Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Encouragement (was Reading)

From: Alan Klein <>
Date: Wed Mar 17 10:18:01 2004

Jeff, you make an important point about how encouragement can often be seen as coercion. It is similar to the "high expectations" traditional teachers say they have of their students. These all too often come across as, "If it wasn't for me, you would never learn to read (do math, sing, whatever)."

You also point out two vital conditions that help cause the transformation of encouragement to coercion:

1. The hidden agenda of the more powerful person: In this case, you acknowledge your own inner dialogue about comparing your daughter's abilities to those of her friends. As we know, hidden agendas and inner dialogues have a way of expressing themselves in convoluted, but often subtle behaviors. I, too, have examples from my own parenting experience of when I was brought up short by the ill effects of my own unexamined inner dialogues. Self-knowledge and self-management are two vital traits in a good democratic school staff member, as well as in a good parent!

2. The difference between intrinsic reward and extrinsic reward: Bribery doesn't work, or at least it always has unintended consequences which are usually negative. It is also illegal!

I also know that, in the context of a healthy relationship and the above-mentioned self-knowledge and self-management, I have been able to have a dialogue with my kids and my students in which we explore my perceptions of their experience as well as the impact their behavior and choices are having on me. My younger daughter, for example, as a freshman in high school joined the Pom Squad, a high-powered dance group that dressed like cheerleaders and performed at sports events and competitions. My stereotypes of jocks and cheerleaders were fully engaged and we discussed them. She was well aware that the Pom Squad was not my choice for her. She was also fully aware that it was her choice to make.

As a diversity training colleague often says when referring to our professional relationship, "Alan and I do not always agree, but we are always 100% in support of each other." It is the same way with my kids and with my students. I do not believe that it does anyone any good for me to ignore behavior that I feel is counter productive or to pretend that it is OK with me. I also do not believe that it does anyone any good to impose my will on others. In between those two extremes, if the conditions are healthy, lives a positive, collaborative relationship in which information is shared, dignity and independence are respected, and true caring exists.

~Alan Klein

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Jeff Collins
    a.. Last year my daughter (age 6 at the time) was still riding her bike with training wheels. All of her friends were riding with out training. As a parent (or should I say "as a DAD") this bothered me (not the most enlightened feeling I know, but the feeling was there anyway). As a result, I "encouraged" her at least 3 times to learn to ride her bike without training wheels. This "encouragement" taking the form of, "Hey, Lily want to try your bike without the training wheels?". She would invariably say yes (probably because she could tell it would make me happy), and we would spend a frustrating half hour trying the no-training-wheels thing. Finally, I became somewhat more enlightened (okay - only about bikes and training wheels, I still have a long way to go on life itself), and stopped "encouraging" Lily. Well about two months later, Lily came down to my basement office and said, "Jeff (she hasn't called me anything else since our short lived Sudbury School started two years ago), can you take the training wheels off my bike?" I quickly agreed, took them off and within less than 15 minutes she was riding without training wheels. Just a couple days ago (5 months after learning how to ride without training wheels - 4 of months with massive quantities of snow on the ground), she went bike riding with a friend, and the friend's dad commented how great a bike rider she was.
    b.. I know this thread agreed to dispense with the learning-to-read arguments, but it is an important argument and with everyone's indulgence my next example is about learning-to-read. My daughter is now 7. She says she does not know how to read. What she means by this, and from my admittedly limited experience what most children mean by this statement, is that she does not know how to read everything. If she wanted to, she could read books aimed at today's first graders ("See Bill run. Run, Bill, run", etc.) She could even read the very best and most interesting of these, Green Eggs and Ham, if she wanted too. However, she doesn't want to. She loves books, but the books she loves are books that she can not currently read (e.g. Harry Potter and the whatever, Lord of the Rings, All Creatures Great and Small, etc.), so she asks her mother and me to read them to her; or we get her an audio tape to listen to the book (and give us a chance to do something other than read to her). Once again, as a not-totally enlightened parent, I have attempted to "encourage" Lily to learn to read. On occasion, I have even attempted bribery (if you learn to read, you can stay up as late as you like reading in bed). Once again, this does not work. I have finally given up on "encouraging" reading. I have finally decided to trust that someday, Lily will - in her own time - learn to read everything.

  I have realized that my attempts to "encourage" Lily only serve to point out to her what she doesn't do and to point it out in a way that makes it wrong that she doesn't do it. In fact, I was just talking to Lily about this topic. Her comment was something like, "yeah, parents only encourage kids to do things the parents want them to do, them never encourage them to play Lord of the Rings".

  From The American Heritage Dictionay:

    encourage: 1. To inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; hearten. 2. To give support to: foster. 3. To stimulate.

    coerce: 1. To force to act or think in a given manner by pressure, threats, or intimidation; compel.

  I think that when a parent attempts to "encourage", it can often come across as coercion. It can only come across as real encouragement when the thing being encouraged is something the child is doing on their own anyway.
Received on Wed Mar 17 2004 - 10:17:15 EST

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