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Discipline or Motivation?

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: January 6, 2006
Latest Update: January 6, 2006

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Index of Topics on Site Discipline or Motivation or Learning as Human?

This piece is based on a letter by Alfred S. Posamentier, Dean, School of Education, The City College of New York. Dr. Posamentier wrote on January 4, 2006, in response to a news article: "A theme raised a few times in "His Leverage Secure, the Mayor Continues to Press Public Schools" (news article, Jan. 4) was the goal of improving the behavior of students in our public schools."

Dr. Posamentier thus raises one of the oldest misconceptions about learning, that it must somehow be entertaining or motivating. He suggests that teacher training should overcome this problem by teaching future teachers to "motivate" their students. Because all of us, or at the very least, most of us are going to encounter responsibility at some time or other for passing knowledge on to both younger and older generations, I'd like to challenge that attribution of responsibility right here.

I learned to understand Francois Villon and Rabelais from a venerable Tulane professor, Panos Morphos, int the 1950's. He had such a knowledge of the 16th century that he could take a story that in Rabelais was footnoted beyond recognition and make it come to life. Rabelais' Frozen Words was one of those stories, which Prof. Morphos brought to life for me, and which I have ever since brought to life for others. Similarly, he explained so much of Villon's poetry that this poetry of the 15th Century still lives for me, and I still recite it to my students. I thought Panos Morphos was a fount of knowledge, and I never ceased to be amazed at the extent of his knowledge.

Imagine, then, my surprise when my classmates complained that he was "boring" and spoke in a monotone. Who cared? He had knowledge that made the sixteenth century come alive. If you want Richard Gere or Tom Hanks or whomever to give the lecture, it'll have to be in scripted form, and it will be very much limited from the spontaneous knowledge that Panos Morphos brought to his lectures. Yes, I could have learned all that by carefully studying the footnotes, but no one had that kind of discretionary time, not even in the '50's.

Not all the discipline rules in the world will motivate those who seek entertainment in place of discipline and real learning.

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