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School Incentives

( Originally Published 1897 )



The Need of Incentives.-Human nature is imperfect. The government of nations cannot be secured by depending solely on the highest motives of each individual. Rewards and punishments are inseparable from obedience to law. The sense of right and the power of conscience are imperfectly developed in children. Before the intelligence and the will are trained, a child is controlled by his feelings. Almost from earliest infancy he recognizes that certain actions lead to pleasurable or painful results. The hope of reward, or the expectation of pleasure, must be stimulated so that the right course may be taken. The impulse of the moment may be strong for years, but if the right influence is brought to bear, there will arise a growing tendency to prefer a future and a greater good to an immediate pleasure. The incentives required will vary with the age, disposition and circumstances of the pupil. They will also be determined by the end to be sought in the formation of character.

Choice of Incentives.-In influencing children to right action, the highest motives that will secure the end in view should be used. Lower incentives have no permanent place in good discipline. All children cannot be treated alike. The same child requires different treatment at different times, and under different circumstances. An incentive which is not of the highest kind cannot be defended, unless it gradually brings the pupil under the dominion of higher self-acting influences. The incentive must be educative in its results. The physician must understand the condition of the patient and the nature of the disease before he can prescribe the medicine. In like manner, ability to diagnose the intellectual and moral state of the pupil is an essential element of the teacher's qualification. " What is the disease ? " " What is its cause ? " " What remedies may be used 7 " " Which one will have the best effect on character ? These are questions which daily confront the teacher.

Two Kinds of Incentives.-1. Natural incentives are the pleasures or discomforts that ordinarily arise from actions. If a pupil attends school regularly with the desire of standing well in his class, if he studies hard in order to gain knowledge for the pleasure it gives, or if he works with energy to pass an examination so that he may gain a position of trust in society, he is ih each case influenced by a natural incentive. There is a clear con nection between the end to be secured and the activity called into play.

2. When an incentive is of a character that shows no consequential relation between the desired object and the effort put forth, it is called artificial. For instance, a boy may be promised a pair of skates if he goes regularly to school, he may be induced to prepare his lesson if a holiday is offered as a reward, or he may strive to pass an examination with the hope of gaining a prize. In each case an artificial incentive is used as a motive to secure a desirable object.

It is evident that the best results are not attainable by means of artificial incentives. In the hands of a poor teacher they may be productive of bad results, A good teacher has little need of them. At best they are merely temporary expedients. Many of them have, like some bad teaching methods, come down by tradition. If subjected to the light of pedagogical research, they will be found as unsound as the rote system of teaching history, or the rule method of solving arithmetical problems. The vital question to be settled is, whether or not an incentive is defensible on account of its consequent moral results. It will be found, in many instances, that an artificial incentive is of doubtful value as regards the pupil to be influenced, and that it has an injurious effect on other members of the class.

Prizes. -Prizes are the incentives of an artificial nature that are most frequently used in school. In the prize system proper there is competition among several, but only a few win. It is not to be confounded with a system of rewards where each person who reaches a certain standard receives something valuable as a mark of distinction. In High Schools and Colleges, as well as in the more advanced classes of elementary schools, the test in the competition is generally a written examination. In the junior classes the estimate made by the teacher decides.

In the prize system emulation stimulates exertion. Emulation is, in itself, a valuable incentive to human activity. Its influence is felt through all communities, irrespective of rank, age or occupation. It is not confined to those of eminent gifts or attainments. It is a powerful factor in human advancement, but it requires proper direction. There are few natures so indolent as never to have felt its warm influence. In most schools there is less need of exciting emulation than of directing it aright. The frequent use of it may do much harm. To whet the love of distinction by stimulating words and the glitter of artificial rewards, has a powerful effect on obedient and industrious pupils. To make the school a little battle-field, on which the rival combatants strive to vindicate their superiority, is to lead pupils to concentrate their efforts against their rivals, and perhaps to cherish towards them malevolent feelings. Those who by nature are unfitted to take part in the " trial of speed " often become the victims of injustice.

Emulation may, when directed by an enlightened teacher, become a power capable of achieving great results, but there is no need that its application should be limited to a system of rewards granted to those who show superior excellence in intellectual attainments. In the infant stage, where the desire is to draw out the amiable sentiments, the use of emulation should be checked. With young children a written examination is impossible, and if prizes are to be granted the teachers must assume a responsibility that may endanger their relations with unreasonable parents and with children of immature judgment. With older pupils, if the prize system does not foster envy, jealousy, deception, heart burning or dishonesty, it has at all events kept in the back-ground the higher motives of good government. If its evils are not perceptible, the explanation is that the school has been controlled by a teacher who knows how to employ the natural incentives of good discipline. The prize system is a prop to efficient instruction that is becoming less and less employed by teachers in Public Schools. It is evident only a few pupils-pupils who do not need such incentives-are competitors in the struggle. It is safe to say that no good teacher who has tested the value of natural incentives would sacrifice their advantages by the introduction of the prize system.

In High Schools the evils of the system are more easily checked. It is, nevertheless, a development which has only a traditional value. In the language of Fitch, the system is a species of "bribery." The Science of Pedagogy proves that the practice of granting prizes cannot be defended. Public money is now seldom expended for prizes or scholarships. It may be difficult to refuse, for purposes of this kind, the gifts that come from private liberality. Custom and benevolence; and not the science of education, usually guide such acts of generosity. The contention that "inducements" are needed to draw students who might otherwise go to rival institutions, is sufficient to condemn a system not based on sounder morality. It should also be known that, if a university student is benefited by a scholarship, the measure of his private purse is not a factor in securing the reward. The winner of a prize is generally a student who would do his best in any case. No incentive can be good that may not serve as a spur to those who lag behind.

" A distinction may be made between prizes and rewards. A prize is something which can be secured by only one of two competitors, or by one or a very few of any number of competitors. All may strive, but only one, or a very small number, can possibly win. A reward, on the other hand, is something which, however many are concerned, all may attain who reach a certain required degree of excellence. The fact that one obtains the reward does not preclude others from obtaining it. If the standard of excellence is not placed too high, not above the possible attainment of any faithful, earnest and industrious student, many of the objections which are justly urged against prizes cannot be urged against rewards."-Putnam.

Privileges granted to pupils who win in a contest are open to similar objections. They also tend to induce a teacher to ignore the higher incentives. It is possible, if wisely directed, that the privilege of gaining a position of honor or trust may furnish a harmless rivalry. It should be known, however, that any motive is defective in principle that tends to have the backward pupils overlooked. If the weak are handicapped for the sake of the more gifted, the discipline is wrong.

Exemptions are artificial incentives which would appear to convey the thought that the performance of duty is not a pleasure. A few examples will show what is meant : The boy who comes out first in composition is freed from writing the weekly essay. The one who does well during the term is not subjected to the final examinations. Pupils who conduct themselves well are allowed to leave school half an hour before the rest of the class. If the principle introduced can be defended, it implies that preparing lessons is unpleasant, that writing at examinations has no educative value, and that attending school is a hardship. In this connection it may be said that the custom of granting a holiday on account of a visit from some distinguished personage, is a pedagogical error handed down by tradition. If a holiday is a benefit, why wait for the Inspector's visit ?

Right Motives.-No discipline can be defended that does not employ high motives in gaining its ends. No obedience to authority, no temporary interest in study, no desire to win distinction, can compensate for the habitual subjection of the will to the dominancy of the lower motives. A school may be brought to a high pitch of interest and effort by the enthusiastic use of rewards, such as prizes, promises of holidays, or the release from certain duties; but artificial incentives of this nature do not stand the decisive test of character building. They tend to bring the will into subjection to what is present and selfish, and leave the sense of right and duty weak. Discipline is defective if the natural results of effort are not made attractive. The most efficient training of the will involves an appeal to the sense of duty. The religious motives have been the most powerful in the formation of national life and individual character. As has been stated (Chapter IV.), the religious motives should not be used except with discretion. Although the sense of duty ranks highest as an incentive, it should not be continually used in school discipline. Long before a child can be taught to act from any sense of honor, right, or duty, his nature may be employed to strengthen his will and to direct his course of action. The motives that may be used by the teacher will now receive consideration :

1. A Desire for Good Standing: As Raub remarks, " This, as an incentive, appeals directly to the self-respect of the pupil. Every one feels it an honor to stand high in his school, and among the best in his class." Progress implies a knowledge of one's present and past attainments, and therefore the desire for a higher standing is a necessary and natural incentive of school discipline. A consciousness of improvement is a valuable spur to increased effort. The pupil who is influenced to-day to do better than yesterday, is sure to improve. The motive is serviceable in childhood and all through life. With junior pupils relative standing should be used sparingly. There is danger in childhood that a high rank may unduly elate, or a low standing injuriously depress. It is not results so much as fidelity that should be rewarded in the case of young children. There is danger also of fostering selfishness at the expense of judgment and self-control.

It is a mistake to hold, as some persons contend, that all methods of comparing the standing of children are bad. This theory ignores the fact that there can be no measure of progress without comparisons. It fails to admit the force of example on human effort. In a school where each student is kept in ignorance of the standing of the other members of his class, there is little to stimulate effort. Doubtless the motive must be used with caution. The age, disposition and attainments of the pupils must be considered.

Pupils who reach a certain standing may be rewarded. If those who attain a certain rank receive a prize, the objections mentioned against the prize system do not apply. There is no competition. No pupil has any grounds for cherishing the hope that the others in his class may fail. A prize, unless in the shape of a certificate, is, however, unnecessary. It seems ridiculous to grant a prize worth four or five dollars to a student who has been awarded a certificate that is worth as many hundreds of dollars.

2. Approbation.-"A teacher," says Wickersham, " should commend when he can, and find fault only when he must." It is astonishing the trouble a child will undergo to stand well with his fellows, to be thought courageous, generous, skilful, or to gain influence with them. A pupil must be very low down when he cares nothing about the good-will of his teacher. Children need encouragement. It is a rare thing to find a pupil who has not some traits deserving of approval. A slight effort to improve should be recognized. It is a serious blunder to give a boy to understand that nothing good is expected of him. Many a bad boy is deserving of credit for the efforts be makes to resist temptation. The pupil is discouraged who finds that his utmost exertions fail to extort a word of acknowledgment from his unsympathetic teacher. The cold and breathless stimulus of fear seems the only power some teachers can use to arouse pupils to activity.

Injudicious praise may make a pupil blind to his defects. Prudence in distributing rewards is needed. It only depraves the character of children to implant in their minds exaggerated opinions of what they have done and of what they can do. Flattery is bad. Praise, as a stimulus, should be administered steadily. Approbation, when fairly earned, should not be withheld. An oversight may cause a child of gentle disposition to spend an hour in tears. Good conduct, as well as good answering, should be approved. It is not desirable to give children to under-stand that they merit praise merely for doing their duty. It makes approbation too cheap if it is to be bestowed for regularity, truthfulness, or honesty. As a rule praise should not be given in a formal or ostentatious manner. Unless an act shows some special mental or moral victory, no good will come by dwelling on its merits before the class. If the teacher is loved by his pupils, a quiet word of commendation, incidentally expressed, will be sufficient. A kind remark in private may also serve the purpose more effectively than public laudation.

3. The Desire for Knowledge.-The pupil who craves for knowledge for its own sake will find a prize in every truth learned. He does not need the spur of emulation or approbation to prompt him to exertion. The fear of punishment is not required to excite his mental activities. The highest scholarship has not been achieved by those whose sole ambition was to gain position, riches or public applause, but by those whose devotion to study sprang from a love of truth for its own sake. The true philosopher is a lover of wisdom, not for its practical uses, but for its intrinsic worth.

The desire for knowledge may be cultivated. To impart information, the mind of the pupil must be prepared for its reception. As Thring remarks, by way of illustration,

" It is impossible to pour water into a tea-kettle that has the lid on." The teacher may do much to remove the " lid," or to arouse that curiosity which will create a desire for study. To cause his pupils to be anxious to see, to hear, and to reason, is the first aim of the teacher during the recitation. Unless the desire for knowledge is formed, the appropriate activity cannot arise. When curiosity is aroused, the teacher should be able to meet the expectations of his pupils. The attention must be held by instructing and not by amusing. Time must not be wasted in irrelevant stories, in solving puzzles, or in answering conundrums. Teaching should be made interesting; but it should be understood that hard study is the royal road to manhood and success.

"The mind is endowed with a spontaneous craving or desire for knowledge, and this desire is specially keen and active in childhood. This natural craving of the mind for knowledge is more than curiosity--more than a desire for novelty. It is a principle of the mind, which has for its final cause or purpose the development of the mental powers and the improvement of the individual and the race. It is nature's means for securing these beneficent ends."-White.

"Gradually the mere instinctive impulse of the child becomes, in the more advanced pupil, the love of knowledge. At bottom there is still the spontaneous element, the natural craving of the soul for that which supports its life and ministers to its growth and development. The native impulse is now reinforced and strengthened by rational considerations. The pupil desires to know because knowledge will be of service to him in the conduct of life, will help him `to get a living,' will give him social position, personal influence, political power and preferment."-Putnam.

4. Love of Activity.-Children like change, and are happiest when active. To them a condition is miserable that is marked by aimlessness and stagnation. Self-activity is the basis of their growth, physically, intelhectually and morally. Unceasing spontaneity is the natural characteristic of the ordinary young pupil. Idleness is a result of defective training. If the innate love of activity is properly developed, the child becomes conscious of increased power and skill. His aspirations bound up, and work becomes his very life and happiness. The knowledge of power gained, and of discoveries made by his exertions, intensifies his zeal and promotes further progress.

The love of activity should be used as an incentive, with due regard to the age and strength of the child. It is possible to overstrain, as well as to misdirect. The interest in study should not be abused. To exhaust the force of a motive will produce prostration. The evil is as serious as to neglect its use. By a judicious use of this incentive, pupils may be prevented from idleness and mischief. Fear is not demanded when children are kept busy. They should be trained to regard themselves not mere listeners or spectators, but participators in the work of the school. When pupils are trained to love work, little further inducement to duty is needed.

" Besides the craving for bodily exercise, there is a desire for employment, and a tendency to seek occupation, of a more purely mental or emotional character, often termed Love of Activity. To this feeling, not a little enhanced by the corporeal condition, is due in great measure the development both of body and mind. The mastery of the limbs, the control of the organs, the knowledge derived through the senses, the growth of intelligence, are all more or less the result of that craving for employment, which is so marked a feature of human nature."-Gill.

5. The Love of Self-Control.-Too often, in the training of children, the mistake of giving license is followed by the equally fatal mistake of governing without securing their cooperation. To relax authority should not be felt as any infringement of the teacher's' prerogative. Pupils brought under the influence of self-government feel the consciousness of power. Self-approval becomes to them a reward, and an incentive to master their feelings. An ideal teacher inspires pupils with such a love of self-control, that the spirit of co-operation makes the school appear to run itself. Mastery over self is a leading feature of the school. Each pupil feels that he is making conquests. Self-control is a matter of growth. The teacher who neglects its development in his pupils is under the disagreeable necessity of putting his authority unduly in the foreground. The task of government becomes greater, instead of less, as they grow older, and they enter upon the active duties of life imperfectly prepared to cope with its difficulties, or to win in its contests.

" The power of self-government is strengthened only by its free exercise, and, to this end, the discipline of the school must call into play self-restraint and self-direction. This is never (lone by hedging the pupil's conduct with prohibitions bristling with penalties ; but the pupil must be made, as fully as possible, a law unto him-self, and then be led to a cheerful and happy conformity thereto." -White.

6. The Hope of Success in Life.-The teacher will often be met with the statements that there are too many educated persons, too many scholars that are not practical men, and too many graduates of High Schools who are failures in life. He must be prepared to convince persons who argue in this way that there cannot be too many educated men, if their education is of the right kind ; that there is no more fear of too much intelligence than of too much goodness ; and that a man who is not practical is not educated. A single flaw in character may bring to ruin the most brilliant graduate of a university Men fail in life because of the want of habits of industry, truthfulness, honesty and self-control. It is the province of the school to cultivate such habits. The teacher who is successful in character building (Chapter VI.) gives a practical education. The man who is not "practical" is the one who is not well balanced. The man who succeeds as a farmer, a mechanic, a merchant, or a teacher, is the one who is thoughtful. To train pupils to think aright is the function of the school. Pupils have no true conception of the responsibilities of life, unless they are filled with the desire to make the best use of their opportunities. This is an age of freedom and not one of caste.

"The example of men who have succeeded in business or who have risen to distinction may safely be held before pupils as an incentive to study. The teacher should show that even an ordinary laborer or a mechanic succeeds better when educated to some extent, and that educated business men of all kinds are those who are most successful, unless some weakness of character be present to prevent success. Educated men are the ones who are called upon to fill all important positions under the government. They are the men who take charge of our manufactories and railways, edit our newspapers, write our books, make our laws, preside over our courts, teach our schools, preach our sermons, and, in general, to do the important work of the world."-Raub.

7. The Sense of Honor.-A well-conducted school is marked by a high sense of honor. The pupils recognize the rights of one another, and the duties they owe to those older than themselves. The boys of an ordinary school have a greater regard for honor than is generally supposed. They love fair play and despise meanness. They are ready to assist those in difficulties, to act generously to their playmates, and to maintain the reputation of the school. Many a wayward boy has been led to reform by an appeal to his sense of honor.

Manliness should be approved. Credit should be given in a proper way to the pupil who has sufficient honor to resist temptations, and to make up his mind neither to falsify nor to act dishonestly. A good public spirit should be cultivated. The moral tone of a school is bad if the misdeeds of pupils are not condemned by the other members of their class.

" If the teacher does not find a healthy public opinion existing in his school-and he will not find it unless it has been expressly cultivated-he should set about creating it ; with which view his course is plain. He is the centre of the little community ; it is around his opinion that the public opinion must be formed. He should seek to unite the pupils in their regard for what is good, by drawing them all towards himself in feelings of personal regard ; this will make them glad to look up to him as the source of opinion. When he shows himself earnest in this, the good pupils in the school will immediately respond to him ; the others, if they resist at first, will soon come to acknowledge the new power, if not by acquiescence, at least by silence, and their number will gradually decrease."-Currie.

8. The Sense of Right.-The sense of right is a principle that is largely the, result of training. The sin and crime of the world are due to the fact that other motives generally control the actions of people. The child is endowed with the power to perceive right and wrong, and though the impulse to act properly may be weak, it exists as an innate motive, and it may be strengthened by exercise. While the love of approbation, the desire for usefulness, and the other incentives already mentioned, may be used, the conscience is to be steadily but carefully addressed. For instance, if a pupil is induced to learn difficult lessons, he should gradually be led to appreciate more highly the approbation of his own conscience than the satisfaction arising from knowledge, efficiency or honor.

In dealing with the question of right or wrong, it is important to distinguish between acts that clearly are morally wrong and those which, though they may not be wrong in themselves, may be contrary to the interests of the school. Many things may be lawful which are not expedient. For instance, theft and whispering must not be treated alike ; and truthfulness and industry will require different uses of the sense of right as an incentive. While the conscience needs to be trained, it is a mistake to depend on mere precepts or moral lessons. To induce moral dispositions and principles is more important than to give formal instruction in ethics. When pupils are ready to make sacrifices for what is right, much has been gained. After moral and intellectual strength has been acquired, the sense of right, rather than that of honor or the love of knowledge, may come to be the court of appeal in deciding matters pertaining to discipline.

9. The Sense of Duty.-The highest school incentive is the sense of duty, and the other motives should be used to promote its growth. Moral perfection is not approached until actions are uniformly performed with the highest objects The highest happiness is that which flows from the consciousness of having done our duty.

In the training of children the sense of duty must be cultivated, but it is a mistake to rely on it from the beginning. It is a blunder to appeal constantly to any high incentive before the child has acquired that knowledge and judgment which are necessary to give self-direction to his actions. The sense of duty is too abstract a term to be grasped by young pupils. The obligation arising from the will of the teacher must be very gradually transferred to law, so that they may recognize its binding nature irrespective of authority. A pupil cannot, without instruction, be trained to act from a sense of duty. Explanations and illustrations from life are needed. As the feeling of duty is developed, it may be appealed to as a motive in discipline. It should not be forgotten, however, that even the best persons are not always influenced by the highest considerations, and therefore reliance should not be placed on the sense of duty beyond its proved strength.

The child should be taught to feel that he owes a duty to himself. He should be led to believe that character is worth more than position, wealth or reputation, and that conduct, which Matthew Arnold says "is three-fourths of life," is determined by the motives that induce actions. Every pupil should be filled with the desire to make the best of life, and with this object to make the best use of his opportunities.

"The sense of duty implies not only the perception but the feeling of an obligation to pay what is due or owed. It is the most imperative of all the motives. What a man ought to do-whether to himself, to others, to society, or to God-that he is bound to do ; and there is no escape from the obligation. Coleridge truly calls the imperative ought 'the last word in the vocabulary of duty.' "-White..



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