Education writer Alfie Kohn Is Bad for You and Dangerous For Your Children, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham on Britannica Blog. The headline parodies Kohn’s penchant to overstate his case.
Kohn has made a virtual industry out of finding interesting and provocative insights in the psychological literature and following them off the edge of a cliff.
In books and speeches, Kohn has argued against the usefulness of assigning homework, praising and rewarding students and teaching self-discipline.
Kohn specializes in attacking conventional wisdom in education. . . Most people think that homework helps kids learn, praise shows appreciation and makes them more likely to do desirable things, and self-discipline helps them achieve their goals. Kohn argues that each of these conclusions is wrong or over-simplified. Homework may bring small benefits to some students, but it incurs greater costs and overall is likely not worth assigning. Praise doesn’t help academic achievement, it controls children, it reduces motivation, and makes them less able to make decisions. Self-discipline is oversold as an educational panacea, and in some contexts may actually be undesirable.
Kohn is useful as an provocateur, writes Willingham, but he “consistently makes factual errors, oversimplifies, the literature he seeks to explain and commits logical fallacies.”
I think Kohn’s critique of praise was necessary at the time to prick the self-esteem bubble. The benefits of homework depend a lot on the quality of the homework. As for teaching self-discipline, schools are a long way from overdoing it.