December 9, 2010 § 5 Comments

“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”

The language plant is from the poem “If”, by Rudyard Kipling. It employs a great rhetorical technique, the Puzzle-Solution. For thirty of the thirty-two lines, he sets up the puzzle.

If you can do all this, then – finally the solution is revealed –

“Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

“Draw a picture, my little friends”, the primary-aged kiddies are asked, and of course they willingly oblige. “What lovely pictures, aren’t they nice!” Praise is lavished upon them where it’s due. But then, inconspicuously, insidiously, one group is rewarded with stickers, was it? gold stars perhaps, something like that, and they wear them with pride: What a good little girl I am; my masterpiece has been rightly recognised and justly rewarded. And everything seems fine.

But it’s what happens the next time that the effects start to become apparent. Oh no, for the rewarded group, their love of drawing a triangular mummy and skinny stick daddy next to a lollypop tree with a smiley sun shining down, this innocent expression is lost, at the very least watered down, replaced with a desire to gain a sparkly little star, or a house-point, a 7-year old’s substitute for money and fame and other corruptions of the soul.

It makes perfect sense though, doesn’t it? At first, it seems harmless enough, but look around, its big brother is everywhere. If you want to confirm something is a chore, reward its accomplishment. To signpost drudgery, sugarcoat it. In ELT, I see this time and again, especially in online materials fully able to incorporate technological bells and whistles. “Answer these questions and race to the moon” is what they hail with glee. “Our questions are so boring, we’ve packaged them up into a race to the moon” is what I hear with disdain.

I’m not some cantankerous sourpuss. I love sport and games. One of my favourite sporting quotes is by an Irish rugby player, Willie John McBride who said “it matters who is going to win; it doesn’t matter who won”. Play the game, play to win, else it makes a mockery of competition. Then enjoy the camaraderie afterwards. Nevertheless, in the classroom, I do feel that when the winning and losing of a game itself becomes the overwhelming focus, and language, or knowledge is merely an irritating obstacle to negotiate with minimal discomfort, the monster we see before us is of our own making. They of course get the blame for having such short attention spans.

The school assembly went well, by the way. I hung the sentiments onto the Walk beside me poem. I let them know about the greater influence intrinsic motivation has on learning, and how the poem can be a metaphor for everyone learning together, including the teacher. We learned some French too. “Who likes poetry?” I threw out to them. “Who likes French poetry?” I goaded. But I think they did. The coral responses suggested so.

“Well, that certainly wasn’t like a normal assembly” said the teacher afterwards. “I should hope not,” I thought.

“Ne marchez pas devant moi; peut-être je ne vous suivrai pas.
Ne marchez pas derrière moi; peut-être je ne vous guiderai pas.
Marchez juste à côté de moi et soyez mon ami(e).”


§ 5 Responses to Carrots

  • Leahn says:

    Hi David,

    Another lovely post. Interesting comments about rewarding children taking the joy out of simple things like drawing. A very complicated issue to reward or not to reward. Is praise reward enough? Am I a sticker tyrant? Making me think !



  • dingtonia says:

    Hi David
    Great post which reminded me of a TED talk I watched the other day by Dan Pink on the science of motivation. The argument he raised was that financial reward – the next step along from house points and gold stars is in fact NOT a motivator – except for a very narrow focussed task. Autonomy and purpose are far greater motivators when the task requires breadth of vision and depth of thought. Are we turning our children into narrow, blinkered agents who have lost all the joy that can be gained from doing something just because we love it?
    Have a watch of the talk at

    Candy 🙂

    • David Warr says:

      Hi Candy, these last few days, reading about motivation, looking at the TED talk, it’s causing a crisis actually. I’m seeing carrots and sticks everywhere, including in my own teaching and learning. Thank you very much for the link, I’ve read the book, but I think these videos with the drawings are superb.

  • Gr8 many Thanx David.

    Kipling’s quote on dreams reminded me of “Happy are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make them come true!” by Leo Jozef Suenens (1904 – 1996), Cardinal Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel (Emeritus).

    Willie John McBride’s saying about winning reminded me of “Some games are fun playing even when you know from the beginning you are going to lose!” by Nevil Shute Norway in On the Beach (Novel, 1957) and

    “This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.”
    – T. S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men”

    U Know I am driven by “One good turn deserves another!” and I have made 3 so far!


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