Motivation and Self Government

It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curious of inquiry. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.

—Albert Einstein

In my first entry on motivation, I shared some thoughts on the value of intrinsic motivation. One of the central components of the Biblical Principle Approach is the principle of Christian Self-Government. While this does apply to our civil government, its more immediate application is in our hearts. According to the Foundation for American Christian Education, “In order to have true liberty, man must be governed internally by the Spirit of God rather than by external forces. Government is first individual, then extends to the home, church, and the community. This principle of self-government is God ruling internally from the heart of the individual.”

External motivations, forces or controls yield a child who is governed externally. Research in a variety of fields has noted that extrinsic rewards and punishments actually decrease motivation to perform certain tasks. Bonuses for job performance yield workers who do the minimum required unless some other reward is offered. Public criticism yields fear of trying anything but what has been done before for fear of failure.

The infant is motivated by few desires: nourishment, comfort, mental stimulation and physical touch. As a child ages, his motivations become more complex, yet they still fall under these categories. While it is true that we can use the physical discomfort of spanking or the mental stimulation of a new toy to control a child’s behavior, we must be careful how we go about this.

In subsequent entries, I am going to explore the eight spiritual needs outlined in The Christian Idea of the Child by Carole G. Adams. Hopefully this will lead to a more coherent, Christian view of motivation as it applies to parenting and teaching.

  • Significance: Children need to have a deep sense of safety, of feeling loved, cherished, and significant.
  • Trust: They must develop trust in the character of the key adults in their lives.
  • Acceptance: Children must acquire an adequate self-value, based upon their acceptance of their own individuality as a gift from God. Adult treatment of the child communicates unmistakably of his worth and potential.
  • Purpose: If children see themselves as having a place in history and see the events in their lives in light of a providential God, then they can have assurance for their present and future.
  • Work: They need activities that are real to them, significant, intriguing, not just amusing or entertaining— nnobling work or occupation—in order to acquire vision for the value of their life and purpose.
  • Wisdom: Children need wise guidance from adults to help them make sense of their experiences and interpret their world through principles.
  • Models of Christian self-government: Children need Christ-governed adult models who accept the authority that is theirs by virtue of their greater experience, knowledge, and wisdom, and who represent God’s government in their lives.
  • Models of Christian character: Children need adult models who exemplify personal qualities of victorious Christian character, who are productive and committed, and who inspire them.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works…
–Hebrews 10:36

For more information, on research behind motivation, you can check this article, Management Implications of the Interaction Between Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Rewards, and this article, Hard Work and High Expectiations: Motivating Children to Learn.

, , , ,

Motivation, Defined

I stumbled across an interesting entry over on Edwahoo’s blog that brought up an issue worth consideration. Here I offer only further thought and reflection, no solutions.

The American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of motivation is essentially worthless. Who can make anything out of this:




a. The act or process of motivating.
b. The state of being motivated.
2. Something that motivates; an inducement or incentive.

I strongly dislike definitions which presuppose an understanding of the word you are looking up.

Obviously, there is a root idea of motion. So my definition, which is as good as anything I could find, shall be: that which sets something in motion, or compels to action.

I bring this up because motivation is such a tremendous issue in society today. Motivational speakers make big bucks speaking in business, schools, clubs and even homeschool groups. Many of the blogs I read mention motivation (or lack thereof) as a significant factor in their home education. Parents seem to be craving knowledge on how to motivate their children to do just about anything. In fact, a simple google search brings over 2 million websites (200,000 more than googling motivational speakers).

I would be quick to argue that it is good for students to be motivated. But I also believe great care must be taken in our attempts to motivate them. All of us should act with a driving force, a sense of purpose, a set of values which compels us to action. But from whence do you derive your motivation?

Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It is your heart, your conscious, your will acting to effect your environment. It is acting out of conviction and your personal judgment of the right course of action in a given situation. Often, however, our primary motivation is extrinsic, or external. We set rulers over ourselves. We choose our course of action based on what others will think or the rewards/punishments that we imagine will result. Ironically, we seem to serve as our own extrinsic motivator as we set up our own rewards to give ourselves when we do what we think we should be doing.

Is this because we truly are what we eat? Are we merely a product of our environment? If we are successful in altering the external environment of an individual, will we be able to truly produce a better internal character in the individual? This is the main tenet of socialism…alter the environment and we can shape the individual.

Or is it because we, too, are indoctrinated somewhat into this system?

How can we go about appealing to the internal aspects of our children? How can we inspire them so that they form convictions which they will act on, despite the environmental influences going on around them.

Our sermon on Sunday related a story that really affected me. A man was beaten nearly to death in Iraq. His aggressors demanded he renounce his faith. He refused and the beatings worsened until he was finally left for dead. Friends found him, and luckily he survived. After recovering, he praised God. Not for sparing him and aiding in his recovery, but for giving him the strength to not deny his Lord in the face of death.

He was not able to confess Christ in this moment because of any perceived benefit or fear of punishment. He was motivated by a strong conviction that compelled him to speak the truth, despite the circumstances.

, , , ,

Standards in Education

I do not do this very often, but Spunky, who was so kind in her comment to me, has an excellent post you should read. It is better than anything I had considered writing about today.

All of us struggle some with mixed motives in homeschooling. That is part of why I blog. It helps me pause daily to regain my focus and my purpose in eductation. Some days do not go well. Sometimes my daughter seems to know less than she did the day before. Sometimes it seems we are going backwards on character issues. Sometimes it seems like it really would be a lot easier to just go buy some curriculum so that I do not have to spend so much time in preparation…my daughter prefers workbooks, anyway.

The root of the problem, however, is that I am beginning to compare myself to those around me. That is kind of ironic, considering I do not know those around me that well. In reality, I am comparing myself to an idealized notion of what I think things must be like in their homeschool because they sure seem to have things together in church or their two year old doesn’t run wild at a field trip or their plans I read on the internet just seem so fluid.

But Christ is my standard. I wrote this a long time ago, and some of you in the bible principles group might recognize it, but it is very relavent here.

What is a standard? Essentially, it is a military term, and even when not used as such, I believe that is the basic sense behind the word. Our dear 1828 dictionary defines it such:

An ensign of war, a staff with a flag or colors. The troops repair to their standard…

The image I have is the standard-bearer holding his colors high so that all on the battlefield can see it, despite the smoke,dust and general confusion of war. it comforts the troops, lets them know the battle is not lost and tells them which way to go. The standard-bearer has a most important task, for if his standard falls, the troops will disperse. He also has a most dangerous task, for he has marked himself and made himself a visible and desirable target for the enemy.

When we desire to raise the standards for our children, we must first be sure of what the standard is, or it will not be clear through the confusion. Of course, that standard is Christ, but we must be sure we are communicating that effectively and that we, too, are remaining focused and not inadvertantly changing standards in the middle of the battle. We must remain motivated to have a motivating influence on our children.

Then we can look at some of the specific challenges. A child who is interested and engaged in learning typically puts forth their best work without prompting. They see the work as interesting, relevant and applicable to life.

We have to keep our focus on the standard which is Christ. If we let it drop to focus on a single assignment, a single skill, a man-made measurement, we as the standard-bearer, will let the standard fall. This serves only to confuse our children as we tell them that Christ is the standard, yet our words and actions often communicate something entirely different.

, , ,

Religion vs. Science?

Howard Hughes Medical Institute hosts an annual Holiday Lecture Series on Science. The topic for 2005 focused on evolution, and several Washington, D.C.-area high school students gathered after the lectures for a panel discussion with the speakers.

I am a believing Christian who totally accepts evolutionary theory,” Father James A. Wiseman, the Benedictine monk and theology professor at the Catholic University of America told the group.
Sounds like an interesting field trip. The “absolutely overwhelming” evidence in favor of evolution is so strong that we must take our high school students to listen to some speakers tell us that “it is possible to be an evolutionist and a Christian.” There is no real conflict, is there?

That isn’t enough, however. When an idea is failing on its own merits, we must do more than try to assimilate with the opposition. We must campaign for it, appealing to the opposition wherever possible. From the BBC article Spunky commented on a few days ago:

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, which campaigns to keep the teaching of evolution in public schools, said those in mainstream religious communities needed to “step up to the plate” in order to prevent the issue being viewed as a battle between science and religion.

Hmm…pitting science against religion came up in the article from HHMI, as well. Methinks that is called a false dichotomy. While Christianity and evolution may stand at odds with one another, religion and science do not. And are we talking about good science here? Science is essentially a method of reasoning. The scientific method is a very valid means of testing the physical world. It is not a valid means of deciphering the beginnings of life on earth.

But to point out the flaws of evolution would be heresy to the religion of science in some circles. So much so that it must be outlawed. Declared unconstitutional, even. What is it about this sticker, placed in textbooks in science textbooks in a suburb of Atlanta, that deserved to be ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge?

Critical Analysis” of evolution is being removed from Ohio’s curriculum, out of fear of a lawsuit.

The “critical analysis” of evolution was part of the curriculum for 10th-grade biology classes that the board adopted when it set new academic standards in 2002, making Ohio the first state to officially adopt such language. But according to the New York Times, the board’s vote to remove the language came in part out of fear of a lawsuit in light of a December ruling by a Pennsylvania judge that teaching intelligent design in public schools was unconstitutional.

Rodney LeVake dared point out some flaws in textbooks concerning evolution. He did not even mention creationism, ID or anything else. Only that there were flaws and that evolution is a theory, not a fact. Even evolution-believing scientists will tell you our textbooks are flawed…but in Minnesota you get reassigned for such things.

Is this in keeping with scientific inquiry? Or does it look more like dogmatism and indoctrination?

Why is this debate even important? American Association for the Advancement of Science president, Gilbert Omenn warns:

“At a time when fewer US students are heading into science, baby boomer scientists are retiring in growing numbers and international students are returning home to work, America can ill afford the time and taxpayer dollars debating the facts of evolution.”

Yes, without a firm foundation in evolution, we lose our footing in the international realm, ultimately hurting our own economy. There is quite a leap in logic there somewhere I cannot quite take. There is one HERE, too. It is the leap that got me thinking about this more today.

And if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3)

, , ,

Working Toward A Philosophy of Education

Someone asked me recently about my schedule and “how [I] get it all done.” To me, it seems a bit presumptuous to answer a question like that. I only have three children, and I’m home all day. I’m not running a farm, balancing a job or caring for eight. But since someone asked, I thought I might take a stab at it and the result was a hugely long document that I thought no one would read if I posted it all at once. For those who really want to know, bear with me. I’ll get to it, but not in this post. First I thought I’d outline my basic educational philosophy and how I got to it.

The Biblical Principle Approachq2 is an approach to education which searches out the biblical purpose for each and every subject. From there, you glean the biblical principles and teach from these principles. As I was working through the study guide, which I still have not finished, I was struck by several ideas.

First was the pervasive notion of how the environment shapes the individual. The view I was taught in college is basically that the teacher controls the enviornment, or input. The teacher trains the child for a response, or output. Rewards and punishments are set up to continually lead the child to produce more and more correct responses. The whole theory of education in American public schools stands on the backs of Pavlov’s poor little puppy dogs who got left in their cages in a flood. They stood for days with just their little noses poking out of the water to breathe. When Pavlov was finally able to get back into his lab and rescue his pooches, he made an interesting discovery. They had forgotten everything he had taught them and they could be re-trained to respond to completely different stimuli. That’s where the Russians learned brainwashing from. And where we got our national educational philosophy from.

That is kind of a scary thought. Scripture tells us in Genesis chapter one that man is to take dominion of the earth, subdue it and have it wholly. We are masters of our environment, not victims of our circumstances. We are personally responsible for our own actions, despite how or where or by whom we were raised. This notion rang very true to me and is closely tied to the second part of the study which stood out to me.

This second part basically holds the methodology used to teach as equal to the material being presented. In fact, in many ways it is more important. Education. according to Webster’s 1828, involves the training of a child…his character, temper and mind. The German word for education, Erziehung, denotes a pulling. Sometimes, it is like pulling teeth, but the basic notion is of a teacher guiding a child on a path. This path is the methodology we use and it is inherently governmental. It is important to understand exactly what it is you want to teach and then analyze the best route to take. Through this, I have realized that I cannot teach my child to reason from a biblical worldview by using secular methodology. The workbooks, textbooks and endless testing produce little “Pavlov’s dogs” in human form. At the sound of the bell, they fill in all the correct bubbles with a number two pencil and leave when they’re 18, never to apply anything they learned in a meaningful way.

Where do they learn to research, reason and relate what they have learned? Where do they apply this to their developing character?

We have been reading, Mary Slessor, Queen of Calabar, in Geography. Her thoughts on education intrigued me. She did not consider a person educated unless they understood the nature of God, so that is where she began. I try to begin there with every lesson, although some days go better than others. Math is the most natural for me…He is a God of order. That is why seasons and time and numbers all have a proper order. He is without end. That is why numbers are infinite. He is immutable. That is why the rules don’t change and every time you add 5 and 2 you get 7.

I have also been reflecting on the woman God created my Little Mouse to be. He has a purpose for her. While I figure out what to teach and how to teach it, I must always keep in mind that end goal. I must also remember to place higher value on those lessons that will shape her character and temper. She could get through life using a calculator to add, but all the math skills in the world will not teach her to deal honestly with all men.

What does that have to do with my schedule? My schedule is still somewhat in transition as I continue to reflect how to educate my children in a way pleasing to God rather than man. But my schedule, or how I govern my day, plays an integral role in our education.

, , , ,