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About Alfie Kohn
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 www.alfiekohn.org.
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Titles By Alfie Kohn
Our basic strategy for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summed up in six words: Do this and you’ll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in the same way that we train the family pet.
Since its publication in 1993, this groundbreaking book has persuaded countless parents, teachers, and managers that attempts to manipulate people with incentives may seem to work in the short run, but they ultimately fail and even do lasting harm. Drawing from hundreds of studies, Kohn demonstrates that we actually do inferior work when we are enticed with money, grades, or other incentives—and are apt to lose interest in whatever we were bribed to do.
Promising goodies to children for good behavior, meanwhile, can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. Even praise can become a verbal bribe that gets kids hooked on our approval.
Rewards and punishments are two sides of the same coin—and the coin doesn’t buy much. What is needed, Kohn explains, is an alternative to both ways of controlling people. Hence, he offers practical strategies for parents, teachers, and managers to replace carrots and sticks.
Seasoned with humor and familiar examples, Punished by Rewards presents an argument that is unsettling to hear but impossible to dismiss.
Most parenting guides begin with the question “How can we get kids to do what they're told?” and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them. In this truly groundbreaking book, nationally respected educator Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking, “What do kids need—and how can we meet those needs?” What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.
One basic need all children have, Kohn argues, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. Yet conventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including “time-outs”), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us. Kohn cites a body of powerful, and largely unknown, research detailing the damage caused by leading children to believe they must earn our approval. That's precisely the message children derive from common discipline techniques, even though it's not the message most parents intend to send.
More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from “doing to” to “working with” parenting—including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.
What is most remarkable about the assortment of discipline programs on the market today is the number of fundamental assumptions they seem to share. Some may advocate the use of carrots rather than sticks; some may refer to punishments as “logical consequences.” But virtually all take for granted that the teacher must be in control of the classroom, and that what we need are strategies to get students to comply with the adult’s expectations.
Alfie Kohn challenged these widely accepted premises, and with them the very idea of classroom “management,” when the original edition of Beyond Discipline was published in 1996. Since then, his path-breaking book has invited hundreds of thousands of educators to question the assumption that problems in the classroom are always the fault of students who don’t do what they’re told; instead, it may be necessary to reconsider what it is that they’ve been told to do--or to learn. Kohn shows how a fundamentally cynical view of children underlies the belief that we must tell them exactly how we expect them to behave and then offer “positive reinforcement” when they obey.
Just as memorizing someone else’s right answers fails to promote students’ intellectual development, so does complying with someone else’s expectations for how to act fail to help students develop socially or morally. Kohn contrasts the idea of discipline, in which things are done to students to control their behavior, with an approach in which we work with students to create caring communities where decisions are made together.
Beyond Discipline has earned the status of an education classic, a vital alternative to all the traditional manuals that consist of techniques for imposing control. For this 10th anniversary edition, Kohn adds a new afterword that expands on the book’s central themes and responds to questions from readers. Packed with stories from real classrooms around the country, seasoned with humor and grounded in a vision as practical as it is optimistic, Beyond Discipline shows how students are most likely to flourish in schools that have moved toward collaborative problem solving--and beyond discipline.
In The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Alfie Kohn systematically debunks these beliefs -- not only challenging erroneous factual claims but also exposing the troubling ideology that underlies them. Complaints about pushover parents and coddled kids are hardly new, he shows, and there is no evidence that either phenomenon is especially widespread today -- let alone more common than in previous generations. Moreover, new research reveals that helicopter parenting is quite rare and, surprisingly, may do more good than harm when it does occur. The major threat to healthy child development, John argues, is posed by parenting that is too controlling rather than too indulgent.
With the same lively, contrarian style that marked his influential books about rewards, competition, and education, Kohn relies on a vast collection of social science data, as well as on logic and humor, to challenge assertions that appear with numbing regularity in the popular press. These include claims that young people suffer from inflated self-esteem; that they receive trophies, praise, and As too easily; and that they would benefit from more self-discipline and "grit." These conservative beliefs are often accepted without question, even by people who are politically liberal. Kohn's invitation to reexamine our assumptions is particularly timely, then; his book has the potential to change our culture's conversation about kids and the people who raise them.
In this new collection of essays, Kohn takes on some of the most important and controversial topics in education of the last few years. His central focus is on the real goals of education-a topic, he argues, that we systematically ignore while lavishing attention on misguided models of learning and counterproductive techniques of motivation.
The shift to talking about goals yields radical conclusions and wonderfully pungent essays that only Alfie Kohn could have written. From the title essay's challenge to conventional, conservative definitions of a good education to essays on standards and testing and grades that tally the severe educational costs of overemphasizing a narrow conception of achievement, Kohn boldly builds on his earlier work and writes for a wide audience.
Kohn's new book will be greeted with enthusiasm by his many readers and by any teacher or parent looking for a refreshing perspective on today's debates about schools.
Almost no writer on schools asks us to question our fundamental assumptions about education and motivation as boldly as Alfie Kohn. The Washington Post says that “teachers and parents who encounter Kohn and his thoughts come away transfixed, ready to change their schools.” And Time magazine has called him “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”
Here is challenging and entertaining writing on where we should go in American education, in Alfie Kohn’s unmistakable voice. He argues in the title essay with those who think that high standards mean joylessness in the classroom. He reflects thoughtfully on the question “Why Self-Discipline Is Overrated.” And in an essay for the New York Times, which generated enormous response, he warns against the dangers of both punishing and praising children for what they do instead of parenting “unconditionally.”
Whether he’s talking about school policy or the psychology of motivation, Kohn gives us wonderfully provocative—and utterly serious—food for thought. This new book will be greeted with enthusiasm by his many readers, and by teachers and parents seeking a refreshing perspective on today’s debates about kids and schools.
No Contest stands as the definitive critique of competition. Contrary to accepted wisdom, competition is not basic to human nature; it poisons our relationships and holds us back from doing our best. In this new edition, Alfie Kohn argues that the race to win turns all of us into losers.
"Jesse Hagopian brought a rare moment of truth to the corporate-dominated Education Nation show when he spoke on behalf of his colleagues at Garfield High in Seattle. He instantly became the voice and face of the movement to stop pointless and punitive high-stakes testing."—Diane Ravitch, author of Reign of Terror
In cities across the country, students are walking out, parents are opting their children out, and teachers are rallying against the abuses of high-stakes standardized testing.
These are the stories—in their own words—of some of those who are defying the corporate education reformers and fueling a national movement to reclaim public education.
Alongside the voices of students, parents, teachers, and grassroots education activists, the book features renowned education researchers and advocates, including Nancy Carrlson-Paige, Karen Lewis, and Monty Neill.
Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the Black Student Union adviser at Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013. He is an associate editor of Rethinking Schools, and winner of the 2013 "Secondary School Teacher of Year" award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. He is a contributing author to Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation and 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed US History, and writes regularly for Truthout, Black Agenda Report, and the Seattle Times Op-Ed page.