sick, considerate, funny, stupid, healthy, greedy, beautiful, lazy, responsive, foolish, sharing, pressured, intimate, hedonistic, industrious, manipulative, insightful, capricious, wise, selfish, kind or sacrificed. Life does, however, require us to live with the consequences of our choices.” (Bach, 1994) Reading Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards, has given me one more reasons to thank God, my parents, and grandparents for the great educational opportunities they afforded me. And I mean the education that began the day I was born! Throughout most of his book, I struggled to identify with or relate to the issues and concerns about rewards and punishment, expressed by Mr. Kohn. My childhood was not filled with rewards and other extrinsic motivators, and was as happy and fulfilling as any I could ask for. I have always had a high level of self-determination, never felt I was incapable of accomplishing what I put my mind to, and am constantly finding new ways to enrich my life professionally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. At an early age, I learned to set my own goals, make purposeful decisions, consider the consequences, and “own-up” to my actions. I believe that the choices my parents made to instill values, morals, convictions, and integrity worked pretty darn well. It was not until the eleventh chapter, that I felt some connection with what Kohn has written. Between a loving, nourishing home life and seventeen years of private school education, I was simply not “punished by rewards” as described in Kohn’s book. I believe that the real punishment of the rewards system is the damning effect on our adulthood. Children who are taught and controlled by a rewards and punishment system will not suddenly become intrinsically motivated after their high school graduation. Their lives will be perpetually guided by opportunities of instant gratification and the fear of “getting caught,” rather than morals, values, and self-determination. As suggestions for boosting performance and intrinsic motivation, Chapter eleven describes several strategies for classroom teachers to wean their students from the rewards/punishment system so prevalent in today’s public education. I reflected on several days, as a public school teacher, in which I reflected on my days as a student, and thought to myself, “We never had ice cream parties for good grades, or simply showing up for a test. Would these kids truly not show up if there wasn’t a party to follow?” the rewards and incentives that proliferated around the TAKS test dates really bothered me, although I was not clear as to why they didn’t seem right to me. Last year, test administrators were informed that offering rewards specifically as incentives for TAKS

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performance and attendance was prohibited. Nevertheless, our principle found a way around this after having scheduled a huge field day event as a reward. She simply announced the event as a randomly planned event to which every student was invited, unless they didn’t show up for one of the TAKS tests! Hmmmm… Someone saw the obvious need to stop the gratuitous TAKS rewards, but they conveniently forgot to ban punishments (by exclusion in our case) related to the test as well. In a recent article about the nationwide implementation of reward incentives in public education, several schools were highlighted for offering such carrots as a new Ford Mustang, laptops, and prepaid VISA cards of $125 just for showing up to class when they are supposed to! Nationwide, schools are turning to incentives in the face of the federal No Child Left Behind education law that requires every school to report truancy figures. Attendance is a factor that helps determine whether schools go on the ''needs improvement" list, which can force them to let students transfer and lose some government funding. (Associated Press, 2004)

THE CARROTS AND STICKS OF NCLB Although its original intent is still not clear to me, I have witnessed a significant amount of corruption spawned from the pressures of the No Child Left Behind Act. To me, it parallels the undue stress and absolute judgment kids face with their TAKS results, which cause many resort to cheating or blowing off the test, and most commonly, skipping the test all together. After three years of declining math and reading scores, our campus was “put on notice” by the superintendent, and our Principal’s job was now on the line. Since it didn’t occur to her that the way she treated her staff affected their morale and performance, she decided there should be a little more pressure on the teachers to get the scores up. After each grading period, a form was distributed on which each teacher was to hand-write in the grades and racial demographics of each student who was failing their class. Each grading period, more details were required despite the fact that this was all in our campus grade system and could be reported at her whim. A week after submitting these forms, teachers with more than 10% of their students failing were called to a private meeting with the Principal to discuss the statistics. Although tedious, it seems like a semi-rational thing for a Principal to do to keep the staff abreast of their class situation. However, there was a punishment involved—a severe one. Noone wanted to talk about what was said in those meetings, and others dreaded being called to one. Eventually, it was learned that each teacher whose student failures exceeded 10% were given one more grading period to “turn it around” or they would be put on a Teacher In Need Growth Plan; a black mark against the teacher’s certificate and recorded by the State. This also meant that they were designated as incompetent, requiring maximum supervision, and unable to transfer out of our school until they complete the Growth Plan and are “cleared” to teach again according to our Principal. Because her job was on the line, she tried to intimidate others by putting

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theirs on the line as well. Of course in her mind, it had nothing to do with three years of poor leadership. We dubbed her the “Ruler of Fear and Favors” because you were either favored by her or you were fearful of what cruel unfairness was just around the corner for you. After a few of these meetings, we saw more students on the Honor Roll than ever before! The Principal rewarded the “born-again” math and reading teachers at every faculty meeting for turning things around. Admin never smelled the book-cooking until three rebellious teachers refused to cook their books for her and filed grievances, asking for transfers. The District backed the Principal, stating that she was simply carrying out the NCLB initiative, and of course not one book-cooker would testify that they had actually done what she asked. All three grievances were found in the Principal’s favor and three incredibly moral, honest, and self-determined teachers of integrity quit the teaching profession as a result. I was not a target of the fire and fallout from the grade book scandal, mainly because I was an elective teacher and this Principal believed that my students’ failing grades did not count. With absolute certainty, I would have been the fourth to go had she challenged mine. There is no employer or salary on this earth worth for which I will risk my integrity and I am proud of my friends who stood tall for theirs.

MY CONFLICT WITH REWARDS AS A TEACHER I often found myself in conflict with my new employer’s obsession with bribing students to achieve acceptable knowledge and skills, or exhibit appropriate behavior. My class became less and less like the “public school prescriptive lesson plan” and more of a studentcentered, creative, constructivist learning environment. This transition alone generated interested and motivation that had previously been squashed by the limitations and creative interference of daily grades, lecture, and a controlled curriculum. I quietly integrated game-based learning into the technology curriculum with math and science correlations, and enticed students to achieve my learner objectives for the reward of opportunity…opportunity to learn more exciting stuff! No pizza parties, candy bars, behavior-bucks, or free-time on the computer—just more learning. Eventually, my rebellious curriculum was exposing talent in kids who had been labeled “losers” by other teachers, “at-risk” because of their math or reading scored, and whose right brain hemisphere had been completely ignored for years. The methods I chose to implement were those that I knew—from my private school classes. Kohn’s suggestions are not new! These “new” strategies have been successfully implemented in private and parochial schools for decades. However, in contrast to Kohn’s prescriptions for a motivating classroom without strictly defined rules and punishments, each of the private schools I attended had very clear rules of respect, responsibility, and performance. The consequences were equally as clear. If you waste the teacher’s time, she will waste your free time. In other words, do it now, or you will be doing it later on the same day, in lieu of something you wanted to do after school. In the public school district I have taught in for four years, teachers may not penalize a student for missing grades until the very last day of a grading period. This completely undermines the teacher’s ability to teach and reinforce responsibility and preparation. No employer is going to let a project team member wait

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until the deadline to start and/or finish their part of the project! What does that teach a kid about the real world? This hypocrisy of public education’s efforts to “prepare students for the real world with life application lessons…” and selective permissiveness does not serve the best interest of the students. In another of his publications, “What Does It Mean to be Well Educated?,” Kohn argues against allowing private industry, such as software, textbook, or food businesses, to support public education (Kohn, 2004). I wonder if he has considered the millions in donation to schools across the globe by Dell Inc? Without the large financial support of the technology industry, public education would be crippled and incapable of preparing our children for life beyond the schoolhouse. While I agree with many of Kohn’s assertions, criticisms and suggestions, his myopic avoidance and admonition for schools that model the very strategies he professes because they are private, faith-based, home schooling, or supported by anyone other than the government disappoints me. Nevertheless, he has motivated teachers, administrators, and districts to reevaluate their methodologies. Change is happening, and that’s a good thing.

The Teacher’s Efforts: All For Not? As a four-year teacher in a middle school of more than 50% “at-risk” youth, I struggle to find any means by which these children in particular can Beyond the schoolyard, their world is dangerous, unforgiving, wanton, and difficult for even them to comprehend. They step off the bus, often into a drug culture, gang turf, or unhealthy living conditions and return to “survival mode” in a world that is defined primarily by rewards and punishment. The difference is the rewards are not candy bars and lunch with mom, and the punishments are far worse than lunch detention or their name on the board. I find these children who come to our classrooms from such harsh home environments to be the most difficult to motivate without rewards and punishment. They are all too familiar with the punishment of jail, as many have family members who have been incarcerated, and many who have been themselves. It seems that so many of these kids are living their lives “trying to stay out of jail,” rather than to become good people, contributing citizens with a future, a job, a family, or a happy life. Suppose we are successful in transforming the motivation these at-risk youths from extrinsic to intrinsic. What happens when they walk off that school bus again to a world that contradicts this, and to parents who do not comprehend it, or have the skills to foster it? Parents are undoubtedly the most powerful influence on children and have the greatest ability to generate intrinsic motivation, if they know it themselves. The challenge we face as educators is that the world around many of these kids simply contradicts our efforts to foster their intrinsic motivation. AFTER THE REWARDS HAVE COME AND GONE Punished by Rewards not only helped me recognize the concerns I felt as a new teacher encouraged from all directions to use rewards in my classroom discipline, but also

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prompted a new awareness for my personal motivations. As I evaluated my own reasons for doing the things I do, I became aware of the fundamental difference that sparks many of the disagreements between my husband and I. My husband, Scott, is definitely extrinsically motivated, while I am primarily guided by intrinsic motivation. I often struggle to understand why he doesn’t want to do something simply because it would be right, make me feel good, or satisfy his spirit. He struggles to understand why I don’t feel obligated to reward him for his every good deed or effort. Most often, Scott’s desired reward is having the favor returned, which in my mind, negates the notion that it was ever a “favor” to begin with. I have hobbies, passions, and always find things to do. I am never bored, complacent, or lousing around. Relaxation for me is being outside, meditating, and enjoying the sounds and smells of nature, the horses, the howling coyotes. Scott’s idea of relaxation is three to four hours of television every evening. He is incredibly talented and artistic, yet tragically unmotivated. He could not even pinpoint something that motivates him when asked. It is as if he is waiting for some stimulus to control or direct his behavior, and he usually expects it to come from me in one way or another. Meanwhile, there is little to no initiative until it appears. However, Scott’s career as a federal agent is demanding and emotionally taxing for which he deserves much credit, so I can understand why he enjoys the escape of the brain-babysitter, our TV. The bottom line, I have come to understand, is that one of us was actually raised to be intrinsically motivated, and the other extrinsically. When making a decision to do something, I am typically motivated by one of four conditions; because it is the right thing to do, because I can (or maybe because someone else cannot), because I love someone, or because I truly need something. Scott, as an adult, is still guided by a rewards/punishment system used consistently by his parents. Scott’s parents are very loving, caring, frugal, and deliberate first-generation Germans. Discipline and order were top priority in his household. Creativity and the typical messiness of childhood were limited to “controlled” environments, and still is for even the grandchildren. Just about every want and need had conditions attached. Before he or his brother could enjoy what they wanted to do, certain things had to be taken care of or put in place. In effect, most anything he wanted was turned into a reward for some desired behavior, or denied as a punishment for not exhibiting that behavior. Today, when he wants to go play golf, he is challenged to justify why he deserves to go. It is as if he must earn every little pleasure in life, and if he has not “done something to deserve it,” he will deny himself the pleasure, and often mask it with complaints that finances do not allow for it. Surplus in the bank means that he has done something right and thus, deserves the reward of paying for a round of golf. This is quite foreign to me (an understatement!), as I believe that we need to pursue things that fill the spirit even if it means a slight risk in pursuing it. Even in our marriage, he has difficulty understanding and receiving unconditional love because of the way he was raised. Acceptance was contingent upon his behavior. As a result, in adulthood he is not typically guided by faith, conviction, or unconditional love, and can’t quite put his finger on his own reservations. The order, consistency, and governance became a comforting norm of predictability for Scott. For several years, he wavered on what career path to pursue, switching from college to trade school, to college again. He finally found his calling as a state police officer— where the order, consistency, and governance were part of everyday life. As a DPS Amanda Hefner on Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn Page 5

Trooper, Scott was assigned to the Governor’s Protective Detail. We met while he was protecting Gov. George W. Bush at an state celebration event for which I co-coordinated. In the beginning of our courtship, he was enamored by my optimism, artistic talent, fervor for life and unexpected surprises—all of which were absolutely frightening to him. Opposites attract, right? After nine years, we have created a unique balance, meeting in the middle, and tipping the scales far less frequently than before. As much as we love and need the qualities that we lack, but find in the other, our disagreements are certainly rooted in our motivational differences. After reading Kohn’s book, I still do not fully comprehend my husband’s contrasting perspective and motivations, but do understand much better the way that my own personal self-determination has developed since childhood.

MY “PERMISSIVE” CHILDHOOD We often joke about the extremely different homes in which we were raised. Scott perceives my childhood as permissive, my parents as irresponsible, and our way of life as out of control. There is no doubt that I went through periods of time in which I rebelled against authority and rules, primarily in my college days. However, the nature of my missteps was more of a hunger to explore and test the extent of my abilities, than defiance and disobedience. Nevertheless, I know that I am always accountable for my actions, my consequences, and any consequences others may suffer as a result of my actions. Like Kohn’s explanation of “Good Kids Without Goodies” in Chapter 12 pp. 250, my freedom in childhood taught me that I am the sole owner of my choices, and also their respective consequences. Throughout his book, Kohn describes the detriments of school grades and encourages teachers to reduce or eliminate them, among several other strategies for removing a reward/punishment system. This and so many of his suggestions are familiar to me, and were already part of my educational experience. From first to sixth grade, I attended an Episcopal grade school. It was two stories, with open classrooms, one in each quarter of the larger room. The classes were ability grouped across 3 grade levels, but we were completely unaware of this. The fact that we had different textbooks was also of no concern to us. Our “progress reports” were composed of several lists related to our behavior, participation, effort, and achievement. A simple √, √+, or √- indicated our level of progress toward a cumulative goal, not a cumulative grade. In retrospect, my friend Laurie who is now a biochemical engineer, probably would have outranked me on an A,B,C,F scale, but we were oblivious to such differences among us. Class activities were mostly collaborative, and assignments were loosely defined concerning delivery. As a more right-brained artistic third-grader, I was encouraged to convey my ideas and thoughts in a visual format, while my overachieving friend Laurie wrote a 10-page paper! The environment and curriculum were heavily student-centered and I can’t recall a single “reward” for work or behavior other than the opportunity to participate in a more challenging lesson. Each Wednesday, called “Enrichment day” was

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focused on art and character building, while Fridays were centered around talent development, such as piano, drawing, science investigation, and sports. In art class, both boys and girls participated in every lesson, even as we learned to decorate cakes, make quilts, or sew life-size dolls, then embroider their faces. No one shouted, “That’s for girls!” or vice versa. It was understood that we should all learn at least something about everything we can. School was my favorite place to be, and I was never bored. In Chapter 9, Kohn invites the reader to participate in a visualization exercise by recalling a time in which we were accused of a wrongdoing, the words or actions of the adult who addressed the issue, and how it made us feel. As I began to think of my typical misdeeds, they tend to fall in to one of three categories; pulling pranks on my little sister; pranks at school, or sibling rivalries that sometimes became a bit violent. Both of my parents were quite the pranksters, full of character, humor and great ideas for playing jokes on others. I came by it naturally… However, not all my pranks worked out the way I planned, and that landed me in the hot seat a few times. In the hot seat, I felt a lot less sympathy for my sister than other victims of my pranks-gone-wrong, but I still felt awful, since my intent was certainly not to hurt her , just embarrass her a little bit. What really made me feel bad was the way my parents felt about my actions. I held their perspective and opinion of me in high regard, and hated to disappoint them. As I reflected with eyes closed, I could see my Mom’s grave disappointment, which sometimes reached the level of anger, but she always spoke to me calmly and respectfully while expressing her feelings about my actions. In addition, I see my Dad struggling to speak or look at me in his disappointment. Regardless of who was addressing the situation, I knew as I sat to hear them out, that there would be a mutual agreement on what should happen next, and it would be followed by loving, caring hugs. They always heard my side of the story, and always reminded me that, no matter what mistakes I may make, they loved me unconditionally. Clearly, my intrinsic motivation and self-determination are a result of my parents enabling me to come to the rationalization of why I should or shouldn’t do something. It was not left unanswered, nor was it simply given to me. It is the very method of which teachers are now encouraged to use in schools, as if it were a new concept altogether. One must simply pick up a Bible, a Torah, A Qur’an, or any number of books of faith to see that intrinsic motivation is derived, not given.

Your Pain Is My Consequence My first priority after a wrongdoing was concern for the consequence suffered by others because of my actions. When addressing my actions, I remember my mother expressing concern for the other kid before worrying about me. As I got older, I realized she was thinking of me first, by her prompting words and comments that directed my attention toward the consequence I had inflicted on someone else and placing value on it. I always understood my own consequences, but the abstract notion that my actions caused someone else to suffer took time. She took full advantage of situations in which I was hurt by the words or actions of another, and memorialized my feelings for later recollection when the

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situation inversed. Now that’s some foresight! It meant that it’s not all about me, and that my own consequences extend beyond what I can see and feel. Throughout my life, when I am faced with a risky choice, that little voice inside me says, “If this fails, who else will be hurt?” I can usually rationalize my decision if I am the only one at risk, but not if others will be involved. And it is also important to realize that we may not always foresee who else may be involved until it is too late.

What’s Between The Boundaries I learned to respect boundaries by changing my perspective from focusing on what’s beyond the boundaries to what’s in between them. When I was quite young, I remember my mother carefully defining certain boundaries or limitations on where I could go and what I could do unsupervised on our ranch. She explained why I was not allowed to cross her boundaries, and emphasized how much she trusted me not to break them. I whined and complained that I was “big enough” to go beyond them. She responded kindly by asking me to list all the things I could do within her boundaries and how many I had already done. She promised she would reconsider the boundaries after that. I was speechless. She then said, “Let me help you. Have you already explored the loft in the log barn? Have you collected at least ten species of spiders yet for your project? Have you caught a catfish and unhooked it all by yourself yet? Have you learned to tie rope knots like dad yet?” Although it took a while, maybe years, for me to understand her point, I finally realized that she helped me focus on the multitude of opportunities within, not beyond, my boundaries or limitations, and that I am entirely in control of how many I choose to experience or ignore. Last year, in one of my Outdoor Education classes, I had instructed the students to collect an insect into a jar during our nature walk. After returning to the lab to examine the captives with our new digital hand-held microscopes, a student volunteered a large caterpillar enclosed in the jar with a twig and several green leaves. Two others also brought caterpillars to the table in jars without any other items inside. An observant student asked, “Mrs Hefner, what’s wrong with that caterpillar? He is just sitting there munching on those leaves and not trying to get out like the others. Is he stupid? Or does he not know he’s a prisoner in that jar and the other s do? I responded with, “No, he’s not stupid. He’s taking advantage of the opportunity before him to eat some lunch. Why should he be trying to get out? His limitations have made no impact on his current goal to eat leaves, so he is not going to stress out about them. The other two guys have realized that their limitations of being in this jar have prevented them from living their regular life, and they are concerned about how to break through, and get back to munching on leaves.” Recently, I heard a sermon about Adam and Eve in the Garden, and their morbid fixation on their boundaries, rather than the opportunity between the boundaries. Undoubtedly, the nature of man requires boundaries because we have choice. However, I believe it is important to recognize that man must value his choice in order to respect the necessary

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boundaries and fight to eliminate unjust boundaries.

Boredom Is Unacceptable “Within each of us lies the power of our consent to health and sickness, to riches and poverty, to freedom and to slavery. It is we who control these, and not another.” (Bach, 1977) Any mention of boredom was unacceptable in our family. There was no excuse for complacency, lousing in front of the TV, or not having anything to do. My mother was an artist who had converted a spare bedroom into an art studio. As early as I can remember, my sister and I had a great art station in one quarter of her studio with craft tables, painting easels, clay wheels, and a plethora of paints, crayons, markers, glues, scraps, and crafty stuff. My dad was a lawman, who enjoyed being outside from the moment he arrived home, until dark. With dad, we fished, rode our ponies, hiked, cleared the land, and practiced marksmanship at the rifle range. At 31, I still do not allow myself to become bored or complacent. I know there are so many opportunities for me to learn, enjoy, and enrich my life or someone else’s that there is no excuse to be unmotivated. It is the awareness of the opportunity that motivates me, whether I have defined it yet or not.

Love Through Thick and Thin “There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they're necessary to reach the places we've chosen to go.” (Bach, 1984) I always knew my parents would love and care for me, no matter what mistakes I may make. I was clear about where they stood on just about any issue, challenge, or temptation I faced. Living on a farm presents many enriching opportunities for a child, but some pose dangers as well. Both of my parents were adamant about teaching us safety and responsibility in whatever activity we chose to learn. They also believed that, in certain circumstances, we would learn better from the “natural consequences” of our disregard for safety and responsibility than from punishments. Although Kohn condemns both parents who permit natural consequences and those who give punishments, I did not learn to stay away from a horse’s rear end because my dad simply warned me not to, or spanked me for doing so. I learned on the day that I could no longer resist petting that pretty, long tail while dad was not looking. Wham! Dad responded with love, concern, and understanding for my mistake, because he knew I had learned my lesson and further punishment would only distract from the real and natural consequence from which I was learning. For the past 25 years, I have still walked cautiously around a horse’s behind because of that kick, not because my dad told me not to do it when I was five. In contrast, his brother scolded

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his children for the same thing, adding fuel to the fire by warning them of all the horrid things that could happen to them, and ultimately breaking their trust that he will be there for them when they make mistakes. To this day, two of my three cousins have ridden their horses only a handful of times and sadly, are afraid of them. Undoubtedly, the minimal control, freedom of choice, participation in consequences, and modeling of my parents helped my sister and me develop inner strength and direction. As adults, these childhood lessons of character and self-determination have given us independence that many of our friends do not have or comprehend. Balance in life skills is priceless! THE GREATER IMPACT The experience of reading Alfie Kohn’s book, related articles, and several by other authors who oppose reward systems in the home, schools, and workplace has been especially interesting to me. It has revealed to me the frightening misdirection and lasting impact of a childhood guided by the convenience of quick-fix extrinsic motivators without a significant counterbalance of intrinsic motivators. There is a real and tragic helplessness ahead for children who are guided by fear or favors into adulthood. I am encouraged to learn more about intrinsic/extrinsic motivations, how they are embedded in our lives, and what factors can bring change to this perspective engrained in us as an adult. In our effort to teach kids to behave using the quick-fix reward/punishment system, we cut off our nose despite our face. The long term effects of a society which believes it is entitled to a reward, handout, or equality in lieu of fairness will lead to a tragically inefficient, ineffective, dependent population. They will spend the rest of their life subconsciously searching for the next reward.

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REFERENCES Associated Press. (2004). More high schools try incentives to boost attendance. The Boston Globe. Retrieved Oct 29, 2005, from http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2004/10/24/more_high_schools _try_incentives_to_boost_attendance?mode=PF Bach, R. (1977). Illusions : the adventures of a reluctant messiah. 2nd ed. New York: Dell Publishing. Bach, R. (1984). The bridge across forever : a lovestory. 2nd ed. New York: Dell Publishing. Bach, R. (1994). Running from safety : an adventure of the spirit. New York: Delta Publishing. Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, a's, praise, and other bribes. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. Kohn, A. (2004). What does it mean to be well educated?: and more essays on standards, grading, and other follies. Boston: Beacon Press.

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