Sunday, July 12

negative schooling preparing for the negative future

When you have it spelt out like this, it's difficult not to see the ridiculousness of it all.
Thanks to Debs for sharing the article.

The BGUTI principle -- “Better Get Used To It”.

* Traditional grading has been shown to reduce quality of learning, interest in learning, and preference for challenging tasks. But the fact that students’ efforts will be reduced to a letter or number in the future is seen as sufficient justification for giving them grades in the present.

* The available research fails to find any benefit, either academic or attitudinal, to the practice of assigning homework to elementary school students. Yet even educators who know this is true often fall back on the justification that homework – time-consuming, anxiety-provoking, and pointless though it may be -- will help kids get used to doing homework when they’re older. One researcher comes close to saying that the more unpleasant (and even unnecessary) the assignment, the more valuable it is by virtue of teaching children to cope with things they don’t like.

* Setting children against one another in contests, so that one can’t succeed unless others fail, has demonstrably negative effects -- on psychological health, relationships, intrinsic motivation, and achievement – for winners and losers alike. No matter: Young children must be made to compete because – well, you get the idea.

I realize, of course, that many readers regard these practices as desirable in their own right. They may believe that competitive struggle brings out the best in children, that grading students is a constructive form of evaluation, that standardized tests accurately assess the most important aspects of learning, or that, after a full day in school, kids ought to take home more assignments regardless of whether the data show any advantage to doing so. My beef here isn’t with people who hold such beliefs. It’s with those who admit these practices may be damaging (my emphasis) but defend them on BGUTI grounds.

...the most important, though rarely articulated, assumption on which BGUTI rests – that, psychologically speaking, the best way to prepare kids for the bad things they’re going to encounter later is to do bad things to them now.

© Alfie Kohn
Full article here.


  1. wow, what a good and hugely important post! thank you for bringing up these issues. they are concerns i have as well.

  2. Interesting article, thank you for sharing. 'You better get used it'... I don't like that term at all. I heard it so often growing up. And I think I may have used it myself in the past. ACK! There is nothing worse than realizing you are making the same mistake that your parents did. And I love the John Holt quote within the article.

    This gives me a lot to think about.

  3. I love Alfie Kohn. I only discovered him recently, but so far I've appreciated everything of his that I've read!

  4. I used to be a secondary school teacher. To be fair to the profession, grading is out of fashion except for final exams like GCSEs. I never graded a piece of homework. And pitting students aganst each other in "contests" is also discouraged. For god's sake, we were even encouraged to mark in green pen because it was less aggressive than red. But I do agree that homework for primary (elementary) school children is ridiculous. They should be having fun, riding their bikes and running around like we used to [peering through my rose tinted glasses].

  5. Apart from all the crap ways that schooling encourages dependance on something outside of self and all that, I think what is the whole mainstream school system set up for? To control and perpetuate an economy where it's all about competing against each other and earning something abstract not necessarily of real value to living? This inadvertently disconnects family, teaches competition where there are always winner and losers, and a pseudo notion of what 'success' is, etc,etc...

    I think generally what I learned in school was a complete waste of time and completely removed from what is meaningful in my everyday life! Of course this is probably also because I went to crap schools. Nowadays it seems that school (in NZ anyway) is much different and progressive, esp. with Inquiry Based Learning.
    All the things I've needed to learn for my life as it is now, did not come from school, but from when I chose myself, according to what I need and that which is meaningful to me. The article talks about it and the significance of learning what is necessary to learn as part of simply living and that this does not need to be 'taught'.
    University was great for me, having the freedom to choose what I was naturally interested in, purely for the fun of it, not for a job or qualification at the end. On top of that, the 'school of life' - biggest teacher!

    Did you hear about the 'Great Canadian Homework' ban? I don't know where that's at, but it got into mainstream media a few years ago and must have shifted something to some degree....

    On another note, the in-laws are much trickier to deal with, there's no way I could have a conversstion like I did with an inlaw I think...luckily they're pretty great :)

  6. I always smile at the class of homeschooled teenagers I teach. Most of them have been at school at least once in the past. They ASK me to grade their work! And even when I tell them the grades will only be in relation to their own standard of ability, they rush around comparing marks and sorting themselves into a hierarchy of success. So every now and then I give a "not so successful" child a bigger grade than they expect, and an "always successful" child a barely-made-it grade, just to stir them up!!

    They also want to know dates. I'm teaching them history at the moment and every five minutes they're asking me for dates. I try to tell them dates aren't as important as people, but they want all that bitsy boring stuff that they can memorise and recite back for big grades.

    And they are HAPPY when I give them homework. It makes them feel secure I think.

    So sad. I keep trying to make things creative for them but that gets them all scared.


  7. know my feelings on school already so I won't ascend my soapbox...;) Great article though. Stuff like that always makes me wonder why so few people seem to *get it*...but of course, it's the BGUTI factor, I suppose...

    Ack....automatons, they are....

  8. I remember hearing the same rationale about trying to meet all the child's needs when young. A father said, "Well, the world won't always meet the baby's needs so why set them up for disappointment by meeting all their needs now?" (better get used to it)

    I remember another person's response -- "Well, if you think the world is so uncaring, then isn't all the more reason for YOU to care for them?"

  9. Wow...very interesting. Thank you for sharing this.

  10. Cave Mother - in the UK, grading is pivotal to the school system. And schools are graded as well.
    Good to hear that some schools/teachers have the opportunity to move away from that.

    Ruth - "To control and perpetuate an economy where it's all about competing against each other and earning something abstract not necessarily of real value to living?"I hear ya sista!

    Oh Sarah, that IS very sad. Especially how creativity frightens them.

  11. Just wanted to say that I too enjoy Kohn's writing - I recently read his 'Unconditional Parenting', and a lot of it made an impression on me.

  12. It often seems like this style of teaching is just meant to prepare kids for cubicle-style, 9-5, don't-question-just-work, corporate jobs. Which I am not dismissing out of hand, because it's what pays the bills in our house, frankly. But I do appreciate Cave Mother's comment that there is more variation in some areas (in the US anyway). My mother and stepfather were both elementary school teachers, and there experience was more like hers. But even then, a bigger issue just seems to be the problem of trying to handle and teach so many children at once. By necessity certain structures that might not be in the best interests of the children, especially certain children, end up being employed. The whole system is just outdated, and only works well for certain children.

  13. Makes os much sense huh? If kid are going to be exposed to second-hand smoke later should we start blowing smoke in their face? How about the chance they may be sexually or physically abused? Should we prepare them for those horros too?

    What really pisses me off is people accept those things as adults instead of standing up to them. The only reason they are accepted as adults are because they are taught as children. Maybe, just perhaps, if we start teaching kids to value themselves enough to stand up to bullsh*t like that, they won't feel the deserved to be so abused as adults.

    I wish the whole world would read everything by Alfie Kohn. Seriously. What I don't get is why he doesn't see he falls into the BGUTI camp by not opting his own children out of the system. :/ Not to say homeschooling or unschooling is right for everyone but I'm surprised he doesn't opt for alternative education of any sort.


  14. The idea that they BGUTI is very detrimental. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I constantly strove for that ideal grade...even if it meant spending load of time on crap I didn't care about and ignoring the subjects I truly enjoyed because it was easier to slide by in those classes--and I'm talking about all the way through college here! Once I realized how much I was missing out on the subjects I really wanted to learn about, I decided to finally "forget about the grade" and start enjoying my learning more. Even after I committed myself to learning rather than to getting good grades, it was still hard sometimes to get a less than perfect grade. I suppose grading may be necessary at some point, but definitely not for younger students! Let them learn to learn for fun and carry that virtue through life!

  15. I do love Alfie! Thanks for sharing this!

    As a recovering teacher, I remember trying to explain to the father of one of my second graders why I wasn't going to tell him where his son ranked compared to the rest. We measured each child's success based on progress made from where each one started - not on the typical competitive model of grades. The father pulled the BGUTI principle on me, saying that his son would need to learn to compete and get ahead "in the real world." When I said we were creating a new real world of collaboration and cooperation with these children, he said, "Start with someone else's kid." Nice. (Mitchell,if you're out there reading, I hope you've managed to stay true to yourself, little buddy!)


  16. Oh the last part of this post is what breaks my heart about public education. When I (briefly) taught in public schools, I never could wrap my mind about it, and now as a parent, I don't want to subject my children to such a system.


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