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Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes [Kindle Edition]

Alfie Kohn
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The basic strategy we use for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you'll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way we train the family pet. Drawing on a wealth of psychological research, Alfie Kohn points the way to a more successful strategy based on working with people instead of doing things to them. "Do rewards motivate people?" asks Kohn. "Yes. They motivate people to get rewards." Seasoned with humor and familiar examples, Punished By Rewards presents an argument unsettling to hear but impossible to dismiss.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Kohn, the author of other iconoclastic books, among them You Know What They Say: The Truth About Popular Beliefs ( LJ 8/90), here shows how rewards of all sorts undermine our efforts to teach students, manage workers, and raise children. Although aimed at a general audience, the book is based on extensive research and documented with almost 100 pages of notes and references. The first six review the behaviorist tradition and lay out in a clear and convincing manner Kohn's central argument that "pop behaviorism" is dangerously prevalent in our society. Here Kohn discusses why rewards, including praise, fail to promote lasting behavior change or enhance performance and frequently make things worse. The remaining six chapters examine the effect of rewards and alternatives to them in companies, schools, and the home. Recommended for all types of libraries.
- Mary Chatfield, Angelo State Univ., San Angelo, Tex.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The idea that competition and reward are effective motivators forms the bedrock of our educational, economic, and managerial systems. Kohn, though, has strongly attacked the belief that competition is healthy and has documented its negative effects in No Contest: The Case against Competition (1986). Now he challenges the widely held assumption that incentives lead to improved quality and increased output in the workplace and in schools. He notes that the system of rewards and punishment is based on Pavlovian and Skinnerian behavioral theories, which are supported largely by experiments with laboratory animals. Kohn derides rewards as bribes and offers instead the proposition that collaboration (teamwork), content (meaningfulness), and choice (autonomy) will serve to motivate both students and workers. He marshals impressive theoretical support and, at the same time, uses humor disarmingly to argue his case. David Rouse

Product Details

  • File Size: 895 KB
  • Print Length: 452 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 2 edition (September 30, 1999)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,694 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
202 of 212 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Real life experience with Kohn's ideas March 22, 2005
So I wanted my students to learn how to read notes on the staff. I had a fun idea to use "notes" to spell words and then the students would decipher the notes to figure out what the words are. I was concerned about them being motivated to do the assignment, so I turned it into a game and use jolly ranchers to reward the team that comes up with the words the fastest. Guess what? As soon as the jolly ranchers were rewarded, the students lost interest. Also, the kids were more concerned about fairness and cheating then the actual activity. More over, certain students took over the competition and other students relied on their already exisiting expertise to win them the jolly rancher.

I tried a different tactic the next period. I decided to promise them the jolly rancher regardless of the outcome, but I still wanted to play the game. I still got much of the same.

That night I picked up this book and read a good deal of it. I decided to put Kohn's ideas to the test. The next day, I pointed the kids to the materials, showed them basically how to do it and set them on their way. No games. No Jolly Ranchers. Nothing. Guess what? All students were learning and involved, students who finished came up to me and asked what to do. They were more than happy to either help other students or figure out more words, or create their own. A complere 180. True, there were plenty who asked, "Do we have to do this?" or "What do we get when we finished?" Which just reinforced for me Kohn's notion that kids have become addicted to rewards.

Does this book show you how? No. Thus the 4 stars and not 5. But it does point you in the right direction.
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212 of 225 people found the following review helpful
I come at this book as an educator and as someone who has spent a lot of time grading students and helping them navigate the treacherous waters of the standardized testing game. This was on the bookshelf of the tutoring center where I work and I thought I'd see what this man's case was.

For the most part, I found this to be an intentional counterbalance to business as usual. It appears that there are a great many reviewers with the psychology background to assess how he may set up BF Skinner as a straw man to strike down. I'm not sure it's necessary to set up Skinner as a man to strike down. I do agree with Kohn, however, that "pop behaviorism" and incentive driven behaviors are pervasive in our culture. Incentive plans in business, grades at school, and rewards at home are commonly thought of strategies for management. Kohn consistently attacks the abuses and excesses of incentives and gives a coherent framework for what makes rewards wrong, focusing on how relationships are fragmented and creativity and attention are undermined. As a teacher who has seen grade obsessed students in tutoring and classroom situations, any book that provides philosophical and psychological research to advocate for intrinsic learning is welcomed.

Readers should be aware that this is a *very* radical book. Like other radicals, Kohn is probably better at ripping down the capitalist, or in this case incentive-based, order than in building something up to replace it with. Kohn wants us to reason with people and clearly communicate agreed upon objectives. Has Kohn ever tried to implement these strategies in a classroom of 35-40 urban students?
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100 of 106 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rewards Backfire October 25, 2001
Punished by Rewards is a thought provoking book written for a general audience that argues that use of rewards undermines efforts to teach students, manage workers, or raise children. About one third of the book is devoted to educational issues, one third to parenting concerns, and one third to business concerns. This review is from an educator's perspective.
In this well-researched book, Alfie Kohn takes on the educational establishment dominated by experts who advise behavioristic classroom management plans. He challenges many current classroom management practices such as the contingent use of stickers, prizes, parties, gold stars, grades, honor rolls, awards assemblies, and praise. Any teacher working on improving classroom management and motivating students will benefit from reading this refreshingly original and persuasive book and will have a new perspective on some entrenched educational practices that often go unquestioned. As the author says, you don't have to accept everything he says to see the value in making some changes.
Kohn's central thesis is that it is misguided for teachers (and parents and bosses also) to rely on extrinsic motivators and reinforcers to assure quiet, orderly classrooms and manipulate students to behave in ways that are for the teacher's convenience. It is well acepted that punishment is not a way to motivate students. He contends that punishment and rewards are merely two sides of the same coin--and the coin doesn't buy much. Both approaches are applied and popularized behaviorism, a theory attributed to B. F. Skinner and his followers. Citing current research, he backs up his idea that rewards only succeed in the short term. Changes usually do not persist when there are no more "goodies" to be won.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Kohn cites and was disappointed to hear the nuanced work of so many...
Though I understand and support 99% of what Mr. Kohn says, this book is disappointing, an opportunity lost. More polemic than reasoned argument, Mr. Read more
Published 1 day ago by David Marshall
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 18 days ago by lynne
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and contundent view about people conditioning and...
Very interesting and contundent view about people conditioning and education, comparing the still mainstream "pop behaviorism" with its "carrot and stick", behavior... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Guilherme Pianetti
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great for ALL educators
Published 2 months ago by Reyna Hamilton
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good reference book for teachers.
Published 2 months ago by Charlie George
4.0 out of 5 stars Has good theories.
We are still reading it again, Has good theories.
Published 3 months ago by Dan Cohen
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think
Interesting view on rewards and how they affect our behaviour and results.
Published 3 months ago by Karlis Andersons
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, some very interesting issues brought up
I read this in college while I was a Psychology student. Alfie may not be 100% right (and what theory related to human behavior ever is or doesn't have boundary conditions), but... Read more
Published 3 months ago by mr. big
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
If parents only knew
Published 4 months ago by HDFL
5.0 out of 5 stars One of those books that challenges what you think you know!
I read this book just knowing I would disagree with it. As usual, those continue to be the situations I learn the most from. Read more
Published 10 months ago by James Edward Gray II
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More About the Author

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. He is the author of twelve books and hundreds of articles. Kohn has been described by Time Magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades and test scores." He has appeared twice on "Oprah," as well as on "The Today Show," NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and on many other TV and radio programs. He spends much of his time speaking at education conferences, as well as to parent groups, school faculties, and researchers. Kohn lives (actually) in the Boston area - and (virtually) at


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