Homeschooling Reason #2 – Retaining Intrinsic Motivation

Another one of my top reasons for homeschooling is because I want my child to retain her intrinsic motivation, as opposed to being extrinsically motivated. When I first started looking into homeschooling, I found a lot of interesting information about intrinsic motivation. Back then though, there didn’t seem to be many popular books out there about intrinsic motivation – it was a topic mostly confined to psychologists and journals.

However, intrinsic motivation has come into the limelight in recent years for a variety of reasons.  One of them relates to the global outsourcing and offshoring that U.S. employers have been doing, and the loss of jobs here at home. Much of what employers offshore to low-cost countries is the process-oriented type of work, while they tend to retain the job roles that require some amount of creativity. Employers have started to aggressively seek more creative employees and many administer tests to find people with intrinsic motivation. Employees are trying to find ways to become more creative through employer sponsored classes and workshops.  It’s situations like these that have helped put focus on the importance of intrinsic motivation in recent years.

All of that aside, there are many other reasons to value intrinsic motivation. I’ve written about some of them below (I didn’t include the references here but if you would like them, please let me know and I will email them to you).

Behavioral research has demonstrated that there are two kinds of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation occurs when a person engages in a specific activity because of the reward expected. Intrinsic motivation develops when a person engages in a specific activity because it brings them internal satisfaction; an individual engages in the activity even if no one else is aware. With extrinsic motivation, the rewards can be removed at any time, thereby eliminating any interest in continuing to perform the activity or task. Therefore, the control belongs to a force outside of the person.

Intrinsic motivation stays within a person. A person with intrinsic motivation will enjoy the task or activity regardless of outside control. People with intrinsic motivation show more confidence, interest, and excitement about tasks. In addition, they show enhanced creativity, persistence, and performance. A 2002 study from Stanford University investigated the reasons why inventors invent. The study found most inventors to be largely creative and intrinsically motivated. It was found that intrinsic motivation was strongly related to creativity and efficiency.

Traditional schooling may be creating people who are extrinsically motivated since traditional school is based upon extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards are rewards that come from outside the individual. All traditional schools are built on a foundation of extrinsic reward systems.  The high-level goal for traditional schooling is to move students up through each grade. In order to move to the next grade, the student must perform, behave, and accomplish in specific ways. In addition, the student must successfully complete smaller goals such as passing tests, completing homework assignments, and taking assessments. Grades received on these tests, assignments and assessments are extrinsic rewards for the desired performance. Regardless of methods applied by individual teachers in individual schools, the overriding structure of traditional schools remains the same and is grounded in extrinsic rewards for desired performance, behavior, and accomplishments.

If there were no external motivators, including negative reinforcement (punishment), would students still sit quietly in their seats all day long and would they still strive to get certain grades on quizzes, and would they still spend hours memorizing? It’s highly unlikely. External motivation is what drives students in traditional schools. If you take away the external motivators, then most, if not all students, would cease to perform and behave in ways the school system desires. Prior to entering school, children show high levels of intrinsic motivation. There have been many studies showing that intrinsic motivation sharply declines once children enter school and the decline continues yearly with the largest drops at 3rd grade and 8th grade.

Why is intrinsic motivation more desirable? Well, in addition to leading to creativity and innovation, people with intrinsic motivation show more confidence, self-esteem, and excitement about tasks and their lives in general.Intrinsic motivation produces deeper engagement in learning, higher levels of performance, better conceptual learning, and higher persistence at learning activities.If someone is engaging in a task mainly because of an external reward (or avoiding a negative reinforcement), when that reward is taken away, the interest in the task goes away. With intrinsic motivation, it doesn’t matter what other people think, say, or do. The motivation to do the task was never in their control in the first place.

I want my daughter to spend the majority of her time engaging in activities because she wants to engage in them, for her own reasons, her own enjoyment, her own fulfillment and her own desires to learn. I don’t want her happiness and feelings of success to be tied to receiving external rewards. If that was the case, then someone else would always control her feelings and her opinion of herself. I don’t want her to be focused on comparing herself to others or doing something for the purpose of being judged, tested, or graded by others, especially when those “others” may not know her very well; they may not be people she should be looking up to or taking direction from. If she constantly does things for the purpose of satisfying other people rather than herself, then she gives up what is meaningful and important to her and becomes an approval chaser.

I do not want her to spend the vast majority of her days engaged in tasks mainly for external rewards and the goals of others. If she does this, then when she becomes an adult, she’ll have no idea what she enjoys, what she’s naturally good at, what she wants to do/learn/say. It is my job to help her become an adult who can create her own happiness, independent of other’s rewards, punishments and opinions. It is my job to help her become an adult who can find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on her own without being told what’s important to know, learn, achieve.

I know my child. I know her preferred learning styles, the time of day she’s most open to learning, what types of learning activities blend best with her personality, and so on. Therefore, it’s very easy for me to pepper in learning so that it becomes a natural part of her day, and something she actively pursues on her own without prompting from me. Unschooling allows me to impart learning without any external motivators at all. However, even if I were to use the most formal homeschooling method, which relies on a curriculum with tests and grades, it would still only take a maximum of a couple hours per day. Focusing on external rewards for such a small number of hours isn’t likely to cause someone to build an entire lifestyle around pandering to external rewards.

1 comment to Homeschooling Reason #2 – Retaining Intrinsic Motivation

  • HI Julie, read this article, sent to me by your dad I believe. If the queen bee has no workers, what happens to the hive. What will pollinate all our crops, plants etc. We all have to work together from time to time. Why do you have this theory, what is its purpose?. Just curious. Respectfully, Mary Lou Barnwell.

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